Spoilers for Hulu’s “Candy” follow.
Candace “Candy” Montgomery was a popular, outgoing stay-at-home mom in the town of Wylie, Texas. She was also a leader in her community’s Methodist church. All of which made what happened on Friday, June 13, 1980, so shocking.
Jessica Biel, transformed in a tightly curled wig and big retro glasses, stars as Montgomery in Hulu’s “Candy,” out May 9, a five-part series about a brutal murder. A second series, “Love and Death,” starring Elizabeth Olsen as Montgomery, will premiere on HBO later this year.
It’s a story made for dramatization, with a rivalry between two women in a small town, subsumed desires and the pressure to fit into “perfect wife and mother” roles. In 1990, Montgomery was the inspiration for the CBS TV movie “A Killing in a Small Town,” in which Barbara Hershey played Montgomery.
A couple of years before the fateful June night, Montgomery had had an affair with fellow church member Allan Gore (played in “Candy” by Pablo Schreiber), a lengthy involvement Gore ended partly over his guilt about neglecting his wife Betty (played by Melanie Lynskey).
Gore was away on a business trip on the night of June 13 and became concerned when he couldn’t reach his wife, who would have been home with their baby. He called neighbors and asked them to check on Betty — and then reached out to Montgomery, his close confidante. She said she had gone to the house earlier to pick up the Gores’ older daughter’s bathing suit, because the girls were having a sleepover at the Montgomerys’ that night, but that nothing was amiss.
When the neighbors finally got into Gore’s house, they discovered the baby crying in her crib — and Betty’s blood-covered body in the utility room. Initially, they thought she had been shot. Then the police discovered a 3-foot ax near the body.
Eventually, they would learn Betty had been struck with the ax 41 times — 40 of the strikes occurring while her heart was still beating. Adding to the macabre crime scene: It was Friday the 13th, and Betty had the newspaper open to an article about a new horror movie called “The Shining.”
A few weeks later, Montgomery would be arrested for the crime. How did it come to this? The women had been friendly, and their daughters were best friends. Montgomery was the one who had had the affair, which she and Allan had gone to great lengths to keep a secret because they didn’t want to hurt Betty.
The 1984 true crime book “Evidence of Love,” by Texas journalists John Bloom and Jim Atkinson, covered the case and reportedly inspired both shows. Excerpted by Texas Monthly, it tells the story of Montgomery’s boredom in her marriage, and of Allan’s marriage to Betty, who was strict and awkward to the extent that she never fit in with the other women at church, overwhelmed with a new baby at home and resentful of her husband’s business trips.
Montgomery had meticulously researched and planned an affair with Gore, and they enacted a long list of rules for it. It was Gore who had ended the affair, but Montgomery had grown tired of the subpar sex and wasn’t particularly upset about it.
According to Montgomery’s testimony, Betty had asked her about the affair that day. When she’d admitted to it, but insisted it was long over, Betty attacked her with the ax, she said. Montgomery had fought back but tried to escape — until Betty whispered “shhh,” which, the defense claimed, sent her into a dissociative state connected to an adolescent memory of a mother who insisted Montgomery stay ladylike at all times. According to a psychiatrist’s transcription of his hypnotism of Montgomery, she had revealed this connection: “My mother took me to the hospital,” she told him. “What did your mother say?” “Shhhh.” “Did what?” “Shhhh.” “What did she say?” “Shhhh.”
Montgomery was found not guilty of murder, with the jury ruling she’d acted in self-defense, despite the shocking amount of times she’d hit Betty with the ax.
Gruesome crime aside, Biel has said Montgomery embodies a compelling narrative about womanhood. “There were actually a lot of things I could relate to about Candy,” Biel has said. “She’s kind of a people pleaser, kind of a perfectionist, you know, someone who has been taught and told to make it happy, make it look good — everything’s fine.”
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