Harold Gentry had just been found murdered—shot six times—at home in Norwood, N.C., but as his wife, Betty, arrived at the scene, she appeared remarkably composed. Harold's brother Al, who was there that evening in July 1986, recalls that the first words out of Betty's mouth when she drove up were to explain she had been in Augusta, Ga.—3 1/2 hours away. "No tears," says Al, 63, a retired truck driver. "If she had tears and had asked why somebody had killed him, I wouldn't have thought about it." But to his ears, it sounded as if Betty—whose marriage to Harold had hit a rough patch of late—was trying to establish an alibi. Says Al: "That was when I got suspicious."

In the weeks that followed, his suspicions only deepened. For the past 22 years, he has waged an often frustrating battle to get police to investigate his former sister-in-law. The crusade finally paid off in May, when authorities arrested Betty—now 76 and living quietly in Augusta as Betty Neumar—on charges of soliciting a hit man to murder Harold. Neumar, who had to be extradited, has yet to be formally accused, but as police checked her background, they made some startling discoveries. It turns out that she has used 28 aliases over the years and may have overseas bank accounts, according to prosecutors. When son Gary apparently committed suicide in 1985, she was the beneficiary of a $10,000 life insurance policy she'd taken out on him; when she proposed to Gary's son, Jeff Carstensen, that he get a $100,000 life insurance policy and name her as beneficiary, he was so unnerved, he told the AP, "I got out of there ... as soon as I could." More to the point, it appears that at least three of the men she married died by violence. "Every time we went to a place she'd lived, there was another dead husband," says Lt. Det. Scott Williams of the Stanly County sheriff's office in North Carolina. "When you've got five dead husbands, you start looking at the circumstances of their deaths."

No charges have been filed in any of those deaths, three of which are being reviewed, and Neumar's supporters say she is an innocent victim who has been unlucky in marriage. "I would be surprised if there is any connection to the wrongdoing," says her lawyer Charles Parnell Jr., who insists his client has only been married four times. It is unclear how much evidence police have about Neumar, who has not commented on the case. Her first husband was Clarence Malone, whom she married in 1950. Malone was shot to death in 1970, but by that time he and Neumar had been divorced for many years; his family is convinced she had nothing to do with his murder. Her purported second husband was James Flynn, who died, police say, on a pier in New York in the mid-1950s. Richard Sills, her third husband, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in Florida in 1965. Neumar reportedly said she was in the room at the time. So far, though, authorities in Florida have no evidence to contradict the earlier finding of suicide.

In the case of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry, his brother Al insists there is more than wispy innuendo. Al says that a month after the murder, a man from the district attorney's office approached him and said that an informant had come forward claiming that Betty had tried to hire him as a hit man. Al pressed the police to investigate that angle but got nowhere. (Williams tells PEOPLE that investigators are looking into whether there was an early tipster.) Al says he also found it telling that Neumar inherited a reported $20,000 from a life insurance policy on Harold and that she always seemed intent on keeping the rest of the family at arm's length—an allegation echoed by several relatives of other of her dead husbands, including No. 5, John Neumar.

Neumar's son John K. Neumar says that Betty, who was running a beauty parlor at the time, married his father in 1991. By 2000 his father, who had always been the frugal sort, was forced to file for bankruptcy with his wife, citing debts of more than $200,000 on 43 credit cards. Son John isn't convinced his father died as the result of foul play (the official cause so far is sepsis, a bacterial infection), and he isn't sure what happened to the money, but he has no doubts about what kind of person Betty Neumar is. "She was a user," he says.

  • Contributors:
  • Jeff Truesdell/North Carolina,
  • Michaele Ballard/North Carolina.