Longform

Return of the Black Widow

Page 5 of 13

On June 16, 1982, police arrived at the Bagwell home at 8:20 p.m. They told the doctor that his 40-year-old wife had been found slumped in the front seat of her Mercedes station wagon in a parking lot at Love Field. Dressed in shorts, a swimsuit and a blouse knotted over her midriff, Betsy had a stolen .22-caliber pistol clutched in her right hand and a bullet in her brain. A parking ticket indicated she'd entered the lot at 6:05 p.m. The last person to see her alive was Sandra.

Betsy's death was ruled a suicide; residue on her hand was consistent with someone who'd held the gun and pulled the trigger. But her husband and friends never believed Betsy killed herself. That morning, she'd told her children that dinner was thawing in the sink and not to "pig out." She wasn't depressed, and she hadn't left a suicide note. And where would a respectable Highland Park mom get a stolen Saturday night special? Wouldn't she just buy a gun at a sporting-goods store?

Dr. Bagwell hired private detective Al Teel, who took the gun to a forensics expert in California. Dr. John Thornton determined that Betsy, grabbing for the weapon, could have gotten the residue on her right hand when someone else pulled the trigger.

Teel pointed out that the day before Betsy's death, Sandra had called Dr. Bagwell for help with her stalled car. When the doctor arrived, a policeman was climbing into the vehicle, which started right away. The next day, Sandra used the same strategy to get Betsy to take her to Love Field not once but twice. If anyone asked about the car, Sandra could point to the previous day's incident as proof that her car was unreliable.

When Betsy didn't return home, Dr. Bagwell called Sandra at a restaurant where she was having dinner with friends to ask where Betsy was. Sandra said she didn't know. "John," she said, "you sound accusatory."

Betsy's body hadn't been found yet.

Despite Teel's findings, Dallas police refused to reopen the investigation of Betsy's death. But rumors about "The Black Widow" crescendoed in 1985 with yet another mysterious death.

Husband No. 3

Roaming the Park Cities in search of a garage apartment, Alan Rehrig slammed on the brakes when he saw a dark-haired beauty on her lawn, talking to the yard man. The former star athlete at Oklahoma University had moved to Dallas in 1984 after a failed pro golf career and had taken a job with a mortgage company.

Friends would later warn the tall, redheaded Rehrig about Sandra, but he was instantly enamored with her gentle nature and good looks. He shrugged off the difference in their ages. He was 29; Sandra told him she was 36. It was the first big lie. She was actually 40, 11 years his senior.

After Bridewell's death, Sandra had thrown herself into a frenzy of dating, sometimes using her children to woo men. She tried the technique on Rehrig, sending her daughters up to his office with flowers. "I'm pulling for you and Sandra," one daughter told Rehrig. "We need a daddy." If some of Rehrig's friends had misgivings, so did Sandra's, seeing the good-looking athlete as a gold digger impressed with her big house on Lorraine.

Rehrig's ardor had cooled by the fall of 1984, when he told a friend that Sandra was pressing him for marriage. But after Sandra informed him she was pregnant, the two wed in December at The Mansion. A few weeks later, Sandra called Rehrig from a convenience-store pay phone, saying she'd just returned from Baylor hospital. She'd miscarried twins, both with red hair. Her story would have been preposterous to any woman, but Rehrig believed her and was devastated.

Early on, Sandra had pressed the issue of life insurance with Gloria Rehrig, Alan's mother. "She asked if I didn't think it was important for a young man with the responsibility of children to have life insurance," says Mrs. Rehrig, who agreed with Sandra. Rehrig took out a policy for $220,000.

The marriage quickly soured. They fought over disciplining her children; her son Britt was getting into trouble and cutting school. Rehrig complained that Sandra had run up charges of $20,000 on his credit card and had refused to pay it. Sandra told friends that Alan was no longer sexually interested in her and hinted he might be gay. She even hired a private detective to follow him, saying she suspected Alan of gambling or buying drugs. They separated in November 1985, and Alan moved in with a co-worker, Phil Askew.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Glenna Whitley