Full Name: James Walter Bettis
DOB: March 5, 1970
Charge: 1st degree murder
Current Status: Clarinda Correctional Facility
Date of Crime: September 6, 1988
Tentative Discharge Date: Life
Victim: Cynthia Borton
Please see below the documentary looking at Cynthia Borton who was killed by James Bettis in 1988.
If you don’t have access to sound, the full transcript of the investigation on conviction is below.
You’re listening to Shenandoah is number one station for news, weather and travel.
For the good people of Shenandoah, Iowa, autumn 1988 should have passed by just like the many that have before.
But in early September, when Robert bourton finds his wife Cynthia’s lifeless body, the mystery that follows leaves a wound on this Midwestern town.
That may never heal.
We walked in the house found her, Cynthia Borton laying on the floor.
The gruesome brutality on display goes beyond the act of killing. It looks like she tried to call for help.
She had struggled with her attacker she had crawled through her blood had attempted to reach telephone to call for help.
It’s clear Cynthia suffered a vicious assault to extraordinary to consider anything other than murder as the primary motive
There was no doors open the rest of the house there was nothing scattered nothing open nothing missing. So I guess I felt like right then that
the theory makes chief Hunt’s next move our conversation with Cindy’s husband Robert critically important. I didn’t know him real well but of course, small town you know who he was?
I know this is an easy for you, Bob. But I gotta ask.
You have any idea who did this? No.
Not at all.
Before the chief can get a sense of the Bortons relationship status, both men’s attention diverted.
I was just up the street from the house. My father was standing in front of the house leaning against my mother’s car and Mama’s car shouldn’t have been there.
Only a week into his senior year john Borton is Cynthia and Roberts only child.
I knew that something was seriously wrong. Only then to find out the Mama was gone.
Some Bad’s happened to mom.
You know that the young man has to be grieving so he kind of feel for him at a young age, so it’s a touchy situation.
With no signs of a break in. It’s impossible to make any ordinary assumptions about innocence. Though erring on the side of caution, Cindy’s 17 year old son and husband are sent to a neighbor’s house to grieve.
Just clear, she can’t appreciate you coming down right before.
Two hours after the discovery of Cindy Barton’s bloody corpse support in the form of Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation arrives on the scene where a victim with 29 stab wounds pretty tough even for the more experienced homicide investigators to see a sister a crime scene that looked like it was was it was brutal. It was brutal because it took so long for her to die.
Who could possibly be motivated to kill homemakers Cindy Barton like this. Investigators already since the question will find no easy answer. Not a single usable print can be lifted from the phone, the fork or the other knives in the kitchen. Nor is there evidence anything has been taken from the tidy home. Excuse me. Today, two detectives it looks more and more like the last known people to I’ve seen Cindy bought on the live hold the key to solving her murder.
Go and tell me about what happened today.
I went to work at 7am like always. Did you see what this one?
How did she same?
Fine, perfectly normal.
Final I came home for lunch to he said he ate his lunch and then left to go back to work. And about what time was that? left work at noon was back round one.
Is there anyone at your work that can confirm when you left when you return?
Why you asking me that?
It’s procedure that asked his question.
I have a time sheet.
What made you return the second time
Sue called and said Cindy hadn’t shown up for shift. I called and got no answer. Concerned on the check down on founded like this.
Now what do you do next?
Call an ambulance and one outside.
It seemed a little strange that he didn’t stay with his wife when he was calling 911 under the circumstances
could Roberts peculiar behaviour be that of a husband in shock? Natural revulsion at the scene? Or does it speak to cold in difference from for now, detectives just take note of it as they consider their other suspect.
What was the last time you saw your mom
Anything seem out of the ordinary?
I guess so. I mean, I didn’t
want to go to school. So we argued over that a bit. But she finally ended up taking me.
She drove me with the expectation that she would be at work that afternoon and I would be walking home from school
before the end of the day. Did you leave school at all?
No, I didn’t leave at all.
could not process the fact
Mama was no longer there.
The alibis of both husband and son appear straightforward. But even as they seek to confirm each one. Investigators are already forming of bias.
We only knew one person
he was the one that founder he might want to be the one that to find her to make it look like you know he wasn’t the one that did.
