When sheriff's deputies found Johnnie Allbritton on May 14, 1984, the 64-year-old had been shot twice in the chest and three times in the back with his own 20-gauge shotgun. The World War II veteran and grocery store proprietor lay dead near the back patio of his home in rural East Texas.
Police landed on a theory, the Buffalo Express reported: Allbritton had surprised a burglar, who, like most in this small community, knew him. So the intruder had killed him to avoid identification.
For decades, that theory held, despite incongruous details: Why had police found only his family members' fingerprints in the house? Why were there no signs of a break-in? Then, there was the odd fact that when police later tried to bring in Allbritton's wife, Norma, for a polygraph test, she accidentally shot herself with another shotgun — dodging the interview.
More than 35 years later, police now say Norma Allbritton had good reason to try to avoid scrutiny. On Tuesday the Leon County Sheriff's Office said the 84-year-old had been arrested and charged in her husband's murder — thanks to new evidence turned up by a cold-case reality show.
"This is not a Lifetime movie. The devil has many disguises. We are dealing with pure evil," wrote Julie Allbritton Robinson, Johnnie's daughter, in a Facebook post.
The indictment may not be the end of the story. Three years before Johnnie's murder, his 13-year-old daughter, Pam, also died of a gunshot wound in the same house. The case was ruled a suicide, but investigators told the Palestine Herald-Press that it's now under scrutiny.
Before his death, Johnnie Allbritton operated a ranch and owned Allbritton's Grocery in Buffalo. After his wife's death, he married Norma, who had been his wife's home caregiver, said according to Leon County Today. He had three sons and three daughters.
One son, Jamie, realized something was amiss when his father failed to pick him up from school, the Express reported.
When he hitched a ride home and found the doors open, he called police to report a burglary. Instead, police found Johnnie gunned down inside. Although they favored the interrupted burglar theory, detectives were apparently curious enough about Norma that, two weeks later, they ordered her in for a polygraph test, the Herald-Press reported.
That same morning, though, she was shot with a 410-gauge shotgun, telling police she'd dropped the weapon. Norma, then 49, never took the test, the Herald-Press wrote.
For decades, the case languished, but the Leon County Sheriff's Office's interest had been piqued around the 30th anniversary of the crime, the Express reported.
By the next year, in 2015, Ellis had digitized all the case records and enlisted the assistance of "Cold Justice," an Oxygen show produced by "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf.
Officials haven't revealed what new evidence was found, but credited the show with paying for travel to interview around 50 people and with having the lab resources to retest evidence.