Return of the Black Widow

Page 7 of 13

After he'd loaned her almost $24,000 and she'd made no effort to pay him back, Kuba declined Sandra's request to buy a Jeep Cherokee for her daughters. Sandra began to stand him up. Their last communiqué was an answering-machine message from Sandra canceling a date to the ballet. Relieved, Kuba wrote her a letter detailing what she owed him. He never heard from Sandra again.

A month later, Kuba was contacted by Finney. At the same time she was involved with Kuba, Finney had loaned Sandra almost $75,000 from his pension fund for tuition and various other crises. When Finney, who said he didn't have an affair with Sandra, asked for the expected repayment, Sandra told him, "I don't owe you this money. I think you gave it to me. If you want to divorce your wife, you can come live with me and enjoy your money."

The two men discovered that yet another California lawyer, once engaged to marry Sandra, had given or loaned her close to $200,000 and had not been repaid. The three men had loaned her nearly $300,000 in two years. One acquaintance would later estimate Sandra's monthly expenses at $20,000--tuition, parties, rent, car payments and the occasional ball gown.

After Kuba and Finney sued, the 1987 D story began appearing in Marin County mailboxes and on fax machines, polarizing Sandra's new friends. An FBI agent asked Cindy Abbott, one of Sandra's defenders, if she had read the story. "If you took Betsy Bagwell and put her in California," the agent told her, "you are Betsy Bagwell." Abbott and her husband hastily cut off Sandra.

Elizabeth Merrill, a mainstay of San Francisco society, had introduced Sandra to a rich Hong Kong financier. They'd attended a charity ball together, and Sandra told Merrill he'd invited her to visit Hong Kong. Now Merrill called the financier to warn him. The man explained that days earlier he'd returned home to discover Sandra waiting in his living room. "It was an extraordinarily clever, highly polished performance," Merrill told me. "I believe she insinuated she was pregnant, had undergone some hormonal changes [indicative of pregnancy] in the last month." The man simply told Sandra to send him the medical bills.

With little hope of recovering his money and to avoid mounting legal costs, Kuba dismissed his lawsuit. Finney won a default judgment but never collected a dime.

On July 12, 1989, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story called "Mystery in Marin," outlining the controversy over Sandra. Her saga was picked up by tabloids like The Globe and TV shows such as Geraldo, Inside Edition and Current Affair, spreading beyond San Francisco and Dallas. Sandra Bridewell had gone from mysterious to notorious.

Enter Camille

At some point in the early '90s, Sandra seemingly vanished, leaving few trails in public records and databases and re-emerging as Camille Bridewell. She spent some of the time pingponging between Arizona and California, where two children attended college. All three would ultimately graduate with college degrees, and the few Dallas friends who kept up with them described them as well-adjusted despite their mother's bizarre behavior. All three have married; Sandra now has two grandchildren.

In 1994, I heard from a private detective hired by the wife of an entrepreneur who split his time between Idaho and San Francisco. Camille Bridewell, now 50 and living in Palo Alto, began having an affair with him in 1992. After his wife discovered the affair, the man moved Camille to Boston, appeasing her with a $3,000-a-month apartment on Beacon Hill. Camille then revealed she was three months' pregnant with his child. (Says one former Dallas friend: "Sandra could have passed for pregnant in her 40s." When she gained weight, it went to her stomach.) Six months later, Sandra called him to say she'd had the child and given it up for adoption.

He immediately flew to Boston to be at her side. Camille's performance was so convincing--she pointed to a puddle in the bathroom and said that's where her water broke--the man would later refuse to believe she'd had a hysterectomy 15 years earlier.

Not long after the "birth," the man and his wife met with Camille in a Boston restaurant. After paying Camille's rent for six months, he wanted his name off the lease. Concerned that Camille might demand child support at some point, the couple asked for proof that there was a baby. Camille refused to name the priest she'd given the baby to, got angry, shoved the table and shouted for them to leave her alone.

Over the next few years, Camille Bridewell had addresses in Connecticut and Hawaii, sometimes overlapping with her daughter Emily's residence. Public records show that at one point, she used the Social Security numbers of Lois Chilcutt, a 95-year-old Fort Worth resident who died in 1996, and Roland Stuckey, a food store manager in South Carolina.

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Glenna Whitley