February 24, 2000
Huntsville, Texas
Betty Lou Beets is executed for the murder of her fifth husband, Jimmy Don Beets

Jimmy Don was reported missing on August 6, 1983; his boat was found adrift on a lake near his Gun Barrel City, Texas home on August 12. On board were Jimmy Don’s fishing license, a life jacket, and the nitroglycerine tablets he took to treat his angina. The scattered medication on the deck of the boat suggested Jimmy Don had had a heart attack near the edge of the boat and fell into the water where he was presumed to have drowned. The waters were dragged in hopes of recovering Jimmy Don’s body but without success.

Jimmy Don Beets
via New York Daily News

Nearly two years later, one of Betty Lou’s children from her first marriage admitted to authorities his mother had informed him of her plan to shoot and kill Jimmy Don. Betty Lou instructed her son to leave while she carried out the murder. The son complied. When he returned, he helped his mother bury his stepfather’s body and together the pair abandoned Jimmy Don’s boat on the lake.

A search warrant was served on June 8, 1985 after the son’s incriminating statement. During the search, law enforcement found Jimmy Don’s remains buried under an ornamental wishing well in his front yard; Betty Lou had asked her husband to dig a hole for the planter days before his murder. In addition to Jimmy Don’s body, authorities found the remains of Betty Lou’s fourth husband, Doyle Wayne Barker, whose makeshift grave was marked by the patio of a storage shed in Betty Lou’s backyard. (Barker had disappeared in 1981 and Betty Lou had told Barker’s family various stories about his absence, including a story in which Barker had “walked off one day” after an argument and another involving Barker leaving “to buy cigarettes and never returned.”) Both men had been shot to death, possibly with the same gun, and both had been wrapped in identical sleeping bags. Betty Lou was arrested the day the bodies were found, and charged with capital murder.

Betty Lou Beets via Reuters

The investigation into Betty Lou revealed her second husband, Bill Lane, had been shot, as well. At the time of the shooting, the couple had been divorced. According to Betty Lou, Lane had seen her in a bar speaking with another man, became jealous, followed her home, and threatened to kill her. She claimed she was forced to resort to self-defense and shot Lane twice in the back. Lane’s statement alleged that Betty Lou had called him and requested him to come to her house, whereupon she drew a gun and shot him. Betty Lou was arrested, though Lane submitted an affidavit stating her version of events was the truth. With the affidavit, Betty Lou pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated assault in 1972, receiving a fine of $150 including court costs. The pair remarried — and divorced again — that same year. Lane died 10 years later of natural causes.

The prosecution demonstrated Jimmy Don held a $110,000 life insurance policy, which had been taken out without his knowledge and named Betty Lou as the beneficiary. The former fire department captain also had a $1,200 a month pension plan which Betty Lou was attempting to secure. After having some difficulties obtaining the finances due to Jimmy Don’s body still being missing, Betty Lou agreed to take a lump sum of nearly $16,000 plus monthly payouts of $790 for the remainder of her life or until she remarried. She was set to receive payments beginning June 10, 1985, though her arrest two days before barred her from collection of the funds. The prosecution also called two of Betty Lou’s children, one of whom testified he had assisted with the burial of Jimmy Don while another testified she had assisted with the burial of Barker.

During her defense, Betty Lou attempted to shift blame onto her son, whom she claimed had killed Jimmy Don during an argument. She explained she helped her son disguise the killing because he “was on probation. He’d just gotten six years [for burglary]. I couldn’t save Jimmy Don. I guess I could have told the truth then, but I had to help him [her son].”

Betty Lou was convicted of Jimmy Don’s murder on October 11, 1985 and sentenced to death on October 14. She was not tried for Barker’s murder. Betty Lou was executed on February 24, 2000 at the age of 62 and declined to leave a final statement.

Betty Lou Beets. Clark County Prosecutor. Accessed: February 24, 2021. http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/beets616.htm
Bovsun, Mara. “Black Widow of Texas almost got away with killing two husbands in 1980s.” New York Daily News. March 5, 2017. Accessed: February 24, 2021. https://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/black-widow-texas-killing-husbands-article-1.2989015
Moritz, John. “Texas set to execute the ‘Black Widow’.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram. February 11, 2000
Betty Lou Beets, Petitioner-appellee, Cross-appellant, v. James A. Collins, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, respondent-appellant, Cross-appellee, 986 F.2d 1478 (5th Cir. 1993). US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. March 18, 1993. Archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/986/1478/101335/
Potter, Karen. “Woman wins new trial in husband’s slaying.” Forth Worth Star-Telegram. November 13, 1987
Lestage, Donna M. “Slaying Victim’s Family Attend Beets Trial Daily.” Tyler Morning Telegraph. October 12, 1985
Lestage, Donna M. “Beets Convicted.” Tyler Morning Telegraph. October 12, 1985
“Beets convicted of capital murder in husband’s death.” Kilgore News Herald. October 13, 1985

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