Betty Williams was a 17 year old girl who was murdered via shotgun to the head by her football player ex-boyfriend in March of 1961. The case is even sadder than it seems: the ex, fellow teen high schooler John “Mack” Herring, claimed that Betty was so despondent over their break-up that she begged him to kill her.
It sounds absurd at first, like a ridiculous ploy for a guilty killer to cover up a cold-blooded murder. And yet, Betty’s classmates claim she was in a fog of depression and suicidality after her relationship with Mack went sour.
On the day of her murder, Betty wrote in her diary:
“I want everyone to know that what I’m about to do in no way implicates anyone else. I say this to make sure that no blame falls on anyone other than myself.
I have depressing problems that concern, for the most part, myself. I’m waging a war within myself… So rather than admit defeat I’m going to beat a quick retreat into the no man’s land of death.
As I have only the will and not the fortitude necessary, a friend of mine, seeing how great is my torment, has graciously consented to look after the details.
His name is Mack Herring and I pray that he will not have to suffer for what he is doing for my sake. I take upon myself all blame, for there it lies, on me alone!“
This is an explanation, not an absolution. Her story is grim, and the judgments of Betty’s character which were made after her death were disheartening.
Betty was an outcast at her Odessa, Texas high school. In a moralistic 1950s southern environment, Betty defied all restrictions and slept with boys she wasn’t “going steady” with. Her classmates judged her, and in modern jargon she would be called a hoe. She was often pretentiously intellectual, and was fascinated by Beatnik literature and the subversive stand up comedy of Lenny Bruce.
Creepily prescient in doing so, she played Juliet in her school production of Romeo & Juliet.
Rather than bite the bullet and try to fit in among her prudish peers, Betty spread communist-style, pro-racial equality pamphlets throughout her school. She raised their ire, and classmates thought she was crazy for espousing these ideals.
Worst of all: she wore tight 1950s thot sweaters with no bra on.
Mack, on the other hand, was a middle-class, well groomed paragon of normalcy. He was a popular well-liked football player, a jock with more brawn than brains. Friends say he had an empathetic streak: when he wounded an animal while hunting, he would honor its life and finish it off. He was an ace with a gun.
In the summer of 1960, Mack and Betty began seeing each other. Mack would sleep with Betty and treat her like a “good-time girl,” but never treated her like a girlfriend. She would never meet his parents or friends.
This enraged Betty, who immaturely proceeded to cheat on Mack with a football buddy to make him jealous. Mack responded by dropping her like a hot potato. Betty fell into a deep melodramatic depression. Her diaries and letters read:
“I’ve never been so hurt in my life and I guess your note was the jolt I needed to get me back on the straight and narrow. I’ve done a lot of things, I know, that were bad and cheap, but I swear before God that I didn’t mean them to be like that. I was just showing off. “
“I feel so lonely and deserted I don’t care what happens now or ever. … This is pure hell!”
“I am consumed with this burning emptiness and loneliness that has taken charge of me, body and soul. I have to fight it! If I am to live I have to fight [or] else it will pull me down, down, down into that thankless pit of fear, pain, and agonized loneliness.”
“You’ve made me realize that instead of being smart and sophisticated like I thought, I was only being cheap and ugly and whorish.“
Betty began telling classmates that she fantasized about suicide, and dreamed that “heaven must be a nice place.” Classmates were used to Betty’s dramatics, and simply brushed her off. She let at least five different people know she wanted to die, and even beseeched some of them to kill her. They laughed it off.
The dramatics, however, were becoming reality. Betty was childish and depressed and needed help. Rather than help her, peers dismissed her as a morbid weirdo.
On the day of her death, Betty slipped away from friends into Mack’s car. She told her pals that she was shocked that Mack actually showed up, and that she had to call his bluff. They had no idea what she meant at the time, but they would shortly.
When Betty went missing and police came knocking, Mack’s alibi fell apart. He eventually took cops to a remote hunting location, and led them down a path of twin footsteps to a water tank. There in the tank lay Betty’s frail body, floating in pink pajamas with a nearly decapitated head from the impact of the shotgun.
Police ordered Mack to fish out her body. He stripped down to shorts and went to retrieve her mangled corpse. Observers record that Mack had little to no reaction as he did so. The teen boy was emotionless as he picked up his bloodied victim and presented her to authorities.
Mack claimed Betty had told him she was happy to die, and kept talking about what heaven would be like. Before killing her, Mack allowed Betty to retrieve her coat because she was shivering. Betty asked Mack for “a kiss to remember you by,” and then thanked him. He held the shotgun to her forehead, and pulled the trigger.
Even after all this, the people of Odessa, Texas took Mack’s side. They assumed Betty had a whorish character, and that Mack had killed her for a reason. Mack was more popular than Betty, and frustratingly, the world had taken his side.
Mack was tried in a sensational trial, and was acquitted of homicide due to reasons of alleged temporary insanity. A juror was heard saying about Betty, “that girl was nothing.” Nobody wanted anything to do with her. Mack was considered to be more of a victim than the girl he had killed. He went on to live a full life, and died at the ripe age of 75.
As for Betty: she had played a dangerous game with a boy more heartless than she had known. This was Russian roulette, but Mack, rather than fate, had pulled the trigger. Betty had hoped to bait some sort of love out from her uninterested ex, and he had responded by blasting her head nearly clean off.
The young, naive girl who had played Juliet madly in love with Romeo for a school play had thought that dying for one’s lover was the ultimate act of pathos and devotion. Her ex-lover and society disagreed.
Students of Odessa high school believe the auditorium is haunted by Betty’s ghost, and joke about it when they hear strange noises or footsteps. Her spirit seems to roam, searching for the elusive justice it was never granted.