At almost exactly 9:30 on the evening of May 22, 1992, Huntsville police were notified by the 911 dispatcher of a possible burglary in progress with an injured victim at the scene. The location was Boulder Circle, an affluent neighborhood nestled among the mountains overlooking Huntsville, Alabama.
Within minutes of arriving on the scene, police discovered the body of a male, identified as Jack Wilson, lying in the upstairs hallway.
He had been brutally murdered, apparently with a baseball bat that was found lying nearby. Homicide detectives began searching every square inch of the house and grounds and a police dog was brought in to sniff out possible evidence the police might over look. As they began the tedious task of trying to determine what had happened, none of them realized they were about to become involved in the most notorious murder case in Huntsville'’s history.
By talking to neighbors and reconstructing the events, the police determined that Wilson had left his office around 4 p.m. He changed clothes and went outside to his front yard where neighbors reported seeing him using a baseball bat to drive a campaign sign in the ground. This was at approximately 4:30 p.m. Apparently, he then took a stepladder from the garage and carried it to the upstairs hallway where he removed a smoke detector from the ceiling.
It was later found lying on the bed, disassembled.
At this point, police theorized Wilson was surprised by someone who was already in the house. The unknown assailant grabbed the baseball bat and began beating the doctor. After the doctor collapsed to the floor, the assailant stabbed him twice with a knife.
Though the crime had originally been reported as a possible burglary, it had none of the typical signs. There were no open drawers, ransacked closets and overturned furniture usual in most burglary cases. The whole case was beginning to look more like an “inside job.”
The widow, Betty Wilson, was too distraught at the time to be questioned, but later investigation revealed she had lunch with her husband that day around 12 p.m. After he returned to his medical office, she spent much of the day shopping in preparation of a trip they planned for the next morning. Later that evening, after attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she returned home at about 9:30, where she discovered her husband'’s body. She went to a neighbor’'s home and they called 911.
By using credit card receipts and eyewitnesses, the police were able to verify Betty Wilson'’s whereabouts for the whole day, except for one 30-minute period at around 2:30 p.m., and between 5 and 5:30 p.m.
Other family members were checked out but they all appeared to have alibis.
The first break for the investigators came when the Shelby County Sheriff’'s Office passed on a tip they had received the week before. A woman had called, concerned about a friend of hers: James White, whom while drunk, had talked about killing a doctor in Huntsville.
The whole story was garbled, but what emerged was that White was supposed to be infatuated with a lady by the name of Peggy Lowe, who had recruited him to murder her twin sister’'s husband in Huntsville.
The lady admitted that she doubted the story. “White liked to talk big when he was drinking and lately he had been drunk almost all the time.” Never the less she decided to pass it on to the police.
After the Huntsville Police learned of the tip it took only minutes to establish that Peggy Lowe was Betty Wilson’s twin sister. Investigators decided it was time to pay Mr. White a visit.
James Dennison White was a 42-year-old Vietnam veteran who had a history of mental disorders and antisocial behavior caused largely by drug and alcohol abuse.
He had been in a number of mental institutions as well as serving time in jail. While serving time for selling drugs he escaped and was captured almost a year later in Arkansas, where he was involved in kidnapping a man and his wife. One of his last mental evaluations described him as suffering from delusions and unable to separate fact from fantasy.
At first, as White was being questioned by the detectives, he denied everything. Slowly, as the evening and night grew longer he began to contradict himself, spinning a web of half-truths, lies and fantasies. He denied knowing Peggy Lowe, then admitting it. He denied knowing Betty Wilson, then said he was going to do some work for her. Gradually a pattern emerged. As he would get caught in one contradiction, he would admit it but deny everything else. The detectives were used to this type of behavior though; almost every criminal they interrogated did the same thing.
They understood from experience that it was going to be a long drawn out process in getting white to tell the truth.
Finally, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, White broke down. Though it would take another several months, and numerous different confessions to get him to tell the whole story, he basically confessed to being hired by Peggy Lowe and Betty Wilson to kill Dr. Jack Wilson.
He claimed to have met Peggy Lowe at the elementary school where she worked and where he had done some carpentry work. After he did some work at her house, according to White, Mrs. Lowe became infatuated with him and spent hours talking to him on the phone. Gradually she began to talk about her husband and hint that she would like to see him killed. A short time later, though, she dropped the subject of her husband and began talking about her sister who wanted to hire a “hit” man. White pretended to play along, saying he knew someone who would do it for $20,000. Mrs. Lowe told him that was too expensive; her sister was almost broke. Finally they agreed on a price of $5,000 of which Mrs. Lowe gave him half, in small bills, in a plastic bag.
