By Olivia Lambert

A small town filled with wealthy widows attracted a seemingly nice funeral director, who would later start a relationship with a rich woman 40 years his senior.

But some believe he had a chilling plan that left her dead and him a millionaire.

Bernie Tiede had dealt with a lot of death in his family. His mother died in a car accident when he was young and his father died a short time later after spiralling into alcoholism.

Marjorie Nugent and Bernie Tiede. Photo / CBS/48 Hours
Marjorie Nugent and Bernie Tiede. Photo / CBS/48 Hours

He had dark demons himself - he claims he was molested by his uncle when he was 12.

Tiede got a job at a funeral home in Carthage, Texas, in the 1980s to help others deal with the grief of losing loved ones.

He was 33 when he met 81-year-old widow Marjorie Nugent in 1990. He helped organise her husband's funeral. Soon after, the pair appeared to fall in love, Tiede quit his job and travelled around with her and she changed her will, leaving $5 million to her new man.

Six years after meeting, Tiede shot Marjorie in the back four times and dumped her in the freezer at her home. Months later, after Marjorie's son reported her missing, police discovered her body wrapped in a white sheet, frozen.

It was a crime so bizarre it inspired the dark-comedy movie Bernie, which stars Jack Black.

Following the movie and his work in the community, Tiede had established a strong fan base, with many encouraging the courts during his trial to give him a break.

CBS program 48 Hours explored the bizarre case and how so many people could like him, despite his crime.


Tiede told CBS he felt loved by the community, and was very much embedded in it.


He sang in the choir and acted in some of the town's plays.

Locals said he was "a God to this town" and had "warmth" and "magnetism".

Even Richard Linklater, who directed the film about the bizarre murder, said "he's the sweetest man, he's a great man" but questioned whether he could be capable of committing the worst act.

Bernie Tiede smiles after a court hearing granting his release at the Panola County court house in Carthage, Texas in 2014. Photo / AP
Bernie Tiede smiles after a court hearing granting his release at the Panola County court house in Carthage, Texas in 2014. Photo / AP

Tiede said he and Marjorie often told each other they loved each other and tearfully showed remorse for his crime.

"I have to live with this every day of my life ... I don't like that," he said.

"I don't like thinking ill of Marjorie."

While Tiede was loved around the town, Marjorie's reputation was less glowing. Local District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson told CBS she could be mean, but it was not enough to turn Tiede away.

Tiede said when he quit his job at the funeral home, Marjorie paid him a salary to travel with her. But he said he wasn't attracted to the money.

"That was not part of the deal. That was not part of my wanting to be around Marjorie," he said.

But members of Marjorie's family aren't swept up in Tiede's niceties like the rest of Carthage, and they call him a "thief".

Marjorie's granddaughter Alexandria Nugent said he took her money and shot and killed her when she figured out his plan.

"That is the real story," she said.


Tiede admitted to CBS he was gay, and struggled with his sexuality in the small town.

He said him and Marjorie had never discussed it.

Marjorie would splash her cash, showering Tiede with gifts like clothes, trips and fancy cars, and he was also generous with her money, feeding it back into the community.

Despite what some think of Marjorie, her granddaughters told CBS she was sweet.

"She was kind and loved telling stories," Alexandria said.

Her other granddaughter, Shanna Nugent, remembered fondly how Marjorie hugged and kissed her. But after spending some years with Tiede, she became estranged from her family.

Marjorie Nugent was killed and stashed in a freezer. Photo / CBS/48 Hours
Marjorie Nugent was killed and stashed in a freezer. Photo / CBS/48 Hours

"Flash forward to 1994. We go to see her and she opens the door and goes, 'I don't know who you are'," Shanna said.

"And I go, 'What do you mean you don't know who we are?' And she goes, 'I don't know who you are and you need to leave'."

Alexandria said they went into her house and saw pictures of Tiede everywhere. The photos of their grandfather had been replaced and she said it was disturbing.

"She was like a schoolgirl in love," Shanna said.


Tiede told CBS Marjorie was abusive and mean-spirited. After five years he did not want to continue the relationship but felt there was no escape.

"We were in a heated discussion, I told her, 'I can't do this anymore ... I can't be your friend anymore. I just can't do this,'" he said.

"She was very distraught. 'You can't leave me. You're not going to leave me. No one has ever left me'. So I backed my car out of the garage and by the time I got out there she had locked the gate on me until finally I said 'OK, I won't leave you. I won't leave.'"

Tiede was given a sentence of 50 years behind bars for her murder, but was released after serving 16. He appealed his sentence with a writ that alleged Marjorie was controlling and emotionally abusive. The court approved the writ, but he was given a life sentence in an ensuing trial.

In 2014, his life sentence was quashed after his alleged childhood abuse was exposed. He was released from prison but had to face a new trial, which took place last year.

In April 2016, Tiede was sentenced to 99 years in prison and won't be eligible for parole until 2029.

Tiede has been described as a model inmate, taking classes and joining the prison choir.