Edith McAlinden: A petty argument turns into a bloodbath, leaving three men dead. Given the nature of the woman involved, it was hardly unexpected.
Wendi Andriano: Joe Andriano was dying of cancer and had just months to live. To his wife Wendi, that was too long.
Amy DeChant: When a Las Vegas bookie goes missing, his lover claims that he was abducted by mobsters. The clues, however, point elsewhere.
Dawn Silvernail: He was a bug-eyed loser who somehow seemed irresistible to certain women. They would do anything for him. Even kill.
Grete Beier: The face of an angel but the heart of a fiend. That was how they described Grete Beier. It was not unwarranted.
Della Sutorius: Della had been married and divorced four times when she met Dr. Darryl Sutorius. Perhaps the good doctor should have asked himself why.
Alice Mitchell: A steamy lesbian romance in 1890s Tennessee, a promise broken, a deadly revenge.
Deadly Women Volume 9
Betty entered the house preoccupied with the packing she still had to do. Perhaps that was why she didn’t notice how still it was. No lights on, no sound from the TV or the radio. Treading a path that she knew by rote, she headed upstairs, only reaching for the light switch when she got to the landing. In that moment, her life was changed forever. There, in the hallway, was her husband, prone on the floor in a pool of blood. A baseball bat lay nearby, carelessly discarded. Betty took in these details in an instant before she turned and fled down the stairs, out of the front door, across the lawn to her neighbor’s house. It was from there that she called 911.
Police and paramedics were on the scene within minutes but there was nothing to be done for Jack Wilson. Jack was dead, clubbed into oblivion in his own home, apparently with a bat that he had used that very afternoon, to drive a political campaign poster into his front lawn. The motive for this brutal murder was somewhat ambivalent. The police believed that Wilson had been ambushed after he returned home from his office. They theorized that the killer had been waiting for him inside. But to what purpose? This wasn’t a burglary since valuable items had been left untouched and there was no evidence that the place had been ransacked. The cash had been removed from the victim’s wallet but his credit cards had not been taken. That suggested that the robbery was incidental rather than the motive for the crime.
While detectives tried to piece together the answer to this mystery, Jack Wilson’s body was removed to the county morgue for autopsy. There, the horrific extent of his injuries would be revealed. Wilson had suffered life-ending trauma to his skull; both of his arms had been broken as he tried to ward off his attacker; his hyoid bone had been fractured, apparently as a result of strangulation; he had been stabbed twice in the abdomen. In addition, there were a number of injuries the coroner could not explain – cuts to the scalp and a puncture wound to the right shoulder blade. Jack Wilson had not died an easy death.
But the question remained… why? Wilson was a respected and well-loved eye doctor who was known to treat patients for free if they could not afford to pay. He had no enemies that anyone knew of. None, that is, except the one closest to him… his wife Betty. It was no secret within the Wilsons’ inner circle that things were not right between the couple. Their relationship was strained, not least because of Betty’s string of affairs. The widow Wilson also had a financial interest in her husband’s death. She stood to inherit the bulk of his $6 million estate. That alone was a strong motive for murder.
The problem was that Betty had an alibi. All but two brief periods during her day could be accounted for. She might, of course, have hired someone to do her dirty work for her but police efforts to uncover such a conspiracy came up short. It was all very frustrating until investigators received an unexpected tip from neighboring Shelby County.
About a week before Jack Wilson’s death, a woman from the small town of Vincent, Alabama had called in a tip to the Sheriff's Office. The woman was concerned about a friend of hers, a Vietnam vet named James White. According the informant, White had told her, while drunk, that he had been contracted to kill a doctor in Huntsville. The woman who had approached him was named Peggy Lowe and worked as a first grade teacher at an elementary school, where White had done work as a handyman. He had been offered $5,000 to carry out the hit.
Police departments receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of tip-offs over the course of a murder inquiry, most of which turn out to be dead ends. But there were a number of reasons why the tip about James Dennison White seemed important. The first was the mention of a Huntsville doctor. The second was the identity of the supposed assassin. White had a criminal record that included arrests for kidnapping and assault; he had a dishonorable discharge from the military; he had spent time in prison and in mental institutions; he had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Thirdly, there was the identity of the woman who had supposedly hired White for the job. Peggy Lowe was Betty Wilson’s twin sister.
Brought in for questioning, James White initially denied any involvement in Jack Wilson’s murder. But as investigators kept working at him, White’s cover story began to crumble. First he admitted to knowing Peggy Lowe. Then he conceded that he had met with Betty Wilson, although he insisted that it was only to talk about some handyman work that she wanted done. Then he confessed that the meeting might not have been so innocent after all. Finally, after eight hours of lies and half-truths, he broke down and told the whole story.
