Con artist. Sandra Camille (Powers) Bridewell.
Born April 4, 1944, and adopted as an infant by Arthur and Camille
Powers of Sedalia, Missouri. Over the course of more than three
decades the woman known as the "Black Widow," tricked lovers and
friends out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. She is also
suspected of having a hand in the death of at least one husband as
well as a close friend.
It all began with a troubled childhood.
According to reports, at the age of three her adoptive mother,
Camille, was killed in an auto accident. Her father, Arthur, who
managed and ran a Dr. Pepper bottling plant, eventually remarried
and relocated his family to Oak Cliff, Texas, a Dallas suburb.
There he found new work as a cemetery plot salesman.
While Sandra adjusted to her new surroundings,
learned to adjust to her stepmother Doris was another matter. The
two fought regularly, with Sandra claiming that her stepmother
regularly locked her in a closet, refused to send out birthday
party invitations, and liked to tell her that nobody wanted her.
After graduating high school in 1962, Sandra,
who rarely dated as a student, began seeing a series of men. Many
of them became smitten with what one friend would later describe
as her "ladylike, 'poor helpless me' routine." She attended one
year of junior college, but it seems Sandra had her sights set on
marrying into money.
The course she followed to make that happen was
one filled with half truths. Lies were commonplace in Sandra's
life. Some friends were told that both of her adoptive parents had
been killed. Others were informed that were mother and father were
Irish aristocrats. Many heard about the West Point boyfriend who,
she claimed, had shot himself while he sat in the car with her.
Still, there were plenty of
believers—especially men. "She had a way," recalled one friend of
Sandra, who in the course of her life would use a number of
different aliases. "Men just sort of...were fascinated with her.
That included David Stegall, a upshot dentist
who had gone to school in Los Angeles and had Hollywood-caliber
clients. He had a thing for Cadillacs, big houses, and pretty
women. Sandra had thing for him. In 1967 Sandra and David married.
Within a few short years the couple had three daughters—Britt,
Kathryn, and Emily?and were raising their family in an upscale
Despite his salary and reputation, Stegall
couldn't keep up with his wife's lavish tastes. Sandra had even
more of a passion for fine things than her husband. She loved good
art, especially, and expensive furniture. By 1974, the couple's
marriage was in turmoil and the family was in severe debt, forcing
David to borrow a substantial sum of money from his father to pay
down some of the bills.
In February 1975 the situation had grown so
dire that David tried to kill himself. As the story goes, Sandra
had found him in a closet with a gun pointed to his head.
Apparently, she talked him out of it. It was only a short-term
fix, however. A few weeks later, David was discovered lying in his
bed with both wrists slashed and a .22 caliber gunshot wound to
Second Husband's Death
Sandra quickly moved to straighten out her
financial situation. She collected the insurance on her husband's
life, sold his practice, and began dating other wealthy men. A
little more than three years after David's death, Sandra was
exchanging wedding vows again, this time with Bobby Bridewell, a
well-known Dallas developer.
Bridewell adopted Sandra's three girls and the
family made their home in the upscale Dallas neighborhood of
Highland Park. But in 1980, life took a tragic turn when Bridewell
was diagnosed with cancer. The grieving Sandra motored on with her
life. While her husband fought his illness, she had the couple's
entire home remodeled, forcing the ailing Bridewell to move in
with a friend. He never returned to his house. Two years after the
diagnosis, Bridewell died.
Sandra took his death hard, but for a short
time she seemed to have found support and hope in the friendship
of her late husband's oncologist, Dr. John Bagwell and his wife
Betsy. While the couple was initially happy to reach out to their
friend, Sandra became a persistent visitor in the Bagwell
household, going so far as to show up unannounced in New Mexico,
where the doctor and his wife were vacationing. There were
frequent requests for childcare, and lots of phone calls.
Soon the Bagwells were trying to extricate
themselves from their relationship with Sandra. But Sandra would
have none of it. In early June 1982, she called Betsy and asked if
she could take her to the airport to rent a car because her
vehicle wouldn't start. Betsy agreed to help her out, taking her
to the airport, and then back to the church lot where Sandra's car
was parked so she could get her license, which she claims she had
The exact details of the encounter are still a
mystery. What is known is that on June 16, 1982, police discovered
the 40-year-old Bagwell dead in her Mercedes in the airport
parking lot. She'd been shot in the head, the victim of what was
later ruled a suicide. The weapon: a stolen .22 caliber pistol
that Bagwell held in her right hand.
Sandra was the last person to see Betsy alive.
Questions surfaced about Bagwell's death, including the lack of a
suicide note and a private investigation revealing that his wife's
death might not be a suicide. Yet police refused to reopen the
As always, Sandra moved on with her life, one
that found her in June 1984 wooing another man into her clutches.
Alan Rehrig was a good-looking 29-year-old who had just moved to
Dallas to take work at a mortgage company. Bridewell was outside
in her yard when Rehrig, who was searching for a place to live,
happened to drive by. He pulled his Ford Bronco over and asked if
she knew of any possible apartments. She didn't, but she agreed to
Within weeks the two were inseparable. He grew
close to Sandra's three kids, who, with their mother's prompting,
would show up unannounced at his office for visits. Then, that
fall of 1984, Sandra delivered some unexpected news. She was
pregnant with twins. It was curious news for one important reason:
seven years before, Sandra Bridewell had had a hysterectomy. It
was a lie she could pull off after she gained some weight in her
stomach. There were other lies, too, like the one about her age.
Sandra was not 36 as she had told Rehrig, but 41.
But Rehrig, still getting to know his new
girlfriend, had no reason to doubt Sandra, especially when it came
to the pregnancy. He may have felt that life was marching forward
at a fast clip, friends said, but he was also in love. In December
1984, Alan Rehrig married Sandra Bridewell.
Alan Rehrig's Death
Bridewell knew full well that she could only
take the pregnancy lie so far. Now, with Rehrig completely
committed to her, she would change the story. So, in February
1985, she called up her husband and told him she'd just had a
Alan was devastated. The marriage, too, seemed
to take a big hit. Like her two husbands before him, Rehrig soon
discovered his wife had expensive tastes. She pushed him to make
more money, and to take out a big life insurance policy. Alan once
complained to friends that Sandra spent $20,000 a month on
clothes, food, and travel.
In November 1985, the couple separated. Alan
moved in with a friend, convinced that he needed to end his
relationship with Sandra. For several weeks the two didn't see one
another, and then in early December Sandra phoned up her husband
and asked if he could meet her at a storage facility where the two
had placed some of their stuff.
What happened over the course of the next
several hours has never truly been determined. Alan was next seen
slumped over in his Bronco in Oklahoma. The cause of death:
gunshots to the head and chest. It was also apparent that Rehrig's
body had been driven to Oklahoma. Sandra was a suspect but nothing
could be pinned on the woman who would come to be known in Dallas
as the "Black Widow." She was coy with police during an initial
interrogation, almost playful, and then completely uncooperative,
refusing to let anyone speak to her or her daughters.
If she was grieving over her third husband's
death, she hid it well. Instead, Sandra Bridewell scrimped on the
funeral expenses, choosing the least expensive casket possible for
Rehrig and then convincing friends to cover the burial bills. She
was late for the service, too, arriving at the very last minute
dressed to the nines in a rich mink coat. She could afford it,
however. Alan's death had dropped $220,000 of life insurance money
into her bank account.
Moving Around the Country
Her reputation, though, was tarnished. A
detailed local magazine article profiling Sandra Bridewell's
curious past didn't help. Less than a year after Rehrig's death,
Sandra left Dallas for good, relocating her family to the San
Francisco area. There, Bridewell brought her charm to Marin
County, where she cycled through a new round of wealthy men who
were suckered in by her personal story, which often included
something about a trust fund that she would soon be cashing in,
and her lack of sexual inhibition. One man loaned her $23,000.
Another forked over more than $70,000, which he'd pulled out of
his pension. Neither of them saw a penny of it repaid, even though
both men brought her to court. Soon, the stories that started to
circulate in Dallas began making their way around San Francisco.
By the early 1990s, Sandra had changed her name
to Camille Bridewell and had left California as a full time
resident. A boyfriend put her up in a ritzy apartment in Boston.
There were other places she called home, too, like Connecticut and
Hawaii. But new addresses did not mean a change to her old ways.
Using the Social Security numbers of other people, she took out
credit cards and rang up big purchases, with no intent to pay
anything back. The list of victims also included her three
children, whose credit she managed to destroy.
As the 21st century rolled around, the now
middle aged Sandra had turned from sexuality to religion to draw
her victims close. The crux of her story centered on the idea that
she was a missionary who traveled the world to work with orphans.
As always, she had a way of getting people to do what she wanted.
In Alabama she befriended a couple who owned and managed a local
motel. Despite not being able to pay for her room, Bridewell
received food and money from the husband and wife.
Discovery and Conviction
She then brought her story to Atlanta and,
using a slightly different last name (Bridwell instead of
Bridewell), she convinced a woman she'd met in church to split the
cost of an expensive condo rental. Soon Bridwell's new housemate
was paying for everything, as her friend waited to get a chunk of
money from a trust friend she was due.
