ALBEMARLE, N.C. – For two decades, Al Gentry begged investigators to take another look at the mystery of who killed his brother, Harold, and left his gunshot-ridden body sprawled on the floor of the home he shared with his wife.
He visited the sheriff's office dozens of times and made just as many phone calls. And when authorities finally listened, they wound up arresting the person Gentry had always suspected: his brother's now 76-year-old former wife, who was charged last month with hiring a hit man to gun him down.
"This is something I've been waiting for for a long time," Gentry said.
But Gentry's persistence may have led investigators to a far more chilling discovery about Betty Neumar. After arresting her, authorities realized that five times since the 1950s, she was married, and each union ended with the death of her husband.
Authorities say they've notified law enforcement officials where Neumar is believed to have lived with the men. So far, no one has said whether the deaths are suspicious, but some officials are reopening the cold cases.
Al Gentry had been showing up for years at the sheriff's office and talking to anyone who would listen about the case. His brother's body, with several gunshot wounds, was found inside the couple's home on July 14, 1986.
Neumar, who was out of town the day her husband was killed, showed no emotion when she got back, Al Gentry said. When she pulled up to the one-story brick house in a quiet neighborhood that was surrounded by flashing lights and filled with police officers, he recalled, she blurted out that she had been in Augusta, Ga., the previous night — before he even said a word.
"If she had gotten out of that car with tears in her eyes and asked me why would anybody kill Harold, I would never have suspected her at all," he said. "That's where she slipped up."
Harold Gentry met Neumar — who was then Betty Sills — in Florida and they married on Jan. 19, 1968, in Charlton County, Ga., when he was 29 and she was 36. The couple moved to Norwood, about an hour east of Charlotte, in the late 1970s after he retired from the Army after 21 years of service.
Over the years, Al Gentry recalls, she told the family she had been a nurse and that her first husband died of cancer. She also said she was a beautician and had lived in Ohio, and had children from a previous marriage. At various times, she worked in a drug store, drove a school bus and waited tables while Harold Gentry worked long hours driving a delivery truck for the Royal Chemical Co.
At first pleasant, she grew to become "cold" to his brother and family, Al Gentry said. By 1986, the marriage was strained and Harold Gentry was living in a camper in the front yard.
"She was the type of person who liked fancy things — jewelry and clothes. She had the means to live like that but that wasn't enough," Al Gentry recalled. "She always wanted more, more, more. And she found a way to get it."
After Harold Gentry was killed, Al Gentry and his brother, Richard, said Neumar collected at least $20,000 in life insurance, plus other benefits from the military and sold the couple's house and other items. But as recently as a few years ago, bankruptcy records indicate, Neumar had no income other than a small monthly Social Security check — but had more than three dozen credit cards and hundreds of thousands in debt.
At a hearing earlier this month, prosecutors said she also had at least one overseas bank account.
After Gentry's death, Neumar remarried two more times. Once was to 79-year-old John Neumar, who died in October. Authorities in Neumar's hometown of Augusta, Ga., are examining the death, and detectives went to her home two weeks ago and seized an urn with his ashes, said Richmond County, Ga., sheriff's investigator Lt. Scott Peebles.
The couple were married for about 14 years. They filed for bankruptcy in April 2000, and records show they owed $206,300 on 43 credit cards. They listed $14,355 in assets, including a 1996 Lincoln Town car, and had a combined monthly income of only about $1,800. The bankruptcy filing allowed the couple to wipe away the debts.
Neumar's cause of death was listed as sepsis — an illness caused by a bacterial infection of the body's blood and tissues — and his body was cremated shortly after his death. Peebles said investigators would test the remains to see if there "were any other factors that contributed to his death," including whether he was poisoned by arsenic, which can cause sepsis-like symptoms.
"We're not going to rule anything out until we get the results back," he said.
Neumar was charged with a single count of solicitation of murder in Gentry's death and is being held on $500,000 bond. At her first court appearance, prosecutors said she tried to hire several people to kill her husband, offering one potential hit man cash and a pickup truck to do the job.
She does not yet have an attorney and a message from The Associated Press given to a jailer went unanswered. Her daughter with Harold Gentry, who also lives in Augusta, declined to comment about her mother's arrest.
The sheriff who reopened the case, Rick Burris, wasn't leading the department at the time Gentry was killed. Burris said he reviewed the thick case file and read transcripts of interviews conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation. He said they pointed to the likelihood that Neumar had hired someone to kill her husband, but police didn't collect enough evidence at the time to charge her. He assigned an investigator, who re-examined the evidence in the file and conducted new interviews.
"She was a suspect for a long time but we didn't have enough evidence," Burris said. "Now we do."
Brothers Al and Richard Gentry said the pain of his death still lingers for the family. But after the arrest, the family visited their brother's grave, where Al Gentry said he delivered a simple message: "Brother, we got her."