By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Bettie's husband had simply vanished.
At night, dreams about his father toppling into water jarred Jamie Beets awake.
Jamie Beets was obsessed. In the weeks after his father's disappearance, he couldn't work, couldn't sleep, couldn't talk about anything else. He had to find out what had happened.
Jamie was certain his stepmother, Bettie, knew something. But the sheriff's department dismissed the notion of foul play. They thought Jamie was losing touch with reality, haunted by his failure to reconcile with his dad.
A month after the empty boat was found, Jamie moved some of his belongings into his dad's lake house, which had been rebuilt after the fire. Though the house was legally Bettie's--certainly for as long as Jimmy Don was officially missing, rather than declared dead; possibly for as long as she lived--he was intent on keeping her from claiming it.
Jamie began driving back and forth from his Dallas home, trying to make it appear that he was living in the Cedar Creek house. In late October, he returned home to Dallas to find a note. His wife had left him.
Jamie and Bettie then began a guerrilla war over Jimmy Don's house. One night, he returned to Cedar Creek to find that Bettie had thrown his belongings into the yard and moved some of her things in. Jamie returned the favor and had the locks changed. She tried to sell it for $42,000; he called the title company and blocked the sale.
In January 1984, Jamie took a job at The Western Club, a giant country-and-western club near Cedar Creek Lake where big stars often played, tending bar and helping with the sound system. It was a place for lakeside gossip; Jamie hoped he could pick up some tips that might unravel the mystery of his father's disappearance.
Several times a week, he went to his attorney's office with rumors he had picked up tending bar. One day, he came in with the news that Bettie's fourth husband, Doyle Wayne Barker, had also disappeared.
Not long after that, the manager of the Western Club hired a new waitress: Bettie Beets. Jamie confronted her, telling her he knew she had something to do with his father's disappearance, that he was going to find out what really happened.
That night, Jamie was at the lakehouse when he heard someone outside. He found a four-foot stick wrapped with a gas-soaked rag in the front window of his truck, ready for someone to light it. Gun in hand, Jamie chased two men away from the truck into the woods; he lost them in a neighboring subdivision.
The next day, the manager of the Western Club, a friend of Bettie, told him he was fired.
By then, Bettie was living with a new boyfriend--Ray Bone, a handsome, muscular man with blond hair and blue eyes. Bone was on parole for manslaughter.
One day during the early summer, Jamie went to Dallas for the day. He came back to discover that his father's house had, once again, been set on fire.
The blaze had begun on the bed in the master bedroom, stoked with a pile of his father's files that had been soaked in coal oil before being lit.
State fire investigator Gil Harper, called in to investigate both blazes, summoned Jamie in July to meet with him at a local restaurant. Harper had startling news: several witnesses said they had seen Bettie Beets enter and leave the house before each of the fires began. But DA Bandy still didn't believe there was enough evidence to file charges.
Anguished and frustrated, Jamie hit bottom. He started using drugs again--"everything I could find except heroin." He couldn't hold a job for long. He began dreaming of revenge against Bettie, fantasizing about elaborate, sadistic schemes to make her suffer.
In January 1985, Jamie--completely sober, for a change--was driving home when a 78-year-old man in a Ford Pinto slammed into his car head-on. The old man was killed; Jamie suffered nothing more serious than a broken kneecap. The accident put Jamie's leg in a cast from thigh to ankle for five months. He moved in with his mother in Longview, his monomaniacal pursuit of Bettie abruptly suspended until he healed.
A year after Jimmy Don's disappearance, Bettie sold his boat for $3,250, using a forged power of attorney. Then, in March 1985, her attorney, E. Ray Andrews, persuaded a Henderson County judge to sign an order declaring Jimmy Don Beets dead--and naming Bettie as administrator of his estate.
Andrews was trying to collect fire insurance benefits on Beets' house for Bettie too, but the insurance company was balking because of the arson investigation. Finally he retained a Dallas law firm to petition the Dallas Fire and Police Pension Board to pay Bettie a widow's pension, about $790 a month, plus Beets' back pay and life insurance benefits--worth a total of about $180,000.
The board was scheduled to meet on June 13, 1985, to approve the claim.
It seemed that Jimmy Don Beets' disappearance would remain a mystery forever.
When they heard what the dirtball they'd picked up had to say, the two Henderson County investigators, Rick Rose and Mike O'Brien, raced to the department's file on the disappearance of Jimmy Don Beets.