In 2006, Bridwell surfaced in North Carolina at
a new church under the name Camille Bowers. That September she
moved in with Sue Moseley, a 77-year-old woman who lived in a
million dollar home on the Carolina coast. Bowers had struck a
deal with Moseley's son, Jim. In return for managing the
housework, Bowers would receive free room and board.
As she made a name for herself in the community
(she spoke a few times at the local women's club), Bowers set to
work on taking over Moseley's finances. She collected tax records,
rerouted the elderly woman's Social Security payments to a new
account, siphoned off the mortgage money, ran up credit charges,
and used Moseley's bank account to help fund spa treatments and
Jim Moseley grew suspicious of
his mother's housemate, and in early 2007 came across a lengthy
newspaper story in the Dallas Observer that chronicled
Bowers' life. Working with the police, Jim played the front man in
a police sting. On March 2, 2007, she was arrested in a cafe in
Charlotte, North Carolina.
Later that year, Bowers was charged with
identity theft, fraud, mail theft and Social Security fraud. The
arrest also sparked a new round of interest in Rehrig's death and
the Oklahoma City police agreed to put new resources and manpower
behind the investigation.
In February 2008, Sandra Camille Powers pleaded
guilty to one count of identity theft. That September Powers was
formally sentenced. The woman who had left a trail of victims
who'd longed to see some kind of justice brought against her, was
ordered to serve two years in prison and issued a $250,000 fine.
She must also pay more than $1,600 in restitution to the Moseley
Black Widow Pleads Guilty
Sandra Camille Bridewell finally faces judgment, though not for
what some had hoped
By Glenna Whitley - DallasObserver.com
Thursday, Feb 28 2008
Looking as pale as a ghost, her once
raven-black hair now gray, Sandra Camille Bridewell shuffled into
a federal courtroom in North Carolina for a hearing on Monday.
Wearing red prison garb, hands cuffed behind
her back and shackles on her legs, the "Black Widow" from Dallas
was sandwiched between two felons, also in red jail togs.
Bridewell faced five federal crimes, including
fraud and identity theft, all related to her interaction with Sue
Moseley, a 77-year-old widow in New Brunswick County, North
Despite her circumstances, Bridewell, 63,
carried herself with an above-it-all dignity, smiling at her
lawyer and not blinking an eye when her gaze rested briefly on
Gloria Rehrig, sitting in the front row.
Bridewell's former mother-in-law Rehrig had
long awaited this moment. Since her son Alan Rehrig was murdered
23 years ago, Rehrig has believed that Bridewell was culpable in
his death, though Bridewell has never been charged in his murder.
Alan Rehrig married Bridewell, a Highland Park
resident, in December 1984. After a year of wedded frustration,
Rehrig was found shot to death in his Bronco near the Oklahoma
City airport. Detectives in Oklahoma consider Bridewell their only
Though the hearing did not involve her son's
case, Gloria Rehrig wore a large button with Alan's picture on it
"I just wanted Sandra to see him," Rehrig says.
"I never thought this day would come."
Instead of fighting the charges at trial,
Bridewell agreed to plead guilty to one count of identity theft in
return for a sentence of two years in prison, two years of
supervision and a $250,000 fine. In return, four charges were
"I am guilty," Bridewell said in a high,
feminine voice when questioned by federal Judge James C. Dever III
of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Beginning in September 2006, Bridewell, using
the name Camille Bowers, lived with Moseley for about six months.
(Her maiden name is Sandra Camille Powers.) They agreed that in
return for room and board, Bowers would help with household
In February 2007, Moseley learned of
Bridewell's background after reading the Dallas Observer (See
"Return of the Black Widow," January 22, 2004). Moseley then
discovered that Bridewell had been using her credit cards and
cashing her checks without her permission or knowledge.
Arrested in a police sting with the assistance
of Jim Moseley, Sue's son, Bridewell had in her possession
Moseley's tax records, bank information and letters from her
mortgage company saying her house was going into foreclosure for
nonpayment. Bridewell had diverted all attempts by the mortgage
company to contact Moseley. The foreclosure was narrowly averted.
Nursing her terminally ill sister, Moseley
could not appear in court on Monday. She was stunned last year to
learn that the "missionary" living in an upstairs bedroom was a
suspect in the Rehrig murder.
"I knew something was wrong with her, but I
couldn't put my finger on it," Moseley says.
In spring 2006, Bridewell began caring for
Moseley's sister, Audrey Harrington, a self-proclaimed
"Bible-thumper" who now lives in Charlotte. They clashed over
Harrington's claim that Bridewell twisted passages of the Bible to
"Audrey told Camille she was a witch," Moseley
says. "She would use the scriptures to get what she wanted."
Moseley didn't take that charge seriously.
When Harrington and Bridewell's relationship
soured, Bridewell attached herself to Moseley, who resides on the
North Carolina coast. Recovering from a severe illness, Moseley
agreed to give Bridewell a place to live with the understanding it
would be for a short time until the "missionary" returned to India
in November. Valued at more than $1 million, her four-bedroom home
is in St. James Plantation.
"She saw that where I live is upscale," Moseley
says. "It's a beautiful place. She saw an opportunity."
Moving into Moseley's house soon after Labor
Day 2006, Bridewell quickly began integrating herself into the
community. She sang in the Christmas church cantata and gave talks
to women's groups. Bridewell explained that before her mission
work, she had been married once, had six children and had trained
as a physician's assistant. (She has been married four times;
three husbands have died.) Moseley says that Bridewell received
"love offerings" and other gifts from churchgoers who believed her
tales of serving God in India and China.
"They were impressed with her," Moseley says.
"She was a very kind person. She took very good care of Audrey."
But Moseley thought it was unusual for a woman of God to demand
gourmet groceries and drink a bottle of wine per day. "She didn't
like inexpensive wines. She knew all the labels."
And Bridewell was entirely too possessive and
interfering—answering the phone, grabbing the mail, even bringing
Moseley her medication at night. "Camille had been going to the
bank with me," Moseley says. "She learned my routines and met the
According to federal prosecutor Gaston
Williams, Bridewell was later caught on bank security videotape
cashing several of Moseley's checks. Using the name "Camille
Moseley," Bridewell treated herself to spa pedicures, a pair of
$300 black leather high-heeled pumps and a BlackBerry.
The government agreed to the plea bargain
primarily because Moseley "didn't suffer enormous financial
damage," Williams says. The forged checks totaled less than
$3,000. (This does not include the credit card charges.)
A sentencing hearing was scheduled for May 19.
Williams says within three days, Bridewell will be interviewed for
a report to be given to Judge Dever that will include detailed
information about her health, background and history. He adds that
the judge is not bound by the plea agreement.
Also attending the hearing were Lieutenant
Marty Folding, Detective Jayne Todd and assistant district
attorney Brooke Leland of Brunswick County, who say that Bridewell
is still under investigation in their jurisdiction.
When it was learned that Bridewell might have
committed Social Security fraud, federal agent Frank Maroney began
investigating the case. His summary to the court concluded that in
addition to Bowers, Bridewell used other aliases, addresses and
When the federal proceedings were done,
Bridewell smiled at her attorney and turned for her arms to be
handcuffed behind her back by the bailiff. She again shuffled past
Gloria Rehrig with no acknowledgment, head high and staring
The Black Widow
Sandra Bridewell was on her way up in Dallas
society. She was beautiful, alluring, rich. But her husbands kept
dying. So did one of her best friends.
By Eric Miller and Skip Hollandsworth
From D Magazine May 1987
In a spacious apartment near the San Francisco
Yacht Club, over-looking the bay, there lives a pretty woman who
mostly stays to herself. She is 43 years old but looks younger.
Always dressed immaculately, she carries herself in that calm,
refined way of those who have known the comforts of money for a
long time. Whenever she goes to the shops down the hill, her
magnificent dark eyes lock onto the gaze of those she meets, and
her smile is so natural that it can make men, even at a first
meeting, feel oddly enchanted.
But here in Belvedere, a quiet shoreside
village in posh Marin County, the woman keeps her distance. She
comes to pick up her mail at a private mail box, and occasionally
she eats lunch at one of the little restaurants that face the
water. In the afternoon, she picks up her children at their
school. Few of her neighbors have even met her. "She had this
beautiful voice," recalls long-time resident Silvia Davidson, who
briefly leased a home to the new woman, "and she looked beautiful.
But — how do I say this? She was like a mystery. She would say
very little about herself."
For Sandra Bridewell, the serene community of
Belvedere, made up of 2,000 wealthy residents, is a good place to
start a new life — a life without police investigations, endless
gossip, and vaguely suggestive newspaper stories. Sandra
Bridewell’s name might not mean anything in Belvedere, but in the
wealthiest and most exclusive circles of Dallas high society,
Sandra is the subject of intense speculation — by both her
neighbors and the police.
Three times she married, and all three times
her husbands died. Her first husband, David Stegall, a young,
talented dentist, shot himself to death in 1975. Her second
husband, a popular hotelier and investor who conceived the
luxurious Mansion Hotel on Turtle Creek, died of cancer in 1982.
Her third husband, Alan Rehrig, a former college basketball star
in Oklahoma who had come to Dallas to hit it rich in real estate,
was found murdered in December 1985.
For a while, it seemed that Sandra Bridewell —
an elegant woman who is regularly described by those who knew her
as delightful and caring, who had raised three wonderful children
and devoted herself to charities and taken an active interest in
the arts — was also the victim of a very cruel twist of fate.
