Charmin' Billy

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

"Who was that?" she asked after he answered, muttered something and hung up. She didn't know that anyone even knew where they were.

Then Bill explained that he was trying to fulfill her fantasy of making love to two men. He reminded her that he'd asked her what sort of fantasy man she'd want, "and since he was blond and blue-eyed, I said maybe someone with dark hair and green eyes. But it was a joke."

But now Bill's friend, green-eyed, dark-haired "Jesse," was apparently waiting in the room next to theirs.

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.

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Karen didn't want two men in her bed, only one: Bill. She screamed at him, so angry that she started putting on her clothes, getting ready to leave. When the telephone rang again, Bill picked it up, said "No," and hung up.

Later, he told her she'd passed a test. "If you had said yes, our relationship would have been over," he said. "We'd have had a good time first, but it would have been over."

"I'd passed, and I didn't even know I was being tested."

There would be many more tests.

In 1984, Bill convinced Karen to move to Houston with him. That's where his mother lived, and he said he had a good job waiting.

When they arrived in Texas, Bill had Karen lease an apartment in her name, saying he didn't want the woman at the rental office "knowing we were having relations." And while it turned out there wasn't a good job waiting for Bill, he made sure she got one as soon as possible, as the assistant manager at an import store.

Ten days after they'd landed in Houston, Bill took Karen to a justice of the peace and they were married.

"It was a classic con," says Karen, who has since made an informal study of men who prey on women. "Got me away from my environment, away from my parents, away from my job, away from my friends...made me dependent on him for everything."

But she was 26 and thought she knew what she wanted in a man. In her mind, she was marrying her fantasy man.

Then, on her wedding night, Karen failed the next test.

He wanted to play a game of sharing deepest, darkest secrets. He went first, admitting that he'd had sexual relations with men. Then he asked her a question. Had she ever slept with a married man? She said that yes, she had, and she'd regretted it ever since. "He didn't like the answer and tried to choke me," she says. "He was madder than hell. He had my neck to the floor, and he was on top of me."

She was terrified. Why is he doing this? she remembers thinking. This isn't Bill. She'd never sensed violence in him. He'd talked about getting into fights with other men, but only when he was in the right. He'd told her he had a black belt in karate, even had the uniform, a samurai sword and was pretty good with his nunchakus. "But there was no temper," she says. "He was always sweet as pie."

Until she found herself on the floor with his hands around her neck and him calling her a "liar" and a "whore." When he finally let her up, he didn't apologize. She'd done a bad thing, and that's the way he saw it. He made her call the wife of the man she'd slept with and confess.

When Bill quickly returned to his old sweet self, Karen convinced herself that it was her fault he'd attacked her. She'd done something wrong and that's what provoked him. She'd have to be more careful.

A few days later, Bill announced they were going on their honeymoon, to a place called Canyon Lake. He'd found a romantic little cabin in the hills where they could see the lake from the front porch. Despite their lack of money, somehow he'd arranged for them to spend ten days there.

The first night, though, he wanted to play the question game again. He asked her something else about her sexual history. It was a small matter, really, but she should have known better than to answer him honestly. Except that's the way she'd been raised, and he'd said that for their relationship to work, they needed to always be honest with each other. So she answered truthfully and found herself pinned against the wall with his hands around her throat.

She got loose and ran from the bedroom to the living room, where she hid behind the couch in a little ball. She heard Bill come out of the bedroom. "Where is she?" a deep, angry voice asked.

"It was him, but some part of him I had not heard before," she says. "I was very fearful."

Not seeing her, Neal went out onto the porch and smoked a cigarette. She was waiting obediently, hoping he'd calmed down, when he came back inside. Again he acted like nothing had happened.

As long as Karen continued to do what Bill said, he'd stay sweet, charming Billy. But break his rules, and there'd be hell to pay. She was rarely allowed to go anywhere except work without him. And if she was five minutes late coming home from work, he'd want to know who she'd been "beeping...only he used the F word." If she went to the swimming pool and a man talked to her, he'd somehow know it and accuse her of having an affair. When they went out on the town, Bill always wanted her to doll up -- but if another man so much as said, "Hi," he'd grab her by the arm, hard enough to bruise, and escort her out. "See how you are?" he'd sneer.

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