Charmin' Billy

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

"He had me hook, line and sinker," she recalls. "There had still been no kiss, but I'm like, 'You're freaking me out...I'm in love.' That's how good he was. Eighteen years ago he could have had any woman he wanted with a 'hi' and a smile. But he put the target on me."

At the time, Karen was already involved -- but the man in that relationship was abusive. Bill talked her into moving back in with her parents, who were now living in Virginia, and seeing him instead. Her parents liked Bill initially, at least in part because he discouraged Karen's use of alcohol and marijuana and he seemed to treat her well. In fact, he enjoyed treating them all to dinner at the finest D.C. restaurants, where he would always know everyone from the pianist to the matre'd, who would point them to the best tables while other patrons waited in line.

He was charming, always a gentleman and fond of surprising her. And in those days, also in fantastic shape. Although at 5'8", Bill was only a little taller than Karen, he was quick and strong, with a washboard abdomen and well-muscled arms and legs. "The neighbors in his old neighborhood used to think he was crazy because he'd put on his backpack and pick a canoe up over his head and run around the neighborhood," she remembers and laughs.

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.

Karen and Bill dated off and on for the next three years. Off and on, because he'd disappear for months at a time "while I'd wait for him to come back," she says. He broke her heart every time he left, but she couldn't help herself -- she always welcomed his return. He seemed so perfect.

Smart: He could quote Thoreau, for God's sake, and read anything he could get his hands on.

Heroic: He said he'd been a member of the Green Berets and also the Alaskan Mountain Rescue Team and showed her photographs of himself on snowshoes, crossing crevasses.

Ambitious: He said he'd owned Neal Tech, which sold alarm systems -- including some installed in the White House -- and was confident he'd be successful at whatever he put his hand to next.

Sensitive: He was devoted to his mother and was moved to tears describing how his father had suffered a heart attack in the family car and died in his arms.

And sexy: He spared no expense on romancing her, whether it was covering their bed with rose petals, filling a bath with special lotions and bubbles, or buying extravagant dinners, all followed by dreamy massages.

"He could fit into any crowd...walk into anywhere and be whatever he wanted to be," she recalls. He was as at home in the woods as at a fancy gathering, wearing an expensive suit and a $60 haircut. She never knew where he got all the money. She didn't think it was her business to ask, figuring it might have something to do with his mysterious disappearances, which he never really explained. Or perhaps he had generous benefactors.

"He knew people everywhere," she says. "We could be on a hike and come on some drop-dead gorgeous cabin deep in the woods, and he'd know the wealthy couple who lived there. We'd be invited to dinner, like he was a long-lost son."

Looking back, she sees that from the beginning, there were signs that her perfect man was far from perfect. When they met, he told her he was living with another woman in a "purely platonic" relationship. She believed him because she was in love -- even after they went over to his apartment one day and he told her to duck when he thought he saw the woman coming out of the complex. After the coast was clear, he took her up to the apartment, which held only a single king-size bed. That's some platonic relationship, she thought. But he'd told her that's all it was, and she wanted so very much to believe him. So she did.

And then there was that weird quirk. They'd be walking down the sidewalk or in a mall, and when Bill saw a woman in a short skirt or tight sweater, he'd mutter, "Slut." The comments were always made under his breath so only Karen could hear. But they embarrassed her, and she'd ask him to stop. The next time an attractive woman passed, though, whether it was that afternoon or a week later, he'd be back to muttering. Slut. Whore.

Bill was an imaginative lover, always wanting to know her fantasies. Had she ever thought about sex with another woman? What about with two men? "I told him, 'Sure, I've thought about it; everyone has fantasies.' But that's all they were -- fantasies. I would never have done it," she says.

One night he took Karen to a mountain lodge for what was to be a romantic getaway. He didn't do drugs, but since he knew she liked marijuana, he'd brought some, along with a little cocaine he lined out. He had her slip into a negligee and opened a bottle of champagne. She was getting all warm and fuzzy, anticipating the rest of the evening, when the telephone rang.

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