Fall of the Black Widow

North Carolina authorities bust a notorious former Dallas scammer

When Jim Moseley sat down at the Dean & Deluca store in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 9:30 a.m. last Friday he was nervous. Officer Harry Inch had assured the businessman that Inch and other members of the Violent Criminals Apprehension Team would take down the target before she got anywhere near him. Two plainclothes officers sat at a table near Moseley. Other officers were outside, positioned so that they could watch the front door and rush inside as soon as Moseley identified their quarry.

As the minutes dragged on, Moseley's worry turned to fear that she wouldn't show up. The elaborate sting would be for naught. Then suddenly, Camille Powers appeared behind him, slipped into a chair at his table and apologized for being late. She'd come in the back door, not the front. She looked unkempt: hair stringy with two inches of gray roots showing, and she was carrying a purse and a big bag stuffed with so much junk it was strained at the seams.

His heart pounding, Moseley excused himself to go to the bathroom, stood up and looked at the cops sitting near him.

Sandra Bridewell
Sandra Bridewell

"Um, guys," Moseley said, "it's her!"

Moseley stepped back and watched as Inch grabbed the woman, told her she was under arrest and handcuffed her. As those in the coffee shop watched, the woman stared straight ahead, looking mortified.

Moseley's three-week roller-coaster ride was over. Jim and his elderly mother Sue Moseley—with help from a couple of real estate agents and the Dallas Observer—had ended Powers' bizarre crime spree in the bucolic coastal town of Southport, North Carolina. For the first time in a long and checkered career of deception, Sandra Camille Powers Bridewell—known in Dallas as the Black Widow—found herself in the law's clutches.

Inch marched her to a squad car and explained that he had several warrants for her arrest; Bridewell didn't ask what they were for. She refused to answer Inch's questions, staring straight ahead while a TV reporter stuck a microphone in her face.

"I know my rights," Bridewell told Inch. "I want a lawyer." Except for prayers mumbled under her breath, that was all she said.

When he searched her purse and overstuffed bag, Inch found no identification, nothing with her picture. She had no cash, just two of Sue Moseley's credit cards, gift cards, real estate brochures, makeup samples and bits of paper with scribbled notes. "It was like searching a bag lady," Inch says. Bridewell was charged with two counts of check forgery and one count of credit card fraud.

It was the "bag lady's" big aspirations that brought her down. That, and Google.

Bridewell has been the subject of two cover stories in the Observer in 2004: "Return of the Black Widow" and "Seductress of the Saints." Accusations of fraud have followed Bridewell ever since she left Dallas in the late 1980s.

Dallas remains fascinated with the once-beautiful Southern belle, who earned her nickname after the death of three husbands and a female best friend. Bridewell remains the only suspect in the murder of her third husband, Alan Rehrig, who was found shot to death in his car in Oklahoma City. She has refused to comment to the press but has maintained to friends and family that she is the victim of malicious gossip and rumors.

In her earlier years, Bridewell relied on her charm and sex appeal to weasel money from men. But in recent years she's turned to posing as a missionary to foreign lands. She wed a fourth husband in San Antonio a few years ago after meeting him at a religious conference. He filed for divorce after only a few months of marriage, saying she had stolen his savings and was practicing witchcraft.

This time a woman brought about her downfall, albeit inadvertently. Sue Moseley met Camille Powers (Bridewell's maiden name) through her sister in mid-2006.

A kind-hearted person had seen Bridewell standing outside a grocery store with her belongings stuffed in paper bags. He took her to a furniture store owned by a former Baptist preacher. After assisting her for a time, the preacher introduced Bridewell to Audrey Harrington, who at his urging hired the "missionary" as a live-in caregiver, paying her $250 a week. Harrington says she already had a helper but hired Bridewell as a favor to the preacher.

"She came with all her paraphernalia," Harrington says, "bags and bags and bags." Harrington bought Bridewell clothes and groceries, an added expense because she insisted on organic or natural foods.

Bridewell was mysterious from the beginning, refusing to tell Harrington anything about her background. She stayed six weeks. "She manipulates; she's very controlling," Harrington says. "And she pouts when she doesn't get her way."

When Bridewell quoted Scripture to Harrington, the older woman wasn't intimidated. Harrington knew the Bible and could fling back chapter and verse. "Several times we really got into it," Harrington says. "I told her, 'You're a spoiled rotten brat who is practicing witchcraft'—meaning secrecy, control and deception—'and playing at missionary.' She didn't like that."

