Skip to main content

Candy Montgomery: How the axe murderer walked free

An axe lying on the ground

As a church-going wife and mother who admitted to hacking a woman to death but was acquitted of murder, Candy Montgomery continues to trigger fierce disagreements among true crime buffs. Just what led her to take an axe to one of her closest friends, and how did she manage to walk free?

A fateful game of volleyball

In 1977, Pat and Candy Montgomery moved to the tight-knit community of Wylie, Texas. He was a well-paid engineer and she was a homemaker who looked after their two children while also playing an active role in the local church. They looked, in short, like they were living the American dream.

There was just one snag: Candy was bored. So bored, in fact, that she’d openly mentioned to friends that she was fantasising about having an affair. Before long, a contender presented himself in the shape of Allan Gore, husband of Candy’s church friend, Betty Gore.

It was during a volleyball game on church grounds in the summer of 1978 that Candy and Allan collided while making a play for the ball. This fleeting moment made Candy see him in a new light. Soon afterwards, she approached Allan and bluntly asked if he’d be ‘interested in having an affair’.

The nervous lovers

Candy’s matter-of-fact suggestion set the tone for their love affair, which was conducted in the manner of a corporate merger. Candy and Allan literally held talks on how a potential affair might unfold, with Candy even drawing up a poster listing the pros and cons.

Top of the list of pros was their mutual need to have some excitement in their lives. The cons include the risk of getting caught or developing an emotional attachment which might jeopardise their marriages. Allan felt particularly bad about cheating on Betty, who was pregnant with their second child.

Exasperated by Allan’s indecisiveness, Candy told him, ‘It’s up to you… I’ve made up my mind, so just tell me if you want to do it.’

The murder of Betty Gore

Allan eventually agreed to the affair, which commenced in December 1978. While it didn’t exactly deliver the fireworks Candy had been craving, they both saw it as an enjoyable escape from their humdrum lives.

The affair did eventually come to an amicable end, partly because Allan and Betty had grown closer following the birth of their second baby. It seemed like both couples would simply carry on with their comfortable, unremarkable lives.

But then came 13th June 1980. Allan had gone away on a business trip and became concerned when phone calls back home went unanswered. He was so worried that he even rang Candy. She sounded genuinely concerned and confused, saying she’d dropped by the Gore home earlier to pick up a swimsuit for Allan and Betty's elder child, who was sleeping over at Candy and Pat’s place that night. Candy said Betty had been just fine when she’d seen her.

Increasingly alarmed, Allan rang some neighbours and asked them to break into his house if need be. They arrived to find the door unlocked, the baby crying in her cot, and Betty lying dead in the utility room, her body almost completely destroyed by the blows of an axe.

A novel defence

Shell-shocked by the killing of his wife, Allan confessed to detectives about his secret liaisons with Candy, who was soon arrested on suspicion of murder. However, she surprised everyone by insisting she’d acted in self-defence.

Candy’s lawyer knew this would be a tough sell for the jury, especially since Betty had been struck by the axe no fewer than 41 times. Deciding to highlight Candy’s wild, dissociated state during the killing, he brought in a psychiatrist to hypnotise Candy and probe the recesses of her mind.

Under hypnosis, Candy recounted an incident from her early childhood when her mother had disciplined her and told her to ‘Shhh’. In court, a direct link was drawn between this distant childhood memory and the altercation between Betty and Candy in the utility room.

According to Candy, Betty had confronted her about the affair when she dropped by to collect the swimsuit. Betty came at her with an axe, leading to a frantic tussle. Candy claimed she kept begging her former friend to stop, but Betty allegedly put a finger to her lips and said ‘Shhh’. The defence suggested this set off a subconscious geyser of fury within Candy, causing her to rage out, wrest control of the axe and swing it at Betty again and again and again.

The controversial aftermath

Much to the disbelief of many courtroom spectators, the jury believed this version of events and delivered an acquittal. ‘How can they let a confessed murderer go free?’ one onlooker was reported as saying. ‘Now she'll be able to sleep with some other woman's husband,’ another said.

In the decades since those in the ‘guilty’ camp have dismissed the ‘Shhh’ line of defence as pseudoscientific and ask why – if it was self-defence – Candy left Betty’s screaming baby in her cot and didn’t notify the police.

Others believe the jury made the right decision, pointing out that Candy really had no reason whatsoever to murder Betty. Given that her story has recently been given the A-list treatment, with Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Biel both playing Candy in recent TV dramas, the debates over the strange case of Candy Montgomery are sure to rage on.

Candy Montgomery: Your Questions Answered

Where is Candy Montgomery today?

