Twins, Lesbian Lover Unravel Texas Murder

ByABC News
April 10, 2003, 9:52 PM

A U S T I N, Texas, April 11 -- 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 ABCNEWS 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.