Bernie Tiede, The Mortician Who Murdered Marjorie Nugent2022-11-28
Bernie Tiede was a beloved mortician in Carthage, Texas, and even after he shot his 81-year-old companion Marjorie Nugent dead in 1996, his town still stuck by his side.
Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director in Carthage, Texas, was friendly, well liked, considerate, and always helpful. Taking great pride in his work, he was a consoling shoulder for the bereaved – especially the elderly.
When Tiede became constant companion to the meanest woman in Carthage – Marjorie Nugent, 40 years his senior — it was a surprise. Tiede and Nugent became inseparable, even in a relationship, some said.
So when Nugent was found stiff in the bottom of a freezer in 1997, the town had trouble believing their favorite son, Tiede had committed such a heinous crime. They were also ambivalent about any punishment Tiede should face. In Carthage, Tiede was the nicest person you could meet.
Bernie Tiede Was Beloved In Carthage, Texas
Bernhardt Tiede II was born on Aug. 2, 1958, in Abilene Texas. When he was just 3 years old, his mother died in a car accident, with his father unharmed as driver of the vehicle. Never forgiving himself, Tiede’s father began drinking heavily, and died when Tiede was 15 according to CBS News. After high school, Tiede started working in a funeral home, showing a particular talent for makeup and hair.
In 1985, the 27-year-old Tiede moved to Carthage, East Texas, with a population of 6,500. As assistant funeral director at Hawthorn Funeral Home, Tiede soon became a beloved pillar of the Carthage community, and according to Texas Monthly, wore colorful Tommy Hilfiger clothes, when not wearing somber funeral suits, and drove around town in his Lincoln Continental, smiling broadly at everyone.
Tiede became a preacher and featured soloist in the choir at the First United Methodist Church and worked with the music and theater departments of the local college, often taking on starring roles himself. He comforted families of the deceased at funerals, staying close to grieving widows, and holding their hands to steady them. Tiede visited them for days and weeks after the funeral, making sure they were all right.
Bernie Tiede Meets Marjorie Nugent
Marjorie Nugent’s husband had made his fortune as an independent Texas oilman and moving back to Carthage they had become the town’s richest family. To say Nugent was not well liked was an understatement. Many believed her to be the meanest woman in Carthage, lording her wealth and status over the town. Nugent hadn’t seen her only son in years, or her grandchildren who had sued her over trust money. And as a character from the 2011 film Bernie said, “Marjorie Nugent’s nose was so high, she’d drown in a rainstorm.”
Tiede met Nugent at her husband’s funeral in 1990, Tiede sang a hymn and escorted Nugent to and from her husband’s grave, offering her his coat in the chilly cemetery. A few days later, Tiede checked in on her at her house. “It just seemed like she didn’t have any friends,” and I just felt this compelling desire to give her some friendship he said, according to The New York Times.
The warm and affable Tiede invited her shopping, and to dinner. They took longer trips together, to Dallas, New York, and the East Coast, and before long it seemed, they were going everywhere together. They made for an interesting pair and had tongues wagging throughout town. The curt and vindictive elderly widow with the assistant funeral director, who at 6 foot 3 and 270 pounds, wouldn’t have been out of place on a football field.
The Murder Of Marjorie Nugent
Tiede and Nugent visited several countries together, cruising the Nile and the Rhine — with Nugent, of course, picking up the tab. Despite town gossip, there was nothing sexual about it, Tiede said, thinking of Nugent more as a mother figure and a friend. Besides most of the religious and conservative locals assumed Tiede was gay, which was never a problem. After all, everyone loved Bernie.
In 1993, Nugent convinced Tiede to work for her full time, as her business manager. Giving him access to her checking accounts so he could pay her bills, she rewrote her will making Tiede her sole beneficiary. She wanted him to spend money on himself as well, and Nugent was adamant that no inheritance reach her family — “Not one thin dime.”
As years passed though, Nugent became more and more possessive, expecting 24-hour obedience, paging Tiede constantly. Living in separate homes, Tiede still had to attend Nugent’s house multiple times a day. Trapped as Nugent’s full time caregiver, Tiede couldn’t muster the courage to leave.
“She was just so controlling, she felt like she could own me, and I guess to some degree, she did” Tiede said. At one point he imagined hitting her over the head with a baseball bat, but couldn’t bear the thought of her suffering.
On Nov. 19, 1996, Tiede shot Nugent once in the back as she stopped to pet the dog in her garage, then shot her three more times. Earlier that morning, he had moved her .22-caliber rifle that she kept around for pests, near to the garage. Tiede wrapped Nugent snugly in a sheet and placed her into the bottom of a chest freezer, covering her in food items. Tiede attended a college musical rehearsal that day and reportedly seemed like regular old Bernie over the following weeks.
Indulging the town with an estimated $2 million of Nugent’s generosity, Tiede invested in a western wear shop, pledged money to the church for a new wing, and bought cars for at least 10 people. If anyone asked, Tiede told them they’d just missed Nugent, or that she was taking a nap. As nine months passed, Tiede said Nugent was in Ohio visiting her sister, or in the hospital recuperating from a stroke that left her speechless.
As unpopular as she was, Nugent’s son grew suspicious. He and his daughter accompanied police to Nugent’s house on Aug18, 1997, finding her neatly wrapped in the freezer. Frozen solid, Nugent travelled to the coroner’s office in Dallas on the back of a pickup hooked up to a generator. Tiede admitted murdering Nugent straightaway — and the locals didn’t seem to hold it against him.
Bernie Tiede Goes On Trial — Twice
Tiede’s trial was moved 60 miles away because of the overwhelming support for Tiede in Carthage. Testifying in his defense, Tiede said “Someone said I could have dropped her from an airplane into the Gulf of Mexico,” but she wouldn’t have been found, and I wanted to give her a proper burial.” Tiede’s trial lasted less than a week before he was given a life sentence.
In 2014, defense lawyer Jodi Cole, inspired by the 2011 film, discovered new evidence. Amongst the items taken from Tiede’s house after his original arrest were four books on childhood sexual abuse. Tiede reluctantly admitted to Cole that he had endured molestation by an uncle from the age of 12, with psychiatrists saying he experienced a “dissociative episode” in killing Nugent.
Tiede was released pending a resentencing hearing and lived in the garage apartment of the film’s director, Richard Linklater, as a condition of his release according to The Washington Post.
Over the years, opinions in Carthage changed, and most locals now favored Tiede serving his full sentence. On April 22, 2016, following Tiede’s resentencing trial, the jury imposed a new sentence of 99 years or life for Tiede. He’s incarcerated in Huntsville Texas, and not eligible for parole until Aug. 3, 2029, the day after his 71st birthday.
After learning about Bernie Tiede, read about Texas Gambler Benny Binion’s Las Vegas Exploits. Then, learn about The Texas ‘Candy Man’ Killer