Below is part of an extended version of the testimony she gave today, posted at the Angel Tree Ministry site. Ms. Beard's story is found in a book entitled "Rogue Angel." Here is the first part of her testimony. Be sure and head over to the Angel Tree site to read it all:
It was right out of Bonnie and Clyde. A striking, well-dressed woman, accompanied by a neatly dressed man, enters a small bank and walks up to the lone teller. At first glance, the bank teller notices just the flaming red hair, but then he sees the shotgun in his face.
“Just give me the money, Hon,” the redhead drawls.
And the teller hands it over.
Only this is not a movie, but the real thing, and this “Bonnie” is Mary Kay Mahaffey, bank robber, safecracker, and her photo hangs in the post office on the FBI “Most Wanted” list.
For five years, Mary Kay was on the run, first with her husband, Paul, who taught her everything she needed to know about guns, safes, and bank alarms. When he ditched her, she teamed up with a couple of buddies, Joe and Ed. They pulled bank stickups and other thefts across the southern part of the U.S. for several years. But eventually, Mary Kay’s boldness and arrogance caught up. She crossed the Mafia on a diamond heist, and they put out a contract on her life.
Happily, the FBI found her first, arresting her in Peoria, Illinois. Within a few days, the warrants began arriving at the jail. In addition to 11 federal indictments, four states filed 35 charges against her, ranging from grand larceny to armed robbery. She was told she would spend between 75 and 180 years behind bars.
But she didn’t. Released after serving less than six years, she soon married ex-prisoner Don Beard and joined Prison Fellowship as an area director for Alabama, where she created Angel Tree twenty years ago this Christmas.
Today, she serves Impact Family Counseling as Lead Counselor and works with troubled youth in Alabama, trying to re-direct youngsters away from the prison experience she and Don faced. How did she do it? How did Mary Kay Beard go from America’s Most Wanted to Founder of Angel Tree?
Mary Kay credits her turnaround to the parable of the seed in Matthew 13:
“In that story, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like the man who went and sowed good seed in his field. After a time, his servants came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then, did these weeds come from?’ And they asked the master, ‘Shall we go and pull up the weeds?’ And he said to them, ‘No, lest in pulling up the weeds you also uproot the wheat along with the weeds.’ He allowed both to grow together and at the time of the harvest, his servants separated the weeds from the wheat and tied them into bundles to be burned.”
Mary Kay says, “That’s the story of my life. I’m grateful for the good seed that was planted in my life as a child. I have always known there is one God, maker of heaven and earth; there is only one way to God and that is through faith and the shed blood of His son, Jesus Christ. And it was also planted deep in my heart that the Bible is the Word of God for today.”
But as a child, Mary Kay endured a different kind of seed as well, an alcoholic and abusive father. That seed of rejection grew into a great root of bitterness towards him and would grow up and consume her life for many years.
Growing up in church and Sunday school, Mary Kay decided that if she could be just like her Momma, she would be everything God wanted her to be.
“Momma lived in a daily walk in her belief in God,” Mary Kay notes. “I decided early that if I was going to be like Momma, I had to get away from my dad.”
At age 15, she got her chance. She graduated at the top of her high school class and took off to live with a married sister in another state. By the time she was 18, she had completed nursing school, again at the top of the class, and became the youngest nurse ever licensed in the state.
She immersed herself in nursing, working with the Red Cross and serving on various nursing committees. Then she met Paul on a blind date. Nine days later, they married. “He was a promoter for a group of entertainers. We traveled a lot and I saw things I had never seen. Along the way, I began to get better acquainted with my husband. I found out that he was a professional gambler and an ex-con, he had been at Alcatraz when they closed it.”
“’Well,’ I said. ‘Everybody makes a mistake and that’s really in the past,’ and so I excused it, I forgot the Scripture lesson that bad company corrupts good morals.
“And I discovered that the FBI considered my husband one of the very best safecrackers in the country. And I excused it again,” she says. “It was easy to say, ‘He’s no worse than the corrupt policemen, politicians, judges, lawyers, and businessmen we’ve seen taking money under the table.’ Besides, it was good living—I had beautiful clothes, emeralds and a Rolex; I wore mink and drove a Lincoln. The only time I had a problem was when I went home to see Momma. . . . . Read it all