Authors: Irene Pence
Betty’s nightgown clung to her as sweat and Wayne’s blood ran down her body, the stench of gunpowder filling her nostrils. Blood poured through the open star-shaped wounds in the back of her husband’s head where she’d just fired three shots of her .38-caliber Colt revolver.
Eager to wash the blood from her hands, Betty went into the bathroom, exchanging the sopping nightgown for an old T-shirt. After tucking the sheets of green plastic around Wayne’s body, she stuffed the dead weight into a blue canvas sleeping bag. With a healthy push, the body tumbled off the bed and landed with a
Little by little, she dragged the gruesome package into the closet and closed the door. The body safely hidden, she scrubbed away every last trace of her husband and his murder before returning to bed.
Without remorse or guilt to trouble her, Betty fell soundly asleep.
Other books by Irene Pence
A CLUE FROM THE GRAVE
Published by Pinnacle Books
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
Other books by Irene Pence
Mark, Laurie, and Lisa,
who were raised with love,
and are loving adults
Rick Rose hadn’t slept for three days. As the chief criminal investigator for the Henderson County Sheriff, he had spent that time taking statements and searching for evidence. But the dark-haired, ex-Green Beret’s job wasn’t over yet. In fact, it had just begun.
Shaded by towering oaks in a heavily forested yard, the DA’s chief investigator, Michael O’Brien, stood beside Rose as they waited impatiently to see how their hunch played out. The subdivision, called Cherokee Shores, bordered on the twenty-mile-long Cedar Creek Lake in north Texas. The yard sat on an inlet to the lake, and the air was claustrophobic with humidity.
Both men, handsome, tall, muscular, and in their late thirties, had seen action in Vietnam. Now the area in front of them resembled a battlefield with the uniformed men and all the equipment.
“Sure didn’t take you long to get the warrant,” Rose said.
“You did the groundwork,” O’Brien replied. “I just had to convince Judge Holland we had enough probable cause to dig up somebody’s yard.”
“Digging’s a little more intrusive than knocking on someone’s door. But we’re not exactly doing this with smoke and mirrors. The judge knows by now we’d only take him hearsay we can back up.”
“Just the same,” O’Brien said, “it’s hearsay, and our informants aren’t all that credible. Think about it, we don’t have a shot-glassful of physical evidence.”
O’Brien glanced at the road running in front of the property. “Look at all those rubberneckers out there. It’s going to be embarrassing if we tip over the wishing well and nothing’s there.”
“If that well’s empty, I know a couple lawmen who’ve stuck their necks out for nothing.”
“And there’s a district judge who’ll think twice before giving us another evidentiary search warrant.”
“Let’s be positive. I’ve got that warrant right here,” Rose said, patting his shirt pocket. “Nobody can keep us from digging up Betty Lou Beets’s yard, and we won’t stop ’til we find what we’re looking for.”
“If it’s here.”
“Right,” Rose replied thoughtfully, “if it’s here.”
Rose and O’Brien made a good team. Rose had great energy and a dry wit. He acted as the unofficial spokesman for the sheriff’s office, and possessed the tenacity to keep trying to solve a case long after others had dropped the ball. O’Brien had a calm demeanor and a quick mind. His photographic memory gave him the ability to remember a crime’s minute details, even years later. The legal side of issues was his forte.
While they waited for deputies to unload the backhoe from a flatbed truck, Rose’s gaze wandered past the fifty feet of trees, past the inlet, and to the blue waters of Cedar Creek Lake. Sixty miles south of Dallas, the 34,000-acre, man-made lake sat tucked inside the east Texas greenbelt of pine, yaupon holly, and stately oaks. The towns ringing its shores wore colorful names: Enchanted Oaks, Payne Springs, and Star Harbor. But tonight, on June 8, 1985, the action was taking place here in Gun Barrel City.
The wheels of the backhoe touched ground and Rose hurriedly gulped his Coke. Even with his lack of sleep, he didn’t need the caffeine, for his knees were already knocking as he went to search for his boss, Sheriff Charlie Fields.
Deputies and investigators clustered around their sheriff, who wore his trademark white Stetson.
Fields looked up at Rose and said, “I understand Mike wants to start with the wishing well?”
“I have seven deputies here now,” Fields said, “and more are on their way.”
For eighteen hours the day before, Rose had Deputy Ron Shields sitting in a car in front of this lot that held a seventy-foot-long trailer. The trailer had mysteriously burst into flames the night before last. Immediately after the fire, fire marshals had taped off the home, but that wasn’t enough to keep out anyone bent on getting inside and disrupting evidence. Or removing bodies for that matter.