Over the years, the small city of Shenandoah Iowa has made a big name for itself, nurturing things. blessed with fertile and scenic hills. Its early settlers gave the place I’m not stout chick name and filled it with crop farms and plants raised for beauty
Chicago’s a an agricultural town farmers that sort of thing but it had some of the largest nurseries in the country and it’s shipping worldwide.
All of our seeds, all different type of nursery products.
Everybody around here knows they have the best plants the best produce the best trees.
People came from all over, just walk through the show gardens.
Within this land escape the classic Midwestern values of neighbourliness, charity and honesty continued to be cultivated and share.
Everybody knows everybody. You know my graduating class of high school is only a 54 kids and so I mean, I don’t know how much smaller you can get.
A lot of people in town they’ve been here for a long time. Well, there’s a certain amount of trust people have grown up with each other.
But as the evening of September 6 1988 descends on little Shenandoah, the town is blanketed by shock and horror at the news of Cindy Barton’s murder, grief landing everywhere at once, like so many autumn leaves.
Cindy’s mother called me and told me that Cindy had died that day.
had to sit down. This took the air right out of me.
a homemaker mother, a wife, member of her community who worked three part time jobs trying to help support her family.
She was so unassuming and just the nicest person and you’re like, wow, why would somebody do that?
Then there is the fear.
there really hasn’t been anything like that since the 50s. So you’re looking at 30 some years
old? What if it’s a serial killer? What if it’s, you know, somebody out loose running around town and we don’t know who it is.
Within an hour of sunrise state investigators move to check on their immediate prime suspect Cindy’s husband Robert Barton’s alibi. The job he’s held down for five years is located less than a mile from the family’s home.
They work for a car company a dealership there in town and Shannon da and he wash cars and cleaned up cars for the dealership.
Everyone here knows why he isn’t at work today. And why the DCI investigators
I need to ask you some questions about your employee Robert bourton. Okay.
Yesterday, what time did you get to work?
When he was supposed to like always he got here. Seven, went to lunch around noon and got back at one
and got back to work. How did he say?
He turned in his dirty uniforms for cleaning and then he went back to work. Tuesday was
the day that the laundry was picked up by a laundry service out of Omaha, which means that that potential evidence was forever gone. The day after the murder
is the timing of the murder of coincidence. As the investigation continues. The folks around town aren’t sure what Roma to believe.
The people I used to smile at and they’d smile at me and we just be stuff like that they just crossed to the other side of the sidewalk or something and
there was a lot of suspicions
and suspicion that Roberts involved in his wife’s murder is going to continue to grow as agents from Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation start canvassing the neighbourhood.
I wonder if I can ask you a question.
One neighbour gives investigators a reason to look beyond Cindy’s husband. Do you
remember seeing anything out of the ordinary yesterday?
I did see a kid running through the neighbourhood.
You remember how old he was?
Maybe a teenager. Definitely remember think and wonder why that kid didn’t in school this time of day.
You remember what he was wearing?
No, I didn’t really get a good look. It’s like a thin kind of person with Les Brown hair.
Well, thank you for
the neighbours description matches Cindy and Robert son john. Investigators are starting to wonder what sort of secrets may have been hobbit in the board and family home. Cindy bourton wasn’t always the talk of the town. Like many people from Shenandoah, she blended in what the natural beauty of the place. But to her family. Cindy was the centre of the world.
Life was Cindy was a hoot. She is she was really
she was just bubbly all the time. You always knew where she was at all you. All you had to do is listen for the giggle.
I close my eyes. I could still hear that laugh. She just had a very infectious laugh but just made you want to smile right whether
Cindy’s number one priority was having a loving home. And when times got tough, she and her husband did whatever it took to support that dream. Though she often juggled part time work to make ends meet. No lack of care of patients was ever felt by her sun.
Mama was love and didn’t matter what stupid thing I had done or said. There was always love. It didn’t matter what the world had done to me. If I was home, Mama was there. I was safe, loved, protected.
She would always play with the kids she would help in the kitchen. You know, getting things ready. And, you know, she just she was just full of life and full of energy.
The senseless killing leaves a hole not just in Cindy Barton’s family, but in all of Shenandoah.
But she was kind, she would go out of her way for anyone. She wouldn’t harm a fly. And that’s what made it so much more shocking for them. Is it someone like this was the target of something that was obviously a terrible crime.
Cindy was a person that would would give you the shirt off her back, she would have done anything to help out a friend or even a stranger. She was pretty gentle person. We just hadn’t had a murder for decades. And then we have the murder was so heinous.
