By PORTSIA SMITH
--A 2008 investigation that began with a missing persons report ended yesterday with a second murder conviction against a Louisa County woman.
Ulisa Mary Chavers, 62, entered an Alford plea in Amelia County Circuit Court, stating that she did not murder her second husband, Clent Chavers, in 1994, but understood there was substantial evidence against her.
This was the same plea Chavers entered last month when convicted of killing her 53-year-old boyfriend, Reginal Cody Bowles, in 2006 in Louisa.
She was sentenced to a total of 135 years in prison for the murders, and will serve at least 43 of those if she survives.
The medical examiner's office in Richmond was unable to determine a cause of death for either of the men, but prosecutors believe the hard work of investigators in several localities and the Smithsonian Institution helped uncover two crimes that nobody knew had happened.
"The tangled web was unwoven," said Louisa Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Garrett while referring to Chavers as "The Black Widow."
The Black Widow
While Clent Chavers and Reginal Bowles most likely never met, the two men had much in common.
They both had significant health problems, they both were receiving monthly Social Security checks, and they both had a relationship with Ulisa Chavers that ended with their deaths.
Clent Chavers, 68, was a World War II veteran and an amputee who used a wheelchair, according to court records. The Louisiana native was living in a nursing home before moving to Virginia with Ulisa Chavers, with whom he had one daughter, Teresa. Ulisa Chavers was his caretaker until he died.
Bowles, who went by Cody, was a bearded motorcycle rider who owned 11 acres of land in Louisa, where he shared a home with Chavers, according to court records. Chavers' daughter and the daughter's husband also lived on the property in a different home. Bowles had serious heart problems and had a pacemaker installed in 2003.
The investigation began in October 2008 when Bowles' son, Lee, who lives in Florida, reported his father missing. He told police he hadn't heard from his father since Christmas 2006, and it was unusual to not hear from him on holidays or birthdays. Chavers told authorities and his children that Bowles went "off the grid" and moved to Montana in early 2007 to join a motorcycle gang. She later changed her story to say he was traveling the Gulf Coast to do volunteer work, according to court records.
After telling numerous stories about his whereabouts, after submitting fake photos to police--by taking a photograph of an old picture--to prove he was still alive, and even after Bowles' body was found at the bottom of a 25-foot unused well in 2009 by a Loudoun County cadaver dog, Chavers insisted that he died of natural causes.
For 15 years, Clent Chavers' sister in Louisiana believed her brother died of natural causes after receiving a call from Ulisa in 1994 saying he had been cremated and there wasn't going to be burial. According to court records, Teresa recalled a day in the spring of 1994 that her mother told her that her father had died and not to come home from high school. When she eventually returned home, she remembered the house being particularly clean, prosecutors said.
His beheaded remains were later found buried just a few feet away from the back door where a flower bed used to be.
Chavers, who completed three years of college but was unemployed, was arrested in March 2009.
Untangling the web
Without a cause of death, it was going to be hard for investigators and prosecutors to get a conviction. But that didn't halt their efforts.
Instead of trying to find out how the two men died, Louisa Detective Lt. Howard Porter decided to focus on why they may have died.
With assistance from the office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, it was determined that over a 15-year period, Ulisa Chavers had received nearly $180,000 in Social Security checks that were meant for her husband and her boyfriend.
Since Louisa Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Rusty McGuire couldn't prove exactly how both men died, he wanted to disprove the reasons given by Chavers.
In the case of Clent Chavers, McGuire sought the help of world-renowned anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution.
Chavers stated that after her husband died in bed, she placed him in his wheelchair and dumped him into a shallow grave, then removed the head with a shovel a year later to keep it from being identified.
Owsley's findings revealed that when Ulisa Chavers decapitated her husband's skeletal remains to hide evidence, she actually created anthropological evidence that led to a potential cause of death.
During the excavation of Clent Chavers' remains, four fractured facial bones were found where the head used to be. Owsley said those four bones were strong, hard bones that could not be easily broken without some sort of severe trauma. He also concluded that those injuries were made prior to or during death.
Chavers said her action to remove the man's head after death could have caused those injuries.
"The degree of trauma was so severe, it was not accidental," Owsley said yesterday. He said his findings are consistent with a gunshot wound to the face.
This was just enough for prosecutors to feel confident about a conviction.
"There's no skull, but there were pieces and those pieces told the story," said Commonwealth's Attorney Garrett.
With Bowles, Chavers told police that "his pacemaker was going bonkers all night," but an examination of the "black box" inside of his pacemaker showed no sign of any malfunction.
A cause of death was inconclusive, but four times the lethal dosage of benztropine, a prescription drug used to treat Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia, was found in his liver. McGuire said it is likely that Chavers was slowly poisoning Bowles and was waiting for him to die.
Benztropine is not recommended for people with heart problems.
McGuire said he believes Chavers killed Bowles because he was planning to switch the power of attorney he had given her to his other son, Dave.
Health insurance records showed that Chavers had canceled his health insurance a week before he was last seen alive. Chavers said she canceled it because Bowles could no longer afford it. According to Chavers' attorney, Mike Caudill, that was the key reason that she agreed to the plea agreement, because it gave prosecutors a good case for premeditation.
Caught in the web
Despite the fact that Ulisa Chavers has maintained her innocence in the deaths of her husband and her boyfriend, she will spend the rest of her life in prison.
After more than a year of widespread media attention, Chavers had no final words during sentencing or while she was being taken to a police car.
She was sentenced yesterday in Amelia to 85 years in prison with all but 43 years suspended on 11 charges, which include the first-degree murder of Clent Chavers, desecration and nine counts of grand larceny.
She was convicted in Louisa on Dec. 15 for Bowles' murder and was sentenced to 50 years in prison with all but 30 years suspended. Those sentences will run concurrently, according to the plea agreement. She was also convicted of several other theft-related charges in Louisa, which add a few more years to her already lengthy sentence.
Now retired Senior Special Agent Carlton Johnson of the Virginia State Police said yesterday that when he asked Chavers why she had been cashing Clent Chavers' Social Security checks for all those years, she said she had taken care of him when he was sick for six years and she had earned that money.
"But today she did get what she had earned," Johnson said.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419