“Long before TV had its desperate housewives, Wylie had Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore—and the bloody killing that catapulted the small town into national attention,” The Dallas Morning News wrote on the 30-year anniversary of the famous trial.
They aren’t wrong. Some newcomers may have heard the story, read the book or seen the TV movie on the subject. Those who lived in Wylie in 1980 certainly remember. It’s like a piece of folklore now, made and remade in its telling. The facts of the case are so salacious, rumor pales in comparison.
In 1980, 250 spectators crowded the courtroom for the trial, reporters perching on the balcony, eyes trained on the witness box. It was the last case ever tried in the Collin County Courthouse in Historic Downtown McKinney; though the courthouse had been shut for a couple of years, Presiding Judge Ryan perceived that the new courthouse couldn’t handle the crowds that were expected. Footage from the trial shows Collin County locals crowding into seats, and standing against the walls for long days of testimony, milling in the square, all hoping for a glimpse of a mousy woman in distinctive, large-frame glasses, rendered distantly in pastel film.
“Why am I here?” one man said when asked in archived WFAA news coverage of the trial. “Why is everyone else here? Wondering why she did it.”
“It’s a lot like a soap opera,” another resident said.
“Better,” the next agreed.
“She’s my neighbor, Candy,” one woman admitted. “I wanted to see for myself.”
Everyone wanted to be there. They all wanted to be the first to hear the gritty details of Friday, June 13, 1980, when 30-year-old Betty Gore was brutally murdered with an ax.
An Affair to Remember
In 1980, Wylie was a small Dallas suburb, a budding town of fewer than 4,000 people, compared to today’s population of over 50,000. Newspapers described a tight-knit community where everyone knew everyone else, and took pride in their hometown. In the ’40s and ’50s, it was nicknamed “Wide Awake Wylie,” because, with the railroad boom, businesses would stay open until midnight, which was unique among most of Dallas’s sleepy suburbs.
On the anniversary of the murder, The Dallas Morning News usually revisits it, however, though the book has literally already been written. Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by Dallas journalists John Bloom and Jim Atkinson was released in 1984.
“We thought it was that backdrop that made the story ‘of its time,’ and not just an ax killing,” Bloom told Dallas Morning News about the case and why it had gripped him so thoroughly.
The book is a deep dive into the intimacies of the killing and the trial, and it gets unbelievably close to the subjects of the story. Allan Gore and the Montgomerys offered so much detail that the reader eavesdrops on all their significant moments, on motel beds, in late-night phone calls. They are even with Candy in both the laundry room and, later, in the courthouse. Bloom and Atkinson were the ones to provide context for the crime and characterize the inner lives of the Montgomerys and the Gores.
They paint a picture of a young Betty and Allan Gore, Betty, pretty with a “wide Hollywood smile,” a popular girl who married her college math teacher, shy Allan Gore, who seemed unremarkable, “small and plain.” They were married for ten years and lived at 410 Dogwood Drive in Wylie. They went to church. They had one young daughter, Alisa Gore, who was good friends with another child from Sunday school, Jenny Montgomery.
“Candy Montgomery would always be able to remember the precise moment when she decided she would go to bed with Betty’s husband, Allan Gore,” Evidence of Love reads. “It happened on the church volleyball court, on a late-summer day in 1978. Candy and Allan both tried to make a play on the same ball—and collided. It was a harmless bump, really, and went unnoticed by everyone else on the court, but for Candy, it brought a revelation: Allan Gore smelled sexy.”
Candy had married Pat Montgomery, an engineer at Texas Instruments when they were both young. But by the time she was 29, so the story goes, she was bored. The day of the volleyball game, she reportedly did not beat around the bush but entered into a detailed, long-term negotiation of an affair with Allan Gore. They both wanted to avoid their spouses finding out; no one needed to know except the two of them. No one, they agreed, needed to get hurt.
The Montgomerys and the Gores had been friends, the kind of couple that met at church, that babysat each other’s children. Evidence of Love spends ample time on the affair, and how careful Candy and Allan were, talking in hypotheticals for weeks before initiating what Bloom and Atkinson called “the most meticulously planned love affair in the history of romance.” They dreamed up worst-case scenarios of getting caught by their spouses, or of someone from their church spotting them sneaking around together.
They established ground rules, agreeing that either could end it at any time, that they would only meet on weekdays, that Candy would make them lunch on the days they met, so that they had more time together, and that all expenses, like gas and motel rooms, would be split equally. They would meet once every two weeks, starting December 12, 1978, lasting seven months. Their lives remained heavily intertwined. In mid-June, Candy even threw Betty a surprise baby shower. It was as if nothing was wrong.
