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Her father, John, was a carpenter who had difficulty finding steady work, and her mother, Mary, had taken a job at J. At seventeen, Betty was pretty in an unremarkable way, with sandy-blond hair that brushed her shoulders and big, expressive blue eyes that could feign sincerity when talking to authority figures but were alive with irreverence.Betty disdained conformity and reserved particular contempt for the girls with matching sweater sets and saddle shoes who seemed to look right through her.“There are people willing to be my friends, but mostly they [are] either too ignorant to understand why I’m like I am, and consequently offer my mind no challenge; or they haven’t the wits to match mine.” At the top of Odessa High School’s rigid social hierarchy were the “cashmere girls,” as one alumna called them—the girls with perfect complexions from West Odessa’s better neighborhoods who were perennially voted most popular, best personality, and class favorite.At football games, they sat in the stands wearing the ultimate status symbol: their boyfriends’ letter jackets.When Ronnie White, who graduated from Odessa High the year that the murder took place, returned to his alma mater to teach history, in 1978, he was astonished to hear students talking about the former drama student named Betty whose spirit supposedly haunted the auditorium and the popular football player who had had a hand in her killing. “I thought, ‘Good Lord, they must be talking about Betty Williams.’” WHAT MOST PEOPLE REMEMBER ABOUT BETTY WILLIAMS is that they hardly noticed her at all.She lived in a small, well-worn frame house on an unpaved street not far from the oil fields west of town, where gas flares burned and drilling-rig lights illuminated the desert at night. A strict Baptist, her father often preached to Betty about sin and eternal damnation, and on more than one Sunday morning, he prayed that she might learn to be a more obedient daughter.“I hear her name on a daily basis,” says theater arts teacher Carl Moore, who has taught at Odessa High for four years.“Whenever something unexplained happens—a book falls on the floor in my classroom or the light board goes out during a technical rehearsal—someone always jokes, ‘It’s Betty.’” What may be nothing more than just a ghost story can also be seen as something more complicated—as a metaphor, perhaps, for the way that one crime has lodged, uneasily, in Odessa’s collective memory.
She freely expressed opinions that went against the grain, like her belief that segregation was unjust and that blacks should not have to attend a separate high school across the railroad tracks.Some claim to have seen her pacing the balcony or heard her footsteps behind them, only to find no one there.Rumors have flourished that a coach who knew the real Betty is visited by her, on occasion, in the field house and that a former vice principal who once caught a glimpse of her after hours was so spooked by the encounter that he refused to be in the school again by himself.Some nights, Betty would slip out the back door after her parents had gone to bed and walk the four blocks to Tommy’s Drive-In, where there were always boys to talk to.
Plenty of girls were flirts, but few of them were as assertive as Betty.In bedrock-conservative, blue-collar Odessa—where the John Birch Society’s crusade against communism and other “un-American influences” had struck a chord—she was seen as an oddball.