The time was 1961, and the place was Odessa, Texas. High school football was king, and still is today.
In the ‘60s, teenagers lived for their weekly pep-rallies and frequent trips to Tommy’s Drive-In for their ice-cold cherry cokes.
Teens also spared no expense in driving up and down the strip, or cruisin’ as it was called. After all, gas was cheap back then.
Teenage girls appeared innocent with their ponytails, bobby-socks, and penny-loafer shoes.
Not seventeen year old Betty Williams.
Elizabeth J. Williams lived with devout Christian parents. Her father prohibited her from normal teenage activities such as dating and seeing movies, especially anything with Elvis Presley.
What sometimes happens with overly protective parents? Betty defied the rules.
She was flirtatious, and sometimes aggressive with the boys. She mocked teachers and other girls, and didn’t shy away from making inappropriate comments. She would wear tight clothing revealing more than she should, and she just didn’t care – outwardly, anyway.
Betty dreamed of leaving Odessa and becoming an actress, but her reputation stood in the way of her dreams. She was overlooked during the casting of Our Town as “Emily” because she wasn’t innocent enough, but not being cast in Winterset really upset Betty.
Mack Herring was cast in Winterset, as “Garth” – the killer. Mack played football at Odessa High School, and was Betty’s ex-boyfriend, many times removed.
The two teens had a tumultuous relationship. They fought constantly, but couldn’t stay away from each other. Publicly though, Mack refused to be seen with Betty.
After losing Mack and the play, Betty did the unthinkable. She asked to die. According to friends, she asked quite a few girls in class to kill her. The girls of course didn’t take her seriously; Betty was an actress.
Late at night on March 21, 1961, Betty rode with Mack to a stock pond outside Odessa wearing only her pink pajamas. Being a perfect gentleman, Mack helped Betty down out of his jeep and wrapped his red and white letter jacket around her to keep her warm. The two walked together to the pond, where she asked for a kiss.
The two teens kissed, and Betty knelt down in front of Mack on the ground where he had removed the rocks and pebbles for her.
Mack picked up the 12-guage shot-gun that he had brought with them, held it to her head, and pulled the trigger after Betty said, “Now.”
After a few days, Mack led the police out to the scene of the crime. He immediately pointed to the stock pond where he had placed Betty’s body, remembering the exact location because he had centered himself between two mesquite trees before putting her into the water.
Mack never denied planning the murder or killing Betty.
Needless to say, murder charges were brought against Mack and his trial began in February, 1962. Although he wasn’t the star athlete, the trial gave him celebrity status. High school girls, known as “Mack’s Girls” filled the courtroom to support him.
The media soon named the shooting, “The Kiss and Kill Murder.”
The trial took place in Winkler County, since the stock pond was physically located within Winkler’s county lines. Former Odessa District Attorney, Warren Burnett served as Mack’s defense attorney, while Andrews’ County District Attorney, Dan Sullivan represented the state.
In opening statements, Burnett clearly indicated that he had no intentions of disputing the murderous plot, or the fact that his client shot and killed Betty Williams. He did, however, shock the courtroom when he announced that the court must first prove Mack’s sanity at the time of the murder.
Burnett continued to rock the courtroom when he introduced an apparent suicide letter written by Betty:
“I want everyone to know that what I am about to do 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 am 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 am 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 the blame, for it lies on me alone.” – Betty Williams (Washed in the Blood, p 102-103).
Burnett called other classmates of Betty’s to the stand to testify that she also approached them for assistance in her death. His star witness, psychiatrist Dr. Marvin Grice, testified that after Betty repeatedly asked Mack to kill her, Mack lost his ability to reason and agreed.
On Saturday, February 25, 1962, the jury found Mack Herring innocent by reason of temporary insanity. The result was the same later that year when Mack’s sanity was tried again, this time in Beaumont, Texas by the Texas Supreme Court.
No one really won in this case. Betty was gone, and Mack’s life would never be the same again. While Mack was looked at as a star during his trial, the celebrity faded and he slowly became a pariah.
Betty is still known around town as the “Ghost of Odessa High School” where she lingers around the school’s theatre. She’s also known as “The Original Drama Mama.”
For more about the tragic story of Betty Williams, read Washed in the Blood, a novel written by her cousin, Shelton Williams.
Shelton “Shelly” Williams attended the high school across town at the time of his cousin’s murder. He was actually a classmate of my mother’s and my aunt’s, which is one reason why I’m so intrigued by this story. Washed in the Blood is a fabOoolous read, and I highly recommend to anyone that loves true-crime stories.
It was rumored that Hollywood, including actress Moira Kelly (Twin Peaks, Cutting Edge, and One Tree Hill), was interested in adapting Betty’s story to a screen play. I’m not sure where the project is today, but I can only hope to see it come to fruition one day.
Were you familiar with the “Kiss and Kill Murder”? Did you know of any particular person during your high school years that resembled misunderstood youth similar to Betty? Do you think Mack was indeed temporarily insane? What true-crime story has affected you? I’d love to hear from you!
Now, to lighten the mood, check out Lyn Midnight’s post – The Blog of Fame: Google Brain Farts. Oh, how search engines amaze…