When I was researching my podcast episode on Aileen Wuornos, if you haven’t listened to it, please do so; after this podcast episode, I was surprised to find out that she wasn’t the first woman to be executed in Florida. It was another female killer Judy Buenoano. Like other female killers who murdered out of greed like Martha Marek, Josephine Gray, and Nannie Doss, Judy murdered her husband and son and attempted to murder a partner to get insurance money.
Before the Murder
On April 4, 1943, at Quanah, Texas, Judias Welty was born to a day laborer at a farm and joined her two older siblings. Her parents would later give birth to her younger brother Robert. When she was two, her mother died of tuberculosis. After her mother’s death, Judy and her brother Robert moved in with their grandparents, and her two older siblings were put up for adoption. I am assuming that this was due to the family not having much money. It’s unknown when she moved in with her father, who now lived in Roswell, New Mexico, after he remarried, but it would have probably been better if she remained with her grandparents. Her father and stepmother were not very nice to her and treated her like a house slave. She had to take her of the home herself, and if they weren’t happy, they would beat and starve her. Experiences shape us, and this lack of having money and depending on people who treated her like a slave made her desire to never want for money grow inside her.
When she was 14-years old, Judy lashed out and burned her two stepbrothers with hot grease. She then began punching her father and mother. Judy was put in jail with adults for two months. I didn’t understand why Judy, at 14, was put in with adults. After doing some research, it seems the juvenile courts and detention centers as we know them today weren’t around during this time. In the 1960s, the Supreme Court helped the creation of juvenile courts and centers. After two months, Judy stood in front of a judge who gave her two options: return home or be sent to a reform school. Judy decided to go to Foothills High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she would graduate two years later at the age of 16.
Moving to Florida
A year after graduating in 1960, Judy went back to Roswell and changed her name to “Anna Schultz.” I am not sure why she did that. I am assuming it was to start from scratch and not have to worry about her father coming to look for her, but that is unknown. She started working as a nurse aide while she was there. On March 30, 1961, Jdy gave birth to a baby boy Michael Schultz. There are thoughts that the father was a pilot she was having an affair with, but Judy never confirmed who Michael’s father was.
Around 1962-1963, Judy married James Goodyear. James was a 29-year old sergeant in the Air Force. He would adopt Michael, and they would have two children together, James Jr and Kimberly. The family of five moved to Orlando, Florida. Judy would also open a child care center.
Everything seemed normal until James had to be admitted to the US Naval Hospital because he had unexplained symptoms. On September 15, 1971, James passed away at the age of 37. James had been in the Vietnam War and had only been home a few months, so everyone assumed it was due to the war.
Judy would say, “He came home from Vietnam ill, and he never got well. It had nothing to do with me. I was not in Vietnam.”
A week after James’ passed away, Judy cashed his three life insurance policies, and a few months after that, there was a fire that burned their home down. She would also get $90,000 from the fire.
Meeting Bobby Joe in Pensacola, Florida
Judy moved her three kids and her to Pensacola, Florida. She would meet Bobby Joe Morris. However, her son Michael started having academic and behavioral issues. After getting him tested, Michael was shown to have a low IQ. In 1974, Judy decided to put him in foster care.
Awhile later, the Pensacola home burned down where Judy got insurance money for the “accident.” Judy took Michael out of foster care, and the family with Bobby Joe moved to Trinidad, Colorado. Judy also changed her name from “Anna Schultz” to “Judias Morris.”
Bobby Joe was admitted to San Rafael Hospital on January 4, 1978, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Two weeks later, he was well enough to go home. He was rushed to the hospital two days later after he fell face-first into his dinner. Five days later, on January 28, 1978, Bobby Joe Morris was dead. No surprise that Judy later would cash in on his life insurance.
Bobby Joe’s family was suspicious of Judy and thought she had murdered him. They did because four years before Bobby Joe died in 1974, Bobby Joe’s mother overheard her son and Judy talking about murdering a man who was found shot to death in a motel room when they still lived in Florida. She heard Judy say, “The sonofabitch shouldn’t have come up here in the first place.” Bobby Joe also confessed to the murder when he was dying to his mother about the murder. Bobby Joe’s mother told the police, but they didn’t find any forensic evidence to tie Judy and Bobby Joe to the murdered man’s death. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
On May 3, 1978, Judy would change her name to Judy Buenonano as we know her today. She would say that it was to honor her first husband, James Goodyear. Buenoano is Spanish for Goodyear. Also, in honor of her mother, who she said was Mesquite Apache, which there is no such tribe, so not sure where Judy thought her mom was Native American. In 1979, her son Michael who joined the Army in June would visit her in Pensacola, where she had moved back to. When he arrived at his post in Fort Benning, Michael was ill. The Army doctor would find seven times the arsenic in his body. The damage would cause Miachel to become a paraplegic due to not using his legs and his arms past his elbow.
