A Kiss Before Dying

Betty Williams was a fast girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Mack Herring was a handsome football player with all the right friends. When he broke up with her during her senior year at Odessa High School, her world fell apart. But she asked him for one last favor: to kill her.

WHEN FOOTBALL SEASON ENDED and there was nothing much to do on Friday nights except drink beer and stare up at the wide-open sky, teenagers used to park their pickups across the street from Odessa High School and wait to see the ghost they called Betty. According to legend, she would appear at the windows of the school auditorium at midnight—provided that students flashed their headlights three times or honked their horn and called out her name. The real Betty, it was said, had attended Odessa High decades before and had acted in a number of plays on the auditorium’s stage. But the facts of her death had been muddled with time, and each story was as apocryphal as the last: She had fallen off a ladder in the auditorium and broken her neck, students said. She had hanged herself in the theater. Her boyfriend, who was a varsity football player, had shot her onstage during a play.

So many teenagers made the late-night pilgrimage to see Betty that the high school deemed it prudent to paint over the windows of the school auditorium. During a later renovation, its facade was covered with bricks. But the stories about Betty never went away. Students still talk of “a presence” in the auditorium, one that is to blame for a long list of strange occurrences, from flickering lights and noises that cannot be explained to objects that appear to move on their own. Some claim to have seen her pacing the balcony or heard her footsteps behind them, only to find no one there. Rumors have flourished that a coach who knew the real Betty is visited by her, on occasion, in the field house and that a former vice principal who once caught a glimpse of her after hours was so spooked by the encounter that he refused to be in the school again by himself. “I hear her name on a daily basis,” says theater arts teacher Carl Moore, who has taught at Odessa High for four years. “Whenever something unexplained happens—a book falls on the floor in my classroom or the light board goes out during a technical rehearsal—someone always jokes, ‘It’s Betty.’”

What may be nothing more than just a ghost story can also be seen as something more complicated—as a metaphor, perhaps, for the way that one crime has lodged, uneasily, in Odessa’s collective memory. The teenagers who pass down stories about Betty are too young to remember the Kiss and Kill Murder, as it was christened by the

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