Mulligan Stew: Aunt Betty survives one crime only to face an even steeper challenge

Sometimes, innocent people become victims of the not-so-innocent.

If they survive, victims always say they learned a lot about life during their moments of terror.  

And sometimes, though not often enough, the criminal will learn a lesson or two.

Ask Paul Rayle. In his life he’s been accused of murder and convicted of criminal confinement, disarming a police officer, robbery, auto theft, counterfeiting …  a whole docket of crimes that Betty Mullen had never heard of, until Paul walked into her home. Uninvited.

Betty Jane Strohmeyer was born in Southern Indiana in 1946 to simple Christian folk who were focused on the Pentecostal church.  If Betty had a soundtrack of her life, it would include “Jesus Loves Me,” “Softly and Tenderly” and “He Leadeth Me.”

Betty was the youngest of ten children; Louie Mullen was the youngest of 15 children.  Both grew up in Huntingburg in Dubois County, Ind., so there was never really a moment when they met:  They just always knew each other.  They were married in 1963 when Louie was 22 and Betty was 17.  Betty felt like she was “born married to Louie,” and their love for each other was surpassed only by their love of God.

Betty Mullen: A forgiving soul

If Huntingburg was a monarchy, Louie and Betty would have been king and queen.  Louie was the best bowler in town who once bowled a 299, one point less than perfect.  Instead of feeling sad, he turned to his team and said, “It’s just as hard to get a 299 as it is to get a 300.”  

Betty was the effervescent Avon lady who made more friends than money on her route.  Avon ladies then went door-to-door selling beauty products and the commercial quip of the day was, “Ding, dong. Avon calling.”  Betty would open doors and holler, “Ding, dong calling.” 

Betty always has a story to tell about the last adventure she’d had, even if it was just a five-minute stop at the Dollar General.  Betty loves to people watch and turns it into observational humor, even though she’s never heard that term.   Some wonder if all of her stories are true.

They were all true, as is this one.

Always the optimistic Christians, Louie and Betty were caught off-guard if someone lied to them or tried to cheat them.  Surely it was a mistake.  No one would ever be mean on purpose, would they? And then two women came into Betty’s consignment shop and bought a large amount of clothing.  But when she took the check to their bank, there were insufficient funds. Betty called 911.  She told police and they said that 911 was for emergencies only and hung up on her.

Betty called back and pleaded, “This IS an emergency. To ME!” How would she pay all of the people who trusted her to sell those clothes?  Police were likely laughing at the station, but they drove to her store. Police tried to explain it was a civil matter, but Betty said she felt like she had been robbed by criminals. 

Seeing she was truly naïve, police agreed to follow Betty to the bad check-writer’s home where she retrieved the clothing. That night, she prayed for them.

After Louie died of lung cancer in 1997, Betty spent a lot of time sitting alone on the front porch of their double-wide in a rural, wooded mobile home community.  She loved yard work, pulling weeds around the yard and pond, and even mowing. The neighborhood is on Whispering Pine Road, perfectly describing their neighborhood.  Not even the traffic on the U.S. highway a mile west of them, or the interstate two miles south, disturbed the peace. 

It was on her porch on a hot July afternoon in 2010 when Betty was getting ready to mow.  She had to run in the house three times to answer the pesky telephone.  Friends and family kept calling to tell her to stay inside and lock her door.  There was a crazed man loose in her area.

Betty turned on the T.V. to see what was happening.  A young man named Paul Rayle was being chased by police on the interstate then he tried to exit onto to U.S. 231, but crashed.  He fled, hopped a fence and ran into a cornfield. 

Paul then told Betty to sit on the floor so he could tie her hands together. She answered, “OK, but don’t make it tight. My hand hurts.” When he began to tie her feet, she added, “my feet aren’t feeling so good, either.”

Betty said a spirit overcame her and she felt so close to God that she could reach out and touch Him.  Betty even prayed, “Lord, is he coming to our house today?” Still, she was at peace and felt sure that God would protect her.  

Living as a widow for 24 years now, Betty said the lawn won’t mow itself, so she went inside for the mower key. When she turned to go back outside, she was startled by a young man standing at her front door, knocking.  He wasn’t wearing a shirt and she saw he had tattoos of spiders all over himself.  

Betty said she instantly knew it was the man involved in the police chase and she began to pray silently.  She felt the holy spirit enter her body and take over.  She looked out the screen door and said, “May I help you?” 

Paul asked if her husband was home.  

I told him, “No, not at this time. But he will be back soon.”  Betty was startled that God told her to lie to the visitor.

