How to Catch A Criminal: A Dark Cloud Follows Her (Part 2)

Feb. 12, 2024
Judy Buenoano's life was marred by tragedy, over and over again. But police discovered that she was the architect of some of these misfortunes.

Every officer with a decent amount of time on the job knows the unexpected turns an investigation can take. Seeing a major case through to completion often involves giving up on a theory and taking your investigation in a different direction as new information becomes available. In How to Catch A Criminal, we look at the many ways not-so-perfect crimes are solved. This month, the reality of why Judy Buenoano's life was marred by tragedy, over and over again.

Read Part 1 of "A Dark Cloud Follows Her"

Reeling from the loss of her Son Michael, Judy Buenoano carried on, keeping the rest of her family together as best she could. Judy opened a hair salon in Pensacola and met a new man named John Gentry in 1982. Judy, possibly in an attempt to impress Gentry, presented herself as a former head nurse of a Florida hospital with Ph.D.'s in Biochemistry and Psychology. Gentry treated this clearly high class woman well, giving her a luxurious life as his girlfriend. Judy as a supposed former nurse, explained to Gentry the benefits of having a life insurance policy and convinced him to take one out on her, and she would do the same. Gentry agreed and they both had $50,000 policies just in case anything bad happened. Judy also insisted Gentry take vitamins daily, to which he also agreed. He complained they made him feel ill, and Judy ensured him he simply needed to double his dosage of the pills to counteract the nausea. In December of 1982, John Gentry ended up hospitalized for nearly two weeks due to the dizziness and vomiting brought on by the vitamins, but the symptoms dissipated after he stopped taking them.

All better and out of the hospital, in June of 1983, John Gentry received some excellent news from Judy: she was pregnant with his child. John wanted to celebrate this exciting announcement, but didn’t have any champagne on hand. A quick run to the liquor store would remedy this, but there was no celebrating when he got in his car. As soon as he turned the key, his car exploded. It had been rigged with a bomb and the detonation worked exactly as intended. Just as it seemed tragedy had again followed Judy into another relationship, a miracle happened. John Gentry survived the explosion despite serious injuries and in just a few days he was able to speak to Police about the incident. The explosion brought a great deal of attention to Gentry and Buenoano and the investigating Officers made sure to be extremely thorough to find out who would make an attempt on John Gentry's life. During their questioning Officers learned of the pills Judy gave Gentry and his hospitalization thereafter. They also learned that since late 1982 Judy had been telling her friends that John had a terminal illness and was expected to pass away soon. This was of course unbeknownst to Gentry, as was the fact that Judy had lied about being pregnant, and was in fact planning to spend thousands of dollars on a cruise for herself, James Jr., and Kimberly.  The investigation soon uncovered the life insurance policy Buenoano had on John had been upped from $50,000 to $500,000 without his knowledge. Additionally, Judy Buenoano's multiple name changes, and the untimely death's of her husband, boyfriend, and son, as well as two house fires, created enough cause to obtain a search warrant for her home. In the Buenoano residence, Police found the so called vitamins, which turned out to be paraformaldehyde capsules, an agricultural poison, as well as materials matching recovered pieces of the car bomb.

In late July of 1983, Judy was arrested for the attempted murder of John Gentry. However, this was only the beginning of Judy's real bad luck. The investigation of the car bomb led to a new investigation into each of the other deaths in Buenoano's life. In January of 1984 she was charged with the first degree murder of her son Michael Schultz when a reexamination of her multiple conflicting stories raised doubt about the events that took place in the canoe. That, combined with Michael's previous arsenic poisoning made it apparent Michael's death was orchestrated and his fall from the canoe was by design. Bobby Joe Morris' body was exhumed in February and James Goodyear's body was exhumed in March. Both tested positive for the presence of arsenic. Given the charges stacking up against Judy and the high probability of a death sentence in Florida, the state of Colorado declined to prosecute her for the murder of Bobby Joe Morris. With the charges filed, Prosecutors needed to be able to explain to the jury why Judy Buenoano would commit these deplorable acts. That proved to be an easy task. Looking into the trail of insurance policies that followed Welty/Schultz/Buenoano, a clear pattern emerged. She gained $85,000 from James Goodyear's passing after cashing in three policies just days after his death, plus another $90,000 from fire insurance after the first house fire. In addition to the Military life insurance policy Michael had, there were two additional accidental death policies in his name. Judy was of course the beneficiary on all three. The second house fire received an insurance payout, as did Bobby Joe Morris' untimely passing. Plus she came very close to the $500,000 payout from Gentry's policy. In total, Judy Buenoano received around $240,000 in insurance payouts starting with her first husband's death, which is in the ballpark of $1.3 million in today's money

During trial, her conviction came swiftly and a death sentence followed shortly after. Judy Buenoano left a trail of bodies in her wake in exchange for cash. Her attempts to live a better life than her upbringing allowed cost the lives of three people she allegedly loved. In the end, she had nothing to show for it, not even her own life.

About the Author

Brendan Rodela is a Deputy for the Lincoln County (NM) Sheriff's Office. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice and is a certified instructor with specialized training in Domestic Violence and Interactions with Persons with Mental Impairments.


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