The ?Kiss and Kill? Murder: How a Teenager Got Away With Killing Betty Williams.
Photo by Daniel Vogel on Unsplash
Elizabeth Jean ?Betty? Williams was born on August 11, 1943, and grew up in Odessa, Texas, with three younger siblings. Her mother Mary worked at a JCPenney while her father John was a carpenter.
John Williams was a devout Baptist who opposed sinful and immoral acts such as dating. Betty, on the other hand, refused to conform to other people?s views. She wore whatever clothing she wanted, did not accept her father?s religion, and had several relationships with boys from her school.
Betty Williams / Find a grave
Betty was known to have strong opinions on social issues. She disliked social hierarchy and didn?t agree with African American students being forced to attend a separate school. These were highly unpopular opinions to have at the time, but that didn?t stop Betty from writing her thoughts down on paper and distributing them as letters throughout her school.
To young Betty, it was more important to be her true self rather than be understood by others ? even though her father often prayed she become more obedient.
John Mack Herring was one of the popular kids at Odessa High School. He was the back of the Bronchos, belonged to a middle-class family, and was an avid hunter with his father O.H. Herring. According to Betty, Mack was different than all the other boys at school.
The two started a romantic relationship during the summer of 1960, though from the outside it didn?t seem like it. Mack did his best to keep their relationship a secret. The couple regularly fought and Betty was not allowed to meet his parents or go to parties with him.
During the fall, Betty made a move on Bill Rose, one of Mack?s best friends. Rose told him about the incident and Mack promptly broke up with Betty. She was left devastated and full of guilt.
Betty dreamed of becoming a Broadway star and always took part in her high school?s plays. This year the new drama teacher had planned a spring production of Maxwell Anderson?s Winterset. Betty was not given a part in the play for the first time, instead, she was assigned to be the stage manager. Her teacher had not seen her potential and Betty was left defeated. Mack, on the other hand, was given the role of Trock Estrella, a killer.
In the meantime, Betty?s volatile relationship with her father had worsened. After she began acting even more erratically than usual, John searched Betty?s bedroom looking for an explanation. In Betty?s dresser, he found her diary which contained all of her secrets ? including the details of her encounters with boys.
Betty?s life had never been worse. The 17-year-old was now telling her schoolmates she?d rather be dead. She confessed to having climbed the auditorium?s rafters but couldn?t bring herself to jump. On a different occasion, she took four aspirins hoping it would kill her.
After Betty realized she lacked the courage to commit suicide she began asking her schoolmates if they?d be willing to kill her. However, no one took her request seriously and shrug it off as attention seeking.
When Mack drove Betty and their friend home from rehearsal one night, she asked him if he?d pull the trigger if she held the gun to her head. The boys laughed, thinking she was just being dramatic as usual. Nevertheless, Betty sat in the car and wrote a letter for Mack to keep,
March 20, 1961
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, a war to find the true me and I fear that I am losing the battle. 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!
? Betty Williams
The next day, Betty pulled Mack aside during rehearsal. She was depressed and desperate to end her suffering. After they talked, she turned to her friend and said, ?It?s been nice knowing you?. He looked at her confused and she explained that she had finally convinced Mack to kill her.
He laughed and said, ?I?ll send roses?.
Mary thought it was weird that her daughter hadn?t come downstairs for breakfast. She checked Betty?s bedroom but she wasn?t there. Mary called the school but she hadn?t arrived yet. On March 22, 1961, at 8:45 AM, the 17-year-old was reported missing.
During the following hours, Betty?s closest friends were individually pulled from class and questioned by authorities.
Ike Nail recounted to police what had happened the night before. While dropping Betty off at home after rehearsal, she asked if he could meet her at 10:30 PM in the alley behind her house. He agreed.
Betty snuck out the back of her house and met with Ike. While they talked, a jeep pulled up beside them ? it was Mack. According to Ike, she was surprised to see Mack there. Nevertheless, she entered Mack?s jeep and said to Ike, ?I?ve got to call his bluff, even if he kills me?.
Ike was confused but didn?t think Betty had been serious about convincing Mack to kill her.
Mack was taken from class and questioned by officer Bobby McAlpine. Mack told him that he had dropped Betty off at home at midnight and not heard from her since.
McAlpine was not convinced as there were some inconsistencies to the boy?s statement. It was particularly odd that Betty would have entered through the front door of her house, as Mack claimed if she had sneaked out earlier.
With the 17-year-old now the main suspect in Betty?s disappearance, Mack was taken to the Winkler County Jail for further questioning. After an hour, his father was allowed to sit beside him in the interrogation room. Moments later, Mack turned to his father and confessed, ?I killed her?.
Mack led authorities to a property his father had leased for hunting and fishing. When they arrived and got out of the car onto a dirt road, they followed the shoeprints to a pond. Near it was blood splatter.
According to Mack, Betty had been in a good mood on their way there. They even sat in his jeep talking about heaven for a while. The two then walked to the pond, Betty removed her shoes and kneeled on a blanket that Mack had already laid out.
He stood near her, holding a 12-gauge shotgun in his hands. ?Give me a kiss to remember you by?, Mack asked. She kissed him, ?Thank you Macks. I will always remember you for that?. Mack raised the gun barrel and Betty held it with the back of her hand, pointing it at her left temple. ?Now!?
