CHARLOTTE, N.C. – An elderly grandmother who left a trail of five dead husbands in five states over decades has died, leaving a longer trail of questions for survivors of her spouses that might never be answered.
Betty Neumar, 79, died late Sunday or early Monday in a hospital in Louisiana after an illness, her son-in-law Terry Sanders told The Associated Press.
"She was tough country girl and fought through a lot of pain," said Sanders, who has been married 38 years to Neumar's daughter.
Authorities in North Carolina said they planned to look into her death. She was free on $300,000 bond on three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder in the 1986 death of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry. Her trial was postponed numerous times since her arrest in 2008.
"We're going to make sure we examine the death certificate," said Sheriff Rick Burris of Stanly County, N.C.
While investigating Gentry's death, authorities discovered Neumar had been married five times since the 1950s and each union ended in her husband's death. Investigators in three states reopened several of the cases, but have since closed them.
Neumar's death is bittersweet for Gentry's brother, Al Gentry, 65, of Rockwell, N.C.
For two decades, he pressed investigators in vain to re-examine his brother's shooting death. The case was finally reopened in January 2008 after he asked Burris, then the newly elected sheriff, to look into it.
"I'm numb," Al Gentry said. "I wanted justice and we're not going to get it."
He said there were too many delays: the first was in the initial police investigation in 1986 and later with prosecutors. Her trial was supposed to have started this February, but was postponed to give a newly elected prosecutor more time to prepare
"We still haven't answered the question: Who actually killed my brother?"
The mysteries in Neumar's past may never be solved.
From the beginning, law enforcement authorities told The Associated Press they had struggled to piece together details of Neumar's life because her story kept changing. But interviews, documents and court records provided an outline of her history in North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and Georgia, the states where she was married.
She was born Betty Johnson in 1931 in Ironton, a hardscrabble southeastern Ohio town along the West Virginia border. She graduated from high school in 1949 and married Clarence Malone in November 1950. It's unclear when their marriage broke up. Their son, Gary, was born March 13, 1952.
Malone remarried twice. He was shot once in the back of the head outside his auto shop in a small town southwest of Cleveland in November 1970. His death was ruled a homicide, although police said there were no signs of robbery.
Gary was eventually adopted by Neumar's second husband, James A. Flynn, although it's unclear when she met or married him. She told investigators that he "died on a pier" somewhere in New York in the mid-1950s. She and Flynn had a daughter, Peggy.
In the mid-1960s, she married husband No. 3: Richard Sills, who was in the Navy. For the last two years, Sills' son, Michael, has been urging police to reinvestigate his father's death, which was ruled a suicide.
On April 18, 1967, police found his body in the bedroom of the couple's mobile home in Big Coppitt Key, Fla. Neumar told police they were alone and arguing, when he pulled out a gun and shot himself.
Sills said he knew nothing about how his father died until he was contacted in 2009 by The Associated Press about Neumar's past. Since then, he has been drilling into the records.
After Neumar was charged in North Carolina, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department in Florida took another look at the death.
They uncovered Navy medical examiner documents revealing that Richard Sills may have been shot twice — not once, as Neumar told police. One bullet from the .22-caliber pistol pierced his heart, while a second may have sliced his liver.
The Navy medical examiner at the time said that without an autopsy, he would be unable to determine if Richard Sills was shot once or twice. No autopsy was performed when he died. And without knowing the number of gunshot wounds, there's no way to know if his death was a suicide or homicide.
County investigators planned in 2009 to exhume Richard Sills' body from an Ocala, Fla., cemetery for an autopsy, but then determined that a statute of limitations applied to the case. Investigators have said Florida law sets a time limit on prosecution of some categories of homicide, including involuntary manslaughter, but not on premeditated — or first-degree — murder.
Michael Sills then turned to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) cold case squad. The unit is studying the evidence and could decide to investigate. But that could end with Neumar's death.
Georgia authorities two years ago closed their re-examination of the death of Neumar's fifth husband, John Neumar, saying they had no evidence she was involved. His family has criticized the conclusion.
Al Gentry said he had hoped lingering questions about Neumar's past would be answered at the trial. "She took those secrets to the grave."