Tragedy hounded her relentlessly. "You look at her," says friend
Barbara Crooks, a Highland Park native, "and wonder how she has
withstood it. Despite everything that has happened to her, she has
had to hold up and continue raising those kids."
But since the murder of her third husband, Alan
Rehrig, whose body was found in Oklahoma City, Sandra has had to
endure something else. The police are interested in her. Oklahoma
City homicide investigators say Sandra Bridewell herself is a
suspect in the death of her third husband. Now, in a highly
unusual move, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has joined the
murder probe and is looking not only at the Rehrig murder but deep
into Sandra’s clouded past.
Throughout the spring, FBI agents have been
searching for clues to Sandra Bridewell’s personality. They have
gone so far as to try to find a paper that Sandra allegedly wrote
in college dealing with murder, guilt, penance, and salvation.
The FBI has also heard about the other bizarre
death that touched Sandra, one that many people in the Park Cities
have been whispering about for a long time. Two months after
Sandra’s second husband, Bobby Bridewell, died of cancer, Dallas
police found a Highland Park woman named Betsy Bagwell in a Love
Field parking lot with a bullet in her right temple. The dead
woman was the wife of the prominent cancer doctor John Bagwell,
who treated Bobby Bridewell throughout his illness. During that
time Sandra became very close to the Bagwells. She was, in fact,
the last person reported seen with Betsy, less than four hours
before her body was found. Betsy’s death was officially ruled a
suicide, but those who knew her well say they cannot believe that
she actually pulled the trigger.
The investigators have yet to present evidence
to a grand jury that would link Sandra to any crime. Nor have they
arrested anyone, but that has only added to the intrigue. Few can
remember a time in the history of Dallas’ wealthy circles when the
circumstances combined to produce such a sensational story —
involving an attractive young mother, the men who loved her, and
the affluent society that enveloped them. "There was something
about her that you just couldn’t ignore," says Diana Reardon,
whose husband is a well-known Dallas home builder. "She would
become very close to you, she would hook her arm around your arm
when she talked to you. I’ve seen her charm entire groups of
people. It was like she seduced them."
Sandra Bridewell is now a target of constant
gossip. Long lunch conversations at the Dallas Country Club are
devoted to her past. A group of women, all wives of prominent
businessmen, call themselves the "Snoop Sisters" as they track the
latest Sandra story. Another well-known woman from one of the
state’s old-money families keeps a thick file on Sandra’s doings.
They are not alone in considering Sandra Bridewell guilty until
FBI agent Jon Hersley, who is in charge of the
case, must be amazed at the attention paid to Sandra. Whenever he
shows up at someone’s home for an interview, phone lines begin
buzzing all over the Park Cities. In fact, it was Park Cities
gossip that drew the authorities to Sandra in the first place, She
became a suspect in the death of her third husband when the police
got a phone call from an anonymous woman, called "the Highland
Park Deep Throat" by one of her friends. The unknown caller spun a
tale of mystery that was plausible enough to warrant further
scrutiny. As word spread of the investigation, many Park Cities
residents began to wonder if the Sandra Bridewell they thought
they knew had another, darker side.
But others are quick to defend Sandra. They
believe that a flood of unfounded gossip was ruining Sandra
Bridewell’s life in Dallas. To Sandra’s defenders, the real crime
has been committed by a Park Cities rumor mill operating at
dizzying speed. "Highland Park is like a small town," says Carolyn
Day, a Bridewell friend who operates the popular Travis Street
Market. "Everybody talks. It’s part of life here. I think it’s
like that game you play where people sit in a circle and one
person starts a rumor and passes it on down the line, and by the
time it gets back to him the story is completely different."
"Everyone has just jumped on the bandwagon
against Sandra," says another of her friends. "And they don’t even
know her. It’s so ridiculous what is being said about her, so far
from what she’s all about. People have conveniently forgotten all
about the Sandra who once was their close friend."
Last year, feeling the pressure of a community
that scorned her, Sandra moved from Dallas to California with her
three teenaged children. The rumors had done their work. Sandra
was embarrassed to go out. Some mothers told their children that
they could no longer carpool with Sandra’s two daughters. They
were being frozen out of their society. Recalls her friend Suzanne
Sweet, who now lives in California, close to Sandra: "There are
several of us who said to her, ’You can’t do this to your
children. The other kids will rip them apart. Highland Park is not
going to give up hurting you.’
In time, the police and the FBI will finish
their investigations. But whatever their findings, many Park
Cities people will go on believing that Sandra Bridewell is guilty
of at least one murder. The story of Sandra Bridewell is
perplexing and fascinating, like one of those Renaissance
paintings in which the woman’s face is half in shadow, half in
light, a tableau of innocence blending into mystery, perhaps evil.
The fact that people gossip about her does not mean she is guilty;
nor does it mean she is innocent. Sometimes rumors build from
nothing. Sometimes they are the advance guard of the truth.
"There are times when I’ve lost sleep because
of what has been said about Sandra," says a respected Highland
Park woman. Last February, the FBI interviewed her about Sandra
for an entire afternoon. "I know there is something very, very
different about that woman than the rest of us. But then there are
times when I wake up at night and wonder, 'What if she had nothing
to do with this after all? Then what have we done to her?’"
"The times she’s talked to me about her past,
it’s like she thinks of herself as Cinderella."
–former friend Diana Reardon
The Sandra Bridewell who is the target of both
gossip and police scrutiny did not have her roots in Park Cities
society. In fact, the beguiling woman who loved champagne and
trips to New York, who drove expensive cars and took gourmet
cooking classes for fun, had no silver spoons during her
childhood. Her early years were steeped in turmoil, and they
contained no small amount of tragedy.
She was born in 1944 in the little town of
Sedalia, Missouri. Given up as an infant by her natural parents,
she was adopted by a couple who could have no children of their
own. Her adoptive father was a man named Arthur Powers, the owner
and manager of the local Dr Pepper bottling plant. Her adoptive
mother, Camille, was killed, reportedly in an automobile accident,
when Sandra was about 3 years old. Her father soon remarried. When
she was 6 years old, Sandra and her family moved from Missouri to
a middle-class neighborhood in Oak Cliff, where her father sold
cemetery plots for Laurel Land Memorial Park.
As Sandra grew to adulthood, the memories of
her early childhood days would become a vivid source of
conversation. Many of her friends and ex-friends can recall
stories Sandra told of her unhappy youth. Susan Dreith, Sandra’s
closest friend during her teenage days (she lived around the
corner), says that Sandra and her stepmother "did not have a good
relationship at all."
"I remember how Sandra used to talk about a
birthday party that her stepmother was throwing for her," recalls
a former friend who recently lived next door to Sandra. "The day
of the party no one came. Sandra says it was because her
stepmother forgot to send the invitations. Sandra would tell me
that her stepmom would tell her that she was unwanted and had no
(Sandra’s father is dead. Doris Powers, her
stepmother, would not be interviewed for this story. "I think
Sandra’s been harassed enough," Mrs. Powers says. "I don’t know
why this is happening to her.")
Sandra went to Kimball High School in Oak
Cliff, graduating in 1962. According to Susan Dreith, she was
always properly dressed with very nice manners — "sort of like an
Eddie Haskell type" — but she was not very popular, nor did she
seem involved in many activities. Her senior class photograph for
1962 does not even appear in the annual, and she is pictured in no
other school organization except for the Future Homemakers of
America. Dreith says that although Sandra’s beauty was well
evident by this time, she didn’t date much.
"She seemed to be just on a pretty even keel,"
says Dreith. "And she often seemed a little aloof — and yet there
was this one thing that always made you wary. It was sort of like
a deception about her. She would always make up stories about
things. Now, I know we were all kids, and we all did that sort of
thing sometimes, but Sandra was sometimes so ridiculous. One time,
we were supposed to go somewhere on a weekend night, and I never
heard from her. When I asked her about it, she said she had to
leave for Missouri in the middle of the night. Well, of course, I
knew that wasn’t true. She was over at her own house."
Another intimate friend of Sandra’s, Paula
Johnson, who got to know her when they were both in their early
20s, recalls Sandra’s habit of lying about her past. "Sandra never
mentioned any of her friends from high school," Johnson says. "I
never met any of them. It was odd. There was this time when we
were driving through a very nice area of Oak Cliff, and Sandra
pointed to this very beautiful home. It was landscaped, it was by
a city park, it was so lovely. And Sandra looked at me and said,
'That’s the house that I grew up in.' A couple of months later we
had to go to her real house — I think it was for the funeral of
her father — and when we got there, it wasn’t at all the house she
showed me. How did Sandra think she could get away with that lie?"
Signs of deceit continued as Sandra grew older.
Some people who have known her as an adult recall that Sandra
claimed she attended SMU. The registrar’s office has no record of
her taking any course at SMU. On her 10-year high school reunion
questionnaire, Sandra wrote that she attended TCU. According to
the school registrar’s office, she never enrolled at TCU.
It is documented that she attended Tyler Junior
College for a year after high school, where she was a member of
the local Sans Souci (French for "without care") sorority. She
returned to Dallas sometime after that, and by 1966 she was living
the life of the young North Dallas single woman at the Windsor
House Apartments near the Upper Greenville area.
