Charmin' Billy

William Cody Neal knew how to spin a story. Believing him was murder.

"So after the movie was done, we went to sit at the kitchen table, and he had me start to explain to Beth." Suzanne pauses, shakes her head slightly. "I really couldn't explain, so he finished telling her what happened."

In the gallery, Beth sits with her head bowed, holding the hand of her fiancé.

Later that night, Neal got out his new tape recorder and, sitting at the kitchen table with the women, began making a rambling, nearly two-hour confession. As he spoke, he took the gun from his waistband and placed it on the table.

Life of the party: "Wild Bill Cody" Neal.
Life of the party: "Wild Bill Cody" Neal.
Rebecca Holderton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite all made fatal mistakes: They believed William Neal.
Rebecca Holderton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite all made fatal mistakes: They believed William Neal.


Previous Westword articles

"Judging the Judge,"
September 30, 1999
After a year on the Jefferson County bench, Brooke Jackson knows it can be a real hot seat.
By Steve Jackson

"Judgment Day,"
May 6, 1999
The state's first death-penalty panel spares the life of Robert Riggan.

Suzanne isn't sure how long she and Beth were forced to sit and listen to him recount his reign of terror, but at last she was allowed to go to her room. She shut the door and turned on her television, hoping to go to sleep. But sleep, if it came, was fitful...haunted. When morning came, she tried to stay in bed as long as possible "so I wouldn't have to go out into the living room."

Neal had to go out. He was leaving the women alone, but threatened that they had better not call anybody or do anything, "because if he got caught or somebody found out, more people were going to die." That was enough to terrorize them into compliance.

Suzanne wasn't totally cowed, however. She gathered up all the clothes and anything else she'd had with her at the townhouse and put it all in a plastic bag. She then hid the bag in her closet. She told Beth that if anything happened to her, she should give the bag to somebody -- it contained important evidence.

Otherwise, Suzanne and Beth didn't talk much. "We both just kind of wandered around our apartment aimlessly."

"What was going through your mind about those threats?"

"Just that he meant it," Suzanne says. "I didn't think that he would hesitate at all to hurt me or to hurt Beth. It just seemed like whatever we could think of to do to get help wouldn't work...wouldn't work good enough or fast enough."

Before they could come up with a plan, Neal returned. He told them that they could summon a male friend over to the apartment if that would make them feel more comfortable. "If we had one choice, who would we pick to come over and be with us, that we could trust...and wasn't going to try to come in and, you know, get rid of Cody."

One name leaped to both of their minds: David Cain, a 34-year-old friend of Beth's.

Beth called and invited Cain over. When he arrived, he was confronted by a gun-bearing Neal, who told him it was his choice, stay or leave, "but if he left...there was going to be consequences to everybody involved.

"Dave chose to stay with me and Beth," Suzanne says. "Then we all sat down at the kitchen table again, and Cody played that tape that he made the night before. He played that for Dave so that Dave would know what was going on."

They all spent the night together. Neal wasn't through partying. He made Cain drive him and the women to a strip club, where he complained loudly about the weakness of his rum and Coke. They stayed until closing.

The next morning was Wednesday, July 8. Neal began making plans. For days, he had been saying he was going to leave and find a place to commit suicide. "On Monday he said that he was going to leave. On Tuesday he said that he was going to leave. On Wednesday he said the same thing...that he was going to leave."

And finally, he did leave -- but not before giving out explicit instructions on what each person was to do after he was gone. Suzanne was to call 911 and tell the police what had happened. After she called, the three were to go outside and sit on the front lawn of the apartment complex.

"He said he was afraid for Dave, because if Dave was in the apartment...the police would think that Dave was actually a suspect, and he didn't want to get Dave hurt."

When the police arrived, Beth was to give them Neal's pager number and a message regarding what time to call. Then he was gone.

But the plan fell apart as soon as Suzanne called the police. She didn't want to go sit outside; she thought it might be a trick, another Neal "surprise." He might shoot them on the lawn.

Although Neal had given them specific instructions not to call anyone else, Cain had used Beth's cell phone to make a call. "It was just scary, because I didn't know if he was going to be able to know that we called somebody else or that we were not following his instructions just right."

The police arrived quickly. "Beth and I were basically hysterical...and I don't know that we were making sense to anybody. Dave was still on the phone, and so it was very chaotic when they first got there."

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