Kiss Me, Kill Me: The killer had an unusual defense. He claimed that his victim had begged him to take her life. Is it still murder under those circumstances?
Thy Brother’s Wife: A close-knit family is torn apart by a scandalous affair. Old grievances resurface. A shotgun splits the difference.
Canadian Horror Story: An alcoholic, drug addicted logger with mental issues. He has a rifle and an ax and his blood is up. Pity those he encounters tonight.
Every Mother’s Nightmare: What happens when your 15-year-old daughter attracts the attention of an online predator? What happens when that predator shows up at your door?
After Dark: Chiquita Tate was an easy person to admire but a difficult person to like. Turns out, someone disliked her quite a lot.
Double Indemnity: A dentist dies in a blazing car wreck, leaving his wife to cash in a generous life insurance policy. First, though, the police have questions.
Crooked River Bridge: Lesbian lovers Jeannace and Gertrude decide that Gertrude’s kids are a hindrance to their relationship. Their solution to the problem goes beyond evil.
Vampires of Kentucky: They weren’t real vampires, of course. But the crimes they committed were certainly worthy of those inhuman creatures.
Murder Most Vile Volume 33
Kiss Me, Kill Me
This was considered scandalous behavior back in the early sixties. But to Betty, these encounters were her way of expressing her independence, of showing that she was in charge of her life and destiny. She did not plan on growing old in a backwater like Odessa. She had plans, which vaguely included heading to California after she graduated. A talented actress who had already appeared in three high school productions by her sophomore year, she dreamed of a career in Hollywood.
But all of that changed when Betty met Mack Herring. Tall, handsome and popular, Mack could have had his pick of the school’s most attractive girls. So it was perhaps surprising that he chose Betty, a girl with a reputation, from below his social strata. To Betty, though, it felt like the real thing. Mack was different from other boys, who just wanted to grope her. He was sensitive, caring. He seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say. There was something deep about him, something romantic. Betty sensed in him a kindred spirit. By the summer of 1960, she was wondering if she was in love.
But while Betty contemplated her feelings and wondered if she should share them with Mack, there was one thing that bothered her. Mack might be loving and attentive when they were together, but he seemed determined to keep their relationship a secret. He never acknowledged her at school and never brought her to the parties he and his friends attended. He never allowed her to wear his letter jacket; never brought her home to meet his parents. It was almost as though he was ashamed of her. Desperate to coax some kind of commitment out of him, Betty embarked on an ill-advised ploy. She went “parking” with one of his friends in an attempt to make him jealous. When Mack heard about it, he dumped her.
The break-up left Betty devastated. “I’ve never been so humiliated and torn to pieces as I am now,” she wrote to a friend. “I feel so lonely and deserted I don’t care what happens now or ever. This is pure hell!”
But being dumped was only the first of the tribulations that would be heaped on Betty Williams that fall. First, Odessa High’s new drama teacher axed her from the upcoming production of Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset, relegating her to the role of stage manager. Then her father searched her room and found her diary, in which she’d written in detail about her sexual encounters with boys. That made for a tense and distrustful situation at home, to add to the unbearable struggle that her school life had become. Desperate, Betty made a feeble attempt at taking her own life, although the four aspirin she swallowed was hardly enough to get the job done.
That half-hearted suicide attempt was probably no more than a cry for help. But it seems to have instilled in Betty a decidedly maudlin outlook. By the winter of 1960, she was talking openly about “ending things,” telling friends that she would be better off dead and that, “heaven must be a nice place.” To one classmate, she confessed that she’d climbed up into the auditorium rafters, intending to jump, but had lacked the courage to go through with it. No one took her seriously. Betty was prone to melodrama. Everyone thought that she was just looking for attention.
But then things took a worrying turn. Now Betty wasn’t talking about suicide any more, she was trying to recruit someone who would be willing to do the job for her. At least five students were approached with an unsettling request. “Would you be willing to kill me?” Betty asked. Each and every one declined, although one student joked that he’d do it for a price, then quoted a fee of one million dollars.
It is difficult to fathom what was going through Betty Williams’ mind at this time. Did she genuinely want to die or was this just a ploy to get Mack’s attention and win back his heart? If it was the latter, then it wasn’t working. And so Betty took things to the next level. One night, when Mack was driving her and another student home from rehearsal, she asked if he would do the job for her. “I’ll make it easy on you,” she told him, “I’ll hold the gun to my own head. All you’ll have to do is pull the trigger. And I’ll write a note saying it was all my idea and that you’re not responsible.” Mack’s response was similar to everyone else she’d approached. He took it as a joke and started laughing. Betty laughed with him.
Betty, however, had not given up on the idea. The following afternoon during rehearsal, she pulled Mack into a room backstage and repeated her request. She was miserable, she said, and wanted to die. She would continue pestering him over the next week. Then on March 20, 1961, she seemed to brighten up. That same afternoon, she told a fellow cast member named Mike, “It’s been nice knowing you.”
“What do you mean?” Mike asked, perplexed.
“I’ve finally talked Mack into killing me,” Betty said.
“I’ll send roses,” Mike responded with a grin.
Just two days later, on March 22, the Odessa Police Department received a frantic call from Mary Williams, who reported that her daughter was missing. Officers then descended on the school and started questioning Betty’s friends in the hope that someone might know where she was. It was then that they first learned of Betty’s bizarre behavior and the supposed murder plot.