Perhaps as a reaction to her uncertain,
troubled upbringing, Sandra developed a taste for the exquisite
and expensive things in life. Those who knew her in the '60s say
that even then she was striving for a kind of sophistication that
others her age didn’t have.
"She was phenomenal to the rest of us," recalls
Kathy Woodson, a Dallas secretary who was part of Sandra’s crowd
at the time. "She was this sort of Southern belle who had come out
of nowhere. She had these real sweet manners, and she knew how to
make flaming plum pudding. I mean, we were taking movie magazines,
and she was taking Southern Living. She instinctively knew what
men would want."
With these charms, it didn’t take long for men
to come flocking to Sandra. She began dating a young dental
student who had ambitions to become a great dentist in Dallas. He
lived in an apartment complex across the street from Sandra, and
after just six weeks of dating, he asked her to marry him. In May
of 1967, David Stegall became Sandra’s first husband.
THE FIRST HUSBAND
"They loved the idea of being rich. David liked
rich things, and so did Sandra. But, being young, or whatever,
they had no idea about money."
–Dr. E.T. Stegall Sr., David’s father
David Stegall was a rather quiet, good-looking
young man born and raised in Fort Worth. Following in the
footsteps of his father, he went to the Baylor College of
Dentistry, where he graduated with honors. But he wanted to do
something more in his profession than run a family practice like
his father had. "He was obviously set on becoming the big-time,
society dentist of Dallas," says a dentist friend of his who knew
him in dental school and later had an office in the same building
with Stegall. "He didn’t want to do normal stuff like fillings. He
was into full mouth reconstruction, where some patients would get
charged over $10,000. And that was an enormous amount of money
Stegall went to Los Angeles to study with a
prominent dentist, Dr. Peter K. Thomas, who had a long client list
of Hollywood celebrities. From Thomas, Stegall learned how to make
all the right moves to attract the proper clientele. The newlyweds
also joined St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, which on
Sundays is filled with some of the wealthiest people in Dallas. In
Stegall’s new office at Douglas Plaza near Preston Center, there
were Gittings portraits of his children on the walls.
David’s father says Sandra was David’s first
girlfriend; he had never seriously pursued a relationship before
meeting her. Says Kathy Woodson, who watched the courtship of
David and Sandra develop: "David was a real sweetneart, but not a
lot of people really liked him because he was a real loner and
serious about his work. He never was the type that would have
gotten involved in the high society life. But when he married
Sandra, it all changed."
From the beginning, Sandra moved easily into
the upscale world, as if this were her natural element. "She was
the most beautiful entertainer," recalls Highland Park resident
Marian Underwood, who once was a close friend of Sandra’s. "She
was so creative in her home. If she had a little dinner party,
she’d go all out for you." She was a wonderful hostess, she made
perceptive comments in the neighborhood book club, she was
cookbook chairman for the St. Michael church (her recipe was quail
in wine). "Her main goal was to be in the Junior League," says
Kathy Woodson. "She wanted to be the classic Junior League woman.
I never really understood why she never got in."
"She was trying to gain a lavish social
identity," says Jack Sides, who was the Stegalls’ attorney. "She
wanted to do things first class." One acquaintance of the Stegalls
recalls a birthday party thrown for one of the neighborhood
children. While the other mothers brought little presents that
cost no more than $5, Sandra showed up with an elaborate $30
Another acquaintance met David and Sandra
Stegall in 1971 at a backyard beer-and-oyster party thrown by the
noted Highland Park real estate agent Charles Freeman. She recalls
that Sandra seemed offended when she was offered a beer. "She said
that she didn’t drink beer," recalls the woman. "That’s fine, but
it was just the pretentious way she said it, you know. We could
all tell she was trying to be a social climber."
But the truth was, David Stegall also found
himself enjoying the high life. He didn’t mingle well at parties,
but Sandra was able to lead him through it. And the social whirl
certainly didn’t hurt his dental practice. Finally, he was making
some money: his income almost tripled, from $27,000 in 1972 to
$68,000 in 1973. The Stegalls had caught a glimpse of the good
life that belonged to Dallas’ old-money crowd, and they found it
addictive. Soon they began trying to live like the people whose
opulent parties they were attending.
By 1973, they had moved to the upscale Greenway
Parks neighborhood, buying a $65,000 house that they quickly began
to remodel at a cost of $45,000. Sandra was taking care of the
bills at home, and David was heading off to work in a new 1973
Cadillac and a $300 sport coat. They got a live-in maid and had
their groceries delivered from the chic Simon David grocery store
on Inwood Road. They even looked into purchasing a much larger
home in Highland Park.
As the spending escalated, Sandra paid the
renowned Dallas interior designer John Astin Perkins $35,000 to
redecorate the home with antiques. A dentist’s wife walked in and
breathlessly said the house reminded her of the Palace of
Versailles. One friend remembers that David and Sandra were quick
to point out special touches like a little table in a corner that
cost $4,000. Another friend, a member of Sandra’s church, recalls
hearing Sandra say that her goal was to get her home featured in
By 1974, about the time the couple’s third
child was bom, the debts were getting out of control. "They were
literally talking each other into spending," recalls one close
friend. The IRS put a lien on their house forunpaid taxes. The
Stegalls owed a North Dallas bank more than $30,000. David had
stopped referring patients with simple dental problems to other
dentists and begun doing the work himself. "He was working night
and day to pay the bills," recalls Paula Johnson, whose former
husband, a dentist, also committed suicide. "I would ask Sandra
why she would spend and spend, and she would say, ’Well, David is
doing so well.’"
But David Stegall was not doing well. A
psychologist who had a counseling session with David a few days
before his suicide recalls that David did seem "pretty put out by
the bills for household furnishings ... The wife seemed to have
him in a very painful box. He was completely intimidated by her.
The idea, as he saw it, of his inability to pay the bills, stood
in pretty sharp contrast to his professional skills."
In the fall of 1974, the financial picture
worsened. David borrowed $100,000 from his father to try to stay
above water. But the problems were affecting David’s work in the
office. "You could tell that the quality of his work was
deteriorating," recalls an associate, Dr. Paul Radman. "I didn’t
know anything about his personal problems, but I knew something
One friend remembers how David, in the final
weeks of his life, talked about moving to California, buying a
Porsche convertible, and finding a young blonde. Life at home was
miserable. Sandra and David argued constantly. Paula Johnson
remembers that Sandra accused David of having an affair. One time
Sandra came over to another friend’s house with a black eye and
said that David had hit her. Sandra had begun to sleep in the
children’s bedrooms; friends say she was scared of David’s
"violent" temper. Late one night, about three weeks before Stegall
actually killed himself, his attorney, Sides, got a frantic phone
call from Sandra saying that David was drinking heavily. Sides
rushed to the house and found Stegall crouched in a closet
pointing a pistol at his head. Sides took the gun away from David
without a struggle.
After that night, Stegall told friends that
everything was fine and said he would never try suicide again
because of his love for the children. But on February 22, 1975,
David did try again. This time he succeeded. Sandra told police
she was sleeping in another wing of the house and awakened to find
David lying in his bed in a pool of blood. Police found the
dentist with his wrists slashed and a bullet wound to his left
temple. A .22-caliber pistol was in his hand. Later, police would
discover that the gun Stegall used to kill himself had apparently
been stolen from one of his patients.
Sandra sold the home for $147,500 and got
$160,000 in life insurance. Her dead husband’s dental practice
sold for less than $15,000. Even after paying off all the bills,
she and her children had enough money to live comfortably.
Neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist who
had examined David Stegall days before he died concluded that he
was suicidal. But to Sandra’s dismay, David’s own problems didn’t
stop many of David’s friends from turning against her. "At David’s
funeral," says Kathy Woodson, "all of the old gang sat around and
talked about how David tried to take the charge cards away from
Sandra because he felt she was driving him into ruin."
One of Sandra’s staunchest defenders from that
time admits Sandra painted "a fantasy-land portrait of life."
Tragically, that fantasy — of a prosperous little family on the
way up in Dallas’ wealthiest community — had come to a shattering
conclusion. For Sandra, it was time to pick up the pieces of her
life and start again.
THE SECOND HUSBAND
"Here you are, a housewife worried about
carpools and working at the school cafeteria, and along comes
Sandra talking about someone throwing knives at her. None of this
had ever happened to us."
–Frances Shepherd, Highland Park mother
When David Stegall died, Sandra Bridewell was
left with her 7-year-old son and two daughters, ages 4 and 1. She
had no job. To some who knew her, it seemed as if the pretty young
widow had nowhere to turn except to another man.
"She would often talk about men," says Diana
Reardon, "and how she needed men, and how her children needed a
family. I mean, it was perfectly understandable. Sandra looked for
men the way other people looked for a job. In the position she was
in, it was her way of surviving."
Some old friends of David Stegall’s resented
Sandra, but many friends and neighbors were ready to help her. In
time, Sandra began to go out again. And the Highland Park wives
who set her up on dates with their wealthy divorced friends
discovered something very quickly: Sandra, voluptuous and
bewitching, was remarkably appealing to men. She knew how to
flatter them, and she knew how to flirt with them. Those who have
taken her out describe her allure in many ways — one calls it a
"wonderful little-girl aura," another calls it a "calculated
Men looked upon her as they looked upon money:
she was one of those things in life that was impossible to
understand and useless to resist. "She had this sexy look to her,"
recalls Lynn Price, the Highland Park woman who arranged Sandra’s
first date with Bobby Bridewell, the man who would become her
second husband. "It was sort of a smouldering style."
