Celeste Beard Johnson's story was a twisted one: meet a rich elderly widower, marry him, live a life of luxury, and after he tries to put a stop to your outrageous spending, kill him — or rather, convince a close friend to do it for you.
That’s what landed her a life sentence and a featured role in the first ever "Snapped" episode. She was convicted of murder in 2002 and thrown in prison, three years after her husband, Steve Beard Jr., was shot in his bed in the fall of 1999.
Celeste was working as a waitress at a country club in Austin, Texas in 1995 where she met Steve, a 68-year-old retired TV executive. The two seemingly fell in love, tied the knot, and embarked on a comfortable life together. Steve was the fourth husband for Celeste, who had struggled financially in the past — a harsh juxtaposition to Steve, whose net worth was estimated to be around $10 million.
Celeste and Steve's marriage hit a speed bump when Steve found out from his banker that Celeste had been stealing silver and expensive jewelry from his safety deposit box, PEOPLE reported in 2003. The items had belonged to his first wife, to whom he'd been married for more than 40 years and who’d died of cancer shortly before he met Celeste. The breach of trust was enough for him to file for divorce, however, the two reconciled and he never went through with the split. But other problems soon arose.
It was around that time that Celeste checked herself into a mental health facility, struggling with depression that led her to experience suicidal thoughts. There, she met another patient, Tracey Tarlton — the woman who would later be convicted for playing a role in Steve's death.
The exact nature of the two women’s relationship is unclear, but according to “Snapped,” they spent a lot of time together after checking out of the mental health facility and Tarlton at least harbored romantic feelings.
Their relationship soon brought about a violent turn of events. In the early morning hours of Oct. 2, Steve was shot in the stomach while sleeping in his own bed. Celeste, at the time, claimed to have been sleeping in another room, and the shooter appeared to have escaped, leaving behind a lone shotgun shell.
Despite his grave injuries, Steve clung to life and even appeared to be on the road to recovery. Months after the shooting, he was even released from the hospital to continue his convalescence at home, under Celeste’s care. But weeks after his January homecoming, he died from a blood clot believed to have stemmed from the shooting.
Even before Steve's death, authorities had narrowed in on a suspect. After police learned from one of Celeste’s twin daughters that Tracey was a close friend of her mother, they paid Tarlton a visit and found she owned a shotgun. Further examination linked the weapon to Steve’s shooting and Tarlton was arrested, though she was initially tight-lipped about Celeste’s role in the attack.
The case took on a different dimension after Steve died, as the charges against Tarlton were upgraded to murder. Meanwhile, Celeste had been observed partying and even married another man within six months, further sparking suspicion.
At that point, Tracey agreed to testify against Celeste in exchange for a shorter sentence. Celeste's fate was sealed after prosecutors were able to submit as evidence a taped conversation during which Celeste could be heard admitting to trying to pay to have someone kill Tracey, PEOPLE reports. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; Tracey was also convicted and received a lesser sentence of 10 years in prison followed by 12 years of probation.
Tracey was freed in 2011 and returned to live in San Antonio, where continued to struggle with her past actions, according to an archived KENS5 report.
“I don’t wake up one single day without feeling [shame] … for what I did,” she told the outlet.
Celeste remains in custody in Texas, online jail records show. She will not be eligible for parole until 2042.
Speaking to “Snapped” in 2004, Celeste still maintained her innocence.
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