In fact, Devereaux prepared two wills dated August 18, 1978. The first was addressed to Terri and Ben Johnson, whom Terri had married five months after Glenn Cooley’s death. It was a rather schoolgirl-ish document, though 13-year-olds seldom write wills. Devereaux left her rock collection to the Greenhill School science department, her paperback books to the school library, her National Geographics to Conscious Development and her money "to go to build a school for Conscious Development of Body, Mind and Soul Inc." To her mother, Devereaux left her art portfolio and a message: "Mom — friends forever, I love you a very great deal!" To her father, she left her basketball, her reading award and her antique whistles, with the postscript "You’re the best dad in the world, I love you a ton." To Terri she left "all my jewelry."
The second will read like it was copied from a legal form book: "I give, devise and bequeath all of my property, including all rights, titles and interests of whatever character I may own in and to any property, real, personal or mixed, wherever situated, to Terri Johnson, who has been to me like a second mother..." Under the second will, in other words, Terri could use the money for a school or for a world cruise. It was up to her. And, like Glenn Cooley and Sandy, Devereaux wrote that the will was not to be contested. Terri later would claim that she knew nothing of the second will for several years. But it was witnessed by Thomas M. Welch and Virginia Rawlings, two Conscious Development teachers, and notarized by Alice Hoffman.
News of Devereaux’s will would have stunned her school friends and her father. Minors cannot write wills in Texas. And far from being a devotee of Conscious Development, Devereaux appeared to be a normal, gifted young girl. She detested racial prejudice and never lost her temper. She was crazy about the band Aerosmith. She wanted to date the cutest boy in her class, who alternately led her on and rejected her. She would go to Valley View Mall and flirt with boys. Because of her lithe 5-foot-10-inch frame and her sunny blonde hair, they often mistook her for a 19-year-old; she would introduce her eighth-grade classmates as little sisters. She wrote poetry, often dealing with death and water. Free Bird is an example:
I soar among waves of blue and white.
The feathers on my back ripple softly as the wind rushes.
I dip and turn.
I am light and free.
I am a bird on the wings of time;
And as the sun climbs higher,
It flashes beams of gold everywhere.
I’m alone, a single shadow in a world of life.
Terri says Devereaux never could bring herself to tell Chuck Cleaver that she liked Terri and regarded her, as she said in her will, as a "second mother." But Devereaux’s school friends disagree. "That’s bull****," says one girl, who requested anonymity. Another of Devereaux’s classmates at the Greenhill School said that at age 13 Devereaux said her mother’s Conscious Development friends "were all weird." Because of Sandy’s work with Conscious Development, that friend said, Devereaux sometimes was left alone in her house overnight. Devereaux did not participate in Conscious Development activities; she seemed embarrassed by them. Before inviting one girl over to spend the night, She said, "Don’t be too weirded out."
One evening Devereaux had a severe headache, which her mother offered to treat. Devereaux asked a visiting girlfriend to stay in the bedroom; she and her mother went to the living room, from which Devereaux ordinarily was barred. After half an hour, Devereaux’s friend got bored and walked back to the living room. By the light of a single candle, through a film of incense, she could see Sandy massaging Devereaux’s head, murmuring incantations. Devereaux jumped up, flustered, and led her friend away. "I only do this to make my mother happy," she said.
Devereaux seemed to fight with her mother constantly. She sent a letter to one of her friends on November 22, 1978:
Sorry I couldn’t talk to you last night but my mom had a fit at me. She was bitching me out when you called the first time. And I yelled "My mom is sick," and that did it. She got up and tried to slap me, but it was hilarious because I’m bigger than she is and I wouldn’t let her...
• • •
Up until a few weeks before her untimely death, Devereaux had wanted nothing more than to live with her father, her best friend says. Devereaux regarded Chuck Cleaver as "perfect" and "always there for her," she said. Chuck says that his daughter’s biggest frustration with Sandy was that they could not talk as mother and daughter, at least not until the winter of 1978. Devereaux, he said, was willing to try just about anything to get her mother’s approval.