"It wasn’t that she dressed in a provocative
way," says Yvonne Crum, a well-heeled Dallas socialite and public
relations consultant. "She wasn’t that much prettier than other
women. But men were spellbound by her. She had those great big
eyes, and she’d stare straight at a man while talking to him,
hanging on to every word, and it made him think he was the only
person in the room."
There was another thing people soon learned
about Sandra. She was not shy in going after someone she liked.
Says one friend who became close to Sandra after Stegall’s death:
"Three months after David died, Sandra mentioned three men she
wanted to meet. All of them were millionaires."
Sandra’s defenders believe such stories are
born out of jealousy. "It’s true Sandra has a few feminine wiles,"
says Barbara Crooks. "Which of course makes her the type of woman
other Highland Park women aren’t going to like. They don’t
especially take to a woman who is warm and appealing."
No doubt Sandra did make plays for rich men.
Says a Dallas banker who introduced Sandra to a wealthy bachelor
friend from Arkansas: "He came back from his date raving about
her. Then he caught a flight back to Arkansas on Monday morning.
Monday night he heard a knock on his door. It was Sandra. She had
followed him home. It was an ugly scene because my friend was with
his girlfriend when Sandra showed up."
A wealthy Dallas investor met Sandra at
Northwood Club in 1975. He recalls that she came on very strong
right at the start. "She was sweet to the point of being gooey. I
remember one time when Sandra and I double-dated with my sister.
It was only our third or fourth date together. She was 'honey'
this and 'love you' that to the point where I was embarrassed."
Perhaps Sandra’s most notorious relationship
after the death of her first husband was with Steak and Ale
founder Norman Brinker, who began dating Sandra while he was in
the midst of a drawn-out divorce proceeding. While dating Brinker
in the fall of 1976, Sandra became the apparent target of a
harassment campaign. On one occasion, her duplex was broken into,
and a threatening message was written in lipstick on a mirror.
Several women also recall that Sandra told them
about a woman throwing a knife at her. The stories created the
kind of stir that almost never permeates the normally sedate Park
Cities community. Brinker briefly hired a bodyguard to protect
Sandra. Eventually she was dragged into his divorce; she gave a
December 1976 deposition in the case. What she said remains a
secret. Brinker won’t talk about her, and his divorce file is
missing from the Dallas County records morgue.
And so, by the time Sandra met Bobby Bridewell,
a fun-loving, likable hotel investor, she was already the object
of great speculation. In the conservative Park Cities, where
houses are filled with fine furniture and old paintings and maids,
where mothers drive Suburbans and fathers leave work early to
coach their kids’ YMCA soccer teams, Sandra certainly stood out.
There is a comfortable emotion in "the Bubble," as Park Cities
residents call their own protected community: they know their
lives will be safe and sheltered. Many of the residents grow up
and die in the same neighborhood. Which is why Sandra was a very
different entity altogether.
A lot of the talk was cruel. And the truth was
that many women loved having her as a friend. They milked her for
details, then burned up the phones passing on new tidbits. "You
hung on every word of her stories," recalls one ex-luncheon
partner, "because you never knew how they’d end up."
"The thing you have to remember is how narrow
Highland Park can be," says Barbara Crooks, who now lives in New
York City. "I grew up there all my life, and I know what happens —
you see the same people at the same parties, you do the same
things, and you need something to liven up your life. People look
for a great gossip figure. And that’s what happened to Sandra."
But none of her past mattered to Bobby
Bridewell, the son of a rich Tyler oilman who was beloved among
his friends for his partying and wild sense of humor. "He was the
master of the grand gesture," recalls his friend, Dallas
entertainment entrepreneur Angus Wynne. "He was a great lover of
rhythm and blues, and he would go to all the concerts. Of course,
he’d be one of the few white people in the crowd, but he didn’t
care. He’d dance in the aisles and imitate the performers. Once he
jumped up on stage and threw his coat around James Brown."
When Sandra, who had been scheming to meet him
for weeks, popped out of a closet one evening at Bo and Lynn
Price’s home while Bridewell was there for dinner, he seemed
utterly delighted. It was late 1977, and Bobby was going through
an ugly divorce. His first wife had announced that she was in love
with her horse trainer. Many of his friends knew how much the
wrecked marriage had devastated him.
Sandra came along at the perfect time for Bobby
Bridewell. She loved to go out as much as he did, and she made a
point of sharing his interests. When she started dating him,
according to one of her friends from that time, she read several
books on horse racing, knowing how Bobby loved the sport. "Sandra
knew how to indulge Bobby," says her friend Carolyn Day. "She let
him have center stage. He was quite the entertainer and talker,
and she let him have his role while she took a back seat."
After a whirlwind romance, they were married on
June 26, 1978. "Bobby was swept off his feet," says Bo Price.
Another good friend, the noted Dallas architect Phillip Shepherd,
remembers that Bobby, vulnerable from the divorce, needed
companionship. "She was a different kind of girl for him. She
doted on him. I think Bobby knew that Sandra thought she was
coming in for a lot of money, but that didn’t slow up the
What many didn’t know was that Bobby had been
sliding into a major financial crisis. He was involved in dozens
of joint real estate ventures in the hotel industry, and almost
all of them were failing as the 1978 real estate market bottomed
out. By the end of 1978 he was bankrupt and had fallen more than
$3 million in debt.
Still, say his friends. Bobby refused to be
discouraged, and by 1979 he was starting to turn things around
again with a unique hotel project. On a drive one day by the old
Sheppard King Mansion, a 16th-century Italian-styled villa, an
idea flashed through his mind. Why not convert the villa into a
pricey hotel and restaurant? He sold Carolyn Hunt Schoellkopf on
the idea, and her Rosewood Hotels Inc. purchased the property.
Bobby stayed on as consultant to see his idea turned into reality
when the Mansion opened for business in 1980. By then, a
bankruptcy judge had released Bridewell of all his debts, and he
was back to a six-figure income again.
Quickly, Sandra Bridewell found herself thrust
even higher into Dallas society. Bobby’s circle of friends, most
of them in their mid-30s, were well on their way to becoming some
of the most prominent businessmen and socialites in Dallas. Sandra
was given the chance to do the invitations for the exclusive
Cattle Baron’s Ball. She was given the best table and fawned over
at the Mansion. When she traveled to Houston, she stayed at the
chic Remington on Post Oak Park Hotel, another of Bobby’s
Bobby even adopted her children, giving them
the distinguished Bridewell name. She bought such lavish gifts for
her new friends, says Phillip Shepherd, "that it just seemed a
little too much." Lynn Price says, "Sandra became even more
glamorous. It was like she did nothing that did not involve the
Many of Bobby’s friends found themselves liking
Sandra. "She had a magic spell on people," says one woman who was
close to her then. "You"d find yourself doing little things for
her — running errands, taking her children places. Then you’d
wonder why you were doing it, when you knew she was down at the
Mansion having lunch."
But the friends continued to help Sandra —
especially after the shocking news came in 1980 that Bobby
Bridewell had been diagnosed with lymph cancer. The ill-fated
Sandra Bridewell, who seemed on the verge of establishing herself
in society, was plunged into yet another tragedy. At first,
Bridewell continued to work at his usual frenetic pace, seemingly
undaunted by the heavy doses of chemotherapy he was receiving. But
by 1981, he was losing weight and spending more time in bed.
To understand how Bridewell’s death made Sandra
the object of more whispering and speculation, realize that Bobby
Bridewell was adored by his peers. He was like a minor figure in a
Fitzgerald novel, wearing loud sport coats, laughing harder than
anyone in the room, always the last to leave the party. In a 1980
videotape of Phillip Shepherd’s 40th birthday party, a group of
women sang a song in tribute to Bobby. The guests knew by then
that the cancer was going to kill him, but they laughed and talked
during the song. Still, even in the grainy footage, one can see
Bobby’s friends look vacantly at him, as if lost. Nearby, Sandra
sits on a couch, weeping softly with her hands to her face.
Bobby Bridewell’s last months should have
evoked the kind of love and warm generosity that emerges in people
during misfortune. Instead, a deep bitterness grew in Bobby’s
friends, and it was directed at his wife — for while Bobby lay
dying, Sandra Bridewell was remodeling their Highland Park home.
To some in the Park Cities crowd, Sandra’s
actions were outrageous. "That winter before he died, the heat
didn’t work in their home," says a woman who was close to
Bridewell. "And here was Sandra redoing her garden room and the
wallpaper and what have you. So I brought over some spare electric
heaters and a down comforter to make Bobby feel more comfortable,
and Sandra wasn’t appreciative of the down comforter because it
didn’t look pretty enough."