More Wilson Murder on next page.
Murder of Dr. Wilson
BettyWilson--My Story Part 1
BettyWilson--My Story Part 2
The Confession of James Dennison White
Poll: Who Plotted to Kill Dr. Jack Wilson?
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Gradually, as his story evolved, it included phone calls between him and the sisters, the twins giving him a gun, a trip to Guntersville to pick up expense money inside a library book and meeting Mrs. Wilson in Huntsville to get more expense money. On the day of the murder he claimed Mrs. Wilson met him in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center and carried him to her home where he waited for two hours until dr. Wilson arrived home.
He was not armed at the time. He stated later that he had not liked guns ever since Vietnam. Instead, he carried a length of rope. White said that although he remembered struggling with Wilson over the baseball bat, he did not remember killing the doctor. After the murder, Mrs. Wilson returned to the house, picked him up and carried him back to his truck at the shopping center. He then drove back to Vincent and went out drinking that night with his brother. To prove his story he led the police to his home where a gun was found that was registered to Mrs. Wilson and a book from the Huntsville Public Library.
White was unsure about dates, times and specific events but the detectives expected that. It would take time to sort the whole story out but in the meantime where was enough evidence to arrest the twin sisters.
A source close to the case described White, after he was brought back to Huntsville, as being in “physical agony, almost climbing the walls and begging to be given his medicine.” The medicine, supposedly Lithium, was withheld because it was in a different bottle than what it came in and White did not have a prescription for it.
The news of Betty Wilson’s arrest for the murder of her husband exploded like a bombshell in Huntsville. Not only was she a well-known socialite, but her husband’s estate was rumored to be worth almost six million dollars. Adding fuel to the flames was the report that she had helped host a fundraiser for a popular political figure the night before the murder.
Huntsville is a small town, especially during political seasons, where rumors and gossip can be passed around so quickly that the daily newspaper is already dated when it hits the streets. By piercing the juicy tidbits of gossip together a portrait of a cold-blooded murderess began to take shape. She was rumored to have always been a “gold digger” and has been heard cursing her husband. Most of the talk, however, centered on her alleged numerous sexual encounters. When the news media caught up with the story they pursued it with a vengeance. Reporters seemed to be competing against one another to see who could come up with the juiciest story. Newspapers, magazines and television shows from all across the country began following the story the whole affair also took on political overtones as members of the D.A.’s office and the sheriff’s office began leaking information to the press and trying to use the case for political advantage. The case became even more political when the D.A. agreed to a controversial plea bargain for White, which would give him life, with parole possible in 7 years, in exchange for helping convict the sisters. Pundits later claimed the plea bargain spelled the end of the D.A.'s political career.
At the hearing, the prosecution successfully argued that because Betty Wilson was a beneficiary to her husband's will, and the fact she had sexual affair was enough to prove the motive. A tape-recorded confession of James White provided the evidence. After a brief hearing both sisters were ordered to stand trial for murder. Peggy Lowe was granted bond and released after her neighbors in Vincent put their homes up for security. Betty Wilson was denied bond and remained in the Madison County jail until her trial.
A short time later family members of Dr. Wilson filed suit to deny Betty Wilson access to his estate.
Despite the posturing going on from all sides, many legal analysts began to doubt if the prosecution really had enough to build a case on. There was no one who ever saw James White and Betty Wilson together at anytime and there was no physical evidence linking White to the crime scene.
Also a major headache for both sides was White's constantly changing stories. He would describe events one day and have a completely different version the following week.
Perhaps James White was sitting in his cell thinking about the same thing because suddenly he recalled a fact that he had not remembered before. He had changed clothes in the house and placed them in a plastic bag, along with the rope and knife, and hid them under a rock a few feet from the swimming pool. The bag was supposed to be the same one he received the money from Mrs. Lowe in.
Officials later explained the clothes not being found during the initial search by saying the police dog had an "allergy."
Although the clothes and bag were found exactly where White said they would be, the forensic people were never able to establish if they had been bloodstained, or if they actually belonged to White.
The clothes were to become one of the biggest mysteries of the case. No one seriously believed the clothes had been missed during the initial search. Privately, even members of the Huntsville Police expressed skepticism. Many people believed that White had gotten someone to place the clothes there in an attempt to bolster his credibility and escape the electric chair.
