Too Pretty to Live


My mom would probably send me a couple hundred bucks this afternoon if I told her I needed it. My dad used to make jokes about cleaning his shotgun when a date would come to the door for me or my sister. In general I grew up in a world in which parents loved their children and wanted to protect them.

But would they kill someone who posted mean comments to me on Facebook? Uh, no.

Well, that’s exactly what happened with Jenelle Potter and her parents, Buddy and Barbara, and it ended in a 2012 double murder.

“Too Pretty to Live: The Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee” is a little-known story of Jenelle Potter, a woman in her early 30s who likely had a low IQ and was sheltered by her overprotective parents. She couldn’t drive, took a lot of medications and never left the house, but she found a friend in the Internet.

This story is so convoluted you almost just have to read the book.

Jenelle Potter was introduced to Billy Payne and by some accounts developed an “unhealthy obsession” with him. She became enraged when he started dating a young woman named Billie Jean and the couple had a baby.

Jenelle started dating Billy Payne’s cousin Jamie and began a trolling/de-friending/cyberbullying campaign with Billy and Billie Jean. She claimed she was threatened by the pair and told she was “too pretty to live.” Evidence points to the couple saying that they didn’t like being harassed, and they defriended her, but beyond that, they were pretty much just living their lives.

It should be noted that the book was written by Dennis Brooks, who prosecuted the case in Mountain City, Tenn.

Long, long story short: Jenelle poses on the Internet as a CIA agent and sends messages to herself and her mother, which are later traced back to her very own IP address, saying that her life is being threatened. Jenelle’s mother Barbara shows the emails to her husband Buddy and says they need to take matters into their own hands. The book largely implies that Barbara knew exactly where the emails were coming from. When the family is nabbed for their conspiracy, cops find huge trash bags of the shredded emails in the back of the Potters’ vehicles.

But back to the actual crime. Buddy and Jenelle’s boyfriend Jamie enter the home of Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth and execute them with gunshot wounds to the face, while Billie Jean was holding her 7-month-old child, who was unharmed.

Jenelle was given two life sentences for her role, as were her parents. Jamie, the boyfriend, took a plea deal for 25 years.

And for what? They didn’t even know these people.

It’s a pretty wild ride and definitely a page-turner, albeit not the kind of literature you’re going to write a book report about.

It just baffles me that these things really happen. And no one has even heard about it. I think the only way I got wind of this book was I heard a podcast about it.

I realize that murder and psychopathy is not exactly everyone’s jam, but books like this are a great analysis of human behavior, the dangers of spending too much time in a cyber world and the pitfalls of being an overprotective parent.

So I’d say the take-away here is, watch what your kids are doing on the Internet, and in general, act less crazy, people.


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