The tony suburbs outside Austin, an area that some locals call "Lexusland," are a far cry from the honky-tonks where you hear songs of broken hearts and hard times. But the tale behind the murder of Steve Beard is as dark as any you'll hear in song.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 2, 1999, an intruder entered the home of self-made millionaire and local TV tycoon Steven Beard and shot him.
Beard himself made the call to 911 for help, telling the operator "my guts are in my hands." After lingering in the hospital for nearly four months, Beard died of complications from his gunshot wound.
The story begins a decade ago when the recently widowed Beard began a relationship with Celeste Beard Johnson, a waitress at an elite Austin country club where he was a member. He was 69 at the time, she was 32.
Their marriage drew raised eyebrows not only from the community, but also from Celeste's twin daughters, Kristina and Jennifer, who said their mother married Beard only because of his money.
While Celeste is now behind bars for her husband's murder, she did not shoot Beard that October night. Another woman — who claims she was Celeste's lesbian lover — is in prison for pulling the trigger.
‘A Tawdry Story’
Within hours of the shooting, police were given a tip that led them to a suspect — Tracey Tarlton, a family friend. Police soon discovered the personalized shotgun Tarlton owned was a perfect match with the spent shell found on the floor of Steven Beard's bedroom.
Tarlton was arrested. Although she initially denied it, she later admitted shooting Beard and agreed to a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for testifying against Celeste, she would be given a 20-year sentence for fatally shooting Beard.
"This is definitely a tawdry story. There's not a lot of redeeming factors in this," said Suzy Spencer, one of Austin's best-known crime authors, who was hired by ABC News to help cover this story.
Whatever Celeste's motives for marriage were, Steven's were simple: companionship, and a new family. Shortly after marrying Celeste, he adopted her twin girls, giving them a life and a world they had never known.
There were vacations, trips around the world, and most importantly, love and affection — emotions the girls say they rarely felt from their mother.
"I can't remember the last time we hugged," Jennifer said, "I just remember her dropping us off because the husband she had [at the time] didn't like kids. So I turned off the switch long ago."
Steven Beard tried to turn that switch on again. For the first time, Celeste and the girls had the semblance of a stable home. Moreover, Beard rewrote his will, including not just the three children from his first marriage, but also Celeste and her twin daughters.
An Unusual Affair
For much of her life, Celeste had been haunted by depression. In 1999, with Beard's support, she checked herself into St. David's Clinic for treatment. It was there that Beard began a relationship with another patient. That patient was Tracey Tarlton.
The two women became fast friends. In fact, Tarlton became convinced Celeste wanted much more than friendship.
Tarlton had a history of lesbian relationships and had been open about her homosexuality since she was a teen, according to Spencer.
Did Beard's murder stem from a messy love triangle? Had Celeste and Tarlton fallen in love, and were they looking for a way to be together and share in Beard's fortune?