Born in Quanah, Texas, on April 4, 1943, Judias Welty was the
daughter of an itinerant farm worker, named after her mother. In later years,
Judi would describe her mother as a full-blooded member of the nonexistent
Mesquite Apache tribe, but in fact, they hardly knew each other. The elder
Judias Welty died of tuberculosis when her daughter was barely two years old,
and the family disintegrated. Judi and her infant brother Robert were sent to
live with their grandparents, while two older siblings were placed for adoption.
It was all downhill from there, in terms of Judis family life.
Reunited with her father in Roswell, New Mexico, after his next marriage, she found herself the target of abuse from both parents--beaten, starved, burned with cigarettes, forced to work slave hours around the house. At age fourteen, her anger finally exploded: Judi scalded two of her stepbrothers with hot grease and lit into her parents with flying fists, feet, any object she could lay her hands on. The episode cost her sixty days in jail, confined with adult prostitutes, but when the judge asked if she was ready to go home, Judi opted for reform school. She remained at Foothills High School--a girls reformatory in Albuquerque-- until her graduation in 1959, at age sixteen, and she would despise her family from that day on. Of brother Robert, she once said, I wouldnt spit down his throat if his guts were on fire.
The year 1960 found Judi back in Roswell, working as a nurses aide under the pseudonym of Anna Schultz. She gave birth to an illegitimate son, christened Michael Schultz, on March 30, 1961, and ever after refused comment on rumors that his father was a pilot from the nearby air force base. On January 21, 1962, she married another air force officer, James Goodyear, and their first child--James, Jr.--was born four years later, on January 16, 1966. Judis husband celebrated the event by adopting Michael Schultz. Daughter Kimberly followed in 1967, after the family had moved to Orlando, Florida. A year later, Judias opened the Conway Acres Child Care Center in Orlando, listing her husband as co-owner despite his continuing service with the Air Force, which would soon include a tour of duty in Vietnam. In fact, James Goodyear, Sr., had been home from Southeast Asia for barely three months when he was admitted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Orlando, suffering from symptoms staff physicians never quite identified. He died on September 15, 1971, and Judi waited a discreet five days before cashing in his three life insurance policies. Before years end, an accidental blaze at her Orlando home paid Judy another $90,000 in fire insurance. It was rotten luck all around ... but at least it paid well.
Loneliness was not a problem for the recent widow. She moved her family to Pensacola in 1972, and was living with new lover Bobby Joe the following year. Son Michael, meanwhile, had become a problem for his mother, raising hell in school, scoring in the dull-normal range on IQ tests. James Goodyears death barred Mike from treatment at a residential facility reserved for military dependents, but Judi wangled an evaluation at the state hospital in 1974, farming her first-born out to foster care with a provision for psychiatric treatment. Bobby Morris moved to Trinidad, Colorado, in 1977, inviting Judi and her brood to join him. She hung around Pensacola long enough to collect fire insurance on a second house, then reclaimed Michael from foster care and moved west with her tribe, settling in Trinidad as Judias Morris. Bobby Joe was admitted to San Rafael Hospital on January 4, 1978, but doctors could find no cause for his sudden illness, and he was released to Judis care on January 21. Two days later, he collapsed at the dinner table and was rushed back to the hospital, where he died on January 28, his death officially ascribed to cardiac arrest and metabolic acidosis. In early February, Judi cashed three life insurance policies on Morris, further fattening her bank account. Bobby Joes family suspected murder from the first, and Morris was not the only victim on their list. In 1974, Judi and Bobby Joe had been visiting Morriss hometown of Brewton, Alabama, when a male resident of Florida was found dead in a Brewton motel. An anonymous call, traced to a local pay phone, led police to the room where the victim was found, shot in the chest with a .22-caliber weapon, his throat slashed for good measure.
After the news broke, Bobby Joes mother overheard Judy telling Bobby Joe, The son of a bitch shouldnt have come up here in the first place. He knew if he came up here he was gonna die. Later, raving in delirium on his deathbed, Morris blurted out, Judi, we should never have done that terrible thing. Police in Brewton, meanwhile, report that they could find no fingerprints inside the room, no bullet was recovered from the corpse, and they have no firm suspects in the case. On May 3, 1978, Judias legally changed her own last name and that of her children to Buenoano, the Spanish equivalent of Goodyear, in an apparent tribute to her late husband and mythical Apache mother. A month later, the family was back in Pensacola, settling into a home on Whisper Pine Drive, in suburban Gulf Breeze.
Michael Buenoano had continued his pattern of academic failure by dropping out of high school in his sophomore year, and he joined the army in June 1979, drawing an assignment to Ft. Benning, Georgia, after basic training. En route to his new post, he stopped off to visit his mother in Florida, and that was the beginning of the end. When he reached Ft. Benning on November 6, he was already showing symptoms of base metal poisoning. Army physicians found seven times the normal level of arsenic in Michaels body, and there was little they could do to reverse its destructive action. After six weeks of care, the muscles of his arms and lower legs had atrophied to the point where Michael could neither walk nor use his hands. He finally left the hospital wearing braces and a prosthetic device on one arm, the gear weighing a total of sixty pounds.
