Grandma and Dottie
Despite the bright spot of Ronnie's return, Velma was still having a great deal of trouble. After her father's death, she and her mother fell into a pattern of frequent quarreling. Velma claimed that Lillie was constantly ordering her about. The older woman expected to be waited on hand and foot and the grown-up Velma was not going to be treated like a slave by anyone. Lillie, for her part, was dismayed by Velma's frequent use of pills and her tendency to sometimes simply pass out from taking too many.
Lillie got dreadfully sick during the summer of 1974. Her stomach was racked by painful cramps. She began throwing up uncontrollably and suffering a violent diarrhea. It got so bad that Velma drove her mother to the hospital. The doctors could not determine the cause of the sudden illness. However, Lillie was better after a few days and went home.
On August 23, a man Velma had been dating was killed in a traffic accident. (Velma was not present so this death, at least, was probably just a melancholy coincidence.) He had made Velma Barfield the beneficiary of his life insurance policy and she received a check for $5,000.
That Christmas appeared, as that holiday so often does, to be a time of sharing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Both Lillie and Velma enjoyed bustling about in the kitchen, making a big turkey dinner along with a variety of rich desserts for their big extended family. Everybody at Grandma Bullard's house kidded around and laughed, then opened presents.
However, Lillie pulled one of her sons aside to talk to him about something odd that troubled her. She had gotten a letter from a finance company telling her that a loan was overdue on her car and it would be repossessed if she failed to promptly pay it. Lillie had not taken out any loan on the car and she owned it free and clear! Her son saw no problem. It was probably just one of those paperwork snafus, nothing to fret about.
A couple of days later, Lillie got terribly sick. She was nauseous, then vomiting. That was followed by an awful attack of diarrhea. Her insides felt like they were burning up. She told Velma that she had hideous pains in her belly and upper back. Her arms and legs flailed about her. She threw up again and threw up blood.
Velma phoned her brother Olive who immediately drove over. He was appalled to see their mother so sick and called an ambulance. The rescue squad allowed Velma to ride in the ambulance with her mother.
Lillie Bullard died two hours after arriving at the hospital.
Early in 1975, Velma was once again in hot water with the law. She had written another string of bad checks. She was convicted on seven counts of writing bad checks. The judge sent her to prison for six months. She was released after serving three.
Awhile after obtaining her freedom, Velma started to look for jobs as a caregiver for elderly, sick people. In 1976, she was living with and working for Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. Montgomery was 94, bedridden and incontinent. He was a diabetic and had lost his vision to that disease as well as both legs that had been amputated. He could not feed himself. Eighty-four year-old Dollie was in somewhat better shape but she was a cancer survivor who had had a colostomy. At first, Velma seemed pleased to be able to move into their comfortable brick ranch house. She got along well with both Edwardses and found a church she liked attending, the First Pentecostal Church in Lumberton.
As time wore on, tensions surfaced between the caregiver and her employers. Dollie often thought Velma was falling down on the job and told her so in no uncertain terms. Velma complained that Dollie was a demanding nitpicker. Their quarrels got more frequent and more heated.
Montgomery died in January 1977. Velma stayed on to aid Dollie. The two continued to bicker.
It was February 26, a Saturday, when Dollie got sick. She told her visiting stepson, Preston Edwards, that she believed she must have the flu. Vomiting and diarrhea plagued her. He came to see her the next night and was horrified by how weak and pale she looked. She had to go to the hospital, he said. An obliging Velma Barfield called an ambulance. Dollie was treated by doctors in the emergency room and sent back home without having spent the night there. She took a turn for the worse the next day and was back in the hospital by Tuesday. She died that evening.
Now Velma had no livelihood. That did not last long. She was soon caring for another ailing and elderly couple, 80-year-old farmer John Henry Lee and his 76-year-old wife, Record. Record was the one needing special assistance for she had recently broken her leg and was hobbling around on crutches when she could manage to get around at all.
The position seemed quite suitable to Velma. The Lees lived in a brick house in a rural area on the outskirts of Lumberton. They were willing to let Velma have Sundays and Wednesdays evenings off so she could attend church services.
Problems started surfacing. Record Lee loved to gab and the incessant chitchat got on Velma's nerves. She and her husband often argued and Velma disliked being present during their fights.
Then there was a check that puzzled Record. She knew she had not signed it. John Henry called the cops but the case stalled because no one could think of anyone who might have forged Record's name.
On April 27, John Henry got sick. His stomach was upset and he developed diarrhea. His condition worsened and Velma called an ambulance. The medics rushed the sweaty, gray-faced man to the hospital. He gradually recovered and was released on May 2, after he had spent four days there. Doctors were mystified about the source of the sickness but thought it was probably a virus.
"Throughout May, John Henry continued to be sick," according to Death Sentence. "For a few days he would be perfectly okay, then the vomiting, the diarrhea, the cramps, the cold sweats, would start again. His weight continued to drop drastically. His daughters were very grateful for the attentiveness that Velma showed him. She was so sweet to him, so caring. They felt themselves lucky that she was there."
He took a turn for the worse and Velma called another ambulance for him. There was little the hospital could do for the dehydrated, terribly sick man. He died on June 4.
Some time after the funeral of John Henry Lee Velma Barfield moved into the home of Stuart Taylor. Before Taylor became ill at the Rex Humbard revival meeting, Velma had visited his daughter, Alice, and asked to see a picture of her father that she had taken as a joke. It was his "dead" picture. Stuart Taylor had stretched out on a couch, closed his eyes and folded his hands across his chest to simulate the image of a man in a coffin. Velma laughed along with Alice and Stuart when Alice brought the photograph to her.
Later, the memory of that shared laughter would cause Alice to shudder.