Love and Death in Silicon Prairie, Part I: Candy Montgomery’s Affair

She was a normal suburban housewife. All she wanted was a little fun with another man. She never really expected to kill her lover’s wife.

Without exception, each man who saw the lifeless body of Betty Gore the night of June 13, 1980, reflexively averted his eyes. Even those who already knew what lay beyond the utility room door were never bold enough to look more than a moment before closing the door. Few looked at the head at all—the sight was too horrible—so the early reports as to the manner of death were conflicting, and usually wrong.

It was a small room, no more than twelve feet long by six feet wide, made smaller by the presence of a washer, a dryer, a freezer, and a small cabinet where Betty had kept toys and knickknacks. In one corner were a brand-new toy wagon and a child’s training toilet. Closer to the center of the room, where the freezer stood against one wall, were two dog-food dishes and a bruised book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. The book had a white cover, which stood out in sharp relief because, in the harsh overhead light that glared off the harvest-gold linoleum, it was one of the few objects in the room not coated in blood.

Her left arm was the first thing they noticed after opening the door. It lay in a pool of blood and fluid so thick that the arm appeared to be floating above the linoleum. To get a look at her face, the men had to walk around the ocean of red and black to get closer. What they saw was even more unsettling. Her lips were parted, showing her front teeth, the mouth fashioned into a half-grin. Her hair radiated in all directions, a tangled, soaked mass of glistening black. And Betty’s left eye was wide open, staring down at the gaping black craters in her arm. As to her right eye—she appeared to not have one. The entire right half of her face seemed to be gone.

A few feet from Betty’s head and half concealed under the freezer was a heavy, wooden-handled, three-foot-long ax. The police who investigated Betty Gore’s death at first could not believe that anyone as small as Candy Montgomery had the physical strength to wield that ax so brutally. Even as their suspicions about her grew, they found it hard to believe that this pretty, vivacious, utterly normal suburban housewife could make such a vicious attack. She was a loving mother, a devoted wife, a churchgoer, and everyone’s friend. And she wasn’t putting on a cynical act. She really was as normal and likeable and good as she appeared—except for one dark corner of her soul that even she did not know about.

Thank God for the Country

It was a church service that first brought Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore together, and it was the church that led them to their times of closeness and, eventually, to their mutual hatred and Betty’s brutal death. The Methodist Church of Lucas was, more than most places of worship, an institution controlled by women. The center of Candy Montgomery’s universe, almost from the day in 1977 when she moved to her dream house in the country, was the drafty white clapboard building known to its congregants simply as the church. Set back from the roadside, paint peeling, steeple rusted, its floors echoing hollowly under the tread of men’s heavy soles, it did not at first resemble a place likely to house the more liberal strains of Methodist theology. The church buildings sat on a slight rise surrounded by fallow blackland wheat fields on three sides and a farm-to-market road on the fourth. When the sky was clear and the wind strong, as it was, the landscape had the feel of a rough and untamed outpost, solitary and a little forbidding, not beautiful but stunning in its brown and gray emptiness.

The country, as the people who settled there liked to call it, was eight to ten amorphous little towns in eastern Collin County, but it really had no name. Most of its residents had come there to escape something: cities, density, routine, fear of crime, overpriced housing, the urban problems their parents had never known. They came in the seventies, just about the time the Dallas developers started buying out the farmers one by one, and they settled on pasture-size lots in homes designed exclusively for them by architects happy to get rich by satisfying their personal whims. They sent their children to a little red schoolhouse, joined a civic club or ran for the town council, and started going to church again when they found the quaint little chapel by the roadside of Lucas. Twenty miles to the southwest were the teeming freeways of Dallas, the huge electronics corporations where many of them worked as engineers and physicists and computer analysts, the endless chain of suburban housing developments and shopping malls and office centers running due north out of the city. But here there was quiet and solitude and control over their lives. Some of them spoke of it proudly. “This is the way things were back home,” they would say, or “Thank God we had enough money to move to the country so kids could get a good education.” The country was pure, untroubled, safe, innocent, a vision of regenerate America.

Slicing through the heart of the country was FM Road 1378, a tortuous two-lane blacktop connecting McKinney, the county seat, with Wylie, an old railroad town now given over to tract homes and light industry. Both towns were older and more authentically Western than anything in the twenty miles or so between them, for 1378 had become the main artery for the new subdivisions full of fantasy architecture: houses shaped like Alpine villas, houses dolled up like medieval castles, houses as forbidding as national park pavilions or as secluded as missile bases, hidden in thickets along the shores of Lake Lavon. Juxtaposed to those personal statements were the more familiar examples of prairie architecture: trailer homes, bait shops, window-less lodge halls, an outdoor revival

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