Sandra Bridewell Biography

(1944–)
Con artist Sandra Bridewell, known as the "Black Widow," collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from lovers and friends, and was suspected of being connected to several mysterious deaths.

Synopsis

Sandra Bridewell was born on April 4, 1944, and was adopted into a family in Sedalia, Missouri. Bridewell was a notorious con artist. She swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from lovers and friends, and became known as the "Black Widow."

Early Life

Sandra Camille Bridewell was born on April 4, 1944, and was adopted as an infant by Arthur and Camille Powers of Sedalia, Missouri. Over the course of more than three decades, Sandra Bridewell, also known as the "Black Widow," tricked lovers and friends out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. She is also suspected of having a hand in the deaths of at least one husband and a close friend.

It all began with a troubled childhood. According to reports, at the age of 3, Sandra's adoptive mother, Camille, was killed in an auto accident. Her father, Arthur, who managed and ran a Dr. Pepper bottling plant, eventually remarried and relocated his family to Oak Cliff, Texas, a Dallas suburb. There, he found new work as a cemetery plot salesman.

While Sandra adjusted to her new surroundings, learning to adjust to her stepmother Doris was another matter. The two fought regularly, and Sandra claimed that her stepmother regularly locked her in a closet, refused to send out birthday party invitations and enjoyed telling her that nobody wanted her.

After graduating from high school in 1962, Sandra, who rarely dated as a student, began frequently dating men. Many of them became smitten with Bridewell due to what one of Sandra's friends called her "ladylike, 'poor helpless me' routine."

After one year of junior college, Sandra dropped out of school. The events that followed seemed to indicate that she had set her sights on marrying into money.

First Marriage

The course that Sandra followed was one filled with half-truths. Lies became commonplace in her life. She told some friends that both of her adoptive parents had been killed. She told others that her mother and father were Irish aristocrats. Many heard stories about a "West Point boyfriend" who, Sandra claimed, had shot himself while he sat in the car with her. Additionally, throughout her life, Bridewell used a number of different aliases.

Still, there were plenty of believers—most of them men. "She had a way," recalled one friend of Sandra's. "Men just sort of ... were fascinated with her." That included David Stegall, an upshot dentist who had gone to school in Los Angeles and had Hollywood-caliber clients. He had a thing for Cadillacs, big houses and pretty women, and Bridewell had thing for Stegall. The couple wed in 1967. Within a few short years, they had three children—Britt, Kathryn, and Emily—and were raising their family in an upscale Dallas neighborhood.

Despite his salary and reputation, Stegall couldn't keep up with his wife's lavish tastes. Sandra had an even greater passion for fine things than her husband; she loved buying good art and expensive furniture, among other high-end possessions. By 1974, the couple's marriage was in turmoil and the family was in severe debt, and Stegall was forced to borrow a large sum of money from his father to pay some of their bills. In February 1975, the situation had grown so dire that Stegall tried to kill himself. As the story goes, Sandra found him in a closet with a gun pointed to his head, and talked him out of it. Regardless of what truly occurred, what's for certain is that it was only a short-term fix: A few weeks after his first suicide attempt, Stegall was discovered lying in his bed with both wrists slashed and a gunshot head wound—later determined to be from a .22 caliber gun.

Second Husband's Death

Sandra quickly moved to straighten out her financial situation. She collected the insurance on her husband's life and sold his practice, and then began dating other wealthy men. A little more than three years after Stegall's death, she was exchanging wedding vows again, this time with Bobby Bridewell, a well-known Dallas developer.

Bridewell adopted Sandra's three girls and the family made their home in the upscale Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park. But in 1980, life took a tragic turn when Bobby Bridewell was diagnosed with cancer. The grieving Sandra motored on with her life. While her husband fought his illness, she had the couple's entire home remodeled, forcing the ailing Bridewell to move in with a friend. He never returned to his house. Two years after the diagnosis, Bridewell died.

Friend's Death

Sandra seemed to have a difficult time dealing with Bobby's death, finding support and hope in the friendship of her late husband's oncologist, Dr. John Bagwell, and his wife, Betsy. While the couple was initially happy to reach out to their friend, Sandra became a persistent visitor in the Bagwell household, going so far as to show up unannounced in New Mexico, where the doctor and his wife were vacationing. The couple received frequent requests for child care from Sandra, and lots of phone calls.

The Bagwells soon found themselves trying to break all ties with Sandra. Sandra, however, wasn't used to not getting what she wanted. In early June 1982, she called Betsy Bagwell and asked if Betsy could take her to the airport, claiming that her vehicle wouldn't start. Betsy agreed to help Sandra out and took her to the airport, and then to a church lot where Sandra's car was parked so that Sandra could get her license, which she claimed she had forgotten in her vehicle.

The exact details of the following incident remain a mystery. What is known is that on June 16, 1982, police discovered the 40-year-old Betsy Bagwell dead in her Mercedes in the airport parking lot. She'd been shot in the head, and her death was later ruled a suicide. The weapon was a stolen .22 caliber pistol, which Bagwell was found holding in her right hand.

Sandra was the last person to see Bagwell alive. Questions surfaced about Bagwell's death, as a lack of evidence had been found—she hadn't left a suicide note, and had been living a happy life prior to the event. John Bagwell hired a private investigator to look into his wife's death. Police, however, had closed the case and refused to reopen it.

Third Marriage

As always, Sandra moved on with her life, which found her wooing another man into her clutches in June 1984. Alan Rehrig was a good-looking 29-year-old who had just moved to Dallas to take work at a mortgage company. Bridewell was outside in her yard when Rehrig, who was searching for a place to live, happened to drive by. He pulled his Ford Bronco over and asked if she knew of any possible apartments. She didn't, but she agreed to help him.

