Texas is known for doing everything big, and in Austin, Texas, millionaire business tycoon Steven Beard was living large with his new wife, Celeste.
“Steven was always very generous. He gave me lovely jewels, lots of jewelry, lots of everything,” says Celeste.
They had two houses, including a custom-built Texas palace in one of Austin’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
“I spent a lot of money,” says Celeste. “I spent a lot of money redoing the houses all the time.”
Steven Beard had made his mark as the co-owner of a local television station. He was rich, powerful, and an important member of the community.
Celeste and Steven met at the Austin Country Club. Steven was recently widowed after a 45-year marriage. Celeste was a waitress.
“I wanted somebody to take care of me and he wanted someone to take care of and so he asked me to move in,” says Celeste. “And I was like, OK, he was just what I needed at the time and that’s how it started.”
Celeste says she had finally found a provider and protector in Steven, after surviving a hard luck life filled with depression and debt.
“No matter what I ever did, good or bad, in my life, I could tell Steven and he would forgive me,” she says.
But five years into her marriage, Celeste’s fairy-tale life began to unravel in the early morning hours of October 2, 1999.
911: 911, what’s your emergency?
Steven: I need an ambulance. Hurry.
It was a call that would launch one of Austin’s most bizarre mysteries. Steven Beard, alone in his bedroom, had called for help.
Steven: My guts just jumped out of my stomach. They blew out. Yeah, they blew out of my stomach. They’re lying on my stomach.
911: Okay, they’re lying on your stomach?
Steven: Yes, I’m in bed. I’m in awful pain.
911: I’m having a hard time figuring out what happened.
Steven: I don’t know what happened. I’ve never had this happen before.
“I didn’t know who Steve Beard was,” says deputy Alan Howard, who arrived on the scene at 3 a.m. “I didn’t know he was famous. A lot of people knew him. He was rich and powerful.”
When he arrived at the scene, Howard said the Beard estate was completely dark. He rang the doorbell, banged on the door, yet he received no answer. But the 911-dispatch operator still had Beard on the phone.
Howard then spotted Beard through a window and broke the sliding glass door to enter.
“He was on the bed. It looked bad. You look at it and it’s not something you see everyday,” remembers Howard. “Everybody was thinking, he’s had some type of surgery. Hernia or something, and he’s blown his incision.”
Shortly after Sgt. Gregory Truitt arrived, Celeste and her daughter Kristina emerged from a separate wing of the house where they’d been sleeping.
“I heard a woman ask me, “What are you doing in my house? What’s going on,” remembers Truitt. “They hadn’t heard our knocks, our phone calls, all of a sudden something woke them up.”
Truitt told Beard’s wife that her husband was badly bleeding and an EMS helicopter was on its way.
“She immediately started screaming, saying, ‘Don’t let him die, don’t let him die. And she was very frantic. The daughter was very composed and rational,” says Truitt.
Minutes later, it became clear that this wasn’t a medical problem they were dealing with. It was a crime scene.
“I was talking to Celeste Beard and the daughter, and deputy Thompson came in the room to inform me that a shotgun shell had been found in the bed or near the bed where Mr. Beard was,” says Truitt.
“At that point everything changed,” adds Howard. “Your whole attitude changed and you really started looking.”
Guns drawn, police began a room-to-room search of the house.
“The bathroom had been ransacked,” says Howard. “And some clothing had been pulled out of the drawers. There was a lot of clothing on the floor.”
Although Steven’s wallet and some of his cash appeared to be missing, police also noticed that most of the couple’s valuables were not taken. And something about the way the drawers were ransacked looked too deliberate. At this point, police started to wonder, was this a burglary gone bad or a murder attempt staged to look like one?
Soon, the EMS helicopter arrived.
“They wheeled him out in a gurney and I come up to him, and I told him I loved him,” remembers Celeste. “He’s talking to me, he says he loves me too.”
Steven survived that night, but spent the next four months in the hospital, with Celeste at his side.
“He was always smiling when she was there,” says Ana Presse. She and her husband Phil were the couple’s closest friends.
“I think she was there darn near every day,” adds her husband Phil. “She would talk to the doctors, make sure she was getting proper medical treatment, demand things of the nurse, make sure the wounds were taken care of.”
“He did everything for me,” says Celeste, which included financing a successful custody battle for her twin daughters, Kristina and Jennifer, from a previous marriage. “I wanted everything for them that I didn’t have.”
“Her goal was for Steve to adopt the girls. It was all for the girls so that the girls would have some security,” says friend Ana.
Three years after he married Celeste, Steven adopted the 17-year-old twins -- and Celeste finally had a complete family.
“We’d just travel. I loved traveling. And we would take big trips all over the world,” remembers Celeste. “Steve was a blast. He would get on those dang wave runners with me and go 55 miles an hour on the lake, and we would do that every weekend. We’d go out on the lake.”
Steve was 75, but his age didn’t slow him down. Celeste was only 37.
“He said being around me made him young, it made him feel young,” says Celeste.
“He was like a teenager,” adds friend Phil. “He was so in love with Celeste it was hard for him to contain himself really.”
But in January 2000, four months after he was shot, Steven died.
“I miss talking to him,” says Celeste. “I miss being, when I was with him, I was so sure of everything.”
Celeste’s world fell apart. “I was just in a severe emotional depression. I was drinking heavily. I was taking a lot of medication. And I didn’t want to be alone … I loved him with all my heart.”
But Steven’s death was only the first of many losses that Celeste was about to face. Within days of the shooting, police made an arrest that shocked her.
“I couldn’t imagine anybody I knew being involved in the shooting of my husband,” she says.
The suspect was one of Celeste’s best friends.