"Oh, that’s a crock," says Barbara Crooks in
defense. "They were fixing up that house long before Bobby got
sick. And he asked that it be done." Says another lifelong
Highland Park resident who couldn’t understand the complaints of
Bobby’s friends: "Okay. Sandra’s actions might not have been the
most appropriate thing to do, but it wasn’t like she was being
immoral. Bobby’s crowd was just looking for something to hold
In the spring of 1982, Sandra asked Marian
Underwood, a neighbor who was a retired teacher, if Bobby could
stay for about a week in one of her spare bedrooms while Sandra
had central air conditioning and heat installed in her home. Bobby
never returned home. He stayed at the Underwood home for three
weeks, until Bobby’s father got angry at Sandra and moved him into
a suite at one of his motels, the Twin Sixties Inn on Central
Expressway. Marian Underwood, who loved the Bridewells, also had a
falling out with Sandra, as did many of Sandra’s friends who had
taken care of her children or bought her groceries during Bobby’s
illness, and felt little appreciation in return.
"Sandra was so demanding with your time," says
Diana Reardon. "She’d call you constantly and not get off the
phone, or she’d come over and never leave. Even if you had
something to do, she would stay and talk, no matter how politely
you said that it was time for her to leave. It got to the point
where you’d have to escort her to the door and shut it in her
face. Then she’d call you up crying, telling you how terribly you
Bobby remained in the motel room until late
April, then spent the last two weeks of his life at Baylor
University Medical Center. The remodeling continued on the house.
Bobby died at age 41 on May 9, 1982. A few
weeks later, Sandra left for a Hawaiian vacation with her three
children. She needed to get away from a world that had come
crashing down around her.
Though Sandra might not have realized it, she
was quietly being ostracized from her cliquish society. The talk
was snowballing, bringing an avalanche of rumor and innuendo to
bury her reputation. Sandra had strayed too close to the
boundaries of good taste in the reserved Park Cities community. A
few months later, the talk would become tinged with fear when one
of Sandra’s friends was found dead in a Love Field parking lot.
THE DEATH OF BETSY BAGWELL
"Of all the interviewing I did, with all her
closest friends, I could not find anyone who could think of a
reason Betsy would have to shoot herself."
–Bill Murphy, private investigator
Bobby Bridewell’s cancer doctor, John Bagwell,
was one of the most distinguished physicians in Dallas, the kind
of professional who would leave for the hospital before daybreak,
come home at night for a quick dinner, and then go back to the
office. His wife, Betsy, was the quintessential Highland Park
housewife and mother. A former Highland Park High School
cheerleader, Betsy worked on the Shakespeare Festival, belonged to
the Junior League, was active at Highland Park Presbyterian
Church, and taught a Bible class for children in her home while
raising two children of her own.
"Her biggest goal in life," recalls one
neighbor, "was to have a No. 1 family."
Betsy Bagwell lived the kind of stable life
that Sandra Bridewell had long hoped to achieve. For whatever
reasons, Sandra became very close to the Bagwells while Bobby
Bridewell was dying of cancer. She depended on them as much after
Bobby’s death as before.
One of Betsy’s closest friends, who talked to
her shortly before she died, says that "it looked a little unusual
how quickly she tried to get close to [John]." But Sandra also
became very attached to Betsy, a sympathetic woman who was known
for counseling and befriending many of her husband’s patients and
their families. After Bobby’s death, Sandra even accompanied Betsy
to Santa Fe for a short vacation. Sandra began to call Betsy "my
new best friend," says a Park Cities woman who knew both of them
well during this period.
Nevertheless, the Bagwells were growing weary
of her. Like many people who were once friends with Sandra, they
felt she was trying to smother them, always asking them to do
something for her. One Wednesday evening in July, Sandra
telephoned Bagwell to tell him that her car had stalled while she
was out running errands. Reluctantly, John agreed to assist
Sandra. But when he got to the site, he saw a policeman getting
into Sandra’s car. The car started immediately. Bagwell, who would
later tell investigators that he believed Sandra had lied about
the car trouble to lure him from his home, angrily told her to get
out of their lives. He also told Betsy to stay away from Sandra.
But a few days later, on July 16, Betsy
received a phone call from Sandra. According to a private
investigator hired to look into Betsy’s death, Sandra was upset
about a letter she had found written from another woman to Bobby.
Sandra said the letter, discovered inside a frame behind a
photograph, intimated that Bobby was having an affair. For Betsy,
something didn’t seem right about the story. She told her husband
about it that morning and brought it up again with two female
friends over lunch at the Dallas Country Club. (Sandra has denied
the existence of the letter to the Dallas police.)
According to police and private investigators,
Betsy got another call that afternoon from Sandra. Again, her car
had stalled, this time at a church, and she needed help. Betsy
couldn’t say no. She drove Sandra to Love Field about 4:30 to pick
up a rental car, but because Sandra had forgotten her driver’s
license, she couldn’t get a car. According to police, Sandra said
Betsy then took her back to her car at the church. Again, the car
started. The police say that Sandra told them she then left Betsy
and went shopping at Preston Center.
At 8:20 that evening, police found Betsy
Bagwell in the terminal parking lot at Love Field, slumped in the
driver’s seat of her 1980 powder-blue Mercedes-Benz station wagon
with a bullet hole in her right temple and a .22-caliber revolver
in her hand. The Dallas County Medical Examiner ruled the death a
No one who knew Betsy Bagwell could believe she
had killed herself. According to investigators, Betsy had told her
children early that afternoon not to "pig out" because she had
dinner thawing in the sink. Moreover, the gun found with Betsy was
a stolen Saturday Night Special, a cheap pistol registered to a
deceased Oak Cliff man who had kept it in his glove compartment in
his car. The man’s wife said the gun had been stolen sometime in
the '70s, but the couple never reported it missing to the police.
Police and friends alike wondered how a woman unfamiliar with guns
could come across a stolen handgun. Why didn’t Betsy Bagwell just
go to a Highland Park sporting goods store and buy one?
But Dallas Police Department homicide
investigator J.J. Coughlin, who supervised the case, says the
county medical examiner called Betsy’s death "a classic textbook
case of suicide." Tests showed traces of gunpowder, blood, and
tissue on her hand, leading to a ruling of suicide.
Still, those who knew Betsy were unconvinced.
The death marked a turning point in the way Park Cities people
regarded Sandra Bridewell. Suddenly, they were very apprehensive.
"When the first husband died, people felt sorry
for Sandra," says well-known real estate agent Thomas McBride.
"When husband No. 2 died, they still rallied around Sandra." But
when Betsy Bagwell died, he says, people grew wary of Sandra. "She
became quite a mysterious woman, and people were beginning to
realize that the only things they really knew about Sandra were
the things Sandra had told them."
Was there another Sandra Bridewell, a black
widow with a fatal bite? Or was Sandra a victim of circumstance, a
maligned target of Highland Park rumors? Neither the police nor
the private investigators found any evidence indicating murder.
Friends report that Sandra seemed staggered by the deaths of her
husband and best friend. If she heard rumors, she didn’t lower her
dignity to address them. Remaining in the big Highland Park home
Bobby had left her, she tried again to pick up the pieces of her
life. She bought a new two-seater Mercedes, and she used the
memorials given in Bobby’s honor, amounting to nearly $50,000, to
help establish a week-long summer camp, run by Dallas’ Children’s
Medical Center, for children afflicted with cancer.
Sandra met new friends, and things began slowly
to move forward. Her own children, amiable, well-behaved kids,
seemed to be coping adequately with the second death in the
And then, in the summer of 1984, she met
another man. His name was Alan Rehrig. He would soon fall in love
with her. And then, he too would die.
THE THIRD HUSBAND
"Alan’s mistake was that he wanted money fast.
His mistake was thinking he could quickly become a part of Dallas’
high society — and that left him gullible."
-Bill Dodd, lifelong friend
Growing up in the town of Edmond, Oklahoma,
Alan Rehrig seemed to have everything going for him. They talked
about him at the barber shop. Alan was the high school sports star
who had made good, and as one of Sandra’s friends later put it, he
looked "All-American cute." His mother had a scrapbook full of
clippings about Alan. Girls adored him. He became an All-State
athlete in high school. On a basketball scholarship, he attended
Oklahoma State University, where his mother was once homecoming
queen. He also played on the college football team his senior
year; a defensive back, he made an interception in the end zone
during one game to save a victory for OSU. He became the first
athlete since 1940 to letter in two varsity sports at that school.
With a teacher’s certificate in hand, Rehrig
was planning to return to his home after graduation and work as a
high school coach, just as his older brother did in another town.
But just before he was to begin teaching at Edmond High School,
Rehrig suddenly moved to Phoenix to take up golf, announcing that
he wanted to become a professional golfer. Two of his old high
school buddies had already made the PGA tour, and they persuaded
Rehrig that he could do it too. Obviously, the move just didn’t
make much sense — there was little chance that Alan would be
successful as a golfer. But for a gifted athlete, the dreams of
life in the arena don’t die easily.
For the first time in his life, Rehrig failed.
He had to work nights as a waiter to make an income. After two
years he returned to Oklahoma, where he decided to try the oil
business, When the prices fell and the oil industry bottomed out
in Oklahoma, Rehrig found himself out of money and looking for
another job. His friends remember that he was feeling a little
desperate. He was 29 years old, and he had gone nowhere.