On May 13, 1980, Michael was canoeing with his mother and younger brother on the East River, near Milton, Florida, when their boat overturned. James and Judi-- described in press reports of the incident as Dr. Judias Buenoano, a clinical physician in Ft. Walton--made it safely to shore, but Michael sank like a stone and drowned. Local authorities accepted Dr. Judis description of the accident and closed their files, but army investigators were more persistent, launching their own search for evidence on May 27. Michaels military life insurance finally paid off in mid-September, to the tune of $20,000, and sheriffs officers began taking a new look at the case when they discovered two civilian policies on Michaels life. Handwriting experts suggested that Michaels signature on the insurance applications may have been forged.
Judy, meanwhile, went on as best she could without her eldest son, opening a beauty parlor in Gulf Breeze, dating Pensacola businessman John Gentry II. For Gentrys benefit, she fabricated a stint at nursing school, with Ph.D.s in biochemistry and psychology from the University of Alabama, plus a recent tour of duty as the head of nursing at West Florida Hospital. It was all nonsense, but Gentry swallowed the bait, indulging Judis taste for expensive gifts, Caribbean cruises, and imported champagne.
In October 1982, John and Judi purchased life insurance policies on one another, Judi later boosting the coverage from $50,000 to $500,000 without Gentrys knowledge, paying the premiums out of her own pocket. By December, she was feeding Gentry vitamin capsules that produced dizziness and vomiting. Hospitalized for twelve days beginning December 16, Gentry noted that his symptoms disappeared when he stopped taking the vitamins. Even so, he was not suspicious enough to break off his relationship with Judi in the interest of survival.
On June 25, 1983, Gentry left a dinner party early, planning to pick up some champagne for a private session with Judi. They had much to celebrate, it seemed, for Judi had told him she was carrying his child. John never made it to the liquor store, however, as a bomb exploded in his car when he turned the ignition key. Near death, he was rushed to the hospital where trauma surgeons managed to save his life.
Police got their first crack at questioning Gentry on June 29, learning of the victims curious insurance situation. A background check revealed the gaping holes in Dr. Buenoanos new biography, and Gentry was stunned to discover that her pregnancy was also a lie, Judi having been surgically sterilized in 1975. Detectives further learned that Judi had been telling friends about Gentrys terminal illness since November 1982, lately booking tickets for a world cruise including herself and her children ... without Gentry.
It was enough for John, and he provided police with several of the vitamin capsules Judi had prescribed in 1982. Analysis revealed that they contained paraformaldehyde, a poison with no known medical uses, but Floridas state attorney declined to file charges of attempted murder, citing insufficient evidence to prosecute. On July 27, count officers and federal agents searched Judis home in Gulf Breeze, retrieving wire and tape from her bedroom that seemed to match the Gentry car bomb. In Jamess room, they also found marijuana and a sawed-off shotgun, jailing him for possession of drugs and an illegal weapon. Judi, meanwhile, was arrested at her beauty shop on charges of attempted murder. By mid-August, authorities had traced the source of the dynamite used in the bomb, linking the Alabama buyer to Judi via phone records showing a dozen long-distance calls from her home.
Judi made bail on the attempted murder charge, but there was worse in store. On January 11, 1984, she was indicted for first-degree murder in the death of her son, with an additional count of grand theft for the insurance scam. Arrested that evening, she staged a fit of convulsions and wound up in Santa Rosa Hospital under guard. The wheels of justice were sluggish, but there was no stopping them once they started to roll. Bobby Joe Morris was exhumed on February 11, with arsenic found in his remains. Identical results were obtained with the exhumation of James Good-year, on March 14, 1984. Judis trial in the first murder case-- Michaels--began on March 22, and she was convicted on all counts nine days later. On June 6 she was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the first twenty-five years. July found Florida authorities exhuming the body of late boyfriend Gerald Dossett, deceased since 1980, in another search for arsenic, but no charges were filed in that case. On August 10, James Buenoano was acquitted of trying to kill James Gentry, but his mother would be less fortunate. Judis trial in that case opened October 15 and lasted three days; jurors deliberated a mere two hours before voting to convict, and Judis 12-year prison sentence was made consecutive with her life term for Michaels slaying. A year later, on October 22, 1985, Judi went to trial for the murder of husband James Goodyear. The trial consumed a week, with Judi denying any criminal activity, but jurors werent buying her act. Convicted on her second charge of first-degree murder, she was formally sentenced to death on November 16. Her latest stay of execution was granted by a federal court in June 1990, and the case remains under appeal. In the unlikely event of Judis release from Florida, Colorado authorities stand ready to prosecute capital charges in the death of Bobby Joe Morris.