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Crime News Snapped

‘Black Widow’ Grandmother Investigated After 5 Of Her Husbands Die

One after another, the husbands of Betty Neumar died in unusual circumstances, and she was eventually charged with arranging the murder of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry.

By Benjamin H. Smith

The 1986 murder of Harold Gentry sent shockwaves through the small town of Norwood, North Carolina. A beloved member of the community, Gentry didn’t seem to have an enemy in the world.

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Just before his death, however, he confided in his brother, Al Gentry, that all was not well in his marriage.

“Never trust that woman. She isn't who she says she is,” Harold said of his wife Betty, according to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper.

Although his family was suspicious, it would take another 20 years for people to learn Betty’s shocking true history.   

Born Betty Walden Johnson in Ironton, Ohio, in 1931, Betty went through many names during her lifetime, a result of her five marriages. Her father was a coal miner, but he later moved the family to Florida to work on the railroads.

Betty was first married just out of high school at the age of 18. She wed a man named Clarence Malone, but the union did not last long. In 1951, she claimed in court papers that Malone abused her, according to NBC News. Their marriage did produce a child, Gary, who was adopted by Betty’s second husband, James A. Flynn.

Before Betty met Harold Gentry in 1967, there would be another child, her and Flynn’s daughter, Peggy, and another husband, Navy man Richard Sills. Betty and Harold crossed paths in Florida, where he was stationed with the U.S. Army.

“My mom cut … hair down in Key West, and that’s how they met,” Betty and Harold’s daughter, Kellie Gentry, told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.

Harold and Betty were married in 1968, and Kellie was born a year later.

“They were great parents,” she told “Snapped.”

The family moved often, sometimes overseas or wherever else the military sent Harold. After 21 years of service, he left the Army, and the Gentrys decided to move back to his old hometown, where they built a house on land gifted to them by Harold’s sister and her husband.

Their idyllic family life, however, came to a tragic end on July 14, 1986, when Harold was found fatally shot, lying face-down inside his home. He had sustained multiple gunshot wounds, and investigators theorized he was killed in an ambush-style attack.

“There was a sunken living room in that house, and the way that Harold Gentry is shot and killed, it’s consistent with the shooter having been in a lower lying area,” forensic criminologist Dr. Laura Pettler told “Snapped.”

The home appeared to have been ransacked, leading authorities to believe that Harold walked in on a robbery in progress. It was known around town he had a large collection of antique clocks that he enjoyed fixing, but the house showed no signs of a break-in.

Betty was three and a half hours away in Augusta, Georgia, getting her truck fixed when her husband was gunned down. She rushed home after being contacted by police.

Harold’s younger brother, Al Gentry, said he first became suspicious of his sister-in-law when she arrived at the murder scene.

“No tears,” Al told People magazine. “If she had tears and had asked why somebody had killed him, I wouldn’t have thought about it.”

Instead, Al claimed Betty spent her time trying to explain her absence and establish an alibi.

During the ensuing decades, no suspects were ever named, and no arrests were ever made in connection with Harold’s murder. Al continued to press local law enforcement to renew their investigation, and in 2006, he found a receptive audience in newly-elected Stanly County Sheriff Rick Burris.

Al told Burris that Harold and Betty fought constantly, and that she had asked him to move out of their home just before the murder, according to local newspaper the Salisbury Post. He believed Betty hired someone to kill her husband after learning he was seeing another woman, reported BBC.

Burris agreed to reopen the case, assigning it to former Stanly County Sheriff’s Detective Lieutenant Scott Williams and Dr. Laura Pettler, who was working as an investigator with the District Attorney's Office. After reviewing the case file and crime scene photos, they came to believe the burglary scenario was staged.

“The things that were missing were inconsistent with the level of ransacking,” Pettler told “Snapped.”

The amount of times Harold was shot also seemed excessive for a robbery gone wrong.

“It was an execution, it wasn’t random shooting trying to shoot yourself out of a robbery,” Williams said in an interview with “Snapped.”

The investigators ran background queries with technology that was unavailable at the time of Harold’s murder, and when they came across Betty’s personal information, they made a startling discovery.

“She’d been married five times, and … all of them are dead,” Williams said.

Two of her husbands had been murdered, another had committed suicide and the other two had died under mysterious circumstances.  

Betty’s first husband, Clarence Malone, was fatally shot once in the back of the head in 1970 in Medina, Ohio, according to North Carolina NBC affiliate WITN.

After his and Betty’s divorce, Malone remarried twice and opened a body shop in the town. Investigators at the time said there were no signs of a robbery, and no one was ever charged with his murder.

Having been divorced for 18 years, Betty was never considered a suspect in his death, and there is no evidence to suggest she was connected to the slaying.

James Flynn, Betty’s second husband, died in 1955. She claimed he had frozen to death in a truck in New York City, but she allegedly told others he was shot to death on a pier, according to The Plain Dealer.

Investigators have been able to confirm little about Flynn’s life or death, and no evidence linked Betty to the murder.

“There is a death certificate for a James Flynn in New York, and that’s about as far as we were able to get with that,” Pettler told “Snapped.”

Betty’s third marriage was to Richard Sills, a sailor in the U.S. Navy, who died in 1967 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the Winston-Salem Journal newspaper. Betty claimed Sills shot himself during an argument.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service documents, however, said Sills had two bullet wounds, making suicide unlikely.

“If you try to commit suicide with a gun, if you shoot yourself the first time, you don't die, your body automatically goes into a defensive mode to where you throw the gun down. So you never see anybody commit suicide by shooting themselves twice,” Williams said.

At the time of Sills’ death, Betty’s two young children, Gary and Peggy Flynn, were in the next room.

"They heard them arguing in another room. Then a shot rang out,” said Gary Flynn’s wife, Cecelia Flynn, according to NBC News. “Gary told me he ran into the room and saw the body. There was blood all over... That image just stayed with him."

Gary committed suicide in Perry, Ohio, in 1985, and Cecelia claimed Betty — whom she described as “just not a nice person” — received a $10,000 life insurance payout upon her son’s death.

Following Harold’s murder, Betty moved to Augusta, Georgia, where she met fifth husband, John Neumar. At the time of their marriage in 1991, John was worth more than $300,000, but the couple filed for bankruptcy in 2000 with over $200,000 in debt spread across 43 credit cards, according to NBC News.

John died of the blood disease sepsis in 2007 at the age of 79. His children claimed Betty never notified them of their father’s death, which they only learned about after finding his obituary in the newspaper, according to The Plain Dealer. They were also shocked to learn she already had their father cremated.

The effects of sepsis are similar to arsenic poisoning, and John’s ashes were later tested.

“The cremains did have heavy metals in them, but there was no quantity that could be determined, and therefore, it was inconclusive. There was nothing else that could be done,” Pettler told “Snapped.”

As a result of Stanly County authorities’ efforts, Betty was charged with three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder in 2008, according to the Augusta Chronicle newspaper.

The indictment claimed she had attempted to hire three people to kill Harold, including a former police officer. She was 76 years old at the time of her arrest.

After several months in a North Carolina jail, Betty was released after posting $300,000 bail, according to Charlotte, North Carolina’s WBTV.  She went on to profess her innocence in a 2009 BBC documentary titled “Black Widow Granny?”.

Betty’s guilt or innocence, however, would never be decided in a court of law. Before her trial could take place, she died from cancer at a Louisiana hospital on June 13, 2011, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Upon hearing of her death, Al said, “She took all those secrets to the grave.” 

Harold’s murder remains an open case, and no investigations have been opened into the deaths of her other husbands.

To learn more about Betty Neumar, watch “Snapped” on Oxygen.

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