Certainly, the dawn of a healthy mother-daughter relationship was big news as of December — which, not coincidentally, was the month after Devereaux turned 14 and could live with whichever parent she chose. "Mom and I are on really good terms," Devereaux wrote a friend on December 21, 1978. "She is so sweet and considerate and I really like her. And I am not joking, although you are probably thinking I am wacky..." She said something similar to Chuck after returning from a weekend encounter session with Sandy. "Dad! Mom and I actually sat down on the edge of the bed and had a mother-daughter talk!" Sandy was equally excited when she talked to Chuck about the weekend. I’ve figured it out! She had discovered something that put her life in perspective. She knew why she had cringed every time Chuck hugged their daughter. Why she had caused so much unnecessary heartache: I discovered that my father molested me as a child.
Sandy’s brother found that notion absurd, and Chuck never knew whether to believe it or not. But he thought that Sandy certainly believed it and that the belief seemed to help her. Sandy was happy. Devereaux was happy. He was happy. The storm clouds were clearing.
It was with great eagerness that Devereaux accompanied Sandy and her fiance, Conscious Development teacher Lynn Fairchild, for a prewedding Hawaiian honeymoon. Her mother, who previously had refused to take her shopping or to watch her play on the Greenhill basketball team, was bringing her into her life in a big way.
On February 25, 1979, Devereaux and Sandy took a blue inflatable raft and waded into the waters of a mud-flat lagoon near the Wailupe Peninsula. The lagoon, which Terri had visited on a previous trip to Hawaii, was 20 miles from their Honolulu hotel and was a better place for catching crabs than for swimming. There was essentially no beach, and the water was shallow and calm for 400 yards, until the waves broke viciously over a razor-sharp coral reef. While Lynn Fairchild slept off the effects of some luncheon champagne, Sandy and Devereaux waded to the reef.
They were over the reef when a wave knocked them off the raft. Sandy later told Chuck that Devereaux, a strong swimmer, said, "I’m scared, Mommy."
"Hold onto my hand, and we’ll get out of this," Sandy replied. But another wave knocked them apart, and Sandy later said that she remembered diving underwater, looking for Devereaux. She remembered awakening atop the reef, calling for help and unable to see her daughter.
Lynn Fairchild heard her calls and summoned the fire department. Sandy was rescued — cut, bruised, and in shock. Devereaux could not be found. Chuck Cleaver got a call from Terri at 1 a.m., Dallas time, saying that Sandy was in the hospital and Devereaux was missing. He and Gene Coker took a plane to Honolulu that afternoon; they learned of Devereaux’s death while at D/FW airport. While they were airborne, a follower of Terri’s called Chuck’s house, saying that "they had a document she was supposed to let them [Chuck’s family] see." It was Devereaux’s will.
Chuck visited Sandy in the hospital. "When we first got there, she was acting like a normal human being," he said. "She cried, she said she was sorry about Devereaux, she thanked me for coming to see her." Then, he says, Terri walked into the room and Sandy stopped crying and began saying things such as, "Devereaux will be happier in heaven."
"It was almost like something happened instantly," Coker says. "A glaze came over Sandy’s eyes, and she became very distant."
An autopsy showed no signs of foul play and no traces of drugs or alcohol in Devereaux’s body. But Coker thought the whole affair was strange. His doubts were not allayed by the plane trip home, with Devereaux’s body in the cargo hold. Coker was telling Sandy to exercise her legs so she would be able to walk when she got off the plane. Ben Johnson had been listening intently to their conversation. He leaned over the seat and said, "Gene, you can really help Sandy. Take all the hurt and pain, receive it through your right hand, take it through your body, and fling it out to the universe through your left hand. You can do that."
Nobody could take the hurt and pain from Sandy. She called off her wedding plans. Her checkbook records, formerly so precise, became jumbled and sometimes illegible. She rejected her brother’s advice to back away from Terri and became obsessed with the idea that he would fight her efforts to leave Terri her estate. Where once she had told Chuck that she consulted Terri about "everything," now she had virtually no one else to turn to. Terri had told her that she could communicate with the dead, including Terri’s own son, Glenn, and Devereaux. That belief seemed to sustain Sandy.