A week after her murder, it seems everyone Cindy’s life had touched shows up for her memorial service. For that reason, those who’ve only known her in depth decide to make an appearance as well.
They were on me 24 hours a day. They were definitely trying to pin it on me.
But the investigators are there to speak to someone else. John’s best friend Jim Bettis. He’s been a welcome presence for the family as he and john have been in support rebels since childhood.
Hey, Jim, Mind if I talk to you, man?
Yeah, sure. Sure.
With both surviving Barton’s on the suspect lyst investigators see this as an opportunity to learn more about just what really went on inside the Bolton household.
The fact that they would question him as to what home life was, I guess to a certain degree does make a fair amount of logical sense because him and I were so close, and he would be a good source for it.
But Jim Bettis paints a happy picture of life and the board and home. He reports no tension between Robert and Cindy or with their son john.
Cynthia was like a second mother to me. No.
We’re sorry for your loss. Jim. Thanks.
With the funeral behind them, investigators head off to confirm or destroy John’s alibi that he was at school when his mother was killed.
Here’s my we just want to verify that john bolton was in class on Tuesday.
Okay, on Tuesday, let’s see I gave a test
is showing a grade. So he was in class on Tuesday.
john was at school that day all day until approximately 330 in the afternoon so he was firmly alibi.
Confirming John’s storey gives investigators the confidence to drop the victims son as a suspect. That leaves just one person on that list.
The investigators in this case and the local police department were convinced that Mr. port and partner his wife,
but then there is the question everyone is afraid to ask
What is wrong?
In the 5000 person town of Shenandoah, Iowa, eight days have passed since the vicious murder of 39 year old Cindy Borton. With no physical evidence beyond 29 savage stab wounds found on the body. So far, all investigators have managed to do is eliminate one of two suspects Cindy’s son john, enabling them to focus all their attention on Cindy’s husband, Robert.
there was considerable building of pressure to make an arrest even though there was no strong evidence time bomb for the murder.
Hoping for proof DCI investigators asked Robert to make the 150 mile trip to Des Moines for a polygraph.
I’m interested to evidence and polygraph results are never evidence in a court of law. At least not ordinarily. But I still like polygraph because the polygraph is successful when it obtains a confession. Just relaxed. I’m going to ask you a few questions.
We made sure that he was very familiar with what his rights were. We then spent a great deal of time just getting to know Bob Baer
where do you live
Where do you work?
Select motors. The room was being taped and had a camera in it so they could listen from another room and and hear and see what Bob was saying while I was talking to my
Okay, I’m going to ask you some questions about September six.
As the difficult questions get underway, Robert Borgia never wavers from his previous accounts.
Did you have lunch with your wife?
Did you leave at 1245?
Yes. He struck by the same storey he told from day one.
He was just very relaxed, very calm. He seemed nonchalant. Matter of fact, he yawn several times during the interview.
Did you hurt your wife before you left? No.
Did you stop your wife? No.
I would expect to that he would be upset, very respected and be very upset with me after having accused him of being involved or responsible for her death. And he didn’t show any responses that way didn’t show any significant reaction very nonchalant. I wasn’t able to make an exact determination. But he did lean more toward not responsible for, for Cynthia’s death had nothing to do with stabbing Cynthia Borton. And they, of course of the struggle the faced with the
strong possibility that the gut feeling is wrong. Investigators are at a loss.
There’s no strong evidence time Bob port to the murder. In fact, virtually no evidence at all.
A murder like this where there isn’t an arrest right away. People wonder Okay, where’s that murder going next?
For Cindy’s family, the elimination of both father and son means they can finally openly mourn her loss and begin to pray for the day justice can be sir.
We couldn’t even conceivably think of any reason why anyone would even want to hurt her, let alone kill her.
Whoever did this to my mother could do it to somebody else or to their mother. It felt
really strange walking down the street. And I get off a work at night. And I go home. Basically the happiness has gone out alive.
And the buttons aren’t the only ones in this tiny town having trouble sleeping at night.
I talked to someone at a gun shop. They said that they’d sold three guns in the previous 12 days, which was highly unusual. Plus they had people coming in and looking at guns and more people thinking about arming themselves.
