A Graham County Coroner's jury Tuesday, March 22, 1977 closed the files on the mysterious 1974 deaths of three children in Northwest Kansas when it determined Elise Betts, 8, and her twin brother and sister, Barry and Beth, 5, were probably killed by their father August 1 or 2, 1974.
On August 11, 1974 a local hunter, discovered the mostly skeletal remains of three bodies, in a lightly wooded area under some elm trees, some forty feet from a dead end county road.
According to Graham County Sheriff Don E. Scott, A.J. Ives, while pheasant hunting came upon the remains still wrapped or covered with blankets, possibly blood soaked. Scott estimates the remains had probably been there since July as indicated by the growth of underbrush and the conditions of the bones. Many of the bones were scattered throughout the large area by coyotes and other scavengers.
The six jurors reached their verdict after deliberating for 30 minutes following testimony from six witnesses, including the children's mother, Mrs. Johnny Myers, Windom.
Although no evidence was presented to indicate the exact time or means of death, the jury ruled out suicide or accidental death, deciding the children died of unnatural causes at the hands of their father, Emment Betts, at or near the place where the skeletal remains were discovered northeast of Hill City November 11, 1974.
The verdict effectively put an end to a more than two year investigation into the deaths, since the father is also dead. He shot himself in the head while sitting in the back of an Oklahoma City Police cruiser last January 22.
The verdict came to no surprise to Graham County Sheriff Don Scott, who said "it was probably an easy verdict for the jurors to come back with."
Morning testimony by Oklahoma City anthropologist Dr. Clyde Snow had positively identified the bodies as those of the Betts children. The identification was based on growth patterns and size of the skeletal remains. Snow testified that his examination did not reveal evidence of the cause of death, particularly violent death.
Mrs. Myers was the afternoon's major witness as she followed the doctor's testimony on the children's estimated size and age with a description of their height, weight, and hair color.
Mrs. Myers seemed to have steeled herself for the ordeal and was in apparent control until she cried for a short time when asked to identify a purple T-shirt found at the scene, which belonged to her youngest daughter.
KBI Agent Leonard Pruter followed Mrs. Myers to the stand and narrated a sketchy account of Betts's travels between the time he picked up the children July 13, 1974, and the last time he was seen in the area August 4, 1974.
According to Mrs. Myers, Betts could not be described as a mean father although his attempts at discipline sometimes "bordered on sadism." In an effort to break one of the girls of a thumb sucking habit, she explained, he tied her hands behind her back when she went to bed at night.
Betts, she added was bitter over their divorce and shortly after the initial separation broke many of her household items and killed her cat "for spite."
Mrs. Myers filed for divorce in February, 1973, after a seven year marriage, when her husband wanted to move to a farm with another family of five. Betts was expected to handle the farm work for the other man.
Shortly after she filed for divorce Betts picked up the children and locked them in a motel room, she said. He returned to her apartment and threatened to kill them and himself to torture her, she said.
She called the police, who ran Betts out of the apartment and confiscated his weapon, Mrs. Myers added. Betts was denied visitation as a result of that incident but regained them that summer, after sessions with a psychiatrist who determined he did not present a threat to the children.
According to the Mrs. Myers, the children looked forward to their father's visits. The last visit began July 13, 1974, and the children were to be with their father until August 13, 1974.
The last contact she had with the children was when she prepared them for the month long vacation July 13, she said.
She believes Betts left a rolling pin, which had belonged to her mother, in her mailbox the night of August 1, 1974. The date of their marriage and the words "until death do us part" had been carved into the rolling pin, she said.
Pruter said the children were last seen alive when Betts and the children left his mobile home in McPherson in a van the night of August 1.
Betts showed up at a friend's house in Aurora, Colorado at 5 p.m. August 2, without the children. He left there the evening of August 4 and was not heard from until he was stopped for a traffic violation in Oklahoma City last January 22, Pruter said.
The blankets upon which the skeletal remains were found, he added, were the same blankets Betts removed from the mobile home in McPherson.
According to Pruter, Betts had visited a family in St. Joseph, Missouri in mid July with the children. He left there a few days later without the children, but his brother from Illinois, returned them to Emment in McPherson.
Betts kept pretty much to himself in Oklahoma City, where he is known to have lived during much of 1975, and from May 1976 until January 1977, and was considered an excellent worker, Pruter said.
When Betts was stopped for the traffic violation he was driving the same van he had in McPherson. He was known in Oklahoma as Emment R. Ray, Pruter added.
Apparently the only time Betts expressed any anger, Pruter said, was following a discussion of capital punishment and Gary Gilmore's death. He became angry and refused to talk to anyone when a fellow employee asked him what he would do if someone killed his children, he said.
During his search of Betts' Oklahoma apartment, Pruter confiscated a recent painting by Betts, three blackbirds flying out of a yellow sun painted on an orange background.
According to Pruter, two psychiatrists said the man who painted the picture probably had an inadequate personality, experienced difficulty establishing a heterosexual relationship and thought life was closing in around him.
The psychiatrists told Pruter the orange and yellow colors indicated strong emotion and the sun was a symbol of greatness or disaster.
As a result of the jury's verdict, the children's remains will be released
to the mother. Dr. Snow has had custody of the remains since shortly after