One of Devereaux’s closest friends looked in on Sandy months after the drowning. Sandy told her "that if I ever wanted to come see Devereaux [I should] come over to the house for sort of a meditation with her ... And she would talk to Jesus and ask if we could see Devereaux ... ’and she’ll come. And if she’s all messed up with blood and stuff, that’s just because she was in a hurry to see you, and he [Jesus] didn’t have enough time to clean her up and fix her up and put a dress on her.’"
Within two months after Devereaux’s death, Sandy took out a $300,000 life insurance policy — double the amount recommended by her insurance agent. It was payable to Terri.
By the December after Devereaux’s death, Sandy had given Terri a gift of all her worldly goods, including her house, and her valuable artwork and silver, which she continued to hold. The gift was to become effective when Sandy died.
In February, she wrote Terri that after her death she wanted all of her goods "to be used, either directly or indirectly, for the benefit of Conscious Development."
That June, Sandy helped incorporate Conscious Development, with Terri as the sole member of its board of directors. In July, Sandy and Terri signed an addition to Sandy’s February letter, noting that Terri had divorced Ben Johnson and married Don Hoffman.
On June 12, 1981, Sandy wrote a new will, again leaving everything to Terri. Weasie Watson, then 78, wrote a will of her own that day, naming Sandy as the executrix of her meager estate, with Terri as the alternate executrix. Weasie’s friends later would question, according to court filings, why Weasie would feel it necessary to write a will and why she would name as her alternate executrix a woman who she felt totally dominated Sandy. But Sandy’s brother, Croom Beatty IV, an assistant to the president at Duke University, believes that Weasie was so loyal to Sandy she would have done anything Sandy asked.
On August 24, Sandy wrote Croom an odd letter. It was 13 pages long, typed and single-spaced, and it read like an autobiography, with heavy emphasis on Terri — "She has not only been a close friend, she has been like the closest of sisters to me ... She is one of the few truly humble, egoless people I have ever met." Croom did not realize that his sister, with whom he had had longstanding financial disagreements, had been keeping meticulous notes on her phone conversations with him — notes that Terri later would use to keep him from wresting Sandy’s estate from her. But he couldn’t help noticing that the letter seemed to be written for an audience. Why did Sandy feel it necessary to remind him that "Nanny and Brickdaddy" were his maternal grandparents and were in their 80s? Why did she feel it necessary to justify Devereaux’s writing a will?
Sandy ended her letter by saying she planned "a trip to the Colorado Springs area in Colorado to see some land Terri and Don just bought in the mountains. We may eventually build a retreat there ... Since Weasie enjoyed going along on my vacation just last year to the Human Unity Conference, I may ask her if she wants to go along on this trip."
Croom Beatty read the letter and told his wife, "She won’t be around long."
Sandra went out of town frequently and normally left a key to her house with her neighbors the Hannays. The Hannay boys would feed her cat and mow her lawn. But before September 8, when she left for Colorado, she had the locks to her house changed and did not ask the Hannays for help. She did take Louise Watson along, though documents introduced later in court claimed that Weasie "did not want to go on the trip with Sandra. She had not been well, and Sandra forced her to go."
Sandy and Weasie spent their first night in Colorado at the home of Terri’s sister in Colorado Springs. On September 9, they left to make the inspection trip to the Conscious Development land near Cripple Creek. The next day, an Air Force Academy paramedic happened to spot their Mercury Lynx at the base of a 450-foot cliff below tortuous Gold Camp Road. Both Sandra and Weasie had been thrown from the car and killed. The local medical examiner fixed their time of death at around noon. There were no skid marks — no tire tracks at all — on the red clay and granite road. There were no clues to what might have caused them to drive over the cliff.
Croom Beatty wanted some answers. On November 10, at his request, Dallas attorney Jim Barklow filed papers contesting Sandra’s will.
