Tag Archive for Texas

Killer Grandma

The sun had been down for more than an hour over Cedar Creek Reservoir outside Gun Barrel City, Texas when a couple of fishermen discovered a fishing boat drifting empty near the Redwood Beach Marina. They pulled it ashore and discovered a fishing license belonging to Jimmy Don Beets, along with a life jacket and nitroglycerine pills.
 
Lil Smith, owner of the marina, contacted the Coast Guard, called Beets’s home and eventually spoke to Betty Lou Beets, Jimmy’s wife. Betty Lou, 46, arrived at the marina, positively identified the boat and Jimmy’s fishing license.
 
High winds prevented authorities from mounting a search that night, but early in the morning on August 7, 1983, search and rescue personnel from the Coast Guard and the Parks and Wildlife Service began an unsuccessful three-week search for Beets, a 26-year veteran of the City of Dallas Fire Department.
 
A deputy for the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department told Betty Lou on the first day of the search that because the reservoir was being used for speed boat races that day, the high level of activity on the water would aid the search.
 
With circumstantial evidence that Jimmy had likely suffered a heart attack, fallen overboard and drowned, the police tabled the investigation into his disappearance, despite the fact that investigators were puzzled by the fact that Jimmy’s eyeglasses were also found in the bottom of the boat. They should have been in the water on his face, they felt.
 
But feelings are not evidence and at that time in the investigation authorities had no reason to suspect foul play. Drowning is an extremely rare way to murder someone simply because there are many easier ways. In 2015, the FBI reported just 14 of the nearly 16,000 murders were committed by drowning.
 
After the search by hundreds of volunteers proved fruitless, Betty Lou began inquiring about whether she could collect Jimmy’s city-paid life insurance and retirement benefits.
 
Unfortunately for her, Betty Lou was repeatedly thwarted in her attempts to get her hands on Jimmy’s money. She was disappointed to find that as his spouse — they had been married a little under a year — she was his beneficiary, but because Jimmy was not legally dead, she would have to wait seven years before collecting the $100,000 life insurance and $1,200 monthly pension.
 
A year or so after Jimmy disappeared, Betty Lou sold the boat despite the fact that it was not titled in her name and had been Jimmy’s property before they were wed. Around the same time, the house Jimmy owned — that she had unsuccessfully been trying to sell — mysteriously went up in flames and was destroyed. Betty Lou attempted to collect on the homeowner’s insurance, but the insurance company delayed the payout because of the strange circumstances of the fire.
 
While that claim was pending, she hired an attorney to petition the court to have Jimmy declared legally dead and to be appointed executor of his estate. Jimmy apparently did not have a will. At the time, under the circumstances by which Betty Lou was appointed administrator, Texas law prohibited distribution of a decedent’s estate for three years.
 
In the spring of 1985, Rick Rose, an investigator with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department began looking into Jimmy’s disappearance once again after he received a tip that “there may be possible questions concerning the cause of death” of Jimmy Don Beets.
 
As it turns out, the tip came from Betty Lou’s daughter-in-law, whose husband had helped his mother dispose of Jimmy’s body after she shot him in the back of the head as he slept.
 
The ensuing investigation revealed that Betty Lou was a cold-blooded killer who had a tendency to dispose of her unwanted husbands through murder. While searching for Jimmy’s body on the Beets homestead, investigators found the remains of Betty Lou’s third husband, Doyle Wayne Barker, who had, according to Betty Lou, simply up and left after a year of marriage. Barker was also shot in the head.
 
beetssummaryThe police investigation also found that in 1972, Betty Lou had pleaded guilty to assault for shooting her second husband while they were separated. He survived, they divorced, but after she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, they remarried for a time.
 
Betty Lou went on trial for the murders in 1985. The chief witness against her was her son, Robbie Branson, who recounted how his mother told him that she was planning to kill Jimmy.
 
“She said she wanted me to leave and she didn’t want me to be around when she shot and killed him,” Robbie testified.
 
