June 17, CNN

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) -- Police may have ignored a warning years ago that a woman with five dead spouses was trying to hire a hit man to kill one of the men, investigators in North Carolina said Monday.

Authorities charged 76-year-old Betty Neumar last month with one count of solicitation of murder in the July 1986 death of Harold Gentry. Gentry's brother had begged investigators for two decades to take another look at the case.

Stanly County sheriff's investigators believe Neumar tried to hire several people to kill Gentry. Lead detective Scott Williams said Monday his office is looking into the possibility that one of those would-be hit men went to authorities before Gentry's death, but no one took him seriously.

"That's another aspect we're looking into," Williams said, declining to elaborate.

Former Stanly County sheriff Ralph McSwain, who was in office when Gentry was killed, is recovering from a stroke and said he doesn't remember much about the case. He said the sheriff's detective who handled the investigation of the case is dead.

"This was a long time ago," McSwain said. "Could someone have come forward with information before it happened? Sure. I just don't know."

Neumar has been married five times since the 1950s, but each union ended with the death of her husband. Investigators want authorities elsewhere to look into the deaths. Williams said investigators have uncovered a common link among the victims: They all had military experience.

Neumar is being held on $500,000 bond in the Stanly County jail. A clerk in the county clerk of courts office said Monday that Neumar does not yet have an attorney. Her daughter with Harold Gentry, who also lives in Augusta, has declined to comment.

Williams said that detectives believe Harold Gentry was Neumar's fourth husband. She and her third husband, Richard "Dick" Sills, were living in the Florida Keys when he was shot to death in 1965, Williams said. At the time, police said his death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But Williams said Neumar was the only person in the room when he died.

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photo: Betty Johnson Neumar is shown at her booking. She is charged with hiring a hit man to kill her husband (AP)