How Dog the Bounty Hunter and Beth Chapman Overcame Jail Time, Other Spouses and Unimaginable Loss to Build an Unbreakable Love
“Ours is one of the greatest love story’s [sic] never told. It’s a love worth fighting 4!”
Just four weeks ago, that’s how Beth Chapman of Dog the Bounty Hunter fame captioned a photo of her husband Duane Chapman (aka Dog) on Instagram, thanking him for not only loving her, but remaining by her side and encouraging her as she battled the cancer she was first diagnosed with in September 2017. But now, Beth is gone, having passed away on Wednesday, June 26 after she was placed in a medically-induced coma days prior when she began having trouble breathing and never woke up. And while the sad reality is that there will be no more social media posts from the reality TV personality, no more opportunities for her family or her fans to hear from her, as she’s left us and the pain behind and, as her husband wrote on Twitter when announcing her passing, “hiked the stairway to heaven,” there’s still time to tell that love story.
And it turns out that she was right—theirs really is a great love story. One that’s as outrageous and outsized as their personalities would suggest. So, in honor of Beth, let’s tell it.
When Beth first laid eyes on Duane, all bets were off. But first, she had to agree to see him. The year was 1988. She was just 19, while he was 35. And she’d just been arrested. As Beth explained to Rosie O’Donnell during a 2011 interview alongside her husband on the comedian’s now-defunct OWN talk show, she was working for a senator at the time and was at the grocery store picking up some lemons. “And before I left the house, my boyfriend then was out shooting off a gun and acting ridiculous, so I took the gun from him and said, ‘Stop it.’ Stuck it in my pocket and went off to the grocery store. Well, I get a call from the senator, I go around to make a phone call while I’m waiting in line. I’ve got the two lemons in my hand. ‘But you crossed the line, you’re on the wrong side!’ They tried to say I was shoplifting.”
Having the unregistered, unlicensed gun in her pocket didn’t help matters. And the arrest warrant out for unpaid parking tickets? Well, that really didn’t help. She was arrested and taken to jail, where her father urged her to turn to Duane, working as a bail bondsman, to post her bond. “I called him for a bond and he went out and posted my bond, but he sent it out on the bus,” Beth recalled. “So I would up sitting in jail 12 hours.”
And because of that, she wasn’t too keen on turning up when Duane let her know she needed to visit his office. “He was like, ‘You have to come in and do paperwork. You have to come in,'” she told O’Donnell. “And I was like ‘You sent my bond on the bus, I’m in no hurry to come and see you.'” As Duane wrote in his 20107 memoir You Can Run but You Can’t Hide, it wasn’t until he threatened to throw his stubborn client back in jail by revoking her bond that she finally complied with the request. “When I did come and see him, he came walking out there and I said, ‘Oh yes, he will be mine,'” she said of the first time she laid eyes on her future husband. “‘Let the stalking begin.'”
The moment carried a similar electricity for Duane, who wrote in his book, “Blam. In she comes. I knew she was young—too young for me. I was never one of those older guys who went for the young girls. But damn. Those breasts. I know what you’re thinking. I’m an idiot, right?”
The only problem? Duane was married at the time, to his third wife, Lyssa Rae Brittain, and was already a father many times over. As result, he tried to stay away from her, “avoiding her like a bad cold,” he wrote. But it didn’t work. “I’d be driving around Denver, and out of nowhere, there she was, right behind me,” he continued. “She was literally stalking me.”
As it turned out, Beth had taken a car from a local car dealership where a friend worked out on a test drive to tail Duane, presuming he wouldn’t recognize the vehicle nor its driver. “She decided her friend’s car was a great way to keep an eye on me, so she took her time returning it,” he wrote. “The car dealership reported it stolen, and Beth was busted for car theft, though the charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor, joyriding.” Beth was sentenced to six months probation, which later turned into six months in Jefferson County jail when her parole officer suggested that she hadn’t quite learned her lesson yet.
“The best part of Beth’s being in jail was she made me more money inside during those six months than I could have dreamed of,” Duane wrote. “She sent me all the criminals so I could write their bonds.”
Jail, it turned out, was the thing Beth needed to change her life. “She realized that life was too short to waste behind bars. She didn’t want to end up like the people she met there,” Duane wrote. “She decided to turn her life around.” By the time she was released, Duane had separated from Lyssa, but had begun dating his new secretary, Tawny Marie, whom he married in 1992, despite knowing “in [his] heart” that it “was a mistake.”
“It was a disaster from the start,” he wrote.
With Duane unavailable to her yet again, Beth took up with his high school best friend Keith Barmore, something that Duane wasn’t thrilled about. “Keith was no better as an adult than he was as a punk kid. He was a thief with a heroin habit. He would drink beer just to even out from the drugs,” he wrote in his memoir. “It just about broke my heart when I heard Beth was dating him. When I heard they got married, I got physically sick. There couldn’t have been two people in the world who were worse together than Beth and Keith.”