One student, Ike Nail, went even further. He said that Betty had snuck out of her house to meet him on the night that she went missing. Betty was in a strange mood that night, telling Ike that she’d finally persuaded Mack to kill her. Then they’d seen headlights approaching and she’d exclaimed, “Oh my God, I didn’t think he’d come.” Moments later, she’d gotten out of the vehicle and walked towards Mack’s Jeep. She left Ike with one last, cryptic quote. “I’ve got to call his bluff,” she’d said. “Even if he kills me.”
Brought in for questioning, Mack Herring admitted to picking Betty up but claimed that he’d dropped her back at her house just before midnight. However, there were inconsistencies in his story to which he could provide no satisfactory answers. Forty-five minutes into the interrogation, he finally cracked and confessed to killing Betty. He’d shot her with a twelve-gauge shotgun, he said, a weapon that Betty herself had chosen. A short while later, Herring was leading officers to the place where he’d hidden Betty’s body, a stock tank on his father’s hunting lease, 26 miles northwest of town. Footprints in the mud and blood spatter against the tank wall marked the spot where Betty Williams had been killed.
According to Herring, he’d carried out the murder at his victim’s behest. Betty had been pestering him for weeks to do her the favor of ending her life. Finally, he’d agreed. She’d seemed happy as she was being led to her place of dying, he said. There, she’d taken the shotgun barrel and placed it against her own forehead. He’d then asked her to give him a kiss to remember her by. When that kiss ended, she’d again held the gun barrel in position. “Thank you, Mack. I will always remember you for this,” Betty had said. He’d then pulled the trigger, killing her with a single blast.
With Betty now lying dead at his feet, Mack had moved quickly to cover up his crime. He’d tied lead weights around Betty’s waist, then stripped off and waded into the water, dragging her corpse behind him. Betty had been sunk to the depths without ceremony. Now, just 48 hours later, Mack was again ordered to strip down and enter the water. In a move that would never happen in a modern day investigation, the police insisted that he retrieve the body from the depths himself. He did so without argument. A short while later, Betty was hauled from her watery grave, still dressed in her pink pajamas. The shotgun blast had done terrible damage, all but destroying her face and nearly decapitating her. The only small consolation was that she’d now get a decent burial.
As word of the murder spread around Odessa that day, the town was enveloped by a palpable sense of shock. However, very little sympathy was reserved for the victim. Betty was portrayed as a girl of low morals who’d probably deserved what she got. She was depicted as a suicidal temptress who’d used her feminine wiles to lure poor Mack Herring into doing the dirty deed for her. He was held up as the wronged party, a hero who had helped a troubled girl to end her suffering and was now being unjustly persecuted by the law. Even as he awaited his day in court, Herring received an outpouring of support and adulation.
And that bizarre role reversal would continue into the trial itself. Herring’s wealthy parents hired the best lawyer that money could buy, Warren Burnett, an Odessa defense attorney, considered one of the finest litigators in the state. Faced up against him was Dan Sullivan, a state prosecutor who had never overseen a murder trial before and was hopelessly out of his depth. The trial was held in Kermit, Texas, some 45 miles from Odessa. It meant that the benches were packed with Herring’s friends and supporters. Aside from Betty’s parents, everyone in the courtroom was rooting for the defendant.
As arguments got underway, Burnett quickly took control of proceedings by filing a motion of temporary insanity. Under Texas law, jurors can find that a defendant is generally sane but lapsed into insanity at the time that he committed his crime. If they do so, the defendant walks free. Sullivan objected, of course, but the judge let it stand. The jury was asked to evaluate Herring’s state of mind at the time he pulled the trigger. They decided (after hearing from a slew of gushing character witnesses) that such a fine, upstanding young man could only have committed the atrocity under those conditions. To scenes of wild jubilation by his supporters, Mack Herring was acquitted. Meanwhile, Betty Williams’ parents walked away in tears, having been denied justice for their murdered daughter.
The matter would go on appeal, of course, but the outcome was the same. After deliberating for eleven hours, jurors in the second trial found Herring not guilty by reason of insanity. He walked from the courtroom a free man, able to resume his privileged life. He’d later attend Texas Tech University, where he was once introduced to a class as “the famous Mack Herring.”
However, the rest of Herring’s life would not follow the gilded path he might have envisioned for himself. After graduating from college, he returned to his hometown where he worked over the years as a dock foreman, a carpenter, a welder, and an electrician. His two marriages both ended in divorce. He died in obscurity in January 2019, at the age of 75.
One question that has never been satisfactorily answered about this case was whether Betty Williams really wanted to die. Those who were closest to her say not. They believe that she was calling Mack’s bluff, hoping that he wouldn’t go through with it but would realize how much their break-up had hurt her, that he would take her back. “She was engaged in a game of chicken,” one of those friends said. “And she played it right to the end.” Given Betty’s last words to Ike Nail, that statement rings true. Mack Herring did not have to pull the trigger on that fateful night. He did it because he wanted to.
Betty Williams never got to leave the town she was so desperate to put behind her. She lies buried within the dusty confines of its graveyard. Students at Odessa High School swear to this day that her restless spirit still haunts the halls.
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