TCF: She Wanted It All

She Wanted It All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire
By Kathryn Casey

The crime:

In the early morning hours of October 3 1999 retired Texas businessman Steven Beard was shot by Tracey Tarlton with a shotgun while he was sleeping. He would die of complications related to the injury several months later. Tarlton had acted at the behest and with the assistance of Beard’s wife (and Tarlton’s sometime lover) Celeste. For cooperating with the D.A. in prosecuting Celeste, Tarlton received a reduced sentence of ten years. Celeste was convicted of capital murder in 2003, receiving a life sentence.

The book:

This was Kathryn Casey’s second book and I think it’s still her best known. She clearly put a lot of work into it and it shows. I particularly liked how it told the story in-depth chronologically and still avoided the transcript trap so many true crime books fall into, with a final act in the courtroom just giving us play-by-play of the trial.

It reads well because it’s a classic soap opera, and Casey even describes it at the end as being like the plot of a Coen brothers movie. Celeste is the heartless gold-digger marrying a millionaire who was in poor health and nearly forty years her senior (they met when she was a waitress at his country club). Steven Beard had plenty of evidence supporting the conclusion that Celeste was only after him for his money, and indeed seemed at times to be well aware of what she was after (if not how ruthless she could be), but . . . men are fools when it comes to pretty young women. For her part, Celeste only had to wait to get everything, but she was impatient to go into full shopaholic mode and started trying to kill Steve off in various ways almost as soon as they were married.

While it’s an old story, there were some strange elements and weird moments. The relationship between Celeste and her teenaged twin daughters, for example, was something I couldn’t understand even at the end. I guess they were both just afraid of her. Steve’s 9-1-1 call for help after he was shot (in the gut, because Celeste didn’t want a lot of blood spatter) was stunning too. One can’t imagine waking up to something like that, but his confusion about what had just happened was luckily matched by incredible presence of mind. He immediately gave his address to the operator before calmly trying to explain how “My guts just jumped out of my stomach.”

The biggest mystery to me had to do with Celeste’s sexuality. On the one hand she was voracious, behaving like a horny party girl on boozy road trips, sleeping around while married, and even marrying for a fifth time just before going to trial. But at the same time several partners complained of her not enjoying sex, and she seems not to have felt a great attraction to any of the men in her life, from husbands to pick-ups. The relationship with Tracey Tarlton was typical of this ambiguity. Until the hatching of the murder plot she really had no use for Tarlton, and it doesn’t seem as though she felt any attraction to her, much less sexual desire. Lesbian love was just another sexual flavour that she took up in a compulsive but disinterested way.

The only person I could relate this to in my own life was a hypersexual, early middle-aged woman who was living with a friend of mine years ago. She’d been married several times, had several children, and would end up dumping my friend as well in due course. Given how she carried on you would think she had a tremendous sex drive, but she actually didn’t like sex and hated men. I don’t know what the current scholarly literature on hypersexuality (formerly known as nymphomania) is, but I’ve always suspected this is how most such people are wired. They have a lot of sex, but they don’t really enjoy it.

A couple of other points stood out. For example, cramming didn’t help Celeste very much in planning the perfect murder. She was a voracious reader, going through three to four books a week, most of which were true crime. She was also a big fan of Court TV and homicide investigations on A&E and printed out grisly crime scene photographs as study material. When trying to convince Tarlton to kill her husband she explained how “I’ve read so many books on things like this, watched so many movies. I know what I’m doing.” And yet, she seems to have learned nothing from all this research.

Some people shouldn’t be parents. When Casey describes Celeste as “a mother who’d never known how to love” her children, I thought that was putting it mildly. Not surprisingly, Celeste’s own upbringing had been chaotic and dysfunctional (though her claims of abuse were unproven). She’d been adopted, along with a couple of other children, by a couple who both had mental problems. The thing about bad parenting is it just keeps getting passed down the line.

Finally, we are reminded yet again of how important it is to always, always, claim victim status. I know this could be taken as a mantra for our age, but it’s something that stands out clearly in a lot of true-crime stories. When charged with serious crimes the best defence is a good offence, so accused killers and cheats always seek to shift the blame on to others. Celeste did this as a matter of course, claiming to have been abused as a child and telling Tarlton that Steven was going to kill her if she didn’t kill him first.

Noted in passing:

When you’re rich you can waste your money in all kinds of stupid ways. Since shopping was, like sex, a compulsion for Celeste, and she had no concept of the value of money, she was an easy mark for high-end stores and services. Particularly eye-opening was her spending $3,000 to decorate her Christmas tree one year, and $950 for an antique pickle jar. Unleashed, in the seven months after Steven died she burned through half a million dollars. This made me reflect on the lottery fantasy of what I’d actually do, or even what I could do, if I won $50 million in a lottery. I don’t think I could spend money like Celeste, and even if I did I still wouldn’t have enough time left to spend half of my winnings. Which makes playing the lottery seem all the more pointless.


I mentioned how obvious it was – even to Steven, I believe – that Celeste was a gold-digger as well as a nut-job. But even the people around him, including close friends and family, realized it was useless saying anything to him about it. There’s no warning men (or women) in such situations. All you can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

True Crime Files


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