In the summer of 1984, Rehrig decided to move
to Dallas to work for an old college friend at Nowlin Mortgage. He
reported to the commercial loan division, which acted as a broker
between real estate developers and big life insurance companies
wanting to invest their money. At a beginning salary of $24,000 a
year, he started at the bottom of the ladder, running errands,
doing the odd jobs. It didn’t seem like much, but he knew that
down the road could come the opportunity to cash in on a big real
The day after he arrived in Dallas, on June 2,
Rehrig drove down Lorraine Avenue, one of the most beautiful
streets in Highland Park, looking for garage apartments that he
heard were often available behind the mansions. He saw a beautiful
woman talking to her gardener out on the front lawn. Rehrig got
out of his Ford Bronco, walked up to her, and asked if she knew of
a place he could rent. Soon, the conversation got friendlier. She
said her name was Sandra Bridewell.
It was another rapid courtship. Five months
later, the two announced their engagement, and on December 8,
1984, they were married in a ceremony at the Mansion. Alan was 29;
Sandra was 40.
Alan told his friends and his mother that he
thought destiny had brought him to Sandra Bridewell’s front yard
so soon after his arrival in Dallas. He felt some pity for Sandra
and her two previous luckless marriages — his friends at Nowlin
Mortgage say Sandra had given him the impression that her first
husband had died of a brain aneurysm.
Alan adored Sandra’s three children; as the
relationship began to develop, Sandra would have the two girls
come up to his office on occasion and bring him a flower. Recalls
Phil Askew, Rehrig’s boss at Nowlin Mortgage: "One of her
daughters, Katherine, would say to Alan, 'I’m pulling for you and
Sandra. We need a daddy.’ It would make his heart melt."
Sandra was the kind of sophisticated, chic
woman that Alan had never known in Oklahoma. Of course, it took a
while for him to get used to her style: his mouth fell open at a
tailgating party before a TCU football game when Sandra refused to
eat hot dogs; they were too messy. Occasionally, without giving
Alan much notice, she would fly to New York to shop or discuss an
off-Broadway play that she was partly financing. The play,
ironically enough, was a dramatic version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s
Crime and Punishment, in which the main character himself is a
"Alan would call me," recalls Kirk Whitman, one
of Alan’s friends from Oklahoma who also moved to Dallas, "and you
could tell he loved this stuff. He’d say. ’God almighty, Sandra
just showed up in a limousine.’"
But there was another side to Sandra that Alan
also found attractive, one that her suspicious ex-friends tended
to forget about too easily. She was considerate and giving. She
got Alan and his co-workers tickets on the fifth row for a Bruce
Springsteen concert, and she was generous with her fourth-row
season tickets to the Dallas Mavericks home games. When the wife
of one of Alan’s co-workers became ill, Sandra drove over and
babysat with the woman’s young child. Recalls Alan’s mother,
Gloria: "We were thrilled with Sandra because she seemed so
willing to create a Christian marriage. We thought Alan would be
the greatest opportunity in the world for her."
But few of Rehrig’s friends thought the
relationship would lead to marriage. "Sandra was sensuous and
sexual, and Alan was handsome, tall, and a stud," says Dean
Castelhano, a co-worker at Nowlin. "We thought she was using him
as a showpiece, putting him in a tuxedo and taking him to the
Mansion. You know, it was exactly the same thing as the older guy
who likes to have a young beauty on his arm."
Ironically, Sandra’s friends were also worried
about her new relationship. Some thought Alan was a male
gold-digger. "No one knew anything about him," says Barbara
Crooks. "I’m not real sure he wasn’t after money, and he saw in
Sandra a way to set himself up financially."
"The marriage, you could say, for a young guy
just starting out, would be a leg up for him," says Carolyn Day.
"I mean, doesn’t anyone think it odd that he showed up out of
nowhere at her doorstep, and then he hotly pursued her? And Alan
did go after her. Sandra used to tell me how he kept
’coincidentally’ running into her. One time she was at the New
York airport with her children on her way back from Europe, and
there stood Alan, who said he happened to be on his way home from
a business trip."
It was a relationship, then, that sprang from
uncertain beginnings. It would end in Rehrig’s death, and Sandra
Bridewell would no longer be merely an object of neighborhood
whispers. She would be the target of a police investigation.
Phil Askew says he vividly remembers an
emotional scene in which he and Alan were driving back from a
Mavericks game in the fall of 1984. Alan, in tears, said that
Sandra had told him she was pregnant. He didn’t know what to do.
Says Askew, "Alan said to me, ’Sandra’s pressing for a wedding,
and I need time.’"
When Barbara Crooks hears this story, she says,
"That can’t be true. Sandra had a hysterectomy before she met
Alan. She told me that she sat him down before they ever got
married and told him she couldn’t have children. She felt it was
important that he knew that."
Obviously, somebody was lying, but Sandra and
Alan quickly arranged the wedding. According to Askew, a few weeks
after the wedding, Sandra called the Askew home from a 7-Eleven
one night. Alan was at Askew’s house; they had once again been at
a Mavericks game. Askew says that Sandra told them she was
returning from Baylor Medical Center, where that very night she
had miscarried. No one had been at the hospital with her.
Says Bill Dodd, "I don’t think Alan had any
intentions of marrying her until he learned she was supposedly
pregnant. Then he was committed to her."
"Alan was a dip," says Sandra’s friend, Suzanne
Sweet. "He used that marriage for the social connections it gave
Whatever the reasons for the wedding, within
six months the marriage had turned sour. Sandra had sold her home
on Lorraine, and they were living in a duplex on Asbury in
University Park. One of Sandra’s neighbors there, who had become a
close friend, remembers listening to Sandra complain that Alan had
become a financial drain on her. Sandra didn’t understand why he
was spending so much money. Meanwhile, Alan’s friends at Nowlin
Mortgage watched in astonishment as Sandra ran up more than
$20,000 on Alan’s American Express card. "He was really being
pressured by American Express," says Castelhano. "They were
calling him two to three times a day. You know, he refused to ever
ask Sandra about how much money she had. He never wanted her to
think he was interested in her that way. But this, he couldn’t
Sandra and Alan argued over how to treat
Sandra’s son, Britt, who had been receiving bad grades at Highland
Park High School and was often staying out late into the night.
Alan found his prized golf clubs missing one day from his Bronco
and blamed Sandra. He was furious that she hadn’t written notes
thanking guests for the wedding gifts. Sandra told friends that
Alan was no longer sexually interested in her. Alan’s mother says
she even received a phone call from Sandra accusing Alan of having
an affair. Alan called Ron Barnes, a lawyer friend of his in
Oklahoma, and reportedly said. "I don’t know who I’m married to."
On and on it went. A neighbor of Sandra’s says
that in the summer of 1985, Sandra began talking about how she was
worried that Alan might kill her. According to the neighbor,
Sandra said she had hired the famed DeSoto private detective, Bill
Dear, to check Alan out. Several of Sandra’s friends recall
Sandra’s saying that Alan was into serious gambling, or maybe even
drugs. Alan’s friends say such charges are ridiculous.
During the first week of November 1985, Alan
and Sandra separated. Alan moved in with the Askews, who lived in
Richardson. According to Barbara Crooks and Suzanne Sweet, Sandra
began investigating the possibility of divorce. A neighbor
remembers that Sandra showed her a bill for a $1,000 consultation
with one of the city’s most prominent divorce lawyers. But Sandra
never filed for divorce.
"Here’s something I'll never forget," says Kirk
Whitman. "Alan and I were sitting in a bar after they had
separated, and it looked like the split was permanent. And he told
me that Sandra was frantic that, in the divorce, he was going to
take half of what she had. All Alan said he wanted was the stereo
and his camping equipment."
On December 5, two days before Alan
disappeared, Whitman says the two of them went to a Mavericks
game, where Alan again brought up Sandra’s refusal to pay the
American Express bill. "Alan turned to me and said. ’You know,
tomorrow I’m going to try to run down some financial data on
If he did, no one knows what he found. The
following Saturday, Alan was supposed to meet Sandra at a
mini-warehouse in Garland to help her move a few boxes from the
University Park duplex. Alan hadn’t seen her in a month, and Askew
recalls that he was nervous about the meeting. The two men planned
to meet later that evening for dinner. At around 4:50 p.m., Alan
left to meet Sandra in Garland.
Alan Rehrig never came back. At 6:15 that
evening, Sandra called Phil Askew to say that Alan did not come to
the Garland warehouse. She added that it was just like him to miss
an appointment. He had done this to her before.
Though Alan Rehrig didn’t show up Saturday
night or Sunday, Sandra did not file a missing person’s report.
When Alan did not appear for work on Monday, the executives at
Nowlin knew something was terribly wrong; Alan never missed work.
Still, Sandra wouldn’t file a missing person’s report. Askew
himself filed one at 8 p.m. on Monday with the Dallas Police.
On an icy Wednesday evening two days later, two
Oklahoma City police officers were cruising through a remote area
in the city’s southwest side. They found a Ford Bronco with Texas
license plates parked next to an electrical substation.
Inside, shot twice with a .38-caliber pistol,
was the frozen body of Alan Rehrig. It was December 11, 1985, one
year and three days after Alan and Sandra were married.
"Sandra is sweet and wonderful, but, look,
she’s a bit of an airhead. She’s not smart enough to mastermind a
When the Oklahoma City police called Sandra,
they were not able to notify her of Alan’s death. She asked, "Is
it bad news?" When they said it was, Sandra did not ask what had
happened. She only told them to call Alan’s friend in Oklahoma,
Ron Barnes, and then she hung up.
