Trial stalls in death case for woman's 4th husband

Al Gentry says he's running out of time to get justice for his brother.

A trial has been postponed for the elderly Georgia widow accused of his brother's 1986 gunshot death, and Gentry says his health is failing. He blames it on the stress of tracking down Betty Neumar, who left a trail of five dead husbands in five states.

"I can't do it much longer," Gentry, 65, of Rockwell, said in a recent interview. "But I know I have to stay strong and speak for my brother. He doesn't have a voice."

North Carolina authorities have charged Neumar, 79, of Augusta, Ga., with three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder. They say she tried three times to hire someone to kill Harold Gentry in the six weeks before his bullet-riddled body was found in his home in July 1986.

Neumar, who was arrested in 2008, was released early the next year after posting a $300,000 bond and is living in Augusta.

Her trial was supposed to have started Feb. 7, but was postponed to give newly elected prosecutor Reece Saunders more time to prepare. Telephone messages left for Saunders and for Neumar's attorney, Charles Parnell, were not returned.

For two decades, Al Gentry had pressed investigators in vain to re-examine his brother's death. The case was finally reopened in January, 2008, after he asked then-newly elected Stanly County, N.C., Sheriff Rick Burris to look into it.

Authorities discovered that Neumar had been married five times since the 1950s, and each union ended with her husband's death. Investigators in three states reopened several of the cases, but have since closed them. Neumar has been charged only in the death of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry, a retired soldier who lived in Norwood, N.C.

Al Gentry, one of eight siblings who grew up in rural North Carolina, says he's reminded of his dead brother every day.

"This has taken too long. It shouldn't have taken this long," Al Gentry said. "She's hurt my family. ... Everything she told us was lies. And then after my brother died, she just left. Took his insurance money and disappeared."

He stopped for a moment to collect his thoughts.

"What bothers me is she's out there, at her home, taking it easy. And my brother's dead. I'm still living this and fighting to make sure no one forgets what happened," he said.

In the last year, Al Gentry has been hospitalized several times for kidney failure, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. He has lost 60 pounds. His wife, Diane, says she tries to keep his mind off the case.

Friends and family have helped him through the ordeal.

Among them is Michael Sills, whose father, Richard Sills, was husband No. 3. He has been urging police to reopen his father's 1967 death, which was ruled a suicide.

Sills says 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.

"I know what Al is going through," Sills said.

Neumar was working as a beautician in Jacksonville, Fla., in the mid-1960s when she met Richard Sills, who was serving in the Navy.

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.

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, the records said. 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.

Georgia authorities two years ago closed their re-examination of the death of Neumar's fifth husband, John Neumar, saying they have no evidence she was involved. His family has criticized the conclusion.

Authorities in Ohio have also closed their investigation of the 1970 shooting death of Neumar's first husband, Clarence Malone.

Details about her second husband, James A. Flynn, are sketchy. She told investigators he "died on a pier" somewhere in New York in the mid-1950s.

Gentry says he hopes lingering questions about Neumar's past are answered at the trial. But he says the main thing is that he stays healthy enough to attend.

"I want her to know I'm there for Harold," he said. "I'm not going away."