Duane’s reaction to the union wasn’t born simply out of jealousy, he revealed. “Friends told me he was abusing her something he awful,” he wrote. “Beth’s a tough girl, but when I heard Keith was beating on her, I wanted to kill him myself. The only good thing that came from their union was Beth’s beautiful daughter, Cecily, who I love and adore as if she were my own flesh and blood.”
Despite the fact that both were married to other people, they turned to one another for solace from their dire marriages. “Truth be told, Beth and I were sleeping together the entire time I was married to Tawny and throughout her marriage to Keith,” Duane wrote in his book. “Beth used to jokingly threaten to take our motel bill to the office and show it to Tawny unless I promised to show up and spend more time with her…Even though we were both married, Beth was still in hot pursuit of my affection.”
“I was the other woman through three wives,” Beth told O’Donnell before correcting herself. “Two wives, one really good girlfriend.”
By the time Duane’s marriage to Tawny fell apart in 1994, he was living in Hawaii full-time and had moved his father and ailing mother to the island with him. When his mother passed away in 1995, he began dating a woman suffering from addiction who got him into smoking crack. In fear of losing everything, but feeling like he was in too deep to get himself out of a bad situation, he did the only thing he could think to do.
“One night, out of pure desperation, I called Beth,” he wrote. “‘Where have you been, baby?’ I began to weep like a child as I confessed to Beth I’d been freebasing. ‘I smoke it out of a pipe.’ I have no idea how long we were on the phone or what else we talked about. Beth was on the next flight from Denver. I was too high to pick her up from the airport.”
Beth leaped into action, kicking the girlfriend out and warning her to never return before attempting to get Duane to clean his act up. It didn’t work, however, and Duane kicked her out of his house, sending her away as her further spiraled into rock bottom. By fall of 1997, he’d essentially lost the life he’d built for himself on the island and retreated to Denver with his young daughters in tow, moving in with his sister. He hadn’t spoken to Beth for six months by that point, hearing she’d begun dating a man who abused steroids and would beat her in rages. He was also still getting high “from time to time,” he wrote.
Though he and Beth steered clear of one another for his first few weeks back in Denver, they were eventually pulled back into one another’s orbit. “One day, we were both standing in the alley behind the houses on bail bonds row,” Duane wrote.” It was like a scene from a movie. I looked at her and she at me. By the time Beth got to the back of the alley I was already by her side. I grabbed her and put the most passionate kiss on her.”
After his sister kicked him out for reuniting for Beth, whom she’d explicitly told him to stay away from, he and his kids moved in to Beth’s house. As Duane wrote, the couple “decided the time had come for us to join forces—romantically and professionally.”
With the drug addiction beginning to take its toll in the form of kidney stones and an alarming weight loss, it was up to Beth to bring Duane back to life. “If Beth hadn’t saved me, I’m not sure I would have survived those years,” he wrote.
But survive he did. Not only did he kick his habit and regain his health, but he began to rebuild his career, as well, with the tenacious Beth by his side, as she’d wanted all along. By 2003, the hunt for fugitive cosmetics heir Andrew Luster had brought Duane in front of the camera, making media appearances about the hunt. It was enough to get him an appearance on Take This Job, a show about people with unusual careers. That appearance turned into a pilot for what would become Dog the Bounty Hunter, which became a series on A&E after Duane captured Luster.
While Duane was on the hunt for Luster and away from Beth, he wore a gold ring around his thumb and she wore an identical one with diamonds around it. Finding Luster came as a relief to Beth. “We’ve been researching for him. We have ate, slept and drank this person for six months,” she told Good Morning America at the time. “I’ve hardly seen my husband. He Missed Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day.”
Despite referring to Duane as her husband, the truth was the couple still was not married. In fact, despite the fact that they’d welcomed two children, Bonnie, in 1999, and Garry, in 2001, there hadn’t even been a proposal. But that changed in the fall of 2005 when they were in Las Vegas. He proposed to her and intended to marry her on the spot—if only they’d made it to the courthouse in time for a license. “If time wasn’t a factor, I would have married her in a tacky Vegas chapel that night,” he wrote. “To this day, Beth still isn’t convinced I would have gone through with it.”
He finally convinced Beth to pick a wedding date: May 20, 2006. “Our youngest children had begun to ask why we weren’t married,” Duane wrote in his second book, Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given. “And Beth was being referred to as my ‘life partner’ or ‘sidekick.’ Those descriptions weren’t fair to her, either. In my heart, I always knew Beth would be my forever wife. It was time to make it official.”
Before they could, however, tragedy would strike. The night before the big day, as everyone was on the big island of Hawaii for the festivities, Duane’s daughter Barbara Katy Chapman, from his marriage to Lyssa, had been killed in a car accident near her home in Fairbanks, Alaska. She wasn’t due to attend the wedding, as she was struggling with substance addiction of her own. “It broke my heart not to include Barbara in my wedding. What she needed was some tough love. I would have done anything to help her get sober,” he wrote in You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide. “Despite our efforts, she wouldn’t straighten out. I decided not to send her a ticket to come share in our big day.”