Barklow charged in the suit that Sandy’s will was invalid because "she lacked the ability to exercise freely independent thoughts." The will, he submitted, was "executed as a result of undue influence exerted over the deceased" by Terri; Sandy "was controlled by [Terri’s] use of hypnosis, Pavlovian conditioning and psychotherapy."
Furthermore, Croom Beatty’s petition charged, Sandra Beatty Cleaver was "but one of several persons" whose wills were written or changed "pursuant to the direct influence, suggestion and psychological control" of Terri.
Terri’s attorney, D. Ronald Reneker, wanted to stop short any attempt to tie Terri, even indirectly, to the deaths of Glenn Cooley, Devereaux Cleaver, Sandra Cleaver, and Louise Watson. He won trial judge Robert C. Topper’s approval of a motion to prevent any discussion, beyond the dates of death, for all the cases but Sandra’s.
But Barklow’s position as the trial began last June was not hopeless. Terri, for instance, was a terrible witness.
During her pretrial deposition, she admitted that she used tranquilizers and that the money from Sandy’s insurance policy was in her personal bank account, not in any Conscious Development account. She said there were not yet any drawings for the school or the retreat center that Sandy and Devereaux had wished to support. She admitted trying to influence several witnesses. And she denied any knowledge of some key points in Conscious Development’s convoluted dogma. What were the four liberations of Conscious Development? She didn’t know. What were the five modes of destructive mental activity? She didn’t remember.
Sometimes she remembered things wrong. One Conscious Development lesson, titled "Morality," says that wives, children, and other responsibilities — "attachments" — are "the most insidious and deceitful of the destructive passions." Those attachments are necessary and proper, but dangerous when one becomes "so absorbed in these that there is no time for self-improvement; no time for spiritual devotions ... Remember that the liberation of your own soul is the one thing for which you are in this world. Nothing else counts."
Barklow read the final two sentences to Terri and asked if they were part of Conscious Development teaching.
"No, that is not."
"Has it ever been?
Finally, Barklow was able to introduce expert testimony on hypnosis from a local "psychotherapist hypnotherapist" named Mary Ellen Grundman. She told the jury that hypnosis could be performed on someone with or without his consent and knowledge; that it would be very easy to hypnotize someone who trusted you completely; and that it would be simple to trick him into committing self-destructive acts, "at a future time, in another location, without the presence of the person who planted the suggestion." A third-grader could do it, if he wanted to badly enough.
Several of Terri’s followers testified that Sandy was independent, strong-willed and under her own control, but Terri apparently worried that the jury would not reach the same conclusion. On the morning of the sixth day of the trial, both sides announced a settlement. Terri and Don Hoffman would make an immediate $50,000 payment to Croom Beatty; they would pay another $62,500 on Halloween; Sandy’s house would be sold, with Croom getting 40 percent of the proceeds and the rest going to Terri and Don. The rest of Sandy’s estate would be divided equally.
Terri no longer gives classes in Conscious Development, though for $35 she will give an "acupressure" massage or a consultation on virtually any subject. She can see an "aura" of color around people, she says, and from that aura she can read their psyches.
Attendance at the teachers’ classes dwindled to a dozen or fewer after the bloodletting began. Terry says classes later were canceled so she could rewrite the correspondence course. She hopes to finish it in 18 months. Meanwhile, she and Don sell the old courses. As of November, they were talking about dedicating the Colorado center to Sandy and Devereaux, but they had not shown the site to an architect.
Terri says the losses of Glenn Cooley, Devereaux and Sandy have been very hard on her. The question raised by things such as Croom Beatty’s lawsuit, she says, is whether people should be "crucified" for unconventional beliefs.
Jim Barklow and Croom Beatty are not totally happy with the trial results; they had hoped for a thorough look at all four deaths or at least a fuller exploration of the wills. Barklow took Terri’s deposition. During a break in the action, he heard Terri shrieking in the hallway.
Barklow, curious, walked to where she was standing and found that Terri, who could commune with Plato and Buddha, and who had attained perhaps the highest level of spiritual development on Earth, was a nervous wreck. It seemed that someone had taken her pocketbook.