63 | Bookends

Ms. Kane,

I am Investigator Bruce Isaacson with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. Currently I am assigned the case of the murder of Elizabeth “Betty” Frye. Would you please contact me as soon as possible so that we may talk.

Thank you in advance for your time.


Hi Stephanie,

I wanted to let you know that Herbert Duane Frye committed suicide in April, 2013. I haven't found out yet if he left a note regarding the murder of his former wife, Betty, but I am still trying to find out if he finally admitted it…. I am friends with Barbara Frye's children and grandchildren. We all know he did it and he has exhibited behavior over the last 15 years that supports that he could do such a thing.

For me, the cold case is bookended by two e-mails: Isaacson’s in November 2005, and the one from Barb’s family friend in June 2013. After speaking on the phone with her and the Florida cop who responded to the scene, I pieced together Duane’s final years and the events surrounding his suicide.

If Duane was the Right Man, Barb was the Right Wife. And if Duane was Svengali, transforming a dowdy school marm with heavy glasses into the physical ideal Betty represented, Barb was a willing subject. Jean noticed the changes when Barb showed up at the first pretrial hearing. Barb’s family friend, who’d known her since 1994, was surprised to hear Barb wasn’t always slim and blonde. As long as she’d known her, Barb was the manicured and pedicured lady with expensive jewelry and coordinated outfits who was Duane Frye’s wife. But Barb was well-educated and ambitious. Did she know who she was marrying?

When Doug and I dined at their condo in the early 1980s, Duane angrily lashed out at Barb for forgetting to marinate the shrimp. She cowered but stayed with him, if not to the metaphorical ends of the earth then to the extremes of the western hemisphere. Their marriage took them from Colorado to California and back, to Florida and Colorado and Florida again. When Duane was arrested in 2006, Barb didn’t tell her kids; a month later, when they saw it on TV, she still said nothing. When the cold case cops came to her door, the Right Wife clapped her hands in delight and exclaimed, You finally found who did it! But Barb’s makeover and the house on the golf course came at a price.

Duane kept his Right Wife on a tight leash. In Florida they had no friends. Duane controlled Barb’s social contacts, allowing her to belong only to an approved group of women who periodically met. When the cold case cops interviewed him there, he positioned himself at the end of his dining room table so he could watch Barb with the local cop.

Barb and Duane kept their families separate. At Christmas, he went to Kansas. When she visited her kids on holidays and for birthdays in California, even telling him she was buying the tickets was difficult. Tensions boiled over at a family dinner in an Italian restaurant southwest of Denver. Barb was chattering away, and when she wouldn’t shut up, Duane became angry. He put his hands around her throat and made as if to throttle her. Leave my mother alone, her eldest daughter screamed. If I ever hear you touched her again, I’ll kill you! She walked out, and that was the last time Barb’s daughter and Duane were in the same room. Why did Barb stay?

Jim Dean didn’t care if his wife was stylish, but Duane did. His attention flattered and excited her. Barb was the Right Wife, whose missing ingredients—Betty’s glamour and physical perfection—Duane could supply. But Barb, too, had her own power. She completed Duane. She was his submissive, adoring reflection staring back. The one person who looked at him every day in the way he wanted the world to see him. The only woman he could still dominate, the only one on the face of the earth who applauded and truly believed in him. The surrogate for his murdered wrong wife. Without Barb, the perfect spouse he tried to create in the image of poor failed Betty, who was Duane really?

Shortly before Christmas 2012, Barb suffered a stroke. She of the clapping hands was placed in a rehab center, on a slow slide to dementia. Through illness, Betty had deserted Duane. You’re the strong one, he’d told Jean, I should have married you. Now Barb abandoned him too. He was back to where he’d begun: a helpless child in a hostile universe.

In April 2013, Lynn was living with her father. One day when she left for work, she asked a neighbor to check in on him, and gave him the garage door opener. The next morning the neighbor tried to call Duane. Receiving no answer, he entered the house through the garage. He found Duane in his glassed-in patio facing the golf course. He’d put a shotgun to his head and fired.

Duane could have left his motor running in the garage. He could have overdosed on prescription pills or driven to a deserted place and shot himself there. Or hung in to care for his Right Wife, the one he said he loved. But he did it his way. This final horrific act was meant to be discovered by someone he knew and to leave an indelible mark. It said: Look what you made me do.

Duane left a suicide note. It referred to Barb’s declining health but didn’t mention his first wife. It expressed no remorse.

I welcome your feedback and will respond privately.