Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


October 12, 2012

My brush with Bernie

Seeing Kay McConaughey this past week at the Kinsloe House brought up a lot of memories for me, all positive. KMac, the mother of Matthew McConaughey, came to speak about her experiences on the set of “Bernie” the movie that came out earlier this year about Bernie Tiede. Tiede is the guy who killed a rich old lady in Carthage, then stuck her body in her freezer for nine months while he went around spending her money.

I know that case because I covered it for the Longview News-Journal. I was the East Texas Editor back then, covering 10 counties in East Texas, roughly from Cass to Panola. I loved Carthage because the people were so eccentric and open.

The Tiede case came to my attention because the district attorney there, Danny Buck Davidson, called me to tell me about it. “Hey, Janet, we got a body in a freezer down here. You should head this way.”

I showed up, took some pictures of the outside of the house, sat down with Danny Buck and he described the situation and how the body was found. For the next several months, I spent my time in Carthage (when I wasn’t in another county) trying to find Tiede’s friends. What had Tiede bought for them? What had he paid for? It was fascinating.

In the movie, they moved the trial because Danny Buck said he couldn’t find 12 people in Carthage willing to convict Bernie, but that wasn’t how I remembered it. I sat outside the courtroom that morning, and there were grouchy ranchers storming out hollering “He’s guilty!” as they were dismissed. As I recall it, the judge moved the case because of pre-trial publicity. Our paper had run a big front-page piece on all the money and where it went, with comments from the victim’s family, etc., the day before the jury was to be chosen. I thought it would be helpful. It wasn’t.

The judge moved the trial to Center, Texas, which is a little town about the size of Kerens but in the middle of no where.

I was in Center for three weeks for that trial, staying at a run-down cinder-block motel, eating vending-machine food because the grocery store and all the restaurants closed at 8 p.m. and it usually took me from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. to finish writing my stuff for our newspaper and the Associated Press. I was working for the AP at the time because that big case about the dragging death of James Byrd was on trial the next county over, and every reporter from three continents was at that one.

Anyway, the movie was written by Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote about the Tiede case for “Texas Monthly.” He’s a better writer than I could ever hope to be if I’m reincarnated four more times, so of course it’s lovely.

If you haven’t rented this movie yet, I recommend it. It’s funny and fairly accurate, which is saying a lot for a Hollywood movie.


Janet Jacobs is City Editor of the Daily Sun. Her column appears on Sundays. She may be reached via email at Want to “sound off” to this column? Email:

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