Judge won't lower Neumar's bond

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ALBEMARLE, N.C. --- A Stanly County District Judge refused Monday to lower the $500,000 bond set for Augusta's Betty Neumar and set Aug. 11 for a probable cause hearing.

Prosecutors called the woman -- whose five late husbands had met mysterious ends -- a flight risk and said other jurisdictions were ramping up their investigations into her past.

Defense lawyer Charles Parnell argued his client wasn't a flight risk and that the bond "is completely excessive. It's unheard of."

Mr. Parnell said Ms. Neumar, 76, has less than $1,000 in assets and no overseas bank accounts. However, Assistant District Attorney Tim Rodgers said she has used 28 aliases on passports, driver licenses and credit cards and is being investigated in other jurisdictions.

Judge Lisa Thacker refused to lower the bond.

Monday's hearing was attended by Al Gentry, who has been trying for years to get police to look into the unsolved 1986 shooting death of his brother, Harold, Ms. Neumar's fourth husband. He stared intently at her Monday and said afterward that her orange jail jumpsuit was "the prettiest outfit I've ever seen her in."

Mr. Gentry's efforts helped convince authorities to look into the case, and after her arrest on solicitation of murder charges, the deaths of four other husbands -- including one in Augusta last fall -- have opened up new investigations.

No motive has been discussed, but records and interviews with relatives and police officials paint Ms. Neumar as a domineering matriarch consumed by money.

She collected at least $20,000 in 1986 when Harold Gentry was shot to death. A year earlier, she had collected $10,000 in life insurance when her son died.

She also had a life insurance policy on husband No. 5, John Neumar, who died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Augusta in October. The official cause of death was listed as sepsis, but authorities are investigating whether he was poisoned.

To the outside world, family members said, she was Bee -- a friendly woman who operated beauty shops, attended church and raised money for charity.

But others, such as her grandson Jeff Carstensen, said they saw another side: fist fights at family functions, use of obscenities and belittling of relatives, how she would act "one way in public -- especially church -- and another behind closed doors."

Mr. Carstensen said he was spooked when he learned his grandmother planned to buy him a $100,000 life insurance policy -- and name herself the beneficiary.

It was while living with her last husband John Neumar in Augusta in the mid-1990s that, former friends and family members said, she persuaded more than 200 people to invest in a get-rich-quick scheme. She told them they would receive up to $100,000 for every $100 they put toward the legal expenses of a rich European family that had died with no heirs.

Word spread, and people brought money to her beauty shop near Belvedere. Her husband's son, John K. Neumar, invested $1,000.

Months later, more than 200 antsy investors met with Ms. Neumar, she told them lawyers in Europe needed more time and that their money was safe. It wasn't true. Seven ringleaders in the scam pleaded guilty to federal charges in 1997 in West Virginia, but Ms. Neumar was never charged.

"We were rather stupid. I know," said Mary Miller, an investor who lost $500. "But we believed her. We trusted her."


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