Now the last rays of the afternoon sun caught the home’s front and back decks, which were laden with pots of flowers—some hanging, others clustered on the deck floor. Someone had removed all the weeds from the pots and flower beds, and apparently snipped off any tired blossoms, for only fresh blooms remained. Rose couldn’t imagine anyone having that kind of patience with flowers. He brushed by the purple petunias that spilled from a brick-and-wood wishing well in the front yard, and went to talk to police.
“Good, you’re about finished stringing the crime-scene tape,” he told an officer. “Without that, all those people in the street would be up here as soon as we started digging.”
The officer continued taping the entire yard, saying, “Like the manual says, ‘Secure the crime scene.’ We’ve got to keep the curious at bay.”
“If we find anything,” Rose said, “the curious will want to jump
the bay. When we start digging up graves, it won’t be pretty.”
Any Saturday in June at six
would normally find people racing across the sparkling lake on their motor boats, water skis, or bouncing over waves on their Sea-Dos. Instead, they were watching deputies begin a search. The men had been there an hour, with the temperature still hovering at a sweat-inducing one hundred degrees. They photographed the crime scene and waited for field agent Charles Linch with the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science. O’Brien had called him before turning over one spadeful of dirt, but it would take Linch more than an hour to drive down from Dallas to lend a scientific hand.
Finally, the young-looking, mustached Charles Linch emerged from his van and went directly to O’Brien and Rose.
“Everything ready to get started?” Linch asked.
“More than ready,” O’Brien said, and signaled the driver to climb aboard the bright yellow backhoe. He put the machine in gear and started clawing at the four-foot-square wishing well. Its ladle scraped the redbrick base, then rose to latch on to the four-foot-high top edge of the brown wooden surround. As the backhoe inched forward, nails pulled from the wood and every joint creaked. Then the whole thing fell over, crashing with a thud as dirt and plants splattered everywhere.
Even with the media’s widespread use of police scanners, the quick arrival of reporters at this out-of-the-way spot on Red Bluff Loop surprised law enforcement. A helicopter from Channel Eight in Dallas landed two lots down on the street. Reporters had flown in on another helicopter from Tyler’s Channel Seven and the
Tyler Morning Telegraph.
There was also a scattering of correspondents from the
Athens Daily Review,
Cedar Creek Pilot,
Dallas Morning News.
The journalists had all heard the bizarre rumors, and now waited to see what would actually unfold.
Rose motioned to three gloved men to bring their shovels and follow him to the well. “Let’s be careful because we’re not sure what we’ll find. Just take off a little dirt at a time. He’s probably under the ground, but we’re not positive.”
As the men began turning the moist soil, Rose paced back and forth. All he could see was dirt. Judge Holland had a record of almost twenty years on the bench, so he didn’t have that much to lose if the search proved fruitless. But this was Rose’s first year here as a homicide investigator, and he wanted to prove he was no rookie. He had spent a total of thirteen years in law enforcement, much of it working for the district attorney in Dallas. Here in Henderson County, he had an opportunity to solve a case that had lain dormant for two years. In the three years he’d worked for the sheriff, he had arrested over two hundred drug dealers and had broken a gun burglary ring that put his reputation on the map.
Reddish-brown dirt flew from the deputies’ shovels, and perspiration dripped from their faces, while their shirts stuck to their skin. Periodically, they stopped to wipe off their faces and necks.
After digging a foot, one of the deputy’s shovels hit something hard. He jerked back his shovel, and turned to Rose. “What’s that?”
Rose squatted and brushed away dirt with his gloved hand. “Looks like wood. Get this thing cleared off and let’s see what we have.”
The deputy hurriedly scooped away the soil. Rose handed him a whisk broom and the man dusted off the remaining residue.
Then Rose tapped on a roughly cut piece of plywood, about three-feet square. “Isn’t this interesting? Where’s Ben? Has anyone seen Deputy Ashley?”
A deputy came running. “Here, sir. I was reloading my camera.”
“Good. I want you to get a picture of this. We want to show how premeditated it was. Here, get in close,” Rose said, stepping out of the way. “I want that jury to see how someone cut that piece of wood especially for the well.”
After Ashley took several photos, Rose bent over and wedged his fingers under the edge of the wood plank and pried it up. A dank, old-house mustiness floated up. Dirt had seeped under the wood and the men began gently digging with claw hammers.
The deputies removed another clump of soil, and a piece of blue canvas came into view. Momentarily, there was awestruck silence.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Rose murmured. “He’s here. Everyone told me he was buried under the well, but we’re still inside the well’s foundation.”
Rose bent over and examined the fabric. “Two years of dirt hasn’t affected its blue color. Take your time, guys, because this is it.”
A cheer went up from the men, and the humid night became electric. With high fives and confidence, the men returned to their job, but now they didn’t stop to wipe off perspiration.