Within weeks, the two were inseparable. Rehrig grew close to Sandra's three kids, who, with their mother's prompting, would show up unannounced at his office for visits. Then, in the fall of 1984, Sandra delivered some unexpected news: she was pregnant with twins. It was curious news for one important reason: seven years earlier, Sandra had undergone a hysterectomy. The pregnancy later proved to be a lie—one that Sandra was able to pull off after gaining some weight in her stomach. There were other lies, too, like the one about her age—she was not 36 when she met Rehrig, as she told him, but 41.

But Rehrig, still getting to know his new girlfriend, had no reason to doubt Sandra, especially when it came to the pregnancy. He may have felt that life was marching forward at a fast clip, as friends claimed, but he was also in love. Rehrig Bridewell married in December 1984.

Alan Rehrig's Death

Sandra knew full well that she could only take the pregnancy lie so far, so in February 1985, she called her husband and told him she'd just had a miscarriage. Rehrig, completely committed to his wife, believed every word. He was devastated.

Their marriage seemed to take a big hit soon after. Like her two husbands before him, Rehrig soon discovered that his wife had expensive tastes. Sandra pushed him to make more money, and to take out a big life insurance policy. Rehrig once complained to friends that Sandra spent $20,000 a month on clothes, food and travel.

In November 1985, the couple separated. Rehrig moved in with a friend, convinced that he needed to end his relationship with Sandra. The two didn't see each another for several weeks, and then, in early December 1985, Sandra called her husband and asked if he could meet her at a storage facility where the two had placed some of their stuff.

What happened over the next several hours was never fully determined. Rehrig was found slumped over in his Bronco in Oklahoma. He had been killed by gunshots to the head and chest. It was also apparent that Rehrig's body had been driven to Oklahoma. Sandra was a suspect, but she was coy with police during an initial interrogation—almost playful—and then became completely uncooperative, refusing to let anyone speak to her or her children. Around this time, she became known in Dallas as the "Black Widow."

If Sandra was grieving over her third husband's death, she hid it well. Instead, she scrimped on the funeral expenses, choosing the least expensive casket possible for Rehrig and then convincing friends to cover the burial bills. She was late for the service, too, arriving at the very last minute, dressed to the nines in a rich mink coat. She had undoubtedly had no trouble affording the expensive coat—Rehrig's death had dropped $220,000 of life insurance money into Sandra's bank account.

Moving Around the Country

Less than a year after Rehrig's death, Sandra left Dallas for good, relocating her family to the San Francisco area. She brought her charm to Marin County, where she cycled through a new round of wealthy men who were suckers for her personal story, which often included something about a trust fund that she would soon be cashing in, and her lack of sexual inhibition. One man loaned her $23,000. Another forked over more than $70,000, which he'd pulled out of his pension. Neither of them saw a penny of it repaid, even though both men brought her to court. Soon, the stories that started to circulate in Dallas began making their way around San Francisco.

By the early 1990s, Sandra had changed her name to Camille Bridewell, and had left California. A boyfriend put her up in a ritzy apartment in Boston. There were other places she called home, too, like Connecticut and Hawaii. But new addresses did not mean a change to her old ways. Using the Social Security numbers of other people, she took out credit cards and rang up big purchases, with no intent to pay anything back. The list of victims also included her three children, whose credit she managed to destroy.

As the 21st century rolled around, the now middle-aged Sandra had turned from sexuality to religion to draw her victims close. The crux of her story centered on the idea that she was a missionary who traveled the world to work with orphans. As always, Sandra had a way of getting people to do what she wanted. In Alabama, she befriended a couple who owned and managed a local motel. Despite not being able to pay for her room, Sandra received food and money from the husband and wife.

Discovery and Conviction

Sandra (who went by "Camille" at this time) then moved to Atlanta and began using a slightly different last name—Bridwell instead of Bridewell. There, she convinced a woman she'd met at a church to split the cost of an expensive condo rental. Sandra's new housemate soon found herself paying for everything, and waiting to get a chunk of money from a trust fund that didn't exist.

In 2006, Sandra surfaced in North Carolina, and began using the name Camille Bowers. In September 2006, she moved in with Sue Moseley, a 77-year-old woman who lived in a million-dollar home on the Carolina coast. Sandra had struck a deal with Moseley's son, Jim—in return for taking care of Sue Moseley's housework, she would receive free room and board.

As she made a name for herself in the community (she spoke a few times at the local women's club), Sandra set to work on taking over Moseley's finances. She collected tax records, rerouted the elderly woman's Social Security payments to a new account, siphoned off the mortgage money, ran up credit charges, and used money from Moseley's bank account for spa treatments and nice shoes.

Jim Moseley grew suspicious of his mother's housemate, and in early 2007, he came across a lengthy newspaper story in the Dallas Observer that chronicled Sandra's life. Working with the police, Jim played the front man in a police sting. On March 2, 2007, Sandra was arrested in a cafe in Charlotte, North Carolina. Later that year, Sandra was charged with identity theft, fraud, mail theft and Social Security fraud. The arrest also sparked new interest in Rehrig's death, and the Oklahoma City police agreed to put new resources and manpower behind an investigation.

In February 2008, Sandra Camille Powers pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft. That September, Sandra was formally sentenced: she was ordered to serve two years in prison, pay more than $1,600 in restitution to the Moseley family, and issued a $250,000 fine.

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