Those who knew Brett Bonnell called him the “nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”
“If you needed something, he was there to help you. If he needed to give you his shirt off his back, he would,” friend Mike Ketner told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Born in 1967, Brett grew up on a farm about an hour south of Indianapolis, Indiana. A landscaper with a strong Midwestern work ethic, he dreamed of settling down and starting a family.
When his great-grandmother died, Brett bought her old farmhouse and took a second job at Walmart to save money for his future family. There, Brett met mother-of-one Janice Hicks. Although she was married at the time, she and her husband divorced in 2001, and Janice and Brett soon started dating.
“Their relationship happened pretty quickly, but that wasn’t necessarily a surprise to anybody because they seemed to genuinely care about each other,” Janice’s niece, Jennifer Lyles, told “Snapped.”
Brett had finally found the family he had always wanted, and he loved being a father to Janice's young daughter, Katie. Just months after they started dating, the couple announced they were getting married.
They also decided to go into business together and bought an embroidery company, hiring Janice’s sister, Betty Roney, to help out with orders. In 2004, Brett’s mother died from cancer, and both of Janice’s parents passed away later that year. Each received an inheritance, which they put back in their business.
Misfortune continued into the following year, when the Bonnells’ house caught on fire, gutting the inside and destroying the work trailer that housed their embroidery machine. In an instant, they lost everything.
Looking for a fresh start, Janice suggested the family follow her sister to Seadrift, Texas on the Gulf Coast. They relocated in January 2008, and Brett quickly got a job as a gardener with the Parks and Recreation department in nearby Victoria. He told friends he loved his new job working for the city.
That year, however, the couple’s new life together took a tragic turn.
In the early morning hours of April 24, 2008, two men on their way to work found Brett’s body next to his car on the side of Old Seadrift Highway, about four miles outside of town. An autopsy would later determine he died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to local newspaper the Victoria Advocate.
“He was laying there motionless, face down, kind of in a ditch with his feet sticking out, next to the vehicle. It appeared that he was changing his tire and was possibly struck by another vehicle,” Calhoun County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Johnny Krauss told “Snapped.”
Believing it could have been a possible hit-and-run, investigators looked for clues of another vehicle, such as glass, paint, or blood. “None of that was observed,” Calhoun County Sheriff’s Sergeant Investigator Renette Todd told producers.
What investigators did find, however, was evidence that someone had tampered with the crime scene. The contents of Brett’s pockets and wallet were scattered on the ground alongside him, and it appeared the driver’s side door of his car had been wiped clean.
The position of Brett’s body also suggested that he had died somewhere else.
“He had trauma to several places on his head, [which] was not consistent with a vehicle coming by and striking him,” Krauss told “Snapped.” “It was a vicious, vicious beating that he took.”
When authorities went to notify Brett’s family of his death, they found Janice along with her sister, Betty, and Katie at the Bonnells’ mobile home.
Janice said she had last seen Brett the night before, when he went to Walmart to buy a phone card. He left at 10:30 pm, and she didn’t realize he hadn’t come home until the following morning. She claimed she had spent the morning driving around town looking for him.
Authorities then notified Brett’s supervisor at the Victoria Parks and Recreation department, who passed along an interesting piece of information.
“She did mention that Brett had made a comment that he was fighting with family over a will,” Todd told “Snapped.”
Before authorities could follow up with Janice about the family dispute, news spread to Brett’s friends back in Indiana. When his former boss, Helmut Meng, heard about his death, he reached out to detectives in Texas.
“I hope you’re working this as a homicide,” Meng told Todd.
Meng told detectives that before the Bonnells left for Texas, Brett had been hospitalized and close to death. While his friends suspected he had been poisoned, they couldn’t prove it.
Detectives also learned that when the Bonnells’ house burned down in 2005, Janice had hired a cleaning crew before insurance investigators could determine the cause of the fire. Without an investigation, the insurance company refused to pay out on their policy, leaving the couple homeless and broke.
