D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The Black Widow

The sordid tale of Sandra Bridewell. Yes, the Black Widow's surname was Bridewell.

Sandra Bridewell and Alan Rehrig, her third husband.
Sandra Bridewell and Alan Rehrig, her third husband.

When I’ve mentioned to people that this year we’re revisiting the 40 greatest stories ever published in the pages of D Magazine, it’s “The Black Widow” that’s been brought up most often in response.

In May 1987, Eric Miller and Skip Hollandsworth pieced together the sordid tale of Sandra Bridewell. Her first husband’s death was ruled a suicide, though there were those who raised questions about that finding. Her second husband died of cancer, but Bridewell didn’t appear terribly attentive to his needs in his final weeks. Her third husband was found shot to death in his vehicle in Oklahoma not long after he was supposed to have met with Bridewell (at that point, they were estranged.) And then there’s the case of her friend Betsy, the wife of the cancer doctor who treated Bridewell’s second husband. Betsy was found dead of a gunshot wound in her car in a Love Field parking lot. That too was ruled a suicide, though the circumstances were suspicious.

Sandra Bridewell was never charged with a crime in any of these cases, but she was tried and convicted by the Highland Park rumor mill. (And the investigators into the death of her third husband have considered her a suspect.)

When Miller and Hollandsworth wrote their article, Bridewell had fled her reputation in Dallas and set herself up in Marin County, California, north of San Francisco. In 1989, Glenna Whitley followed up, speaking with (among others) a couple of Northern California men who had loaned or given tens of thousands of dollars to Bridewell. The next year she was in Tucson, Arizona, where another boyfriend had given her money and then been angered to learn of her past. Whitley stayed on the case, even though the trail went cold. Bridewell had taken to using aliases and more commonly went by her middle name, Camille. She had addresses in Connecticut and Hawaii. She used the Social Security numbers of an elderly Fort Worth woman, a man in South Carolina, and her own daughter and son-in-law (taking out credit cards in their names and ruining their credit.)

In 2004, Whitley caught up with her again, publishing a story in the Dallas Observer that traced Bridewell’s transformation into a self-styled Christian missionary. Of course, her version of being a missionary still involved a seeming obsession with finding a rich man to marry and leeching free room and board and loans off her fellow believers at a “prosperity Gospel” mega-church in Atlanta.

According to Whitley’s account, the woman with whom Bridewell was staying became suspicious and looked at the pile of stuff in her room, including a notebook:

On other pages, among notes from TV preachers and recipes, was a series of creepy affirmations:

“This is miracle season. Give me all my family back and ALL my stuff. EXPECT to live large.”

“I NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give in.”

“I am getting ready to go start something. I am an entrepreneur.”

“I refuse to live anymore in less than total victory. There’s about to be a turnaround.”

“You’ve scheduled a divine encounter for me. I now position myself. You’re taking me over to immense wealth.”

“The anointing to prosper will reveal and unfold God’s will for my money.”

“No ‘broke’ talk EVER.”

A still from a Facebook page in her name. Her relationship status is "complicated."
A still from a Facebook page in her name.

After her past was revealed to the people who had helped her, Bridewell disappeared again.

She did eventually go to jail, but not for anything she might have been involved with in Dallas. In North Carolina in 2008, at age 63, she pled guilty to a federal charge of identity theft. She’d made unauthorized credit card charges and cashed forged checks in the name of an older woman who’d allowed Bridewell — now known as Camille Powers — to live with her. The woman believed Bridewell to be a missionary between trips overseas.

Bridewell/Powers was sentenced to two years in prison, a $250,000 fine, plus a year of supervised release. She’d be out by now, and I found this Facebook page in her name. I don’t know if it was legitimately set up by the woman herself or created by someone else as a joke. There’s relatively little activity on the timeline, aside from birthday wishes the last few years from a number of her online friends (mostly North Carolina residents.) The last activity in her name on the page was a March 2012 comment asking commenters to not say awful things about her and to “stop writing lies.”

My favorite bit on the page is the Black Widow’s relationship status. It’s “complicated.”