This film was an odd assortment of fact, rumour and frankly, sensationalism, all of which have been added to an already bubbling pot of accusation and finger pointing at 76 year old Betty Neumar, the ‘granny’ of the title.
Made by acclaimed filmmaker Norman Hull, this documentary purported to question the suspected guilt of Neumar who’s had five husbands, all of whom have died. However, rather than pick holes in what is already a somewhat flimsy case – albeit one fairly steeped in circumstantial evidence and or coincidence – Hull’s film seemed to me to err more on the side of adding fuel to the fire.
And it’s a fire that was started by Al Gentry whose brother Harold was one of those five husbands; he believes that Betty hired a hitman to kill Harold, and it’s taken him 22 years to get someone to take his accusation seriously.
It was only when a new Sheriff was appointed in Albemarle, North Carolina that an investigation into Al’s claims was made, and what it turned up was some pretty damning evidence – if you count hearsay and rumour as evidence – in that Betty’s behaviour following Harold’s death was, to say the least, odd.
Apparently, among her first words to Al on his hearing that Harold had been killed were, “Al, I want you to know that I was in Augusta, Georgia, last night. I had nothing to do with Harold’s death.”
Not unreasonably, that bizarre statement lit the blue touch paper on what was to become Al’s obsession to prove Betty had Harold killed. There was much testimony about Betty and her persona from various people, including members of her own family as well as some of those from her five husbands’. And not much of it was complimentary, and when Hull finally got to meet Betty, it became a whole lot easier to see why.
She’s abrasive, she’s got a will of iron and a look in her eye that frankly would make me hide all the kitchen knives were she ever to visit me.
However, although all five of Betty’s husbands had died, we heard that one was shot nearly two decades after he and Betty parted, another froze to death on a New York Pier, one died of natural causes and another – officially anyway – committed suicide. That husband, according to Betty, shot himself during a row with her.
The children of her last husband, John Neumar – the one who died of what was ruled natural causes – are now wondering if Betty in fact slowly poisoned John to death, and to add weight to their theory, members of his family told Hull that Betty’s rush to get John cremated may have been more than an eagerness to find ‘closure’.
And who knows, maybe they’re right; look how many supposedly ‘natural causes’ deaths were actually the work of Harold Shipman. And again, having seen Hull talking to Betty, I must concur that it’s difficult not to think the worst of her. She’s not remotely likeable, but then again, that doesn’t make her automatically guilty of murder of course.
By the end of the film, I still didn’t know what to think; is she guilty or have all those deaths just been hideously bad luck and bizarre coincidence? Fortunately, I won’t be on the jury that has to make that decision, but twelve true will, and I’ll be watching out for news of their decision.
If you missed this film, you can catch it on BBC’s iPlayer here.