A week after the house fire, the Bonnells’ motor home and trailer also burned down. It had been vandalized with the message, “F**k you bitches,” spray-painted on the side. The fires occurred not long before Brett came down with his undiagnosed illness.
By talking with relatives, investigators learned that Janice had been at odds with their brother, David Hicks, since the death of their mother.
“The rift that occurred between our families, which caused us to be estranged, happened immediately after my grandmother Katie passed away,” Lyles told “Snapped.” “My father and Janice were co-executors of the will and, from my understanding, Janice had my father removed as co-executor of the will.”
When questioned by police, however, Janice told detectives that she doubted her brother had anything to do with Brett’s murder. She said he didn’t even know where she lived.
In the weeks following Brett’s murder, rumors and anonymous tips made their way to the detectives investigating his murder.
“One tip that continuously came in was Betty hit Brett with a vehicle,” Todd told “Snapped.”
At the time, Betty was living with a man named Michael Green, who was already known to local law enforcement. The couple was brought in for questioning, and both denied any involvement in the murder.
Authorities learned Betty had two active warrants out for her arrest — one for violation of probation, and another for theft. “When they went to arrest her, marijuana was found on her, so that was an additional charge,” Todd told producers.
While Betty initially refused to talk, she decided to tell detectives everything she knew after sitting in jail for a week and finding out that her sister had been partying around town “looking for a new man.”
“I got a call at midnight, and [Janice] called and asked me to come down. I’m like, ‘What’s wrong?’ She’s like, ‘I just need you to come down,’” Betty said in interview footage obtained by “Snapped.” “I went down, and I walked in the trailer. And Brett was lying dead on the bed. She had beaten him with a baseball bat, and he was dead.”
Katie had slept through the entire incident.
Betty said it was Janice’s idea to make it look like a hit-and-run, and so they drove out to the dump site before Betty dropped Janice back at home. The next morning, they burned the bloody items from the Bonnells’ mobile home in Green’s backyard.
Later that day, Janice was arrested on suspicion of murder at the Speedy Stop convenience store in Port O’Connor where she worked, according to the Victoria Advocate. She was held on $1 million bail.
Janice made a full confession under questioning, claiming Brett was physically and mentally abusive.
“Nobody knew what he was like behind the doors of our trailer,” she cried in interview footage obtained by “Snapped.” She claimed she and Katie lived in fear of Brett, who she said was bi-polar and had gone off his medication since moving to Texas.
When they spoke to 13-year-old Katie, however, she told a very different story than her mother.
“Katie had nothing but good things to say about her dad. She loved him, and she never felt like she was afraid of him. She never said he did anything to her physically or otherwise,” Krauss told “Snapped.”
The Bonnells’ loved ones also contradicted Janice’s allegations.
“They said he was very passive, very docile. He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Krauss said. Janice, on the other hand, “was very mean, very manipulative, and she used Brett and spent all of his money.”
Detectives learned that over the course of their marriage, Janice had blown through Brett’s 401(k) and his inheritance. His only remaining asset was a life insurance policy through his new job. After his death, Janice inquired about Brett’s life insurance, but since he had only been on the job for a few weeks, it would pay out just $19,000.
Investigators also came to suspect that Janice had been involved in the fire that destroyed their home. At the time of the fire, the couple had sunk all their money into the embroidery business, leaving them in significant debt.
They believed Janice was looking to collect on the insurance money, and when that fell through, she poisoned her husband. After Brett survived the hospitalization, she took him out with the baseball bat.
“She moved down to a small town in Texas where she thought maybe law enforcement maybe wasn’t up to the task, and she decided to kill him there. Janice was greedy. She wanted the money,” Krauss said.
In October 2008, Janice pleaded guilty to the murder of her husband. She was sentenced to 45 years in prison with a mandatory 22-and-a-half years before being considered for parole, according to the Victoria Advocate.
For her part in covering up the crime, Betty was sentenced to three years in prison for tampering with evidence. She was released after serving 18 months.
Janice is currently incarcerated at the William P. Hobby Unit, a women’s prison in Marlin, Texas. Now 57, she will be eligible for parole in 2030.
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