Love & Death: The Real Story of Candy Montgomery

For the second time in as many years, Candy Montgomery is getting the true crime treatment. Here's what HBO Max's Love & Death gets right.

Elizabeth Olsen as Candy Montgomery in Love & Death
Photo: Jake Giles Netter | HBO Max

This article contains details of real life events that will likely spoil future episodes of Love & Death.

Elizabeth Olsen is the lead in HBO Max’s new true crime limited drama series Love & Death. Olsen’s journey into the bloody genre sees her take on the role of murderer Candy Montgomery for seven episodes alongside Jesse Plemons.

In recent years several true crime dramas have been major hits for streamers, from the likes of Netflix’s controversial Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story to Hulu’s The Girl from Plainville. So it was no surprise then that HBO Max decided to take part too and add Candy Montgomery’s story to its stream. However, this is not the first time Candy’s story has been told.

In 1990, Stephen Gyllenhaal made a film inspired by the story called A Killing in a Small Town starring Barbara Hershey and Lee Garlington. Hershey won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for her role. Candy was also played on the small screen by Jessica Biel in Hulu’s Candy in 2022, which also starred Melanie Lynskey as Betty Gore. 

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While Love & Death is based on a real story, it is a fictional representation of Montgomery’s real life trial, which HBO Max have summarized into a tagline of “Two churchgoing couples enjoy small-town family life in Texas – until somebody picks up an axe.” But how much of Candy Montgomery’s real story?

Is Love & Death Based on a True Story?

Olsen portrays 30-year-old housewife Candace Lynn Montgomery (known as Candy) who lived in Wylie, Texas and was accused of murdering her friend Betty Gore with 41 blows with an axe. While she confessed to the crime and was put on trial, she was found not guilty and that is why her case is still talked about today.

After Candy married electrical engineer Pat Montgomery (Patrick Fugit) and the couple had their two children, they moved to Collin County, Texas. There Candy became friends with middle school teacher Betty Gore (Lily Rabe) who also attended the same church as her Methodist Church of Lucas and met Betty’s husband Allan Gore (Plemons)

In a Texas Monthly magazine article, they provide an excerpt from Jim Atkinson and John Bloom’s book on the real life incident Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs which says that Candy had become bored with her life. Despite Allan being described as not conventionally handsome, Allan and Candy had a connection that provided the “fireworks” Candy felt were missing in her life

When Candy was 29, she began having an affair with Allan for around a year. Both consented to the affair, but as it went on Candy reported feeling guilty for cheating on her husband. Meanwhile the deterioration of Betty and Allan’s relationship led the Gores’ going to a sort of therapy called a Marriage Encounter Session where they discussed their problems. It was on the arrival of Betty and Allan’s second child in 1979 that Allan decided to end the affair. Some reports allege that Candy was upset but nothing happened for a year and the affair was thought to have remained a secret.

On June 13, 1980 when Candy picked up a swimsuit for the Gores’ eldest daughter, who had a sleepover at the Montgomery’s house, Betty asked Candy about her affair with her husband Allan. It’s up to debate what exactly happened next but at some point Montgomery picked up an axe and struck Betty with it 41 times. Newsweek reports that Forensic experts concluded that 40 of the blows were made while Betty’s heart was still beating.

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After she had murdered Betty, Candy then proceeded to take a shower in the Gores’ bathroom as the house was empty at the time as Allan was on a business trip. Candy then went about business as usual – she went to lunch and picked up her children from church, all the while Allan was trying to get a hold of his wife. After numerous phone calls Allan asked a neighbor to check in on Betty. It was at this point that three of the neighbors found Betty’s body in the utility room and their one year old daughter alone in her crib.

After Betty’s body was discovered things happened very quickly as The Dallas Morning News reported that fingerprints at the scene helped police find out that Candy was the last person to see her. Police were also able to discover that Candy  had previously had an affair with Allan. After conversations with the police, Candy admitted that she had killed Betty but said it was in self defense. Candy told police that Betty had confronted her about the affair and even though she had told her the affair had happened a long time ago, Betty attacked her with an axe. At some point during the altercation Candy was able to overpower her larger friend and get the axe which she stuck Betty dead with. 

How Was Candy Montgomery Found Not Guilty?

Prior to trial, Montgomery undertook a polygraph test that concluded she was telling the truth but there was still concern about how many times Betty was struck. Newsweek also reports that Candy took part in a hypnosis session with a psychiatrist named Dr. Fred Fason, to help her recall the events leading up to the murder. So Montgomery’s lawyer Don Crowder (Tom Pelphrey)  brought a psychiatrist to trial to testify that Candy had a dissociative reaction during her conversation with Betty that led to her striking her 41 times with an axe in self defense. 

The psychiatrist testified that Betty triggered Candy’s childhood trauma by telling her to “shush.” It was testified that it triggered memories of her abusive mother. The psychiatrist confirmed that all of this was revealed under hypnosis. Throughout the trial, Montgomery maintained that she never intended to kill Betty Gore.

After eight days of trial, on Oct. 29 1980 a jury of three men and nine women acquitted Candy Montgomery of the murder of Betty Gore. Following the trial, it was revealed that it took six secret ballots for the jurors to arrive at a final verdict and that one of the jurors felt that the prosecution didn’t have a case against her.

Is Candy Montgomery Still Alive?

Candy’s family stuck by her during the trial and after she was acquitted, the family including her husband and two children moved to Georgia. Candy and her husband ended up divorcing four years later but Candy now works as a mental health counselor under her maiden name, Wheeler. Despite the publicized trial and numerous adaptations of her story in recent years Candy has kept out of the public eye.

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The first three episodes of Love & Death are available to stream on HBO Max now. New episodes premiere Thursdays.