I saw this story recently on Forensic Files or some such program. Despite the bizarre set of facts and that this took place in Florida, I didn’t remember anything at all about it. So I made a mental note to find out more about the case when I had the time. Now that the election is over, this was a welcome change of subject, unpleasant as it may be. Information is kind of sketchy. Where is Ann Rule when you need her? But I guess there’s no one left to interview.
Beginning at the end of the story, fifty-four-year-old Judy Buenoano, known as the “Black Widow,” was executed in Florida’s electric chair Monday, March 13, 1998, for poisoning her husband in 1971. At the time, she was the first woman executed in Florida since 1848.
This woman was a piece of work. Her deception began to unravel in 1983, when her fiance, John Gentry survived a car bombing attack in downtown Pensacola. He survived – and Judy had a problem. During the investigation of the bombing, Gentry told police that Judy had been giving him “vitamins” that made him sick, later discovered to contain arsenic and formaldehyde.
This started an investigation into Judy’s past, uncovering the following:
1. In 1971, she was married to James Goodyear (1934-1971), a sergeant in the USAF. According to prosecutors, she was motivated by insurance money when she poisoned him with lethal doses of arsenic. However, his death was initially believed to be due to natural causes.
2. In 1973, she moved in with Bobby Joe Morris in January of 1978, he succumbed. Later that year, she legally changed her name to “Buenoano” (Spanish for “good year”).
3. This is the most chilling. Judy’s son Michael Goodyear became severely ill in 1979, his symptoms including paraplegia. Post-mortem examination indicated that he had been the victim of severe arsenic poisoning, which caused his disability. But in 1980, she took Michael out for a little canoe ride, the canoe rolled over, and Michael, weighed down by his arm and leg braces, drowned.
4. Then comes the car bombing of fiance John Gentry. When the vitamins she had been giving him turned out to contain arsenic and formaldehyde, this led to the exhumation of the aforementioned James Goodyear, Michael Goodyear, and Bobby Joe Morris. Each of them had been the victim of arsenic poisoning.
5. She was also suspected in the 1980 death of her boyfriend Gerald Dossett. After her arrest, Dossett’s body was exhumed and analysed for signs of arsenic poisoning. No charges were laid in that case.
She was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the car bombing, and Gentry’s story about the vitamins led investigators to uncover a series of crimes against her family.
In 1984, a jury convicted Buenoano of killing her partially paralyzed 19-year-old son, Michael Goodyear, and sentenced her to life in prison. Prosecutors say she gave four different versions of what happened, but that she pushed him out of a canoe near Pensacola’s East River in 1980.
At trial, the prosecutor said, “It wasn’t an accident. The guy was paralyzed.” “He had 15 pounds of braces on his legs without a life jacket. He was taken up the river in a canoe and basically pitched out.”
She received the death penalty for the murder of her husband, James Goodyear.
Her 13 years on Florida’s death row were spent writing letters, crocheting blankets and baby clothes, and maintaining her innocence.
You can’t make it up.