Wednesday, December 24, 2008

YOUR TURN: Why Does Everyone in Betty Neumar's Life Die?

by Michelle Feuer

I am thirty-five years old and I should have babies—not grandmothers—on the brain. As a producer for CBS 48 Hours, I rushed short notice to a story in Virginia for a colleague whose grandparent died, which, oddly, was on the same day that my 90-year-old grandparents were coming in from L.A. to Atlanta for a visit. All these grandmothers made me remember a case that I started in May, but which came to a complete halt. The jarring stop contrasts with the international media coverage and piles of investigative work by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mitch Weiss, and the endless stream of oddities that I haven’t found answers to.

Bad Luck Grandmother or Black Widow?

The case of 76-year-old grandmother and hairdresser Betty Neumar made headlines last spring. In May, a source in Augusta, Georgia told me Betty had been arrested for soliciting the murder of her former husband, Harold Gentry, way back in 1986. Solicitation of murder, a murder that happened in 1986? Why should we all be so interested? (This is the second Women in Crime Ink story on the case.)

CBS 48 Hours allowed me to dig deeper. Guided by reports from then-AP reporter Mitch Weiss, who was on the ground in Albemarle, North Carolina (where Betty had lived with her husband, Harold Gentry), I learned that Betty Neumar has five dead husbands—and a dead son.

The Body Count Begins

Betty was in Ironton, Ohio when she met her first husband, Clarence Malone, whom she married at age 18. Shocking for the 1950s, Betty filed a public complaint against him claiming abuse. I could never find a divorce record, but family members now say the couple split eighteen years before Clarence Malone was found dead with a gunshot wound to the back of his head at his auto repair shop in 1970. Betty and Malone had son Gary together who was later to be adopted by Betty’s second husband (see below). No one was arrested for Malone’s murder.

Also known as “Bee,” Betty stayed in Ohio and married James Flynn (Husband #2, who adopted her young son, Gary). And the question marks just keep getting bigger when looking into this stage in her life. Betty reportedly told investigators that James Flynn died on a pier somewhere in New York in the 1950s, and that she had no other information.

Decades later, her son, Gary, would die of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound" after his mother took out a life insurance policy on him, according to her grandson Jeff Carstensen.

Before you can understand the death of her son Gary, you have to understand her move to Florida and marriage to Husband #3, Richard Sills.

Did Husband #3 Know Too Much?

Richard Sills was a Navy guy and in July 1965, Sills was found dead in the couple’s home in the Florida Keys. Betty reportedly told investigators that they were arguing when Sills snapped, took out a gun and shot himself.

Again, the investigation didn’t lead anywhere at the time. After Betty’s arrest this spring, NCIS investigator Mark Barstow found military records about the case, but without an autopsy it wasn’t clear how many bullets entered Sills’ body. Recent reports suggest that Sills may have been shot twice, not once, although there is no solid proof for such claims. The records are simply gone or never existed at all.

The way it has been explained to me is that due to the Florida statute of limitations, Sills’ body cannot be exhumed. Does his death scream motive for Betty’s son, Gary Flynn who died in 1985? Gary Flynn was reportedly in the house at the time of Sills’ death. Was he going to blow the whistle?

More Nuptials, More Funerals . . .

Husband #4,
Harold Gentry, has been the most publicized death and the one that sparked the big dig into Betty's background. In 1968, the couple married in Georgia. At 36, she was the older woman; he was 29. Didn’t he ask about her past? Yes. According to Harold’s brother, Al Gentry, Betty told Harold that she’d been married before, but that her first husband had died of cancer. She worked as a school bus driver, waitress, and did hair. He was gone a lot, driving trucks.

The marriage lasted for two decades until Harold was found dead in the house with multiple gunshot wounds. Al Gentry and his brother, Richard, said Betty collected at least $20,000 in life insurance, plus other benefits from the military and sold the couple's house and other items. The death remained unsolved.

After Gentry’s death, Betty moved on to
Husband #5, John Neumar. They stayed married for fourteen years until he died in October. The cause of death was due to sepsis. Laboratory analysis of the urn and ashes came up with nothing of interest.

Betty’s attorney in North Carolina, Charles Parnell, spoke to CBS 48 Hours on-camera, but sticks strictly to the subject of Betty’s solicitation case. She is currently out on bail, despite suggestions by prosecutors that she may have at least 28 aliases and an overseas bank account. We’d all love to hear Betty’s side of things—especially because there is relatively no paper trail to sort out truth from possible falsehood.

Today, Harold Gentry's brother, Al, still never leaves the house without a gun. He believes that Betty Neumar isn’t done yet. Is he right? Regardless of the answer, the truth should not be buried with Betty Neumar.

Michelle Feuer is a producer with CBS 48 Hours Mystery and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Her passion is developing shows for CBS which end in remarkable stories being told to millions of people. She refuses to have a boring day and tries to be in the outdoors as much as possible. She is always inspired by her colleague, Jenna Jackson, who got her to blog for Women in Crime Ink.


Kathryn Casey said...

Interesting post, Michelle. Neumar's case is fascinating. Thanks for dropping in at WCI. Glad to have you here.

Regan said...

I enjoyed the post very much.

Please keep us posted. I hate to think this woman can just go on killing?

Too many questions with this one!

Jessica said...
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