Looking as pale as a ghost, her once raven-black hair now gray, Sandra Camille Bridewell shuffled into a federal courtroom in North Carolina for a hearing on Monday.
Wearing red prison garb, hands cuffed behind her back and shackles on her legs, the "Black Widow" from Dallas was sandwiched between two felons, also in red jail togs.
Bridewell faced five federal crimes, including fraud and identity theft, all related to her interaction with Sue Moseley, a 77-year-old widow in New Brunswick County, North Carolina.
Despite her circumstances, Bridewell, 63, carried herself with an above-it-all dignity, smiling at her lawyer and not blinking an eye when her gaze rested briefly on Gloria Rehrig, sitting in the front row.
Bridewell's former mother-in-law Rehrig had long awaited this moment. Since her son Alan Rehrig was murdered 23 years ago, Rehrig has believed that Bridewell was culpable in his death, though Bridewell has never been charged in his murder.
Alan Rehrig married Bridewell, a Highland Park resident, in December 1984. After a year of wedded frustration, Rehrig was found shot to death in his Bronco near the Oklahoma City airport. Detectives in Oklahoma consider Bridewell their only suspect.
Though the hearing did not involve her son's case, Gloria Rehrig wore a large button with Alan's picture on it to court.
"I just wanted Sandra to see him," Rehrig says. "I never thought this day would come."
Instead of fighting the charges at trial, Bridewell agreed to plead guilty to one count of identity theft in return for a sentence of two years in prison, two years of supervision and a $250,000 fine. In return, four charges were dropped.
"I am guilty," Bridewell said in a high, feminine voice when questioned by federal Judge James C. Dever III of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Beginning in September 2006, Bridewell, using the name Camille Bowers, lived with Moseley for about six months. (Her maiden name is Sandra Camille Powers.) They agreed that in return for room and board, Bowers would help with household chores.
In February 2007, Moseley learned of Bridewell's background after reading the Dallas Observer (See "Return of the Black Widow," January 22, 2004). Moseley then discovered that Bridewell had been using her credit cards and cashing her checks without her permission or knowledge.
Arrested in a police sting with the assistance of Jim Moseley, Sue's son, Bridewell had in her possession Moseley's tax records, bank information and letters from her mortgage company saying her house was going into foreclosure for nonpayment. Bridewell had diverted all attempts by the mortgage company to contact Moseley. The foreclosure was narrowly averted.
Nursing her terminally ill sister, Moseley could not appear in court on Monday. She was stunned last year to learn that the "missionary" living in an upstairs bedroom was a suspect in the Rehrig murder.
"I knew something was wrong with her, but I couldn't put my finger on it," Moseley says.
In spring 2006, Bridewell began caring for Moseley's sister, Audrey Harrington, a self-proclaimed "Bible-thumper" who now lives in Charlotte. They clashed over Harrington's claim that Bridewell twisted passages of the Bible to manipulate others.
"Audrey told Camille she was a witch," Moseley says. "She would use the scriptures to get what she wanted."
Moseley didn't take that charge seriously.
When Harrington and Bridewell's relationship soured, Bridewell attached herself to Moseley, who resides on the North Carolina coast. Recovering from a severe illness, Moseley agreed to give Bridewell a place to live with the understanding it would be for a short time until the "missionary" returned to India in November. Valued at more than $1 million, her four-bedroom home is in St. James Plantation.
"She saw that where I live is upscale," Moseley says. "It's a beautiful place. She saw an opportunity."
Moving into Moseley's house soon after Labor Day 2006, Bridewell quickly began integrating herself into the community. She sang in the Christmas church cantata and gave talks to women's groups. Bridewell explained that before her mission work, she had been married once, had six children and had trained as a physician's assistant. (She has been married four times; three husbands have died.) Moseley says that Bridewell received "love offerings" and other gifts from churchgoers who believed her tales of serving God in India and China.
"They were impressed with her," Moseley says. "She was a very kind person. She took very good care of Audrey." But Moseley thought it was unusual for a woman of God to demand gourmet groceries and drink a bottle of wine per day. "She didn't like inexpensive wines. She knew all the labels."
And Bridewell was entirely too possessive and interfering—answering the phone, grabbing the mail, even bringing Moseley her medication at night. "Camille had been going to the bank with me," Moseley says. "She learned my routines and met the tellers."
According to federal prosecutor Gaston Williams, Bridewell was later caught on bank security videotape cashing several of Moseley's checks. Using the name "Camille Moseley," Bridewell treated herself to spa pedicures, a pair of $300 black leather high-heeled pumps and a BlackBerry.
The government agreed to the plea bargain primarily because Moseley "didn't suffer enormous financial damage," Williams says. The forged checks totaled less than $3,000. (This does not include the credit card charges.)
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A sentencing hearing was scheduled for May 19. Williams says within three days, Bridewell will be interviewed for a report to be given to Judge Dever that will include detailed information about her health, background and history. He adds that the judge is not bound by the plea agreement.
Also attending the hearing were Lieutenant Marty Folding, Detective Jayne Todd and assistant district attorney Brooke Leland of Brunswick County, who say that Bridewell is still under investigation in their jurisdiction.
When it was learned that Bridewell might have committed Social Security fraud, federal agent Frank Maroney began investigating the case. His summary to the court concluded that in addition to Bowers, Bridewell used other aliases, addresses and ages.
When the federal proceedings were done, Bridewell smiled at her attorney and turned for her arms to be handcuffed behind her back by the bailiff. She again shuffled past Gloria Rehrig with no acknowledgment, head high and staring straight ahead.