"My time is running out and the state of Texas will pick up where my husband left off," said Betty Lou Beets in a 1999 statement—lethal injection looming just around the corner. At the time, Betty had served 14 years on death row, fervently petitioning for a life sentence. With her execution, she would become the second Texas woman to receive the death penalty since the state's resumption of capital punishment in 1976. Between 1972 and 1976, the death penalty was outlawed in the United States.
"While the Texas law enforcement out there did nothing to help me," she continued. "It is now legal for them to finish the job."
Betty is referring to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her five husbands—two of whom she shot and killed. But were her actions committed in self defense (and as the result of post-traumatic stress), or were they of a colder, greedier nature?
There were few moments in Betty Lou Beets' life in which she was not at the mercy of an abuser. After a troubling childhood, a 15-year-old Betty married Robert Branson in 1952, and became a first-time mother the next year. Saddled with wifely responsibilities and the rigors of child-rearing, Beets longed for the teenage freedoms her friends enjoyed.
Those freedoms never came for Betty, but she certainly sought them out on her own terms. Even with six children—her last child with Robert, Bobby, was born in 1966—she would stay out late into the night, drinking and flirting at local bars. Her behavior deepened the rift in her already strained marriage and, after 17 tumultuous years, the couple finally split.
Robert wouldn't be Betty's last husband—or her last toxic relationship. At 33, she tied the knot with Billy York Lane, which jumpstarted an on-and-off romance full of betrayal, jealous games, and domestic violence. One 1970 fight even ended in near-fatal wounds, after Betty shot Billy in the back twice. While she cited self defense, Billy's report of a blindsiding assault raised doubts about her credibility. Much to everyone's confusion, Betty's charges were promptly dropped, her minimal fines were paid, and she shacked up with Billy for another month.
Next came Ronnie Threlkold, whose boozing didn't jibe with Betty's extreme emotional highs and lows. At his ex-wife's trial years later, Threlkold would testify that he, too, was once a victim of her physical attacks: She had allegedly tried to run him over with her car.
Ronnie was the last of Betty's husbands to escape their marriage alive. Number four, Doyle Wayne Barker, was shot and killed in 1981—then buried beneath their patio with the help of Betty's daughter. His corpse remained undisturbed until police uncovered the body of Jimmy Don Beets—her fifth husband—wrapped in a sleeping bag nearby. Both had been violent prior to their deaths.
During the course of her 1985 trial, there was no mention of the abuse Betty had suffered throughout her life. After being convicted for Jimmy's murder—the court ruled she'd wanted his pension and insurance money—and a succession of failed appeals, Betty was handed a definitive execution date in 1999. She died by lethal injection in February the following year.
Author Irene Pence covers the entire case in her book Buried Memories, chronicling Betty Lou Beet's earliest years through her 2000 execution. The following excerpt takes readers into the night of her first murder—that of Doyle Wayne Barker—offering a chilling glimpse of a woman undone, and the lengths she went to protect herself.
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Featured photo: Wikipedia