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Update in Betty Neumar case

Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 8:09 PM
Last updated 8:10 PM
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Florida police should reopen an investigation into the suspicious death of the third husband of a Georgia grandmother who has left a trail of five dead husbands in five states, the man's family said today.

"We have a lot of questions that need to be answered," Vicki Lynn Saunders told The Associated Press about the death of her father, Nelos Richard Sills, who was in the Navy. "We want answers."

The Monroe County, Fla., Sheriff's Office closed the case in November, saying it was too old and the investigation would cost too much to continue.

Mr. Sills' death was ruled a suicide in 1965, when he was married to Betty Neumar. Florida investigators reopened the investigation in June after Mrs. Neumar's arrest in North Carolina in the 1986 death of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry.

Since her arrest, police have also begun to re-examine the deaths of her first child – Gary Flynn, whose 1985 death in Ohio was ruled a suicide – and three of her other husbands, though she faces no charges in those cases. Authorities recently closed their re-examination of the death of Mrs. Neumar’s fifth husband, John Neumar, of Augusta, saying they have no evidence she was involved.

In the North Carolina case, Mrs. Neumar, 76, is charged with three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder. Authorities say she tried to hire three different people to kill Mr. Gentry in the six weeks before his bullet-riddled body was found in his rural North Carolina home. A trial date is pending.

Her attorney, Charles Parnell, did not return messages left today seeking comment. She was released nearly three months ago after posting a $300,000 bond.

Ms. Saunders said she didn't know anything about the Florida investigation into her father's death until she was contacted recently by the AP. Documents obtained by the AP in the past year have revealed new details about Mrs. Neumar's life and new questions about Mr. Sills' death.

She said her mother left Mr. Sills in 1959. They had four children, and she didn't know much about her father's death.

"My father was a good man," she said. "He was a veteran. He served this country. We should know whether this was a murder or a suicide. We deserve to know that much."

Her sister, Kathleen Mason, also wants to know what happened.

"We grew up all these years thinking it was a suicide. I know this won't bring him back, but the family has the right to know what happened. And if it was murder, the person responsible should be prosecuted," she said.

Investigator Patricia Dally of the Monroe County, Fla., Sheriff's Office said today her department would consider reopening the case.

"We have a lot of cold cases that are inactive that we've reopened because of family members. And we've had cases that were closed but family members have called and wanted us to take another look and we've opened them up again. We're open to those options. It may not change the outcome but we're open to look at the case," she said.

Mrs. Neumar was working as a beautician in Jacksonville, Fla., in the mid-1960s when she met Mr. Sills.

On July 15, 1965, police found Mr. Sills' body in the bedroom of the couple's mobile home in Big Coppitt, Fla. Mrs. Neumar told police they were alone, arguing, when he pulled out a gun and shot himself.

When Monroe County investigators couldn't find records of the original case, they contacted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The NCIS documents revealed that Mr. Sills may have been shot twice – not once as Mrs. Neumar told police. One bullet from the .22-caliber pistol pierced his heart, while a second may have sliced his liver.

According to a Monroe County Sheriff's Office investigative report, the medical examiner said that without an autopsy, he would be unable determine if Mr. Sills had been shot once or twice. No autopsy was performed when Mr. Sills died. And without knowing the number of gunshot wounds, there's no way to know if Mr. Sills' death was a suicide or homicide, according to the report.

Investigators planned to exhume Mr. Sills' body from an Ocala, Fla., cemetery for an autopsy. Then they discovered that a statute of limitations applied to the case, the records said.

Investigator Dally said that in premeditated murder – or first-degree murder – there was no statute of limitations. But Florida law sets a time limit on cases involving other categories of homicide, including involuntary manslaughter. And in Mr. Sills' case, she said, time had run out so they closed the case.

Even if they did exhume the body, which is expensive, they might need other evidence or testimony from witnesses to prove that any slaying was premeditated, legal experts have said.

Ms. Saunders asked how would Florida police know if it was premeditated without a complete investigation.

"Knowing what they know now, you would think the police would want to find out."

Ms. Saunders also recalled visiting Mrs. Neumar as a teenager to see if she had any of her father's personal items – photos, letters – anything that would help her remember her dad. She spent an hour talking to Mrs. Neumar, who was then named Betty Gentry. But every time she broached the subject of her father's death, Mrs. Neumar changed the conversation. After an hour, she said she left with a few photos and never talked to Mrs. Neumar again.


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