Rockwell man dies having never gotten answers in brother’s murder

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2013

ALBEMARLE — Stanly County Sheriff Rick Burris considered Al Gentry a good man and a friend. He plans to attend his funeral.
“He didn’t get total closure, but a little closure,” Burris said Wednesday from his office.
The 68-year-old Gentry, who lived in Rockwell, died Monday. He was a diabetic, who depended on a defibrillator and portable oxygen. Within the last year or so, he suffered both a heart attack and stroke.
At his death, Gentry’s wife, Diane, blamed many of Al’s health problems on the years of stress in searching for his brother’s killer.
In July 1986, Harold Gentry’s bullet-ridden body was found in his Norwood home about a day after he was murdered. Al Gentry vowed then he would track down the people responsible.
The quest led Gentry and Stanly County investigators to Betty Neumar, who had been Harold’s wife in 1986. She was charged in 2008 with three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder in Harold Gentry’s death.
It turned out that all five of Neumar’s husbands — Harold Gentry was her fourth — died under suspicious circumstances.
Al Gentry became visible in the months after her arrest as he was always the person who spoke on camera and to newspaper reporters at Neumar’s scheduled court hearings in Stanly County.
But those were frustrating times, too, for Gentry.
Neumar’s own persistent health problems kept leading to delays in her hearings and trial, which was originally scheduled for December 2010. Meanwhile, she was free on $300,000 bond and living in Louisiana.
Neumar, dubbed in many reports as the “black widow killer,” then died of cancer in June 2011 before her trial.
Burris said he told Gentry his brother’s case would always remain open, but for now it’s inactive because all leads have been exhausted.
“You had to admire him for actively trying to solve this case,” Burris said. “… The squeaky wheel gets the grease — and he was very persistent.”
Gentry didn’t exactly make a good first impression.
Once Burris was elected in 2006, Gentry started going to see Burris two to three times a week, pestering him to look again at Harold Gentry’s murder 20 years earlier.
Burris said he became fed up with Gentry. He finally asked Gentry to leave him alone for two to three weeks, and in return he would retrieve the case file and look at it more closely.
Questions rose to the surface, Burris said, and Stanly investigators turned their attention to the wife, whom Gentry suspected all along. Some of the players were still alive, and an assistant district attorney and detective made trips out of state in collecting evidence against Neumar, who was charged with soliciting three different people to kill Harold Gentry.
A grandmother and a beautician, she was arrested in Augusta, Ga.
“We felt we had a good enough case,” Burris said. “… I was pretty happy with that.”
The delays in bringing Neumar to trial after the charges were filed frustrated and angered Gentry again, Burris said. “For awhile, he had a lot of hatred in his heart,” the sheriff added.
And, of course, Neumar took many answers to her grave. According to previous reports, Neumar — born in Ohio as Betty Johnson — married her first husband, Clarence Malone, in November 1950. After they split, he died from a gunshot wound in Cleveland in 1970. The death was ruled a homicide.
Neumar told investigators her second husband, James A. Flynn, “died on a pier” somewhere in New York in the mid 1950s.
The body of a third husband, Richard Sills, was found in the couple’s home in 1967 in Big Coppitt Key, Fla. According to the Associated Press, Neumar told police the couple were alone and arguing when he pulled out a gun and shot himself.
Authorities ruled Sills’ death as a suicide, but the case was reopened and it was determined Sills had been shot twice. But the case stalled because of a statute of limitations on certain categories of homicide.
Sills’ son then had the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigate, but its involvement ended with Neumar’s death.
The fifth husband was John Neumar. Authorities in Georgia closed a re-examination of his death, saying there was no evidence Betty Neumar was involved. But John Neumar’s family also criticized that finding, according to a New York Daily News story in 2011.
In all, there were five dead husbands in five states.
Other than North Carolina, the three states that had opened investigations into the deaths ended up closing those cases without any charges.
Harold Gentry had met Betty in Florida in the 1960s. After he retired from the Army in the 1970s, they moved to Norwood, where they built a house on land given to him by a sister.
Al Gentry had said in the past Harold and Betty fought constantly, leading Betty to ask Harold to move out of the Norwood house just before his death. Betty’s alibi — the one she gave Al — was that she was in Augusta, Ga., when Harold Gentry was killed.
She got $20,000 in insurance money from his death.
Until he died, Al Gentry still wanted to know who killed his brother.
Burris said he last saw Gentry several months ago.
“I got to know him pretty well,” the sheriff said. “Al’s a good man. When he lost his brother, he never really got any answers or closure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.