It has been widely reported that Candy and Pat moved away from the area and got divorced sometime after the trial. Candy apparently reverted back to her maiden name of Wheeler and retrained to become a psychological counsellor. Her exact whereabouts are open to speculation.

What happened to Allan Gore?

Allan Gore reportedly began a romance with a neighbour named Elaine just weeks after the murder of his wife Betty. The pair were married some months after Candy’s acquittal, with Elaine becoming stepmother to Allan and Betty’s daughters, Alisa and Bethany.

However, according to the girls, the household was far from a happy one. They became estranged from their father and stepmother and eventually became adopted by their grandparents (Betty’s parents).

What happened to Betty Gore’s children?

Betty’s daughter Alisa had been scheduled to stay over at Candy’s house on the day of her mother’s killing. In fact, the bloody battle between Candy and Betty occurred when Candy had popped over to pick up Alisa’s swimsuit. Meanwhile, the Gores’ other daughter, infant Bethany, was unattended in her crib after Candy left the scene.

In the year 2000, two decades after the killing, Alisa and Bethany gave a frank, poignant and shocking interview to The Dallas Morning News. Alisa, then 25, spoke about how strange it felt to be approaching 30, which was how old her mother was when she was killed: ‘The closer I get to the age when she died, the more I realize how young she was.’

They also spoke of abusive treatment following Elaine’s arrival as their stepmother, with Alisa saying, ‘There were a lot of times my dad and Elaine would use withholding food as punishment’, and Bethany recounting how she was made to stand ‘in a cold shower with her feet in a tub of ice cubes’.

According to the interview, the girls had a much happier time when they moved in with their grandparents, excelling at school, going on to forge careers, and later having families of their own.

What happened to Candy’s attorney?

One of the key figures in the Candy Montgomery story was her attorney, a plucky civil litigation lawyer named Don Crowder. Despite having zero experience in criminal cases, much less headline-making homicides like this one, Crowder got into it with gusto.

He stunned the court by claiming Candy had acted in self-defence. His explanation was that the frenzy of violence was triggered by a dissociative reaction rooted in long-held trauma.

This bold approach paid off with Candy’s acquittal, but the unexpected win gave him a controversial reputation in the local area. In the words of Jim Atkinson, who co-wrote a book on the case called Evidence of Love, ‘A lot of people were upset with Crowder for having defended a brazen hussy. As far as he was concerned, however, it just fed his sense that he was a hero. He had defended this poor woman no one else would defend.’

Crowder’s career went from strength to strength, and he even ran for governor of Texas. However, things took a tragic turn in 1997, when his brother accidentally killed himself while drunkenly fooling around with a pistol. Don, who’d by this point had to deal with a failed business venture and started drinking heavily, fell into a downward spiral.

An arrest for drink driving in June 1998 seemed to have been the final straw for Crowder. One night in November, he got out of bed and locked himself in his home workout room, took a gun and placed it to his head. On the other side of the door, his wife Sheri pleaded with him not to do it, but – after telling her he loved her – he committed suicide.

Candy Montgomery on screen

Given the compelling strangeness of the Candy Montgomery story, it’s not surprising it’s been given the screen treatment more than once. Back in 1990, there was a television movie called A Killing in a Small Town, which changed the names of the protagonists with Candy Montgomery becoming Candy Morrison. Barbara Hershey won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her performance as the axe-wielding mum.

More recently, we’ve had two TV series based on the story. In 2022 came Candy, starring Jessica Biel in the title role, while Elizabeth Olsen plays her in 2023’s Love & Death. Both versions stick closely to the established facts, though take a different storytelling approach, with Candy employing lots of time jumps and Love & Death taking a more conventional, linear approach.

More significantly, the shows have contrasting interpretations of Candy herself. Elizabeth Olsen’s Candy, wearing a glossy, wavy hairstyle that looks more 2020s than 1970s, is portrayed more sympathetically as a woman trapped by the stifling social and gender conventions of 70s suburbia.

By contrast, Jessica Biel’s Candy – who looks far more like her real-life counterpart with her tight perm and giant glasses – is a more remote, enigmatic, ominous presence, befitting an adaptation that leans into the tropes of a thriller or horror drama.

The fact that the shows have come out almost back-to-back has triggered plenty of online debates about which on-screen Candy is the best. Many have praised Olsen’s performance as a more emotional and compelling interpretation, while others believe it’s an overly sanitised, ‘girlboss’ take on an ugly crime, preferring the colder Biel portrayal. The vehement disagreements over the rival versions are rather apt, given how opinions over the real-life case continue to be so divided, almost half a century after it all happened.