Web of lies
A striking socialite with a charming personality made her way to the upper echelons of Dallas society in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Many adored Sandra Powers as a delightful hostess and super mom who gave lavishly to her friends and their causes.
But just a few years into her reign as a wealthy Dallas princess, Sandra gained a new nickname: The Black Widow of Dallas. She was suspected of killing her third husband and a close friend, although she was never charged with those crimes, before she was nabbed for felony identity theft in 2007.
Friends say Sandra often fabricated background stories for herself. But the truth is that she was raised in Oak Cliff by her father and stepmother. Sandra was born in Sedalia, Mo. in 1944 and adopted as an infant to Arthur and Camille Powers. Camille Powers died in a car crash when Sandra was 3. When she was 6, Arthur Powers remarried and relocated for a job as a salesman at Laurel Land Funeral Home and Memorial Park.
Sandra graduated from Kimball High School in 1962, and friends reported that she had a bad relationship with her stepmother.
In a 1987 D Magazine story by Eric Miller and Skip Hollandsworth, high school friends described her as “a little aloof” and “sort of like an Eddie Haskell type,” a reference to the sycophant with a naughty streak on the TV show “Leave it to Beaver.” She wasn’t involved in school activities, and she didn’t date.
A friend who knew Sandra in her early 20s, Paula Johnson, told the magazine:
“There was this time when we were driving through a very nice area of Oak Cliff, and Sandra pointed to this very beautiful home. It was landscaped, it was by a city park, it was so lovely. And Sandra looked at me and said, ‘That’s the house that I grew up in.’ A couple of months later we had to go to her real house — I think it was for the funeral of her father — and when we got there, it wasn’t at all the house she showed me. How did Sandra think she could get away with that lie?”
At different times she claimed to have attended SMU and TCU, but really she went to Tyler Junior College for a year before moving into an apartment on East University Boulevard in Dallas.
Her first husband, an ambitious dentist named David Stegall, shot himself to death in 1975 after the couple’s spending led to insurmountable debt.
Stegall’s death left Sandra debt free but with three children and no source of income. Friends at the time said she pursued romance with wealthy men like it was her job.
She dated Dallas restaurant magnate Norman Brinker and became embroiled in his divorce before meeting Bobby Bridewell, a wealthy hotel investor who conceived the Mansion on Turtle Creek. They married in June 1978, and Bridewell adopted Sandra’s children.
In 1980, Bridewell was diagnosed with terminal lymph cancer, and Sandra became close friends with Bridewell’s doctor John Bagwell and his wife, Betsy.
After Bridewell’s death, that friendship soured.
On July 16, 1980, Betsy Bagwell was found in a Love Field parking lot with a gunshot wound to the head. Her death was ruled a suicide, but friends and family couldn’t believe she would take her own life.
From the 1987 D Magazine article:
“Betsy had told her children early that afternoon not to ‘pig out’ because she had dinner thawing in the sink. Moreover, the gun found with Betsy was a stolen Saturday Night Special, a cheap pistol registered to a deceased Oak Cliff man who had kept it in his glove compartment. The man’s wife said the gun had been stolen sometime in the ’70s, but the couple never reported it missing. Police and friends alike wondered how a woman unfamiliar with guns could come across a stolen handgun. Why didn’t Betsy Bagwell just go to a Highland Park sporting goods store and buy one?”
The medical examiner called it a “textbook case” of suicide, and Sandra was never investigated in the death. But Dallas society began to turn against her.
In December 1984, Sandra married Alan Rehrig, who had played basketball and football at Oklahoma State University. Rehrig had come to Dallas to take a job in commercial real estate, and he quickly fell in love with Sandra, who was 11 years older than him.
Their relationship was rocky, and they separated not long after the wedding.
A year after they were married, Rehrig’s body was found in the driver’s seat of his Ford Bronco in Oklahoma City. Investigators found that he had been shot by someone who was in the passenger’s seat.
Oklahoma police and the FBI investigated Sandra as a suspect in Rehrig’s death, but she was never charged.
Sandra Powers eventually did serve some prison time. She was charged in 2007 with stealing the identity of an elderly woman in Oklahoma who thought Sandra was a missionary. She pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to two years in jail and a $250,000 fine and was ordered to pay more than $1,600 in restitution.
No one has ever been charged in the death of Alan Rehrig.