By this time the case of the "Evil Twins" had captured national attention. The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and People Magazine ran lengthy articles and television tabloid shows such as Hard Copy and Inside Edition ran features stories. When two national television networks expressed an interest in making a movie, agents descended on Huntsville buying the movie rights from most of the people involved.
As summer wore on, even the most impartial observers began to take sides. Never in the history of Huntsville had a case generated so much controversy and news coverage. Because of the publicity the judge ordered the trial moved to Tuscaloosa.
When the trial finally began, the case boiled down to one simple question.
Who was telling the truth?
- Prosecution argues it was a murder for hire. Defense claimed the fact that White did not carry a weapon with him made the story unbelievable.
- Prosecution argued White's testimony was credible. Defense argued he had changed his confessions so many times it was unbelievable and he had fitted his testimony to fit the prosecution's case in order to escape a possible death sentence.
- Prosecution argued White's testimony was collaborated by records of phone calls and the library. Defense argued there was another explanation.
- Prosecution argued the gun was given to White by Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe. Defense claimed he stole the gun and offered the fact that the empty box the gun came in, along with shells, was found in the home afterwards.
- Prosecution offered a witness who claimed to have seen "James White and Betty Wilson near the murder scene within thirty minutes of one another. Defense argued the witness was not credible because she had been unable to pick White out of a lineup.
- Prosecution claimed the time line proved their case. Defense argued the time line did not fit.
- Prosecution offered a witness who claimed Mrs. Wilson had talked about wanting to kill her husband. Defense argued the story was not credible because it had happened almost 6 years earlier and the woman had continued to be friends with Mrs. Wilson.
- Defense offered a witness who stated she had received a message from Dr. Wilson on her answering machine after the alleged time of death. Prosecution argued the call could have been made earlier.
Regardless of the hard evidence, everyone agreed that a central theme of the prosecution’s case was to paint Betty Wilson as a cold and immoral woman who wanted her husband dead. To prove this the prosecution paraded a stream of witnesses who testified about hearing her curse and belittle her husband. Other witnesses testified to having knowledge of Mrs. Wilson taking men to her home for sexual liaisons.
Perhaps the most dramatic part of the trial came when a black former city employee took the stand and told of having relations with Mrs. Wilson. Although the prosecution denied playing the racism card, observers of the trial all agreed it had the same effect.
The case went to the jury at 12:28 on Tuesday, March 2, 1993. After deliberating the rest of the day and much of the following day the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Jurors later revealed that the deciding factor in their decision was the telephone records. Betty Wilson was sentenced to life imprisonment, without parole.
Six months later, Peggy Lowe stood trial for her alleged part in the murder for hire. Much of the evidence was almost a repeat of her sister’s trial, with the same witnesses and the same testimony. New to the case, however, was testimony by expert witnesses who stated that two people may have been involved in the murder.
Citing the lack of blood splatters on the walls, the experts theorized the murder probably occurred some other place than the hallway and was caused by something other than a baseball bat.
For the defense, the most crucial moment probably occurred when White testified that Betty Wilson picked him up at the murder scene between 6 and 6:30 p.m. on the day in question.
This was an hour later than he had previously testified. If the jurors believed White’s story, it would have been impossible for Mrs. Wilson to have participated.
The biggest difference in the trials, however, were the people being tried. While Mrs. Wilson seemed to be the reincarnate of everything evil, her sister portrayed the image of a virtuous and compassionate church going woman who was constantly helping people less fortunate. Though it had been difficult to get people to testify in Betty Wilson’s behalf, Mrs. Lowe’s jurors heard a steady parade of witnesses extolling her virtues.
The jury deliberated for only two hours and eleven minutes before finding Peggy Lowe not guilty. The jurors cited James White’s lack o credibility as the major factor. The prosecutor explained the verdict by saving he was “fighting God.”
Although Peggy Lowe can never be tried again, the fact remains that it is impossible for one sister to be innocent and the other guilty.
Betty Wilson is serving life without parole at the Julia Tutwiler prison in Wetumpka, Alabama. She works in the sewing department and spends her free time writing her supporters. Her case is being appealed.
James White is serving a life sentence at an institution in Springville, Alabama, where he is attending trade school and receiving counseling for drug and alcohol abuse.
In 1994, he recanted his story of the twins’ involvement but later took the Fifth Amendment when questioned about it in court. He will be eligible for parole in the year 2000.