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

They insist upon knowing the truth.

The “in-laws” start 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 answers Mary Faye’s want ad in March 1986 and marries her that July. Less than two years later, he dies 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 maintained he shot himself (inferring suicide)… but later recalled a “scuffle” and accidental discharge. Eventually, she’ll tell yet 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 his wife’s story. So, they then contact the county attorney to pursue an investigation… which eventually culminates in Mary Faye Sadler’s indictment for first-degree murder.

All suspicions then focus on the one person who truly knows what happened. Her prior marriages get dredged up and, apparently, there were other husbands who’d also died under mysterious circumstances. Investigators found too that, even though she’d 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 starts to accrue.

A tip from her son leads 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 seemed 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 gets acquitted of first-degree murder! Prosecutors failed the capital case’s high burden of proof. This saddens but doesn’t deter the Sadler Family, who cringe as Mary Faye shouts, “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!” as the verdict is read.

However, she wasn’t out of the woods yet!

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

The Sadler family launched a new $9 million lawsuit against her, a civil 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 has at last relinquished her right to be buried with Robert at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mary Faye Craft Sadler, though indicted for first-degree murder, is acquitted in criminal court. Looking back, David Sadler admits, that may have been a tactical error. Were lesser charges leveled, she might have been convicted and gone to prison. The evidence, though strong, failed to convince jurors beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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 over honesty/negotiation/ and love? We may never know the answer to that or, indeed, why Major General Robert Sadler (who many Clinton senior citizens went to high school with) was fated to meet such a treacherous end.

Elizabeth Luttig, attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia, summed up Mary Faye’s life as one “showing a calculating and criminal mind.”

An independent Air Force investigator described her as “a classic narcissist and sociopath.” And yet, for all her cunning, she proved no match for the Sadler family’s bulldog tenacity in vindicating their brother 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 material may make this incident, horrible as it was, clearer to them. To date, Mary Faye Craft is living in Florida ... still drawing her military widow’s pension.

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on page 5A every Friday.