According to White, he’d met Peggy Lowe while doing work at the elementary school. The two of them had struck up a friendship and had started phoning each other, sometimes talking for hours. During one of those conversations, Lowe had broached the subject of having her husband killed. However, she’d later changed the intended target and started talking about killing her brother-in-law instead. Did he know anyone who might be interested? White had said that he’d be prepared to carry out the hit himself but that the price was $20,000.
That, however, was too pricey. According to Lowe, her sister did not have that kind of money. Eventually, after some haggling, it was agreed that White would do the job for $5,000. A short while later, Lowe paid him a deposit, $2,500 in cash. Thereafter, he’d been introduced to Lowe’s sister, Betty Wilson, and had spoken to her several times on the phone going over the details. On the day of the murder, he’d met Wilson at a shopping mall in Huntsville. She’d driven him to her house, let him in, and showed him where to hide until her husband got home. Later, after the murder was done, Wilson had picked him up and driven him back to his truck. He’d been paid the balance of his contract and had then driven the 100 miles back to Vincent.
White was hazy about some details but his description of events made sense to investigators. The time frame that he had suggested for the pickup and drop off coincided with two periods in Betty Wilson’s day that could not be accounted for – from 2:00 to 2:30 and from 5:30 to 6:00. Jack Wilson had arrived home just after four that day, which would have given White plenty of time to commit the murder. Moreover, there was physical evidence found inside White’s trailer linking him to the crime – a spot of blood on a shoe, which was matched to the victim; a book of poems that had been checked out of the Huntsville Public library by Betty Wilson; and a small caliber handgun, which was registered to Wilson.
Where White was unclear was on the details of the murder itself. He would offer numerous, often contradictory, accounts from which investigators would eventually cobble together the following version of events. White had been hiding in a bedroom when he’d heard Jack Wilson arrive. He had then lost his nerve and had decided that he couldn’t go through with it. He’d waited for an opportunity to get out of the house without Wilson seeing him. However, he’d chosen the worst possible moment to break cover. He’d exited the bedroom just as Wilson was coming up the stairs, carrying a baseball bat. A brief tussle had then ensued, during which White had ripped the bat away from Wilson and beaten him with it. He’d then stabbed the victim twice in the chest, using a knife he had brought with him.
Whether or not that was an entirely accurate depiction of the killing, the police were certain of one thing – that the hit had been arranged and ordered by Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe. The sisters soon found themselves in custody, charged with a crime they swore they did not commit.
Those denials were a considerable hurdle to the D.A. since there was only the word of James White, a known felon, linking the sisters to the murder. And White’s confession was on far from solid ground. He kept flip-flopping, changing the story as it suited him. Should he withdraw it entirely, there was every chance that the sisters would walk. It was therefore decided to offer White a deal – seven years to life in exchange for his testimony. Faced with a possible death penalty if convicted, White jumped at it.
Betty Wilson went on trial first, with the proceedings moved to Tuscaloosa due to the massive publicity the case had received in Huntsville. The battle lines were quickly drawn, with the prosecution arguing that this was a murder for hire and the defense responding that it was a crime committed by James White, acting alone, possibly a burglary gone wrong.
With the lack of eyewitness testimony and some conflicting forensics, any half-competent lawyer might have been able to make a case for either of these scenarios. But, in the end, this was not so much about the facts as about Betty Wilson’s lifestyle. The D.A. put a considerable effort into portraying her as a wanton woman, a serial philanderer, a bed hopper. Several of Wilson’s former lovers were called to the stand, including an African-American former city employee. This was a calculated move by the prosecution and got exactly the response that the D.A. wanted. More than anything else, it probably sealed Betty Wilson’s fate. After deliberating for six hours, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Wilson was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
With her sister receiving such a harsh sentence, Peggy Lowe must have feared the worst. After all, the only link between Betty and the confessed assassin was Peggy. Without her involvement, her sister’s conviction did not make sense. But Lowe’s defense team had a number of things going for them. First, they had an additional six months to prepare. Second, they had a forensic expert who was prepared to tackle James White’s testimony head on. Third, there was the character of the defendant. Lowe was an apparently happily married woman; she was a regular churchgoer; she was a first-grade teacher. Most importantly, there were no accusers to point the finger at her for adultery. That, in the end, would prove decisive. After considering all of the evidence, the jury found her not guilty.
And so, Peggy Lowe is a free woman while her twin sister will remain behind bars for the rest of her natural life. That somehow seems like a travesty. It certainly exposes some of the weaknesses inherent in the jury system. The truth is that there are only two possibilities in this case. Either James White acted alone or he acted in collusion with both sisters. Either they should both be free or they should both be behind bars. Which it is, is anyone’s guess. While serving his sentence, James White recanted his confession, saying that it was coerced. He later cited the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any questions regarding the murder.
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