Even with the arsenic, there was no investigation. Michael was discharged due to being disabled and return to his mother’s home. One day after arriving on May 13, 1980, Judy went on a fishing trip with Michael and her other two kids James and Kimberly.
While Kimberly remained onshore, Judy, Michael, and James got on a canoe. They were out there for two hours when they decided to head back to shore. James would tell investigators that they saw a snake, and everyone freaked out, which caused the boat to capsize. Local authorities bought it and closed the case. The Army investigators didn’t and kept trying to learn more about what happened. I think they figured out that something was adrift, being that Michael suffered arsenic poisoning and now had drowned. And why would they take him on a canoe when he had heavy leg braces that would cause him to sink instantly. I’ve been on a canoe, and those things are easy to tip over. When the Army investigators looked further after Michael’s $20,000 military life insurance was cashed by Judy. They found that there were two civilian life insurance policies taken out for Michael. They turned to handwriting experts, which found that Michael didn’t seem to be the person to have signed the two policies.
While all this was going on, Judy started a beauty parlor and started dating John Gentry II. In October 1982, Judy and John purchased life insurance policies. Behind his back, she increased the payment from $50,000 to $500,000. In December, John landed in the hospital for 12 days. He realized that he started feeling better after taking the daily vitamins that Judy was giving him. Even after he got out and had that suspicion, John continued dating Judy. When she would give him vitamins, he would hide them in his briefcase.
On June 25, 1983, Judy told John that she was pregnant. John was ecstatic. Due to Judy’s insistence that he get champagne, John jumped in the car. When he turned the ignition, the car exploded. A bomb had been implanted, and we can already guess who put it there.
Miraculously, John survived. When John was questioned four days later, he told him about his suspicions. When they dug further, they found out that she had increased the life insurance policy. John was also shocked to find that she had lied about being pregnant. She had her tubes tied. They also found out that Judy had been telling friends that John was terminally ill.
When they looked into the vitamins, they found that they were laced with paraformaldehyde, a poison. On July 27, 1983, authorities got a search warrant for Judy’s home. They found wire and tape that were similar to the car bomb. In her son’s room, James, they found a sawed-off shotgun and marijuana. He was arrested for possession of drugs and having an illegal weapon.
Judy would be arrested at her beauty parlor and charged with attempted murder. This finally gave investigators enough to know that she had murdered her son Michael. Five months later, she was arrested for first-degree murder for Michael’s death. Judy tried faking a seizure because she knew that she had been caught.
They also exhumed the bodies of James Goodyear and Bobby Joe Morris. Arsenic was found on the bodies.
On March 14, 1984, Judy went to trial for Michael’s death. She was found guilty. On August 10, 1984, she went to trial for the attempted murder of John Gentry II and was found guilty. She got a life sentence for Michael’s death and an additional 12 years for the attempted murder of John. On October 22, 1985, Judi went to trial for the murder of James. She got the death sentence on November 16, 1985. What about Bobby Joe? Well, the crimes against James, Michael, and John happened in Florida. Bobby Joe died in Colorado. Therefore, the Colorado authorities were waiting to see what happened in Florida. If she got off, they were going to try here there. Being that she got life in prison and then the death sentence, they felt no need to go to trial.
On March 30, 1998, Judias Welty aka Anna Schultz aka Judy Morris aka Judy Buenoano was executed, which fell on Michael’s birthday. The first woman to be executed in Florida. Aileen Wuornos would follow her on October 9, 2002.
Judy Buenoano was full of greed. When I research this case, I am always shocked how these women can get away with these murders for so long. These men go to the hospitals with unknown symptoms and are dying, and no one fails to go further? I think things are different now, and it might be due to cases like this. They say she is the second woman executed in Florida because the first was Celia, who we featured in last week’s podcast episode. However, I think that is an error because Celia was in Missouri, and I can’t imagine that they sent her to Florida to be executed, especially in the days of no planes or cars. It doesn’t make sense, but maybe I am wrong.