The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 27, 2013

General Sadler and the Black Widow - part 2

By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald

Picture: Mary Faye Craft Sadler enters Grant County Courthouse, W.Va., for her arraignment in the slaying of her husband, Major General Robert Sadler.

So… the cause of death was changed to “homicide” and a murder trial was scheduled for mid-summer, 1988. The Sadler siblings also retained counsel, both to access legal documents and in order to force light upon the facts surrounding their brother’s death. They insisted upon knowing the truth.


The “in-laws” started to speculate about Mary Faye and the many eccentricities which surfaced during the newlyweds’ brief marriage. -- She rarely if ever had female friends. She was an inveterate story-teller, yet was exceedingly secretive about her work.… often traveling abroad and providing scant details to anyone, including husband Robert. (Conjecture was that this might involve government espionage!) Her schooling was a mystery, save a boast of having studied at the Edgar Cayce Institute. Her “published” poetry was a vanity press affair, with seemingly self-revealing titles like “The Actress” throughout. NO ONE was allowed in her office, and she was known on occasion to confine guests to her kitchen and living room.


To review: General Sadler retired from the military in 1979, and lost his beloved wife to cancer in 1984. Lonely, he answered Mary Faye’s want ad in March of 1986 and married her that July. Less than two years later, he died at home from a bullet wound to the head! His wife immediately called 911 and a couple of neighbors but, incredibly, not Robert’s family. First, she alleges he shot himself (inferring suicide)… but later recalled a “scuffle” and accidental discharge. Eventually, she told still a third version.


Robert’s family never bought the suicide story. He was too happy. Besides, how could a right-handed man, with a known shoulder injury, self-inflict such a wound? They spoke with authorities and discovered that no one had ever questioned the wife’s story. So, they then contacted the county attorney to pursue an investigation… which eventually culminateed in Mary Faye Sadler’s indictment for first-degree murder.


All suspicions then focused on the one person who had to know what really happened. Her prior marriages got dredged up and, apparently, there was another husband who had also died under mysterious circumstances. Investigators found too that, even though she had stated Bob had only $15,000 of military insurance, she had, in fact, initiated a newer $400,000 life policy on him. A web of circumstantial evidence began to build.


A tip from her son led the F.B.I. to jewelry and silver ($150,000 worth!) behind a false wall in a closet of her home -- items allegedly stolen from her during a break-in when the couple first met! She claimed, variously, that husband Robert had arranged the burglary himself; and/or, that he had somehow recovered the booty and secured it behind the fake wall until he could repay the insurance. Both stories seem ludicrous, especially when prior insurance pay-outs.… for her earlier home’s untimely destruction and for her earlier husbands’ untimely deaths…. were brought to light.


And yet, amazingly, Mary Faye Craft Sadler was acquitted of 1st Degree Murder! Prosecutors failed the capital case’s high burden of proof. This saddens but didn’t deter the Sadler Family, who cringed as Mary Faye shouts, “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!”, as the verdict was read. -- However, she wasn’t out of the woods yet!


Following on the heels of the murder trial, a fraud case was brought by her insurance company. Her own son again testified, (which didn’t help her case), and confirmed several seriously damaging allegations. Ultimately, she was found guilty of improperly claiming and receiving insurance monies. Outside the courtroom, some of the Sadlers then chanted: “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Mary Faye is guilty!!” Their jubilation is short-lived, however, for she received but a three-year suspended-sentence. Was Mary Faye Craft off scot-free? Hardly.


The Sadler family launched a new 9-million dollar civil lawsuit against her -- a “wrongful death” case not unlike the Goldmans’ civil action against O.J. Simpson. This time, the family prevailed -- recovering $450,000 in life insurance, plus a binder that any profits from books or movies must be given to charity. Best of all, in the family’s eyes, Mary Faye Craft Sadler at last had relinquished her right to be buried with Robert at Arlington National Cemetery.


Mary Faye Craft Sadler, though indicted for 1st Degree murder, was acquitted in criminal court. Looking back, David Sadler admits, that might have been a tactical error. Were lesser charges leveled, she may have been convicted and gone to prison. The evidence, though strong, did not convince jurors beyond the shadow of doubt required.


But it was testimony from Mary Faye’s own son that destroyed her defense -- a fitting condemnation for this mysterious woman with too many husbands and too few scruples. Why is it that some people choose fraud/ manipulation/ and violence in preference to honesty/ negotiation/ and love? We may never know the answer to that or, indeed, why lovable Major General Robert Sadler (who many Clinton senior citizens went to high school with) was fated to meet with such a treacherous and untimely end.


Elizabeth Luttig, Attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia summed up Mary Faye’s life as one showing a calculating and criminal mind. And, an independent Air Force investigator described her as a classic narcissist and sociopath. Yet, for all her skill and cunning, she proved no match for the Sadler family’s bulldog tenacity in vindicating their brother’s and father’s good name.


Epilogue: Family members plan to request more information on Mary Faye Craft Sadler (through the Freedom of Information Act) after her death. They’ve been told by some sources that said materials may make this incident, horrible as it was, clearer to them. To date, Mary Faye lives in Florida... where she still draws a military widow’s pension.