With new leads and the murder investigations slowing to a trickle Shenandoah police get word of another crime chief that sends the biggest mystery in town history in a whole new direction.
There had been arsons in the town of Shenandoah, there have been fires set at one of the local schools and in the pickup of one of the local residents.
They were kind of trash fires and the like he wasn’t really trying to burn down a building but he was trying to, you know, attract attention.
Up until now, there was no reason to suspect that these are sins had anything to do with Cindy Barton’s murder on November 30. Authorities are called to City Hall and the scene of a deliberately set fire. They’re hopeful a clue left behind will also help them solve the biggest mystery this town has ever known.
anyone see Who said it?
Not that I know of.
Where’s the note
right there on the shelf.
Quiet Iowa State agent Mel McCleary now holds tantalised as investigators with the promise of significance beyond petty arson.
Note that stated in effect,
the Anderson pickup in the school and Cynthia Borton Ain’t nothing compared to what’s next.
author of that note who signed it, the Night Stalker
was responsible not only for the series of arsons, but also the murder of Cynthia Borton.
police can’t help but wonder, is the nota hoax created by a punk trying to get attention? Or is it truly linked to Cindy Bolton’s murder? And could as the writer boasts that murder be only the beginning?
Well, usually, if it’s an arsonist, most generally they don’t leave you a note or any clues. And and then hundred come up. You know, that fingerprint was on one of them. It looked to me like it was somebody crying out for help.
an arsonist when they leave notes behind, that’s an indication that they want to get caught or want to, or want the notoriety of it all.
Investigators find the print doesn’t match anything in that database. So they decided to go back to the scene of several previous arsons. To see if anything they may have overlooked may now connect to the Night Stalker, or any bid for attention. This includes a stop by the local Middle School for a talk with one of the teachers.
Can you think of anyone who would have set fire to your truck?
No. Like I told police have time.
I don’t have any enemies? Did you give a student a bad grade or do you get threatened by one and anyone? No. Just kids. I must do this. I wouldn’t do anything like this.
Investigators move on to another arson site under the Broad Street Bridge.
To the firefighters who initially responded these scroll the initials meant nothing. Now homicide investigators wonder if they’re retracing the steps of a psychotic killer.
signing the Night Stalker he clearly
got something out of terrorising that community and causing causing fear in the people Shenandoah. Where’s a
lot of our folks that was pretty restless, you know to get this thing sold. But in my mind, we got the best DCI agents that they had on this case and so I knew that we were doing all we can do.
Then, in the dead of winter, a teenager with walks into the Shenandoah police station with an incredible and disturbing storey Come on it
was a homeless suffer one night. And one of my officers called me and said there’s a young man in here that I think he might want to talk to.
So we’re going to do for you
to talk to about Jim Bettis.
Jim Bettis was among the first people interviewed in the case. He was probably john Gordon’s closest friends, and was among the few people who was very often in the Bourne household.
We were good friends until we got to high school and then we just got closer and closer. And by the time we weren’t juniors in high school, we were best friends. We were inseparable.
Okay, what do you want to talk about Jim?
Well, we were hanging out at my place. Friday night, we kind of got into a deep conversation
God forgiving our sins, and
it came up about whether God can really forgive you for sins that you’ve done and what have you. That just mentioned that, that he committed a crime that he didn’t think he can be forgiven.
So what did he tell you he had done? He said
he killed Mrs. Morton.
Why would he do that?
said because of his father.
What does that have to do with Cynthia board?
He said he was too scared to fail kill him and that she was there in your target.
Here’s john Morton’s best friend. And he would have been had access to the house and even if he went in the house neighbour or somebody probably wouldn’t have thought anything about
but could Jim betters really have killed his best friend’s mother?
Doesn’t make sense. I knew he was a kind of an odd young man but Cynthia Morton was of helping Jim all she could and trying to get him to stay in school.
The notion is so disturbing. It seems just as likely this storey is made up. But as every other lead has gone cold, it is too compelling. To
right away, I called the CIA agent told her you better come down down here because I think we got new lead in this case.
He said that they’d like me to conduct a polygraph examination of James Madison determine whether or not he truly was involved in Cynthia Barton’s death. And then to ultimately if he was interrogating robot that and trying to get him to confess.
Did you hurt something important? No.
He denied that he was involved in Cynthia Morton’s death.
Did you ever know
despite Jim’s denials, the polygraph suggests DC hides within his version of the facts.