Two days earlier, Mack and Betty had planned how he would kill and dispose of her body. In the meantime, he gathered two lead weights, a miner?s helmet to see in the dark, and a rope.
Authorities asked him to remove Betty?s body from the pond. He complied and entered the water. After a few moments, he began to drag something to the edge of the pond. As he got closer, officers saw he was holding onto Betty?s feet. Around her waist was a rope which Mack had attached to the weights to submerge her body.
According to the police officers present at the time, Mack showed no emotion during the process. In the meantime, journalists had gathered at the scene. Mack recounted the event and the next day the whole town knew about the kiss and kill murder.
Mack Herring was duly charged with the first-degree murder of Betty Williams. Nonetheless, his reputation around town did not suffer. If anything, he became more popular than ever ? even gaining a group of fangirls who were dubbed Mack?s Girls. The self-confessed killer was invited to every party and his friends gloated about knowing him.
Betty had been known as a loose and immoral girl. As a result, locals sided with Mack, claiming she had tricked him into committing the crime.
Warren Burnett was the best lawyer around. The ex-marine was known to persuade judges with his dramatic arguments involving Shakespeare and Scripture. He was so good that none of his clients had ever gone to prison ? even the murderers.
As for Mack?s case, Burnett?s first move was to get Mack out of going to trial by using a law no one had ever resorted to before. According to the Texas law, an offender was allowed to be set free if proven they had been temporarily insane at the time of the crime. A judge approved Burnett?s request to evaluate Mack?s sanity at the time of the murder in a pre-trial.
The pre-trial took place in the nearby town of Kermit. Over 160 people attended ? the majority being Mack?s Girls.
Warren Burnett and Mack Herring / Find a grave
The first person Burnett called to the stand was Mack?s father. O.H. Herring explained how he believed Betty was to blame and that the letter she gave him was valid in absolving him of any consequences.
Next, nine character witnesses testified. Most claimed that Mack had to have been insane at the time to do such a thing. A few classmates also confessed that Betty had asked them to kill her.
Marvin Grice, a psychiatrist who had examined Mack a few days after his arrest, said he was not a danger to others. Grice claimed that Betty?s imploring had impaired Mack?s judgment leading him to go insane and shoot her.
Dan Sullivan, the lawyer representing Betty?s parents, focused heavily on the testimonies given by classmates who had been asked by Betty to murder her. The students all claimed it had been an obvious joke, as Betty liked being dramatic and craved attention.
Burnett then asked Mack to explain why he killed Betty. He didn?t have an answer. At the time, Mack said, he thought he was doing her a favor, but he now knew it was wrong.
After 11 hours of deliberation, Mack was deemed to have been insane at the time of pulling the trigger. Mack wept when he heard the verdict and dozens of people rushed to his side.
The pre-trial did not change anyone?s opinion on Mack, but people?s perception of Betty worsened. Acts from her rebellious period had been exposed, such as her sneaking out of her house during the night. Worst of all, it was now public that she had been involved with various boys, which boosted people?s views on her immorality. All around town people spoke ill of the victim.
Sullivan appealed the verdict to the Texas Supreme Court. He claimed the judge did not have the authority to have held a trial solely to evaluate Mack?s sanity. His request was granted.
A new trial took place in Beaumont and was once again attended by dozens of people. This time, various teachers testified. Most claimed that Mack was an exemplary teenager and that he represented everything that was good.
Despite the prosecution?s attempt, jurors sided with Burnett?s reasoning ? even after nearly two years since the crime, the prosecution had not determined a motive.
The verdict deemed Mack was innocent for a second time and the crowd broke into applause.
Shelton Williams, a political scientist and Betty?s one-year-older cousin, was deeply affected by her death. As an adult, he spent years investigating his cousin?s murder and wrote a book about the case, Washed in the Blood.
Shortly after being declared innocent, Mack attended Texas Tech University. His past was no secret, he was even introduced as the famous kiss and kill murderer in one of his classes.
After graduating he returned to Odessa where he married and divorced twice. He held various jobs, such as being a carpenter, a dock foreman at a chemical compound, a welder, and an electrician. He never had any trouble with the law again.
On January 5, 2019, Mack Herring died at the age of 75.
Even after nearly 60 years, Betty Williams is not forgotten in Odessa. Not only is she still talked about, but many people believe her spirit still lingers in the high school?s auditorium.
According to legend, by parking across the street from the school at midnight and either flashing the headlights three times or honking and calling out her name, Betty would appear in the auditorium?s windows. As a result, the school painted over the windows and eventually covered them with bricks.
Nevertheless, students and teachers still claim to hear weird noises, including footsteps and see flickering lights and moving objects.
A coach, who had known Betty, has reportedly been visited by her in the field house. A former principal has even claimed to have seen a glimpse of Betty after hours in the study hall ? as a result, he refused to ever be in the school alone again.
Betty Williams was put to rest at the Sunset Memorial Gardens.
She may have been shunned at the time, but many of the girls who knew her were inspired to become school counselors, her death having had a profound effect on them.
Betty Williams / Find a grave