In July, Betty gave birth to her second child. According to testimony, Betty may have been growing suspicious of Allan. Her anxieties were flaring again; Betty wanted Allan home as much as possible, especially once he took a new job that required extensive travel, triggering her fears of abandonment.
After months of his clandestine affair, Allan and Betty attended Marriage Encounter, a church-led weekend program to help people struggling in their marriages. It was a revealing weekend. They discussed their hopes for the future and exchanged notes on their thoughts and feelings about the relationship. Allan wrote about how he felt far from her and wanted to understand each other better. Betty wrote that she didn’t do well on her own, but was grateful for a week alone with just her husband.
Evidence of Love chronicles how, on their way home from the weekend, the Gores stopped by the Montgomery house. It’s a testament to how close their lives still were that Candy had been watching Alisa while they were gone. Allan told her that the weekend had gone very well. A week later, he and Candy ended their affair permanently. That could have been the end of it. It wasn’t.
On Friday the 13th in 1980, when Allan Gore was away on a business trip, he couldn’t reach his wife by phone. He asked his neighbors to check on her. Inside the house, they found the newborn baby left crying and unattended in her crib and Betty in the laundry room at the center of one of the most grim and grisly crime scenes in North Texas history. She had been attacked with an ax, an estimated 41 times, 28 to her head.
During the initial 13 days of the investigation, Wylie was wracked with fear, wondering what kind of monster could have attacked her, taken a shower in her house, and left bloody fingerprints and a footprint. No one expected the killer to be Candy.
Friday the 13th
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When his neighbors told him over the phone that Betty was dead, the first person Allan called in his shock, was Candy.
Much of the time in the aftermath has been spent rebuilding the scene of the crime. Evidence of Love paints Candy’s state of shock, cutting between her drive back to her home where she strips out of bloody clothes, and scattered thoughts. It portrays a woman distraught, but forward-thinking; she bandages her bleeding toe and plans to claim it was injured by an unfixed storm door at her own home. She changed and showered, rushing to church to pick up her children and Betty’s oldest daughter, Alisa.
“Candy doesn’t have a dark side,” a friend said in The Dallas Times Herald almost a month after the murder.
For 40 years, people have dissected Candy’s behavior after the murder. Everyone wanted then—and now—to understand the actions of the key players. They want to imagine Candy the night Betty was found dead, and Allan, calling his former lover for comfort, not knowing that she was the perpetrator of the crime.
In her telling of the story, Candy had made herself the main suspect, the last person to see Betty alive. When Allan Gore admitted to the affair, by that time seven months cold, Candy was arrested and charged with murder. The Montgomerys hired a lawyer from the same church, Don Crowder to represent them.
The murder had been shocking enough to make national headlines; the trial only compounded it. One trial witness, Steve Deffibaugh, an investigator at the crime scene in 1980, recalled many of the intriguing details of the case in the 2010 Dallas Morning News article. “I think it’s about the use of the ax. People don’t use that very often to murder someone,” he said when asked what about the case gripped people, then and now.
Candy appeared at her trial in a white knit sweater, hair short and wispy around her head, large-frame glasses, every inch a suburban mother, and her attorney’s defense strategy was bold: not guilty by way of self-defense.
Under hypnotism performed by a Houston psychiatrist, Dr. Fred Fason, Candy recalled the day of the murder. Bloom and Atkinson called the three sessions “wrenching.” After each session, Candy would tell Crowder how the murder happened, and “whenever her conscious story conflicted with her unconscious story, Crowder confronted her with the lie and forced her to admit the facts she would rather have forgotten. From those sessions, the best possible reconstruction of the killing of Betty Gore emerged,” they wrote.
Candy had gone over to pick up a swimsuit for the Gore’s oldest child, Alisa so that she could take all the kids swimming. She and Betty had been making small talk when suddenly, Betty’s gaze turned “unfocused,” and she asked Candy if she was sleeping with Allan.
After all the weeks prior to their affair that Candy and Allan spent considering their worst possible scenarios, it was happening. Candy admitted to the affair but assured Betty that it was over. Betty excused herself from the table.
According to Candy, when Betty returned, she gripped an ax in her hands. She put the ax down and told Candy she never wanted to see her again—but agreed to let her take Alisa to the pool and to bring her back home the next day. Candy agreed.
