The Right Woman, Part 2

I think my mother did learn, sort of like Barb did, that you don’t always say – like women do sometimes. You don’t always say your whole opinion, because he’s going to try to make you change your mind anyway, and it’s not going to make any difference. Lynn Frye, 2006 grand jury testimony


The second wife, Barbara, impressed me as being sort of a school marm type, clearly under the domination of Duane. Mark Shafer, 1998


Her house looked like a furniture store. The warmest room was the family room, where they had a bar. And that’s because Jim Dean was behind it. Jean Brickell, 2011


In spring 1973, Jean and Dick Brickell threw a party on their back patio on a Friday after work. Jean’s younger sister Betty came with Duane, and Jim and Barb Dean were there too. Dick took a snapshot. 

Betty offers up a glass of punch with one hand and coquettishly cups her platinum bouffant with the other. The gestures draw you to her flowing sleeves and the sash cinching her tiny waist. In his untucked sport shirt with its bold bandolier print, Duane flashes a bad-boy grin. Jim towers over them, smiling genially in his hornrims, pens peeking from the pocket of his short-sleeved dress shirt. Barb sits at the picnic table. Her curls are prim and her dress is matronly—but she tried. Jean is the broad-shouldered sporty redhead in the pearls and coral sheath who’s laughing into the camera. Duane isn’t looking at Barb or Betty. He is looking at Jean.

Betty and Duane met at a country dance when she was a high school junior in Kansas. Betty had been dating his cousin, but somehow the partners switched and Jean found herself dancing with Duane. He kissed Jean on the cheek, and later she teased Betty that he’d kissed her first. Years later, when Betty was hospitalized and undergoing shock treatments, Duane came to Jean’s house. I should have married you, he told her. You were the strong one.

Jim and Barb met at the University of Illinois. She was President of the Accountancy Club; her roommates called her Babs and described her as a connoisseur of male photographs who buried herself in writing letters and themes. Jim belonged to a prestigious fraternity and the engineering honor society. At Martin Marietta he became a helium expert vital to the Titan missile project. 

The Brickells, the Deans and the Fryes were a close circle of young couples on their way up. Duane worked with Jim at Martin. In the early ‘60s, Jim and Barb lived two doors down from him and Betty, and Dick and Jean bought a house on a street that dead-ended between them. They partied after work and went hunting together in Kansas. 

Duane used and betrayed Jim. 

When Betty applied to Martin for a job, Jim was her reference. When Betty was murdered, Jim went to the mortuary to identify her. I’ll regret it the rest of my life, he told Jean, it was the worst thing I ever saw. Shortly after, when Barb said she was into the NOW movement and needed to express herself, Jim was heartsick. She didn’t take a stick of furniture, he told Dick, just her clothes. Why? When Dick told him Duane was marrying Barb, Jim said I think I’ll get my gun and kill him.

Jim returned to Illinois. He met a woman he wanted to marry, but he got cancer of the esophagus. He’d already lost his infectious laugh. 

What do strength and weakness mean in a marriage?


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