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5 dead spouses: Ex-cop says he warned police

Wife Cold Cases
Betty Johnson Neumar is shown at her booking in Augusta, Ga. Since her arrest, authorities in three states have started to re-examine the deaths of her first child and the four of the five men she married. Augusta Police Department via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former police officer and a neighbor said Wednesday that a Georgia grandmother who now has five dead spouses tried to hire them to kill her fourth husband more than two decades ago.

Former police officer Allen Lawrence told The Associated Press that he had warned North Carolina authorities repeatedly for two months before Harold Gentry was shot to death in 1986 that Betty Gentry — now Betty Neumar — wanted her husband dead.

Neumar was desperate for money and wanted to collect on her husband's $20,000 life insurance policy, according to an indictment issued Tuesday.

"I've been living with this for 22 years, wondering if there was anything else I could have done," Lawrence said. "It's always bothered me. I know I did everything I could. But it still keeps me up at night."

Neumar, 76, is charged with three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder. She was first arrested and charged in May with one solicitation count, but authorities now say she tried to hire three different people to kill Gentry in the six weeks before his bullet-riddled body was found in his rural North Carolina home.

Cases scrutinized
Since her arrest, authorities in Georgia, Ohio and Florida have started to re-examine the deaths of her first child and four of the five men she married.

Neumar's attorney, Charles Parnell, did not return messages left Wednesday seeking comment. His client remains in Stanly County jail on a $500,000 bond.

The indictment accuses Neumar of trying to hire Lawrence and two women, Debbie Parker and Kathy Eudy, to kill Gentry. Parker is Lawrence's sister-in-law and both women were Neumar's neighbors.

"It got to the point where all she would talk about was how much she hated Harold," Eudy told the AP. "She said he was cheating on her and she wanted to get him back. ... Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and I stopped going over there."

A deadly request
Lawrence said Wednesday that he had recently left the Albemarle police department in 1986 to focus on his swimming pool supply business when he first met Neumar. She was talking with a clearly upset Parker inside his store, he said.

"So I walked over and (Parker) said to me: 'Can you talk some sense into her?'" he said.

Even though he didn't know her, he said Neumar asked him to kill her husband.

"It was bizarre. I didn't know what to think. I told her she shouldn't even say something like that. I said it's not right and she eventually left the store," Lawrence said.

She returned to the store twice, each time to make the same deadly request. "She was persistent," he said.

Lawrence said she offered him money and was clear about how she wanted Gentry killed. He declined to elaborate on those details Wednesday, citing the pending nature of the case.

'I had warned them'
But Lawrence said he went to police, speaking at one point with Albemarle Police Officer Donnie Mullis, who confirmed Lawrence was an informant who told him about the case.

Mullis said he passed the tip along to two supervisors, who both later led the investigation into Gentry's death. Both men have since died. Lawrence said he also personally told then-Stanly County Sheriff Ralph McSwain, who is recovering from a stroke and has said he doesn't remember much about the case.

Lawrence said he was installing a pool at a customer's home when police told him the news that Gentry was killed. They interviewed him and asked him to take a lie detector test to rule him out as a suspect.

"It was unreal," he said. "I had warned them and they did nothing."

Eudy said she told police in the days after Gentry's death about her conversations with Neumar. "They just didn't seem interested in what I had to say," she said.

Day in court
Three years after Gentry's death, Neumar married her fifth husband. John Neumar died in October, and authorities in Georgia are investigating whether his death — officially listed as listed as sepsis, a bacterial infection of the body's blood and tissues — might have another cause, such as arsenic poisoning.

Gentry's brother, Al Gentry, pressured police for 22 years to re-examine the case. The case was reopened last year after the election of current Stanly County Sheriff Rick Burris.

"They have the same evidence now that they had then," Lawrence said. "What I said 22 years ago has not changed. Now it's in the jury's hands."