Robbie took a motorcycle ride for a couple of hours, and when he returned, Jimmy was “gone.” He never saw Jimmy’s body, but Robbie helped his mother move a body-sized package wrapped in a sleeping bag out to the wishing well in the front yard, cover it with peat moss and watched as his mother planted flowers atop the body.
 
About three months afterward he confided the incident to his common-law wife because “it was just bugging me,” but that he waited two years to talk to authorities “because I was protecting my mother.”
 
Under cross-examination, Robbie denied the defense’s contention that he was actually the killer.
 
“I never killed a man,” he said. “She’s lying now, saying I killed him when she killed him.”
 
Betty Lou took the stand in her own defense and pointed the finger at her son. Jimmy and Robbie had been arguing over the 19-year-old’s decision to quit his job and came to blows, she claimed. While she was in another room, she heard the shot and ran in to find her husband dying from a shot to the head.
 
“I told him that if he was alive, he would understand that we had to bury him in the front yard to protect Robbie,” she said.
 
Betty Lou could not explain how her other husband’s corpse ended up buried beneath a shed in the back yard. She suspected her second husband had committed that murder, however.
 
The jury believed Robbie and convicted Betty Lou of capital murder. She was sentenced to death and disappeared into the Texas prison system, becoming the third woman on Texas’s death row.
 
In 1990, Betty Lou became an issue in the presidential campaign when then-Gov. George W. Bush refused to spare her life. She had become something of a cause celebre because she was not only a grandmother on death row, but had claimed to have been abused by all of her husbands. She could not produce any proof, however, to support her claims.
 
The Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote to Bush, saying a reprieve “would demonstrate your compassionate conservatism and that you are willing to do what is right even in the face of potential criticism from your constituents.”
 
Ignoring the pleas of anti-death penalty advocates, Bush signed the death warrant and 62-year-old Betty Lou Beets became the 121st person to be executed during his term as governor.

A Texas Manhunt

Prison inmates with lots of time on their hands frequently spend time plotting revenge against those who put them behind bars. Unless a con has a strong support network outside prison walls like members of a gang, usually nothing comes of these plans.
 
Even in most instances where prisoners manage to escape, their lofty goals of settling old scores are often forgotten because avoiding capture becomes their highest priority.
 
As a result of a few tragic incidents, most states have implemented some sort of system to alert victims and witnesses when a convict’s custody status changes.
 
The impetus for the major victim alert program, VINE, was the 1993 murder of a Louisville, Kentucky, woman slain at the hands her ex-boyfriend who had previously attacked her. She was supposed to have been notified when he was released on bail, but that didn’t happen. After that incident crime victims’ advocates began a nationwide movement for alert systems to notify victims when they might be in danger.
 
The VINE program came 20 years too late for Texas residents T.L. Baker and Lena Ott who had previously testified against a couple of convicts who escaped from prison bent on revenge.
 
The two men, Dalton Williams and Jerry Ben Ulmer, were serving prison terms in Colorado when they escaped from Colorado State Prison along with another man, Richard Magnum, in August 1974. The trio headed south through New Mexico toward north-central Texas where the people who helped put them in jail were living.
 
Williams, 29, was a former Dallas resident who had been convicted of robbery, assault, and conspiracy in Colorado, based in part on the testimony of rancher T.L. Baker, who lived outside the small community of Rotan, Texas. Williams was serving a four-to-six year term for his crimes.
 
Ulmer, 22, was serving a life term for a Colorado murder, but had previously been convicted of burglary for the break-in at the home of Ray and Lena Ott in Gordon, Texas. He was out on bond pending appeal of that conviction when he killed a man in Colorado and drew the life term.
 
Magnum, 22, was a Denver resident serving a brief stretch for car theft. He had no ties to Texas and was essentially an idiot who thought it would be a good idea to go along for the ride with a pair of desperate violent felons. Regardless, he demonstrated his skill as a car thief as the crime wave rolled toward Texas, but he would not come to a good end.
 