James Redis was just a clear responder a clear reactor on the polygraph examination and was clear that he was response.
It’s a stunning development in the case, but the polygraph result isn’t enough proof to keep Jim behind bars. The race to find evidence that can be used is because if Jim betters could see Cindy Barton as a target for his raging anger toward his own father, just about anyone in town could be next.
Five months after the senseless slaying of 39 year old Cindy Barton police in Shenandoah, Iowa, finally have a solid, improbable suspect. Jim betters the 18 year old best friend Cindy’s own son.
That was the big question was, do you think he really did it? How could he have honestly done that? YouTube or best friends? He always spoke highly of my mother even to others.
Though Beth has failed the polygraph test, police need to find a way to make those results stick. So when investigators learn the fingerprint on the night stalkers arson note matches Jim Baptists. They hope it gives them enough leverage to get a confession.
First, we started out by telling me now You realise you from the polygraph examination. Is there anything you wanted to fellows?
We found one of your fingerprints on the note jam.
Tell us what happened that day.
morning I went by the Borton house.
I watched and I waited for Mr. Borton to leave. And
then I rang the doorbell.
Hey, what are you doing here?
Jim Bettis, by all indications was very troubled young man who grew up in a in a very unhealthy environment.
She was always nice and caring to him and basically treated him almost like my brother was always concerned about him. Why aren’t you in school?
I don’t know. What’s going on? You can tell me?
No, everything’s good. No, can I actually just get a glass of water?
I knew that. If I didn’t
do it, that day, I wasn’t gonna get another opportunity.
He described pulling out his knife, attacking her from behind and slicing her twice across the neck. He described in detail how she suffered, how he stabbed her and how she pleaded for her life. He described in detail Furthermore, how she struggled to reach the telephone and how he stopped her from calling for help by grabbing the phone cord and ripping it out of the wall. He struggled to make that phone call. He furthermore described how he continued to stay up her and how he ultimately plunged a two pronged serving fork into her throat. He was
at all times very nonchalant, very casual about it.
He had a great reservoir of of anger, hatred and urge for vengeance against his own father, but feared his father. And much as he wanted to kill his own father did not feel that he could successfully do so.
And he told me that the only reason he hadn’t killed his father because he didn’t have an opportunity to. He said that his mother was always there with her with his father, and that they’re always together and so that he was never alone, so that James would have an opportunity to kill his father. So he was very, very much angry about his father and angry at his father and wanting to kill his father. But Cynthia Barton was a person that was available.
At this time, you’re under arrest for the murder of some people.
Stand up for me. They said, well
bless your hands behind your back.
Jim tells them where they can find the murder weapon. chick.
Novelli, November 20. One year after the murder of Cynthia board when the people of Shenandoah finally see justice.
Jim Bettis was sentenced to life in prison. He’s today serving life and in prison. He’s in the maximum security prison and Anna Moshe. In Iowa, sentence of life without parole means life without parole.
For Cindy’s family, the shock, horror and grief will never go away.
I just simply don’t trust anymore.
I just can’t.
The first person that I well and truly trusted outside of my family
pretty well destroyed my family.
He came to the funeral shook my hand.
I remember least a couple times. He spent the night after the incident. Him and john I hear him chuckle in the bedroom. Yo, they’re playing their Atari.
I was surprised. I mean, you wouldn’t think somebody somebody who’s been a member, you know, close friends of the family. You wouldn’t think those would be the people that would take advantage of somebody like that somebody who’s who’s had them in their home.
It’s taken years for the people of Shenandoah to put this tragedy behind them. And for some the wound will never
even try seven years later it’s still if I think about it, it’s like I still shake my head.
you know can’t wrap my brain around. Something like that happening.
I just miss everything about her.
He not only Hilson but he stole my wife. He stole John’s mother stole from her folks. It’s a feeling you can’t describe. Especially when you know you’re innocent. I lost my best friend. It’s just like being alone. In a big, great big room that’s all black and the you know that there’s nobody else in there.
My mother was my moral and ethical compass. To this day when I think of things I often ask myself, would mama be proud of me for doing this?
He took my trust.
Born in Richmond Virginia before moving to Princeton to study History, now residing in San Diego. I’ve been interested in true crime and specially murders since my teens. I launched this site to create a place where people could find out more information about serial killers and murderers.