Charmin' Billy

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

Karen has always wondered why Bill made that call. Was it because he really loved her once or thought he'd loved her? Or did he just feel like hurting the woman he was with?

In a way, Bill had done her a favor by staying in Texas the year before. Almost without realizing it, during his long absence she'd begun taking back control of her life. And so when Bill returned to sell her possessions, to strip her of every last thing both financially and emotionally, she was strong enough to withstand his assault. And now she was strong enough to realize that she was not to blame for the end of the marriage. "I never did anything to deserve what he did to me other than fail tests I was set up to fail," she says.

It was a long time before she would trust another man enough to let him get close to her. Whenever someone inquired about her past, she'd tell them, "If you ever run into a man named William Lee Neal, turn and walk the other way." But she also wondered if she'd have the strength to turn Bill away if he showed up on her doorstep. For three years, she pined for what had seemed a perfect man.

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 had a friend, Fred, who gradually let her know that he cared for her in more than a friendly way. He wasn't overly romantic, nor did he live life on the edge. He was soft and gentle, shy yet strong, a man who didn't need to beat his chest. With him she felt safe and loved. They were married and had a daughter in 1989.

But just because she was through with Bill Neal, that didn't mean he was through with her. Every now and then there'd be a telephone call. She had unlisted telephone numbers and changed them seven times over the next thirteen years, but still, one day the phone would ring and it would be him.

And he seemed to know as much about her life as ever. After she bought a new car, he called and told her he liked her choice. "He was letting me know that he was still keeping tabs on me," she says. "Still trying to control me."

Karen had stayed close to Bill's family, who told her what little they knew of his whereabouts and activities. Bill's mother had scolded him "for losing the best thing you ever had" and continued to treat Karen like a daughter.

Through them, Karen found out when Bill married again. Another Karen, whom he later took for her money, prompting calls to the first Karen from police investigators looking for Bill. Then he was married a fourth time, to a young stripper.

The calls stopped for a time. But after her parents died -- first her dad, then her mother -- Bill got back in touch. He knew she stood to inherit a considerable amount of money, and he wanted some of it. Fortunately, her parents had put the money in a trust, and while she received lump sums on a regular basis -- a fact that Bill seemed to know -- it was tough to put her hands on the kind of money he'd ask for. Which was a good thing, because otherwise, she might have found it difficult to withstand Bill and his stories.

He'd try different tactics. Once, the Mafia was after him: He owed the mob money, and if he didn't pay it back, a hitman was going to take him out. Karen was wracked with guilt. God, if I don't give him the money, he might die. But she didn't give him the money, and he managed to stay alive. Then he'd try again with a new story.

Only once did she hear from the Bill she had loved. When his mother died, in October 1995, he called, distraught. He said he loved Karen, had always loved her. She had to admit, she felt the old twinge. But there was no going back, she told him. "Maybe someday, when we're both sixty, we'll meet and talk about old times."

The last time she heard from Bill, he was asking for money again -- this time so that he could divorce his fourth wife, Jennifer. Once he had the divorce, he hinted, he'd be free, and maybe they could hook up again.

Karen didn't give him the money. Later, she learned from one of Bill's sisters that he was already divorced from Jennifer when he made that call. He was still trying to con her. That was the last straw. After that, she lied and told Fred that Bill Neal was dead.

On July 10, 1998, her birthday, Karen was sitting on the porch when her husband came to the door. One of Bill's sisters was on the telephone, he said, a strange look on his face.

Oh, my God, Bill's really dead, she thought.

"I don't know how to tell you this," Bill's sister said softly, "but he just killed three women."

At the Denver strip club where eighteen-year-old Jennifer worked as a topless dancer, the girls all kept an eye out for their favorite customer, a charming guy in a black cowboy hat. William "Cody" Neal.

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