The three men escaped by creating mannequins and placing them in their bunks. They then scaled two prison walls, eased their way through razor wire and headed off into the night by stealing a car in front of the prison. At some point they burglarized a home and got their hands on some firearms. Thus armed, they headed toward Texas, leaving a trail of disabled stolen cars in their wake.
 
Williams had previously written Baker that he would exact his revenge, and the rancher alerted police. They dismissed the threat because police believed Williams would be in jail for several more years.
 
Heading through New Mexico using a series of stolen cars, the trio came across two young women who had parked on the side of the road on their way to Albuquerque. They kidnapped and raped the women as they made their way eastward, showing up at Baker’s ranch two days after fleeing Colorado.
 
Around sunrise on Saturday, Williams and “Jerry Ben crawled up to a position 35 or 40 yards in the grass in front of the residence of T.L. Baker,” said Erath County District Attorney Bob Glasgow. “They laid outside until Baker came out of the house…and Williams shot him.”
 
While Baker lay dying on the front porch, Williams walked up to him and poked him with the .303 rifle.
 
“Mr. Baker, do you recognize me?” Williams asked. “I want you to know why I killed you. I told you I was going to do it.”
 
Baker’s dog was licking his face, and Ulmer shot it. After tying up Baker’s son the two men stole more weapons and fled along with Magnum and their two hostages.
 
Shortly after the first murder, the trio released the two women, deciding “they were more trouble than they were worth.” Glasgow later recounted why the killers spared the women. “They showed the only sense of remorse we know of when they tried to put their rape victims on a bus to New Mexico,” he said. The victims were told to call police so they would not be implicated as accomplices.
 
After releasing the women, the men began to engage in random acts of violence. They shot at a car they encountered at a rural intersection and then peppered a roadside diner with buckshot.
 
Later Saturday night the killers arrived at the home of Ray and Lena Ott, whose home Ulmer had burglarized. The Otts testified against him. The trio fired through the front door of the Ott residence after Ray Ott refused to admit them. He was wounded and unable to stop them from entering. Ulmer then murdered Lena Ott.
 
A Texas Ranger spotted the murderers as they fled the Ott home and pursued them. In a running gun battle, the Ranger’s windshield was shot out, he lost control of his vehicle and the convicts escaped.
 
By this time, word of the desperados’ appearance in the area had spread.
 
“People are running scared,” one Stephenville resident to a United Press International reporter. “Rumors are a dime a dozen. You couldn’t buy a gun in this town for any price.”
 
One of the rumors was that at Baker’s home Williams dropped a “death list” that included the names of their targets, including Glasgow and the judge who oversaw Ulmer’s trial. The FBI denied the existence of the list, but Glasgow and the judge both put their families in protective custody. There was no indication that the Otts had ever been notified their lives were in danger.
 
Local, state, and federal authorities cordoned off the roads leading out of Erath County after the their car was found smashed into an embankment.
 
“We are going to maintain our perimeter, our roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the night,” said Ranger Captain C.W. Burks. “They’d just as soon kill anybody that gives them any trouble whatever.”
 
For some 30 hours the escapees managed to elude the 200 officers who were using Jeeps, horses, and helicopters to track them.
 
Early Monday morning four officers scouring the countryside from a car heard some dogs barking at a nearby house and spotted the killers as they waded across a stream.
 
“The dogs barked. We threw the light at them and we saw the silhouettes,” said Mineral Springs policeman Jim Ellmore. “We hollered for them to stop. They did not and then started running and we started firing.”
 
Magnum, the only one of the three with no ties to Texas or the victims, was struck in the arms and body, and a portion of his face was blown off. He fell dead, what was left of his face buried deep in the muddy stream bank.
 
After Magnum fell, Williams and Ulmer surrendered without a fight.
 
They both eventually pleaded guilty to a plethora of charges relating to the rampage and received multiple life terms in the Texas prison system. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled capital punishment unconstitutional two years earlier, so the death penalty was not available.
 
Ulmer was subsequently transferred to federal custody because of his participation in an investigation into abuses in the Texas system.