As Candy was leaving, Betty gave her a handful of peppermints to give Alisa. Alisa was still learning to swim and didn’t like to duck her head under the water. Whenever she did it, she was rewarded with a peppermint. Candy, swamped with guilt, turned and apologized. Then, Candy testified, Betty’s pain transformed into rage. She pushed Candy into the utility room and followed with the ax once again in her hands, yelling that Candy could not have Allan. They struggled for control of the ax; Candy testified that Betty was between her and the door. Candy emerged with the ax and struck Betty over the head.
“Terrified by the blood and the certainty that she had just killed her, Candy bolted for the living room door, but an eternity seemed to pass as she tried to reach it. She finally put her hand on the knob, started to pull—and Betty slammed her body against the door,” Evidence of Love reads.
Again, they fought, Candy wielding the ax, but she testified that she only wanted to escape. Yet, Betty, weakening with blood loss, seemed determined to kill her.
“Betty’s eyes flared in a final paroxysm, but her reply was eerily restrained. Placing one finger to her lips and gripping the ax with her other hand, she breathed from somewhere deep in her throat: ‘Shhhh.’ The susurration echoed through Candy’s subconscious like a psychic alarm,” Evidence of Love continues.
It was then that Candy attacked in a rage, dealing out 41 hits. Later, medical examiners concluded that Betty was alive, if not conscious, for 40 of them. Under hypnotism, Dr. Fason brought Candy back to her first memory of being angry, an incident of repressed trauma from when she was four, while punishing her for a tantrum, her mother shushed her. Under hypnosis, Candy said she had been scared. She had wanted to scream.
In court, Dr. Fason explained that this moment had been Candy’s trigger. When she struck Gore over 40 times with an ax, Fason testified, Candy hadn’t been present at all. It was that unremembered inner rage that had a hand on the wheel when she wielded the ax.
All we have is Candy’s recollection of the murder. During the trial, in a true moment of courtroom theatrics, Crowder brandished the murder weapon as Candy, on the stand, begged him not to make her look at it. He thrust it toward her and she, who had been soft-spoken up until that point, wailed.
It took the jury less than four hours to find Candy not guilty.
Today, people who remember the case still drive by the Gore house. After the trial, the McKinney Courthouse closed up again; the justice system moved back to the new one. Now, the only drama the courtroom sees is plays put on by a local theatre company.
Last anyone checked, Allan Gore remarried soon after the trial, though it ended in divorce. Betty’s parents reportedly raised their two daughters, Alisa and Bethany. The Montgomerys moved out of Texas; Dallas Morning News reported that Candy became a counselor, but she stopped responding to interview requests a long time ago. Escaping her past is impossible. Reviews of her practice across multiple sites follow her still: “Horrible, evil person,” someone wrote in 2019. The last word from Candy herself, was to the News in 2010: “I’m telling you in big bold letters I’m not interested.”
In 1990, Evidence of Love became the source material for a TV movie, Killing in a Small Town. Barbara Hershey starred as Candy Morrison, and her portrayal earned her an Emmy and Golden Globe award.
As for Betty Gore, it’s hard to recall who Betty Gore really was, other than her end. If she truly suspected that Allan and Candy had been sleeping together, how might it have felt to know that one of her daughters was at that moment in the care of that younger, prettier woman who had caught his eye? Why had she grabbed an ax, but then set it down in the room while she and Candy discussed the affair? Had she decided not to use it after all? If Candy hadn’t turned back to apologize, would anyone care to remember the Gores and the Montgomerys?
Before the murder, in their last sane moments together, the two women had discussed something so innocuous: peppermints. Betty had reminded Candy twice that Alisa needed them if she was to go swimming. As Candy packed a towel and swimsuit, she assured Betty that she had some at home. It was all taken care of. Betty didn’t need to worry.
Still, Betty took a handful from a glass bowl nearby and pressed them on Candy. In between that exchange, and Candy’s heartfelt apology, one that she would later say triggered Betty’s rage, Candy saw an expression of deep heartache on her face. Perhaps she was especially fragile with Allan away on another in a long line of business trips, leaving her alone again, and Candy was her fear personified: the young, pretty, wholesome other woman. For all our recountings and retellings, none of us will ever know.
“I never really felt fear for my safety at home alone, but the feeling of being alone is the worst possible one to have,” she had written to Allan during their restorative weekend at Marriage Encounter. “It’s like you’re in a dark tunnel and you’ve got a long ways to go to the light. The light isn’t there till you’re home again safe and sound.”
Originally published in the January 2020 Hidden Collin Issue of Local Profile under the title “An Ax to Grind”