Bernie: The Truth About Bernie Tiede And Marjorie Nugent's Relationship

A man grabs a .22 rifle and shoots an elderly widow in the back four times, killing her. Afterward, he hides her body in a freezer to cover up the crime. According to Investigation Discovery (ID), that man — Bernhardt (Bernie) Tiede II, a 38-year-old local mortician — then leaves to check out a rehearsal of a college theater group. While there, he orders pizza for everybody on the widow's credit card.

At first glance, the tale appears to be one of a cold-blooded killer and a helpless victim, but the real story of Bernie and Marjorie (Marge) Nugent is much more complicated. While the facts of the case have not been in dispute, Bernie's motivation for murdering Marge (and his subsequent behavior in the months after the crime) has been debated for years. It doesn't hurt that the story got the Hollywood treatment when Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater made a soapy film (starring Jack Black as Bernie) based on Bernie's version of events in which he, not Margie, was the real victim. So what was the real truth?

Bernie meets Marge

The town of Carthage, where Marge lived and where Bernie worked at the local funeral home, is in deep East Texas, more than a two-hour drive from Dallas. According to Texas Monthly, which covered the story extensively for years, Bernie was well-liked and popular in town, despite being, as one resident colorfully put it, "a little light in his loafers." Marge, meanwhile, was often perceived as haughty and crotchety, per Texas Monthly, so the friendship that sprung up between the two may have been a surprise to some.

When Marge's husband died, reports ID, Bernie embalmed him and even sang at his service. It was there that the two met and forged their unusual bond. In the following few years, Bernie quit the funeral business and went into the Marge business, serving as both a traveling companion on cruises or jaunts to Thailand and Egypt, as well as a caretaker of sorts, tweezing stray chin hairs and clipping Marge's nails, says ID. At some point, Marge changed her will to make Bernie the beneficiary of her $5 million estate, leaving her estranged son out in the cold. By then (according to Bernie's account), Marge had grown demanding and controlling, making him check in regularly by phone, and growing angry if he was late to their lunch meetups. In his confession to police, says ID, Bernie reportedly told them that, despite the pattern of behavior, "I was also afraid to leave her. She could be very vindictive. I'd seen that."

Did Bernie Tiede snap?

Bernie killed Marge in November of 1996 and spent the next few months on a spending bender, says ID, investing in businesses, buying cars and even planes for people. Meanwhile, Marge's family began to worry when they could no longer reach her. For a time, he was able to fend off those curious about Marge by lying about her travel plans or health, but a search of her home by her son revealed Marge's fate. Bernie confessed to police, was tried, and received a 50-year prison term for the murder.

This might be where a normal true crime story would end, but not this one. In 2014, Bernie filed a writ with the court alleging that his rights had been violated, that police had shamed him into confessing, and most shockingly, that Marge's abusive behavior toward him resurfaced trauma he'd experienced as a childhood victim of sexual abuse. He essentially claimed he'd been dissociating when he'd murdered Marge, and a psychiatrist agreed. For the court, it was enough to free Bernie from jail for two years (during which he actually lived with Linklater! — pictured above left, with Jack Black) while awaiting a new trial. In the end, though, Bernie's new defense couldn't save him. He was once again found guilty and this time was sentenced to 99 years in jail.

Marjorie Nugent's family disagrees

Despite the magical intervention of Hollywood and the town's alleged feelings toward Marge, many (particularly the Nugent family) still believe Bernie acted in a premeditated way when he killed Marge. In a blog on his law firm's site, Chad Baruch, an attorney who'd been hired by Marge's family, disputes much of Bernie's story. He points out that the gun Bernie claims to have just happened to have picked up in the garage (the site of the murder) had actually been moved from a closet. He also points to accounts that Bernie's behavior in town after the murder didn't change, and that Bernie declined to call Marge's disposition toward him as "mean" at trial.

Baruch also touches on possible motive beyond the money Bernie would get after Marge's death, alleging the murder was committed at least ion part because Bernie was trying to cover up money he'd allegedly stolen from Marge throughout their friendship — a direction the previous trial had been unable to explore and which might have influenced the conviction.

These days Bernie is biding his time in a Kenedy, Texas prison until at least 2029, when he first becomes eligible for parole.