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The Tragic Life of a Beauty Queen:

A true story of Murder and Betrayal

as told to Gene Miller by Betty

by Gene Miller

gene.betty@gmail.com

I recently received a troubling telephone call.  My cousin Michelle Smith, age 58, was very ill.  She was not expected to live.  I went to the hospital and found her on life support and unresponsive.  As I stood at the foot of her bed, a flood of memories of the tragedy that has been Michelle’s life engulfed me.  This is my story of that tragedy.

At the age of eight, Michelle witnessed the murder of her father, Dick, by her mother, Millie, at the hand of her brother, Denny, at the age of fifteen.

My Uncle Dick was one of four brothers: Conley, Dick, Doyle and Glenn.  The brothers had three sisters: Marie, Maude and Louise.  The children lost their mother, Kate, at the age of 42 to Nephritis, also known as “Brights Disease.”  Glenn, the youngest brother, was only two years old.  Their father, Richard, was an alcoholic.  My father was frequently required to “...go get Richard out of the bar before he drinks up the money.”

When Kate died, Richard put the four children still at home, Dick, Doyle, Glenn and Lou, out of the house, abandoning them.  Maude took in the baby; Glenn, raised him as her own child.  Maude attempted to “shepherd” her sister Lou who was “living on the street.”  My father, Conley, who had recently married, took in Dick and Doyle.  They were expecting their first child and with no money struggled to survive.  It was the middle of the “Great Depression.”  The entire family was “dirt poor.”  Dick lied about his age, seventeen, and joined the Air Force.  Doyle did the same as soon as he turned sixteen.  Both men lived a very rough early manhood with much drinking and carousing.  Dick married a young WAC (Women’s Air Corps).  They had no children and parted a few years later on fairly amicable terms.

Then Dick met Millie.  She was the unmarried mother of two young boys.  David was about my age, about three and a half.  Denny was about eighteen months younger, about two years old.  David’s father was a “traveling man” named Clanton.  Denny’s father is not known to me.

Dick and Millie married.  Michelle was born in 1952.  She was an extraordinarily beautiful and very sweet child.  Perhaps she took after her father, Dick, who was considered to be quite handsome.  Both parents adored Michelle.  Dick worked very hard to love and support all three children as his own.

Unfortunately, Millie always made a differentiation between Michelle and the two boys.  Millie frequently reminded Dick that the two boys were “hers” and not “his.”  Mille would not allow Dick to discipline or direct the boys’ lives.  She made it clear to all concerned that Dick was not David and Denny’s father.  This was in spite of his financial and emotional support of the boys.

Millie was pathological and described as “a piece of work” by some.  Millie was
also from a “dirt poor” family.  Her sister, Jewell, “had Millie’s number” from a young age.  Jewell described their life.  “Yeah, we were often hungry and had to work hard…but Millie never would.  She wanted others to do it for her.  She pretended to be a victim.  She might “break a nail” to avoid work.  Millie became a secretary so that she could use her appearance rather than “work like a field hand”…the description of a life-style she hated. 

Millie was always quite meticulous about her appearance and demeanor.  She paid particular attention to her appearance and the detail of her dress.  She considered herself to be a beautiful woman, although she was not.  Although Millie was a petite woman with a good figure, she was “somewhat mousey” with overly “sharp and pinched” facial features.  She always reminded me of a “weasel.”  Millie had great pretensions of beauty and the perceived public value of that beauty.  She always paid great attention to her clothes and matching accessories.  Nails and lipstick were always bright red and her hairdo perfect and in the latest style.  Millie was apparently attractive enough to the opposite sex.  Millie was a “master” at “playing the victim.”  She had “wringing the hands” down pat as she voiced the plight which was her life.