Police say they were puzzled by her action, but
they add that a grieving wife, suspecting the worst, might have
wanted to hear the information from someone she might have known
When Barnes called her, Sandra became
hysterical. Phil Askew went over to her home, where she wept
throughout the night. The next day, a couple she knew from the
Bobby Bridewell days came to see her. They both recall that
Sandra, in tears, threw her arms around the husband and said, "No
one is going to love me again."
Another death. On the weekend of the funeral,
Sandra looked devastated. Her behavior baffled friends as it had
during Bobby Bridewell’s last days. She ordered the cheapest
casket available for Alan; this infuriated his relatives, but she
said Alan would have wanted it that way. Then, according to
statements from Alan’s friends and relatives, she said she had
forgotten to bring her checkbook and couldn’t pay for the funeral.
Others had to take care of it. Nearly 400 people came to the
funeral in Edmond. As far as anyone can tell, only one friend of
Sandra’s came to Edmond — a University Park neighbor.
Sandra had talked to two Oklahoma City
detectives the day before the funeral. They asked a lot of
questions about her past. Had she told the Rehrig family that her
first husband had died of a brain aneurysm, when he actually
committed suicide? They wanted to talk to her and her children
after the funeral. But, in another move that angered Alan’s
relatives, Sandra left Oklahoma for Dallas hours after the
When the two detectives, Steve Pacheco and Ron
Mitchell, came to Dallas that next week to look into the murder,
they paid an unannounced visit to Sandra’s home. There they
learned something that would change the entire nature of the
investigation: Sandra said she had already hired an attorney, and
that he advised her not to talk to the police. Nor would the
children talk with them. When they asked if she would give them
samples of her hair and fingerprints, she again said no.
Sandra’s attorney was none other than Vincent
Perini, one of the most formidable criminal defense attorneys in
Dallas. Perini wrote the Oklahoma City detectives a letter
demanding that they never again try to talk to Sandra or her
children. Perini also hired the private investigator Bill Dear to
look into the case — Dear, the same investigator Sandra had talked
with weeks before Alan’s death. Sandra told Dear that she believed
Alan was associating with drug dealers and that she feared for her
In retrospect, some of her friends say that
Perini came on too strong to the police, which made Sandra seem
even more on the defensive. "In the ensuing months," says Carolyn
Day, "Sandra said she had stopped talking to him. She didn’t want
him. She was trying to hide from him." Perini will not comment on
Meanwhile, the investigators were persistently
retracing Sandra’s steps. They wanted to know exactly where Sandra
was on the Saturday that Alan disappeared. The detectives had
conflicting statements from Phil Askew and from Austin
pediatrician Alan Franks and his wife, Barbara, two friends of
Sandra’s who were visiting Dallas at the time. Askew told police
that Sandra called him from the Garland mini-warehouse at 6:15.
However, Barbara Franks said she called and talked to Sandra
between 6 and 6:30 p.m. at Sandra’s home to firm up a dinner
engagement that evening. The Austin couple told police that after
dinner with Sandra that evening, the three went to see the movie
White Nights. (A friend of Sandra’s recalls seeing the same movie
with Sandra the evening before.) Police still are trying to verify
Sandra’s precise whereabouts that Saturday night and following
Only a few days after the officers' visit to
Dallas, according to confidential sources, Perini asked Sandra to
submit to a polygraph test. She look one test on December 23 and
another on December 30. A friend who went with her to the first
examination says Sandra walked out of the polygraph examination
office, teary-eyed, and said that she had failed two key
By the summer of 1986, someone else began to
pressure Sandra — Alan’s mother. Gloria Rehrig, a high school
counselor for 20 years, had rarely communicated with Sandra in the
months since Alan’s death. Now Gloria was frustrated with the lack
of progress in finding her son’s killer. In May, she came to
Dallas to pass out leaflets in the Park Cities, bearing a picture
of herself, Alan, and Sandra, and another picture of the Ford
Bronco. The leaflet asked if anyone had seen Alan on the weekend
he disappeared. Gloria says that when she went by Sandra’s home to
ask for some of Alan’s personal items to keep as mementos, like
his golf clubs and his Oklahoma State letter jacket, Sandra
slammed the door in her face.
In July 1986, Gloria took her battle to court,
and it was quite clear who the enemy was. In documents filed in
Dallas County probate court, Gloria asked that Sandra be removed
as administrator of Alan’s estate, saying that she was "suspected
of having complicity" in Alan’s murder. Sandra was to be the
primary beneficiary of $220,000 in insurance policies on Alan’s
life, and Gloria didn’t want her to have them. By Texas law, a
beneficiary of a life insurance policy can be denied the money
only if he or she is convicted of murdering that person. If Sandra
were indicted and convicted of Alan’s murder, Gloria would receive
Gloria’s move was a long shot. No judge was
going to remove a widow from an estate because of the allegations
of a bereaved mother who stood to collect if the widow were
discredited. Nevertheless, at an August 1986 hearing, Oklahoma
detectives Pacheco and Mitchell were prepared to testify that
Sandra was their suspect.
After some legal maneuvering, the hearing was
postponed. Then, a month later, Sandra did something else that
defied explanation: she suddenly resigned as administrator of
Alan’s estate. Her attorney noted in a court document that she
"has been subject to a series of accusations, which are both false
and unfounded in fact." The Rehrig family was ecstatic. Half of
the insurance money was put into Alan’s estate (some of it used to
pay the $32,000 in bills that Sandra and Alan owed); the other
half will remain in escrow until questions about Alan’s murder are
cleared up. Sandra has filed suit in California demanding that the
money be given to her. A hearing is scheduled for later this year.
Sandra’s friends are livid about Gloria’s
accusations. "Alan’s mother is simply trying to get financial gain
out of this," says Barbara Crooks. "The lady is money hungry."
It is true that Gloria Rehrig is, as she puts
it, "financially strapped." She says she owes more than $20,000 in
legal fees. But she maintains that justice is her real motive. A
dedicated churchgoer, Mrs. Rehrig has created a sort of Christian
network of friends to whom she regularly sends letters about the
work being done to find Alan’s killer. "It is obvious from our
trips to Dallas," she writes in one letter, "that we are engaged
in a very real spiritual battle."
Meanwhile, the FBI continues its investigation
of the murder. There is a question as to how much incriminating
evidence was found inside the Bronco along with Rehrig’s body.
Some hair and bits of fingernails were collected from the truck.
And the trajectory of a bullet hole in the driver’s seat confirms
that Rehrig was shot while sitting in the driver’s seat by someone
sitting in the passenger’s seat. Hamburger wrappers were found in
the truck, from which authorities have reportedly lifted
fingerprints. Most important, autopsy results show some of the
hamburger was still lodged in his throat when he was shot. It
would appear that Rehrig knew his assailant well enough to be
comfortable having dinner with the person. Since his body was
discovered frozen, it is impossible for the medical examiner to
pinpoint the precise time of his death. But an Oklahoma City
private investigator has told police that while he was taking his
girlfriend to the airport at 7:30 on Sunday morning, the day after
Alan Rehrig disappeared in Dallas, he happened to see the Bronco
by the electrical substation.
In California, Sandra Bridewell is trying to
sever all her ties to Dallas. Although earlier this year her BMW
was repossessed (a source says Sandra ran down the street after
the tow truck driver), Sandra still has some money. She was able
to pay off the loan to get her car back and also paid off a
$60,000 loan she owed to the Bank of Dallas.
Her duplex on Asbury is for sale for $275,000.
Even now, people driving down the street will slow down in front
of the residence and stare. Vince Perini stopped representing
Sandra in March 1986, but she has since hired another attorney in
Dallas and also retains an attorney in San Francisco.
Occasionally, her children call friends here. Her son, Britt, is
attending a small college near San Francisco with a couple of his
old Highland Park High School friends. "The kids went through
everything that their mom went through," says a Dallas teenage
girl who remains best friends with Sandra’s daughter Katherine.
"They heard all the rumors. They knew why other kids from Highland
Park High School weren’t hanging around them any longer. I don’t
blame them for moving to California. They felt deserted. You don’t
know how those kids have suffered."
Barbara Crooks says Sandra herself is calmer
now that she has moved. "It was such a difficult situation with
her former friends turning against her. She’s more subdued, but
she hasn’t lost all her zest for living."
It has been nearly a year and a half since Alan
Rehrig was murdered, and although Lt. Robert Jones of the Oklahoma
City Police says the case is under "vigorous, active
investigation," new leads to Rehrig’s killer seem as cold as that
frigid December day when they found his body. Could it be that the
beautiful Sandra Bridewell — despite her quirks and
inconsistencies — is just an innocent, suffering victim of the
worst kind of tragedy? Sandra’s close neighbor — a woman who was a
confidante of Sandra’s all through the early days of the Rehrig
investigation, and who now does not trust Sandra or speak to her —
remembers going to a movie with Sandra one evening not long after
Rehrig’s death. In the film was a scene where a man is suddenly
"When it happened, Sandra leaped halfway out of
her chair and almost fell onto the floor," recalls the woman. "She
was so startled. She had this sick look on her face. She got up
and went into the women’s restroom and got sick. I looked at her,
and I just didn"t know what to think. I just didn’t know."