Police investigate wife for five dead husbands

Mon June 16, 2008

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) -- Police may have ignored a warning years ago that a woman with five dead spouses was trying to hire a hit man to kill one of the men, investigators in North Carolina said Monday.

Betty Johnson Neumar is shown at her booking. She is charged with hiring a hit man to kill her husband.

Authorities charged 76-year-old Betty Neumar last month with one count of solicitation of murder in the July 1986 death of Harold Gentry. Gentry's brother had begged investigators for two decades to take another look at the case.

Stanly County sheriff's investigators believe Neumar tried to hire several people to kill Gentry. Lead detective Scott Williams said Monday his office is looking into the possibility that one of those would-be hit men went to authorities before Gentry's death, but no one took him seriously.

"That's another aspect we're looking into," Williams said, declining to elaborate.

Former Stanly County sheriff Ralph McSwain, who was in office when Gentry was killed, is recovering from a stroke and said he doesn't remember much about the case. He said the sheriff's detective who handled the investigation of the case is dead.

"This was a long time ago," McSwain said. "Could someone have come forward with information before it happened? Sure. I just don't know."

Neumar has been married five times since the 1950s, but each union ended with the death of her husband. Investigators want authorities elsewhere to look into the deaths. Williams said investigators have uncovered a common link among the victims: They all had military experience.

Neumar is being held on $500,000 bond in the Stanly County jail. A clerk in the county clerk of courts office said Monday that Neumar does not yet have an attorney. Her daughter with Harold Gentry, who also lives in Augusta, has declined to comment.

Williams said that detectives believe Harold Gentry was Neumar's fourth husband. She and her third husband, Richard "Dick" Sills, were living in the Florida Keys when he was shot to death in 1965, Williams said. At the time, police said his death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But Williams said Neumar was the only person in the room when he died.

After his death, Neumar met Gentry in Florida. The couple married in the late 1960s in Georgia after he retired from the Army and moved to the town of Norwood, about an hour east of Charlotte.

Gentry was found shot to death inside the couple's home on July 14, 1986. Three years later, she married her fifth husband, John Neumar. He died in October, and authorities in Augusta, Ga., are investigating whether his death -- officially listed as sepsis, bacterial infection of the body's blood and tissues -- might have another cause, such as arsenic poisoning.

Williams said Neumar would wedge herself between family members and her victims to isolate them. She was cold to Gentry's brothers, who spent two decades trying to get the sheriff's department to reopen the case, they said. He was so isolated that his sons say they didn't know he had died until they read his obituary in the newspaper.

"It's heartbreaking," Williams said. "These people were very close and she moved in and stopped him from seeing them. It was really a hard story to hear."

Williams said he's still working to uncover as much as he can about Neumar's first two husbands, both of whom he said were from Ohio. One died in 1952, the other in 1955. He's also trying to piece together her life between her second husband's death and when she married Sills.

"Keep in mind that it appears that after each husband, she moved on. So she could just tell any story she wanted to tell," Williams said. "That's just what happened. She would come up with some pretty wild stories that she told about herself or what happened to her husbands."