Based on actual events
The city of Carthage has become "famous" for many things over the years—three state football championships in a row, two state baseball championships, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, the Best Little Town in Texas, Margie Neal, the first woman senator in Texas. Unfortunately, what has probably played the biggest role in putting Carthage 'on the map' is the murder of Mrs. Marjorie Nugent, an 81 year old widow who was very rich and had few friends. Her killer, 39 year old Bernie Tiede, stuffed her in a freezer and left her there for nine months.
Bernie moved to Carthage in 1985 and was hired as a local mortician. He was very active in the community and involved in entertaining and helping people he came in contact with. In March, 1990, Rod Nugent, a Carthage millionaire, died unexpectedly of heart failure leaving Marjorie his widow. Marjorie had been very dependent on her husband to care for business and her needs. She was a very reclusive person. Bernie came to her aid at the funeral, comforting her, and began visiting her home on a daily basis. Within a short period of time, Marjorie had given her husband's Rolex watch to Bernie as a gift. He soon became her traveling companion, escorting her on trips to New York to see Broadway plays and even taking a trip to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth and returning on the Concorde.
It wasn't long before Mrs. Nugent changed her will, making Bernie the beneficiary of her estate and also giving him access to her bank account. Bernie loved money and loved the finer things in life. He also loved giving money away. He bought cars for people who couldn't afford them, provided scholarships to students at Panola College, bought a home for a young couple, even helped people open businesses in Carthage. Many people in town thought Bernie was the best thing that ever happened. How could he possibly be a bad person?
The pharmacist began to wonder why Mrs. Nugent wasn't refilling her heart medication that she needed every day. Her stockbroker wondered why she had not been in contact with him lately. The maid continued to clean the empty house, the yardman continued to mow the lawn. Christmas, Mother's Day, her birthday—all had come and gone and no one had been in contact with Marjorie. All the while, Bernie was spending and giving away her money to his delight. Finally, after nine months, an anonymous caller contacted the Sheriff's office and questioned her whereabouts. While searching her home, a sheriff's deputy found it odd that the chest freezer had been taped shut. Mrs. Nugent was inside, wrapped in a sheet.
Bernie said she had become very hateful and possessive. According to his signed confession with the sheriff's department, "I went to her house on November 19, 1996 and made coffee at approximately 7:00 AM. I then went home to take a shower. I returned at 10:00 AM. I was there alone with her. Marjorie had a rifle in the freezer closet. She left it there to shoot crows and blackbirds in the yard. She was heading out of the house from the hallway to the garage. I had moved the rifle into the bathroom near the garage. She walked out into the garage towards my car. I took the rifle and shot her in the back."
Danny Buck Davidson is the District Attorney. He knows he'll have a hard time finding a jury in Carthage that will convict Bernie. "Everybody liked him...he gave away lots of money. We moved the trial to San Augustine and it took two weeks. There were so many people there that they didn't have enough restaurants to feed everybody. Different organizations in the town set up tents outside the courthouse to sell food. The central theme of the case was 'greed and the love of money.' Scrappy Holmes was the defense attorney, and he tried to prove that she had driven him to snap because she was so demanding. I think Mrs. Nugent realized that Bernie was spending all her money and had decided to turn him in. It only took the jury four hours to return a guilty verdict. Bernie received a life sentence which is 40 calendar years without parole."
Skip ahead 13 years to the movie—Bernie. Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater wrote the movie starring Jack Black as Bernie, Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie Nugent, and Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck Davidson. Filmed mostly in Bastrop, Bernie is considered a "dark" comedy. A group of Carthage residents were recently invited to Austin for a premiere showing of the movie. A part-time resident of Bastrop, Linklater used the money from the event to benefit several agencies in the wildfire-stricken area of Bastrop. Danny Buck, who attended the premiere, commented, "The movie is more about Bernie than the actual murder. It shows how friendly he was, how people really liked him, and how Mrs. Nugent had become so possessive of him. At one point, you actually could feel sorry for Bernie. Because Jack Black plays Bernie and is such a funny guy, it makes the movie funny. It's a good movie, and everybody that went seemed to enjoy it. There are more people from Panola County acting in the movie than you realize." The movie will make its debut nationwide in March.