Bernie & Marge: The Mysterious Case Of The Murderous Mortician & The Wealthy Widow

Main photo: Bernie Tiede [booking photo]

CARTHAGE, TX — Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede II was an assistant funeral director at Hawthorn Funeral Home in Carthage, Texas. By all accounts, he was very well liked by everyone in the small town, and was active in his Methodist church, taught Sunday School, and sponsored Little League teams. No one had anything bad to say about Bernie.

In March of 1990, while working at the funeral of a man who had passed on, 32-year-old Bernie met the deceased’s 81-year-old widow, Marjorie “Marge” Nugent. Bernie had embalmed Marge’s husband and sang at his memorial service.

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In a short time period, Bernie became devoted to Marge and was her constant companion. Their unlikely friendship became so intense that Marge changed her will in 1991, naming Bernie as the recipient of her $5 million estate instead of her son, from whom she was estranged.

Their oddly symbiotic relationship grew, and after a couple of years, Bernie stopped working at the funeral home and became Marge’s personal assistant, business manager, travel companion. Together they traveled the world, visiting Russia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Thailand, and many other exotic locales. They went on cruises together, and she bought him a Rolex watch and a house.

He drove to her house every morning to make coffee for her, ran errands for her, had lunch with her every day, picked out her clothes, plucked her chin hairs, and clipped her toenails. She demanded time and attention from him almost constantly, and had a reputation in town for arrogance and sourness. A local Carthage resident reportedly said of her, “If she had held her nose any higher, she would have drowned in a rainstorm.” If Bernie was ever late for their 11:45 lunch dates, she would call his pager incessantly until he called her back. If Bernie was spending time with anyone else, he would have to repeatedly check in with Marge by phone, about which he said, “If I don’t call her, she will give me living hell.”

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Despite her absolute dominance of him and her extreme neediness and possessiveness, Bernie stuck with her because he didn’t want her to feel abandoned. He admitted the money and luxury was a lure, but he also said, “I was also afraid to leave her. She could be very vindictive. I’d seen that.” And over time, Marge got more controlling and “hateful,” Bernie said. In his confession, Bernie revealed that he’d thought about hitting Marge in the head with a baseball bat for a couple months, but he couldn’t bear the thought of her suffering.

The freezer in which Marge's body was hidden for nine months [Panola County District Clerk]

The freezer in which Marge’s body was hidden for nine months [Panola County District Clerk]

On November 19, 1996 Bernie aimed a .22 rifle right at Marge and shot her in the back four times. Marge had Bernie buy the rifle for her so she could shoot armadillos in her yard. He concealed her body in Marge’s own freezer, wrapped in, as he points out in his confession, a “Land’s End brand sheet.” 

After cleaning up the aftermath of the murder, Bernie went to the rehearsal of a college production of Guys and Dolls and bought pizza for the cast using Marge’s credit card.

Related: 16 Decomposing Bodies Found In Florida Funeral Home, 2 Arrested

As Bernie had power of attorney over Marge’s finances, he was able to spend her considerable fortune freely. He bought gifts of cars and airplanes for at least 10 people, and pledged to build a new wing for his church. He invested in the Boot Scootin’ Western Wear store, and according to Marge’s nephew Joe Rhodes, financed some German gay porn. He kept this up for nine months, during which time Marge’s family had declared her a missing person. It’s estimated Bernie spent $2 million of Marge’s money during this time.

When anyone asked about Marge, he’d make excuses, saying they’d just missed her, she was visiting family, or that she was under the weather or napping. Marge’s son Rod finally took it upon himself to search Marge’s home, and he discovered Bernie’s grisly secret.

You can read Bernie’s own account of the murder in his confession, below.

Bernie was sentenced to 50 years in prison for killing Marge. While incarcerated, Bernie was a model prisoner and sang in the prison choir. He cross-stitched memorials for families who had lost a relative.

In May 2014, Bernie filed a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that his constitutional rights had been violated. Some believe that the confession was coerced, that Bernie was humiliated into signing it without a lawyer present. He claims that deputies shamed him and threatened him with exposure due to homemade sex tapes they found in the house depicting Bernie with two married men with whom he was having secret affairs.

Related: Arkansas Funeral Home That Stashed And Stacked 31 Corpses Fined $50,000

In the writ, he alleged that Marge was abusive and controlling, which led him to murder her, as it put him in a state of mind that recalled having been sexually abused by an uncle when he was a child.

Bernie Tiede 2016 mug shot

Bernie Tiede 2016 mug shot

It was argued that Bernie had been able to repress and compartmentalize the memories of this trauma, but the repeated abusive behavior from Marge and the psychological hold she had on him put him into a dissociative state in which he committed the murder. This theory was supported by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Pesikoff.

Based on this, Bernie was actually released on bail, and was a free man for two years, during which time he moved in with filmmaker Richard Linklater, who had made a movie based on the case in 2011, starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, called Bernie. In the movie, the Marge character is consistent with Bernie’s claim of her being unpleasant, controlling, and abusive.

Related: Woman Who Mutilated Corpse Of Husband’s Lover In Funeral Home Found Guilty

Marge’s son Rod and his daughter believed that Linklater’s film not only characterized Marge unfairly, but also contributed to Bernie being able to be released on bail. On a website designed to memorialize Marge, they state:

“A movie was made called “Bernie,” and the murderer became a celebrity. The family believes that the Texas Justice system has been subjugated to Hollywood story telling.”

In contradiction, other family members said that the movie was accurate and recounted stories of her meanness and abusive behavior. Rhodes, wrote that she was, “depending on whom you ask, the meanest woman in East Texas.” He also states that she was not on speaking terms with anyone in her immediate family by the time she died. Rhodes also recounts such abusive behavior as Marge locking him in her house for two days and not allowing him to call home, chasing him with garden shears, and threatening to have him committed to a mental institution for not cutting his hair. Rhodes’ mother, who was Marge’s sister, said, “Sometimes I think she was the devil on earth.”

Related: Young Woman’s Body Stolen From Casket In “Brazen” Daytime Theft In Funeral Home

Regardless, on April 22, 2016, Bernie was found responsible for the murder and, this time, was sentenced to 99 years or life in prison.

Bernie Tiede will be eligible for parole in 2029.

To learn more about this case, watch the “The Millionairess & The Mortician” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Sins on ID GO now!

Read more:

Variety.com

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

MarjorieNugent.com

The New York Times Magazine

TexasMonthly.com

TribTalk.com

People.com

TribTalk.com (2)

Main photo: Bernie Tiede [booking photo]