Harrington asked Bridewell to leave, but she didn't go far, moving in with Harrington's sister, Sue Moseley. A widow, Moseley lives in a gated golf-course community in Southport near the intra-coastal waterway in a home valued at more than $1 million. "She told me she didn't want to stay with Audrey and that she would be going to Africa in October on a six- to eight-week mission trip," Moseley says. Feeling it was her Christian duty, she invited Bridewell to stay in her home until her trip.

Bridewell moved in on Labor Day and stayed six months.

At first Bridewell was helpful around the house and drove Mrs. Moseley around town. She commiserated with Mrs. Moseley's difficulties with a troubled daughter. She raised her beautiful soprano voice in song at Moseley's church. After she gave a talk at another church about her mission work, the audience took up an offering of about $500. Bridewell didn't ask Mrs. Moseley for money; they had agreed to split the cost for groceries and gas. Though it always seemed Bridewell got the better end of the deal, Mrs. Moseley sensed nothing wrong.

The two women were driving around one day in January when Bridewell pointed out several houses that would be a great location for the training center she wanted to open to teach "natives" from Third World countries organic farming techniques. At Bridewell's urging, Mrs. Moseley called the real estate agents listed on the signs.

Dennis Krueger and Jack Vereen showed Mrs. Moseley and Bridewell around several expensive homes. Bridewell settled on one in particular, a stately Queen Anne-style mansion on the water that was listed at $2.7 million. She said it would be a great place for her six children to visit and hinted that Mrs. Moseley wasn't going to be able to live by herself much longer.

But the agents got suspicious. They couldn't figure out if Moseley or Bridewell was the buyer. "I finally had to ask," Vereen says. "'Look ladies, who am I selling to?'"

"Me, I'm the buyer," Bridewell told him, "with my organization." Bridewell said she was paying cash.

That waved a giant red flag. After several weeks of discussions, they noticed that Moseley and Bridewell didn't seem as close as they had at first.

In fact Mrs. Moseley had gotten fed up with Bridewell. "She was getting bossy, and she was trying to pour my medicines for me and putting water by my bed at night." Bridewell urged Moseley to stop taking her blood-pressure medication.

She badmouthed Harrington, telling Mrs. Moseley her sister hated her and other hurtful things. "Divide and conquer is her mode," Harrington says. After a few months, Bridewell was intercepting the mail and answering the phone, even refusing to let Harrington talk to her sister.

"I knew something was wrong with this girl, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what," Mrs. Moseley says. "I was praying the last six weeks that she would go to India and not come back."

Vereen couldn't quell his skepticism. "She creeped me out," Vereen says. But he didn't even know Bridewell's last name. So he turned to Google, putting in the bits of information he knew: Camille, missionary and Texas, where she said she once lived. Bingo! Up popped the Observer stories, complete with pictures of the "missionary." She'd repeated the same real estate scenario in Atlanta and in Santa Rosa, California.

Vereen and Krueger called me to explain what was going on and to ask if I thought Bridewell was dangerous. I pointed out that Bridewell was still the only suspect in Rehrig's shooting death. Someone had to warn Mrs. Moseley. But how to handle it since the two women were inseparable?

When the day of her mission trip arrived in early February, Bridewell drove Mrs. Moseley to Charlotte to stay with her son Jim while Bridewell was overseas.

After Bridewell was gone for a few weeks, I tracked down one of Mrs. Moseley's sons, who was skeptical but agreed to read the Observer articles. A few days later, Jim Moseley contacted me. His mother was staying with him in Charlotte, and they had discovered Bridewell had run up a $1,900 bill on one of her credit cards without Mrs. Moseley's authorization. They contacted police.

When Bridewell returned, she called Jim and said she would come to pick up the car and take his mother home. At the request of police, Jim played along, agreeing to meet her for the car exchange, where Bridewell was arrested.

Returning home, Mrs. Moseley was shocked to find a letter from her mortgage company saying her house was going into foreclosure. Bridewell had been intercepting the lender's letters and calls since October.

Then Mrs. Moseley learned that all her IRS documents were missing. "She said she would help me straighten out my files and stuff," says Mrs. Moseley. "She tried to change the address on my Social Security card. They caught her on tape." But the scariest thing of all: Bridewell allegedly tried to change the name of the beneficiary on Mrs. Moseley's life insurance.

Bridewell now has been extradited to Brunswick County, where Mrs. Moseley lives. Even before Bridewell's arrest, detective Jane Todd had contacted detectives in Oklahoma City. Seems they want to talk to the elusive woman once married to Alan Rehrig.

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