True crime author recalls visiting Sandra Bridewell’s home as an adolescent
True crime author John Leake’s new book examines the strange story of socialite Sandra Bridewell, whose case has haunted the Park Cities for decades.
Leake found inspiration in groundbreaking articles by Susan Albrecht in Park Cities People, Eric Miller and Skip Hollandsworth in D Magazine, and Glenna Whitley in the Dallas Observer.
But as a frequent visitor to the nearby Bridewell house during his adolescence, the history behind The Meaning of Malice: On The Trail of the Black Widow of Highland Park is also personal for him.
“She wasn’t like other moms at all, always dressed to the nines, always looked like a million bucks, her hair, her makeup, everything,” Leake recalled. “She always had this gaze — she would fix you with those big brown eyes that she would just turn on everybody.”
Already a mother of three, Sandra entered Dallas high society with her marriage to hotel developer Bobby Bridewell in 1978.
But after Bobby died of lymphoma in 1982, Sandra fell from grace, fleeing Dallas four years later for the Bay Area under a cloud of suspicion she had committed multiple murders.
Doubt was being cast on the suicides of her first husband in 1975 and of the wife of her husband’s oncologist in 1982, and her most recent husband, Alan Rehrig, had been found shot to death in 1985.
There were other lingering questions and shady dealings.
“I really started examining it closely in 2007 when Sandra was arrested in North Carolina — not for murder but for aggravated identity theft,” Leake said. “That’s the first time she ever got caught for anything, but the pattern of conduct is the same.”
After moving on to other true crime books, such as Cold A Long Time (2012), he returned to the story with renewed vigor in 2019.
“It took me this much time because I wanted to get access to all known information — all law enforcement stuff, all forensic stuff, photos, everything,” Leake said. “But what I discovered when researching this is there’s a great reluctance in this story — and I encountered it again and again — to share information.”
A heavily redacted portion of Sandra’s FBI file was of little help.
“For me, it became apparent that the totality of circumstances — I’m not saying there’s one single smoking gun — leads me to believe that she is an undetected serial killer,” he said.
Leake’s first event for The Meaning of Malice was a reading in Edmond, Oklahoma, at the First Christian Church where Alan Rehrig grew up and where his memorial service was held.
“It was a very meaningful event with Alan’s mother, who’s been a huge help and supporter,” Leake said.
“The book has really resonated in my community where I grew up,” Leake said. “I understand that there are some people in this tight-knit community who didn’t want me to cover certain elements of this story. I didn’t start out to air any dirty laundry. This isn’t some indiscretion. I’m talking about serial murder.”