As he woke up for the wedding, it was up to Beth to inform that his daughter didn’t survive the accident. As he was beating himself up over not bringing Barbara to Hawaii, thinking it could’ve been avoided if she’d been on the island instead of at home, the family pastor Tim Story arrived to console him. After a couple of hours in which he’d raged at Lyssa over the phone and calmed down enough, he gathered Beth and the kids to “discuss whether or not we should proceed with the wedding.” After his daughter Lyssa, Barbara’s sister, said that she’d want her father to go through the wedding, “I decided [it] would go on as planned,” he wrote.
“They all decided unanimously they should celebrate the wedding and her life,” Michael Feeney, senior vice president of A&E, whose cameras were rolling on the whole thing, said at the time.
So Duane and Beth were finally married on May 20 in a sunset ceremony at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. The groom wore a white leather vest, white jeans, boots and American Indian jewelry, despite Beth’s request for a tux, while she wore an off-white lace gown designed by Eduardo Lucero. They presented their guests with dog tags as favors that read, “Dog & Beth. Captured. May 20, 2006.”
While Duane and Beth’s career saw them bounce around from A&E to CMT after the former canceled Dog the Bounty Hunter after eight seasons in 2012 and the latter picked them up for Dog and Beth: On the Hunt later that year, they eventually took a break from television in 2016 to support Beth’s bid for the president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States in an effort to help protect an industry they felt was under attack from reform movements that would end the cash bail system. She won.
By the following year, the couple was back on TV, but the return wasn’t exactly cause for celebration. By September 2017, news had broken that Beth had been diagnosed with stage II throat cancer. “I will fight every step of the way,” she reportedly wrote to family and friends as she informed them of her diagnosis. “My husband and children are counting on me to be there for years to come.”
Duane, understandably, was at a loss, as a rep for the family told Hawaii news network KITV. “At times, Duane has inconsolable since hearing the news, but he is determined to remain strong for Beth and their family ‘and pray a lot.’ Duane shared that people see Beth as a tough lady, but she has a big heart, he told me—and which i know from personal experience.”
By the time A&E aired a special, Dog and Beth: Fight of Their Lives, that November, fans watched as Duane learned that Beth had been declared cancer-free after a 12-hour surgery to remove a plum-sized tumor from her neck. “These is a God. This could be a miracle. This could be a healing,” he said in the special. “[The doctor] said if I wasn’t such a good husband it wouldn’t have worked out that great. Oh, I can breathe. Beth Chapman, you did it.”
But Duane was free to breathe again for only so long. A year later, Beth was forced to undergo an emergency surgery after experiencing a “blockage” in her throat. Afterwards, the couple confirmed that her cancer had returned and her prognosis remained unsure, as a second mass had been found in her lung. ‘She had a lump in her throat twice the size of last time, and they performed an emergency surgery yesterday. They cut a hole in her throat so she can breather; she can still talk,” Duane told Us Weekly, adding that she was “doing the best she can and remains incredibly strong.”
Despite Beth’s recurring health woes, the pair were plotting their return to TV and WGN America announced in January a 10-episode pick-up of Dog’s Most Wanted, which would focus on Duane, Beth and a team of bounty hunters, nicknamed “The Dirty Dozen,” as they search for most-wanted fugitives from the FBI, U.S. Marshals and States’ lists. Prior to the announcement, the family had told E! News that they were “clinging to each other while they go through the search for a cure.” As they revealed, Duane had decided to return to “full-time bounty hunting to try to help absorb some of the cost of his wife’s medical bills.”
By May, Beth had revealed during a speaking engagement on Mother’s Day that she was not undergoing chemotherapy as a method of fighting the cancer resurgence. “Chemotherapy is not my bag people. That is not for me. For me, this is the ultimate test of faith,” she told the crowd. “This is my ultimate lesson. And it’ll either be taught to you or to me.”
She gushed about time spent with her husband while speaking to the crowd, saying, ‘We’ve had an amazing life. We had great fun and we are still having fun.” She added that she still had “a lot to do” in life and didn’t plan on giving up, saying that she believed “the Lord of impossible miracles” would get her through.
By the time Beth was hospitalized again in mid-June and placed in a medically-induced coma, Duane was imploring his followers on Twitter, “Please say your prayers for Beth right now. Thank you love you.” After tweeting a photo of Beth’s nails as she lay comatose in her hospital bed on Tuesday, it was up to Duane to broke the sad news to the couple’s fans on Wednesday morning.
“It’s 5:32 in Hawaii, this is the time she would wake up to go hike Koko Head mountain. Only today, she hiked the stairway to heaven,” he tweeted, confirming his wife’s passing. “We all love you, Beth. See you on the other side.”
Months before she passed, Duane spoke with DailyMail TV about his wife’s desire to keep filming Dog’s Most Wanted alongside him despite her worsening health. “She is still hitting the ground running with me,” he said. “Beth is determined cancer won’t slow her down. In fact, I am so amazed by Beth’s strength and positive attitude. She has told me repeatedly that if these are her last days on earth she wants to spend every moment with me on the hunt, living life to the fullest and enjoying the time we have left together.”
Sadly, she got her wish.
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