Death Row Granny

Bettie Beets killed two husbands. Now she's likely to become the first woman the state of Texas has ever executed

Rose, then a patrol deputy, had participated in the search of the lake when the Dallas fire captain had disappeared. That was almost two years earlier--but there was little in the file except the missing-person reports and a note from someone who swore he'd seen Jimmy Don at an Ennis truck stop.

Now it was late April 1985, and Rose had arrested a local small-time troublemaker, who had asked for leniency in exchange for information on another crime. Rose had dealt with the man before as a confidential informant. His tips had always been reliable.

But after hearing this story, he and O'Brien insisted the man take a polygraph. Hooked up to a lie detector, the informant repeated his account.

He'd gone to a motel with a woman named Bettie Beets. Both of them were drunk, and after they had sex, she made a comment that stunned him. "We're laying up here fucking and having fun," Bettie said. "You wouldn't think it was so funny if you knew that the last son-of-a-bitch I laid up with I buried in the front yard."

The polygraph indicated he was telling the truth.
The investigators realized no one had ever investigated the case--or even really questioned Bettie. Still they needed more to get a search warrant. They located one of Bettie's daughters, Phyllis Coleman, in Dallas, and asked a Dallas homicide investigator to talk to her.

Confronted by the detective, Phyllis squawked: she had heard from her younger brother Robby that her mother had killed Jimmy Don--and buried him in the yard.

But that wasn't all. While Phyllis and Shirley were drinking one night, Shirley blurted out that their mother had killed and buried her fourth husband, Doyle Wayne Barker, as well. What's more, Phyllis told the detective, Bettie hadn't done it alone: Robby and Shirley had helped with the murders.

The Henderson County investigators spent six weeks questioning friends, neighbors, and Bettie's lover, Ray Bone. But Robby and Shirley refused to talk.

On June 8, Henderson County sheriffs had Bettie Lou Beets arrested in Mansfield with Ray Bone. Bettie was charged with two counts of murder. Her bond was set at $1 million.

After the arrest, O'Brien obtained a search warrant, then asked a deputy to fetch Bettie from her cell.

"I'm going to look for Jimmy Don's body in your yard," O'Brien told her.
"Jimmy Don drowned," Bettie told him in a sad voice.
"After that, I'm going to look for Doyle Wayne Barker's body," O'Brien said. "Do you want to go with me? You can keep me from digging up the whole yard."

Bettie's sweet, doleful manner changed. "She gave me the meanest, coldest look I've ever seen," O'Brien recalls.

"I want my lawyer," was all Bettie Beets said.
Leading a squadron of cops to Cherokee Shores, O'Brien cordoned off the street around Bettie's lot, then directed a backhoe onto the tidy yard. He ordered the backhoe operator to knock over the ornamental wishing well in front of the porch. Jimmy Don had built the brick-and-wood planter--a cube about four feet square and four feet tall--just days before his disappearance, and Bettie had filled it with peat moss and flowers.

Was this the "castle" the psychic had seen?
Even though it was almost 6 p.m., the heat was sweltering. As the backhoe retreated, the scene grew tense. O'Brien began digging through a foot of soil, peat moss, and plants.

He quickly found a blue sleeping bag--and opened it. The smell staggered him; he could see part of a skull. If his information was accurate, it was Jimmy Don Beets. His decaying body had lain only 30 feet from Bettie's front door for almost two years. He had built his own grave.

After summoning the Dallas Medical Examiner's office, O'Brien directed the backhoe to the rear of the lot. The backhoe knocked over a shed that Jimmy Don had built. An indented area was immediately visible. Three feet down, O'Brien found bits of blue canvas and green plastic.

Another sleeping bag. And another body.

"What the hell is going on?" Jamie Beets asked, after passing the crowd of police cars, TV-news vans, and helicopters surrounding Bettie's property.

A friend who owned a motorcycle had come to take Jamie to his grandparents' home near Cedar Creek Lake. The cast had just come off his leg a few weeks earlier, and Jamie had been lying low, contemplating fresh ways to ensnare his stepmother.

Two days earlier, there had been a fire at Bettie's mobile home. Fire investigators had determined that it was arson; diesel fuel had been dripped throughout the trailer. And Bettie was blaming it all on Jamie.

But now, as they pulled up to his grandparents' home, he found his entire family waiting to explain the scene he had noticed on the way over.

"Jamie, they found two bodies at Bettie Beets' house," his mother told him. "They think one of them is your daddy."

For two months, 48-year-old Bettie Lou Beets and her 26-year-old daughter, Shirley Stegner, shared adjoining cells in the Henderson County jail in Athens.

Shirley had been arrested at her home in Balch Springs the day after the bodies were found, only hours after returning from a second honeymoon. She was charged with two counts of murder. Her bail was also set at $1 million.

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