|Celeste Beard Johnson|
|Born||13 February 1963|
|Life in prison|
|Spouse(s)||Craig Bratcher (divorced)
Henry Wolfe (divorced)
Jimmy Martinez (divorced)
Steven Beard (widowed)
Spencer Cole Johnson (divorced)
|Children||Jennifer and Kristina|
|Conviction(s)||Murder, injury to an elderly individual, and conspiracy to commit murder|
Celeste Beard Johnson (born February 13, 1963) is a convicted American murderer currently serving a life sentence at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas for the murder of her millionaire husband Steven Beard in 1999. She is Texas Department of Criminal Justice offender #1157250.
Johnson's biological parents are not known. She claimed that her adopted parents, Edwin and Nancy Johnson, physically abused her as a child and she made a suicidal gesture during puberty. At age 17, she got pregnant and gave birth to twins Jennifer and Kristina with her first husband Craig Bratcher. After their divorce, Johnson lost custody of her daughters.
Johnson married two more times before meeting Steven Beard while working as a waitress at the Austin Country Club. Beard was a retired Fox Network television executive and self-made multi-millionaire. His first wife died from cancer. Johnson moved in with Beard after he convinced her that he would help her regain custody with her daughters. After winning the case, the two began dating, though their relationship was kept in secret (with Johnson pretending to be Beard's housekeeper) until Beard's daughter discovered them in the same hotel room during the 1993 Super Bowl. They were married on February 18, 1995 despite him being more than twice her age and suspicions from Beard's family and friends and lived in a wealthy neighborhood in Austin, Texas.
On October 2, 1999, Beard was shot in the stomach while sleeping at his and Celeste's home and died as a result of an infection caused by the open wound on January 21, 2000. Local police tied the shooting to Johnson's friend Tracey Tarlton. The women had met in a mental health facility, Saint David’s Pavilion, after Johnson threatened to commit suicide when she and Beard began fighting over her constantly spending his money on expensive clothes and jewelry for herself. Tarlton was arrested at her home six days after the shooting and charged with assault. The police thought there was more to the story when people who were interviewed said that Johnson had spoken negatively about Beard. Further building their speculation was her refusal to let them interview Beard during his hospital stay, oddly casual behavior after his death, and sleeping in a different room the night Beard was shot.
Despite mounting suspicion on Johnson, Tarlton remained silent, having romantic feelings for Johnson, until July 2000 when she discovered through a local newspaper that she had remarried after Beard’s death. Realizing that their relationship was a sham and none of what Johnson told her about her marriage was true, she told police just before her murder trial began in March 2002 that Johnson had persuaded her to shoot Beard, claiming that he had been emotionally abusing her to the point where she wanted to commit suicide and getting rid of him was the only way the women could be together.
With Tarlton's statement, Johnson was arrested on March 28, 2002. In the trial, the prosecutors cited that she married Beard only for his money and her reason for wanting him dead was that he had grown tired of paying for her extravagant lifestyle and had threatened to cut off her credit cards and talked about divorce. Beard's accountant revealed that Johnson spent $321,000 during October and November 1999, followed by an additional $249,000 by December 10, and another $100,000 in the six weeks ending March 31, 2000. Prosecutors also felt Johnson never actually loved Beard due to their large age difference and his overweight, unattractive appearance. Further building up their case was Johnson's hostile relationship with her daughters, who claimed to have heard their mother make threatening comments about Beard. A friend of Johnson claimed that she hired her a month after Beard's death to kill Tarlton, which was dismissed as an attempt to cover up the crime. Other witnesses said they saw Tarlton and Johnson performing flirtatious and sexual acts on each other, showing the latter's manipulative and seductive personality.
Johnson's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, cited that she had nothing to do with the shooting and Tarlton, who he dismissed as an unreliable witness due to her mental instabilities, acted alone due to her obsession with Johnson, who denied making any sexual advances toward Tarlton. She cited an incident where Tarlton tried to kiss her while she was passed out during her daughters' high school graduation in August 1999. After Tarlton was arrested for drunk driving and Johnson bailed her out, Beard, already angry at the photos of Johnson and Tarlton together, demanded that she be kicked out of his life for good, but Tarlton continued calling and hounding the couple. Several witnesses were called who said they did not see any problems in Johnson and Beard's marriage. DeGuerin also argued that Kristina and Jennifer lied on the witness stand because they would have inherited a lot less from Beard's estate if their mother was not convicted and that they were the ones who actually hated him.
In 2003, Johnson was found guilty of capital murder and received a mandatory life sentence. She will be eligible for parole in 2043, when she is 80 years old, serving at least 40 years for the crime. Despite her conviction, she maintains her innocence and denies everything said against her.
Crime author Kathryn Casey covered the Celeste Beard case in her mass-market paperback, She Wanted it All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire. Also, author Suzy Spencer wrote a book, The Fortune Hunter, about the case.
The case has been covered in a one-hour show of Dominick Dunne's investigative programme, Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice, and the crime series American Justice aired an episode on the case, titled "For Love Or Money." The case was also profiled on the Oxygen Network's series Snapped The CI network also covered the case in an hour-long show. Law & Order had an episode, "Obsession," during season 15, taking a headline from news coverage of the case, and on two Investigation Discovery Network's series On the Case with Paula Zahn and Deadly Women.
This case is covered in Evil Wives, Deadly women whose crimes knew no limits, John Marlowe, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84837-367-9
- Krajicek, David. "Celeste Beard: fortune hunter has husband murdered â€" — Compulsively Extravagant — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
- Krajicek, David. "Celeste Beard: fortune hunter has husband murdered â€" — Murder's Aftermath — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
- She Wanted it All, by Kathryn Casey (Avon, March 2005)
- Krajicek, David. "Celeste Beard: fortune hunter has husband murdered — — The Sunday Service — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
- "London's Underworld: Trailer Video on Crime and Investigation Network". Crimeandinvestigation.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-08.