In truth, Millie’s early years of marriage to Dick was a trial.  Dick was an angry man.  He frequently displayed a temper.  Dick, not unlike his father before him, drank too much.  When he drank, he displayed that temper and was abusive to Millie.  My father, Dick’s brother, Conley, stepped in on numerous occasions.  He confronted and coached Dick about his behavior.  Conley considered that “laying hands on a woman for any reason” was unacceptable and demonstrated a lack of “manhood.” “I’ve never met a women who deserved to be beaten more than Millie. But I can’t allow Dick to ever hit her again.  A real man never strikes a woman for any reason, including alcohol,” he said.  Conley also called Millie “a piece of work.”

Over the years, Dick changed.  He got control of his temper.  Conley recognized that Dick was quick with numbers and encouraged him to take advantage of the educational opportunities given servicemen.  He went to school on the GI Bill and got a degree as a CPA and became an accountant.  Dick became involved in his church and became a Sunday school teacher to the nine year old boys and even became a Deacon in the Baptist Church in Shreveport.

It was about this time that Denny had a very serious “breakthrough” surgery.  Denny had a congenital condition which caused his rib cage to grow inward.  His heart and lungs were being crushed by his ribcage.  The resolution was to remove the ribcage from the body, flip it, and reattach it.  Dick paid for this very expensive, experimental surgery…even though Denny was “not his child.” 

Dick was doing pretty well.  He was sober.  He had a good job.  He was happy...then he wasn’t.

About a year after the surgery, Millie requested a marriage separation because, “My life is intolerable because I am being abused by Dick.”  Millie was playing the victimization card again.

In fact, Millie was having an affair with David’s father, the “traveling man,” Mr. Clanton.  Millie had reconnected with the father of her first child and wanted to resume that relationship.  She wanted to get Dick “out of the picture.”  Millie had always thought that Mr. Clanton was the “better catch” of the two men.  Dick was just an accountant and Mr. Clanton was an important salesman.

Millie went to their Pastor at the First Baptist Church.  In her patented “wringing of the hands” fashion, convinced the preacher that she was “being put upon” and abused by Dick.  She did not reveal that she was having an affair with her former lover, Mr. Clanton.  She also did not reveal that Dick had changed and was taking care of her and the children….hers and his.  The pastor knew Dick from his work in the church.  He recommended that Dick move out of the house.  Dick was confused.  He did not understand why his wife, all of a sudden, was accusing him of threats and abuse that had occurred many years in the past.  He did not understand why he was being asked to move out of his home.  It is believed that Dick did not know about the affair with Mr. Clanton

Millie increasingly poisoned the relationship between the boys and Dick.  Dick tried to deal with this constant and continual division by “blowing it off.” He said, “Oh no, these are my boys.  I will take care of them, and I love them.  I don’t care what Millie says.”  Dick maintained a good sense of humor.  He would chuckle and go about his business saying, “Oh well, this will work out.”

Dick’s employer, owner of the CPA firm and chairman of deacons at the church, agreed with Dick when he decided to yield to Millie and separate.  His boss provided a room for Dick in his home.  Dick attended Bible study and visited his children there.  In September when Dick moved out, David, the oldest boy, left for college.

In November, Dick telephoned Millie.  He explained that he would be coming by the house about nine the next morning.  He would be picking up “some papers,” accounting files for a client which were being stored in his home office.  Although Dick was confused about what was happening in his marriage, he was not threatening or abusive.  Millie removed the boxes of files from the office and placed them on the front porch of the home.  It was raining very hard that night.  The files were left in the rain under the downspout.

Millie then told Michelle and Denny, “Dick is coming to kill us.  He is in a rage!”  Millie sat Denny down at the kitchen table and placed a .22 caliber revolver in his hand.  Millie kept Denny at the table all night.  She kept repeating to Denny, “You have to protect me!”…“You must defend me!”… “You must use this gun on your father!”

This was the man who had stayed by Denny’s bedside the year before.  The man who had cared for him in the months of his recovery from horrific surgery.  This was the man who had prayed over him for his healing.  This was the only father Denny had ever known.  Denny loved Dick.  Dick loved Denny.  Denny was fifteen years old.