The young man asked Betty if he could borrow one of her husband’s T-shirts. Betty grabbed a box of clothes she had recently gathered for a yard sale, and started to put it outside.  Instead, Paul “opens the door and comes on in,” Betty said.

As he walked into her house, Betty laughed and said, “well, just come on in.” 

“God told me everything to say. He told me to talk to Paul like he was a grandson and to keep calm,” she said.

He was looking through the box, then told Betty those shirts were “too girlish for him.” Betty knew that was true. She had five daughters and her husband had been dead for almost 25 years.

Paul then pulled out a knife and said, “I don’t want to hurt you.” 

Betty answered, “I don’t want you to hurt me, either.”

Paul said to Betty, “I want to borrow that car outside.” 

“He said he’d had a bad day,” Betty said.  “I told him I’ve had bad days, too, but I never pulled a knife on someone.” He kept asking for keys to her Jeep.

She told him they were on the table, but they weren’t.  “So now, we’re both looking for my keys.  I offered to go look in my Jeep,” but he wouldn’t let her even though she promised to come back.  Betty then remembered she had moved the Jeep keys when she was getting the mower key and handed them to him.  

“I wanted to give him a cookie, but for the first time ever, my cookie jar is empty,” she said.  She then realized, “Lord, he’s here to rob me and I’m thinking about an empty cookie jar. Help me out here,” she prayed silently. God told her to offer to fix him lunch.

Paul declined but drank some water but then started looking in closets and drawers. Betty said, “What are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”  Paul found a suitable T-shirt, as well as a box cutting razor.  He started to cut a lamp cord.  Betty told him to unplug the lamps first or he would get shocked. He didn’t listen.  “Sparks are just a-flying,” she said.

Paul then told Betty to sit down on the floor so he could tie her hands together. She answered, “OK, but don’t make it tight. My hand hurts.” When he began to tie her feet together, she added, “my feet aren’t feeling so good, either.”  

While on the floor, Betty saw that Paul had a tattoo of a cross and a “Jesus fish” (an ichthys) on his ankle and she hoped he knew about Jesus.  She asked him, “Don’t you have anybody you can talk to? I don’t think this is the direction the Lord wants to take you.” 

Paul kept binding her with the lamp cords but he didn’t tighten them.  Betty told him she was going to pray for him.  

After nearly an hour, Paul started to leave.  Betty told him, “I’m not going to quit praying for you.”  Then he left the house and drove away. She could hear him on the gravel, and knew he had turned towards a dead end. She thought about yelling, You’re going the wrong way!” Instead, God told her to sit silently and wait because Paul would be turning the Jeep around and driving back by her trailer.

When he left the neighborhood, Betty scooted to her cell phone that was partly hidden by a magazine, and freed her hands enough to call 911.  Within minutes, police arrived. Betty told them everything: About Paul, the knife, the Jesus fish, and her Jeep, but added, “He ain’t stealing from me. That Jeep belongs to the Lord.”  

Police told her Paul was a pretty mean man who was being stopped for speeding and was wanted for writing bad checks.  She instantly thought about those shoppers in her store, giving her a bad check. Three years before the day at Betty’s, charges of murder were filed against Paul, then dismissed for lack of evidence. He and a cellmate were suspected of killing a child molester in prison.

Paul was caught a few days later, at a friend’s who lived in the next county, and he was charged with burglary, criminal confinement, auto theft and residential entry.  He received a seven-year sentence, and was released in just over three years.  

Paul Rayle remains an inmate at Indiana State Prison in Westville

In the ten years after he held Betty hostage, Paul has been imprisoned for counterfeiting, forgery, throwing things at cars on the highway, disarming a police officer and resisting arrest.  

Betty wrote encouraging letters to Paul in prison and said she forgave him.  He wrote back, apologizing for the trouble he caused and thanked her for being nice.  She was oddly grateful Paul had chosen her home because, anywhere else, someone may have been hurt, or killed.  He had no idea he had just walked into a house of the Lord.

He remains in the Indiana State Prison at Westville with an earliest release of 2024. Betty’s Jeep was never found but she doesn’t care. Remember, it belonged to the Lord.

Betty is now battling lung cancer.  When she thought the chemo was making her forget things, she told doctors to stop the treatment.  Instead, they ran tests and found a brain tumor. Radiation was unsuccessful then the doctors told her brain surgery may give her another year to live. She agreed to surgery and her daughters are hoping for at least one good year with her.

Betty is sure of it.  “God told me not to let anyone or anything shake my faith,” she said.

“The Lord isn’t done with me,” she said.