Millie, his mother, had been berating his father for months.  She was creating havoc and confusion in Denny’s mind.

In the wee hours of the morning, Millie shuffled off to bed.  Denny fell asleep at the kitchen table.  The gun still in his hand.  Dick arrived at the appointed time the next morning about nine.  It is not known if Dick saw the rain soaked files sitting in the rain or not.  He rang the doorbell and rattled the door.  It was locked.  Dick then went to the rear door.  It was also locked.  Dick then went to the sunroom off the kitchen.  There was a panel below the louvered window that was loose.  The family members knew it as a way to enter the house if they were locked out.  Dick removed the panel and started crawling into the house.

Denny awoke from his sleep at the kitchen table across the way.  In a groggy stupor, he raised the pistol and fired.  The bullet struck Dick in the heart, killing him instantly.

Michelle, having missed him at the front door when he knocked, was running toward Dick with outstretched arms when the fatal shot was fired.  Her father was dead.  She was nine….

It has been noted that a .22 caliber revolver is not a particularly formidable weapon. The bullet is about half the size of a black-eyed pea.  It is thought that the angle of the shot, with Dick in a crouched position climbing through the window panel, placed his heart at the center of the image that Denny saw and fired upon.

I was in college with my sister about an hour away when I got the call.  “Betty, get your sister and head to Shreveport.  David (actually Denny) has killed your Uncle Dick.”

This part is really hard to talk about.  Okay…during the funeral preparations, Denny laughed and giggled, “Oh, I killed my Daddy! I killed my Daddy!”  He was completely detached from reality and totally in shock.  Millie collapsed and went to bed.  On the day of the funeral, my father, Conley, went into Millie’s bedroom. He lifted Millie by the front of her nightgown. He dragged her from her bed, yelling, “You killed him and now BY GOD you WILL bury him!”  He screamed, “You will NOT assume the victim’s position!  You created this situation by sending him away from his home!”

Millie had covered her tracks pretty well.  No one knew about her lover, Mr. Clanton.  Thanks to Millie’s efforts, everyone knew that Dick had been asked to leave his house “due to his abuse of his wife.” Millie’s counselor, the Baptist preacher, was at the house, busily persuading the police to not investigate or prosecute the case. “This was a tragic accident.” “The child had been very sick.” “The father had been abusive.” There was really no investigation. No one, including my father knew of Millie’s complicity in this crime of murder.  The story, at least what we know of the story, has been a lifetime coming.

Mr. Clanton skipped town. David buried his father and returned to college with a new last name, Clanton. Denny, branded a “killer,” was sent to live with relatives in East Texas where he was forced to live in a barn and labor for his keep. Michelle lived with her mother, completed school and eventually competed in and won the title of Miss Shreveport, a prelude to the Miss America Pageant

The price of becoming a beauty queen was very high for Michelle.  After all,
Millie was still a “pathological piece of work.”  Millie made constant demands and threats.  She would threaten to kill herself by “driving off the bridge into the Red River,” if things did not go her way.  Millie was incessant in her demand for perfection and performance from Michelle to “make Millie look and feel good.”  Michelle was required to play the piano for hours in order to “calm Millie’s nerves.”

Millie had a perpetual “case of the nerves.”  I guess that I would have a “case of the nerves” too if I had killed my husband, manipulated my son to pull the trigger, destroying his reputation and family in the process.

Michelle married, had two girls, and a divorce.  A few years ago she moved herself, her daughters and Millie across the country to our city.  I believe that she wanted to reconnect her family with the only real family she had ever had…Dick’s.  Sadly, Millie had shattered any family relationship possibility long ago.  Michelle died and shortly afterwards so did Millie.  Millie’s request was that she be reunited with Dick, buried with him.  My brother reluctantly granted that wish.  Millie’s ashes were buried under a spade full of dirt at Dick’s feet. 

Millie was, indeed, a piece of work.

enough