Bill Beard proud of making good after growing up poor
The pride of Itwamba County, Miss., is rocking back and forth in a hard metal chair, tapping his hands on a tiny engraved pistol.
It was a gift given to Bill Beard for his heroics on a job nearly 40 years ago, when the young detective from Newark returned an abducted girl caught in a string of bank robberies to her father. The case earned Beard a congratulatory call from then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and a scrapbook of memories.
“I never deserved this,” said Beard, 73, an investigator with the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office. “I was just doing my job.”
Fighting crime has been Beard’s calling card for 50 years. It’s a career that has included two decades of service to Nevada County, including a stint as Nevada City police chief and an unsuccessful run for Nevada County sheriff.
“Always drink the best whiskey money can buy and never go to bed with a woman older than you are.”
Beard’s wife, Jean, is safe. She’s 65.
Born into poverty
Bill Beard is most proud of his uneducated sharecropper parents, who squeezed out a hardscrabble life in Fulton, a day’s horse ride from Elvis Presley’s birthplace.
When he came home from school, Beard fed the family’s chickens through cracks in the floor of his house. When it rained, he slept under his bed to keep dry. So poor were his parents, Beard recalled, that he didn’t live in a painted house until he was a teenager.
The tall, lanky lawman takes great pride in noting that he made it good even after growing up in what was then the poorest county in the poorest state in America.
“If you’re dirt poor and everybody else is poor, you don’t know any different,” said Beard, who has a brother and sister who never strayed far from Mississippi.
What they lacked in money, the Beard family made up for in sweat.
They picked cotton, often receiving as little as one cent a day for their work. When they could afford to, they’d raise hogs, killing them for the salt pork, bacon and ham that would last a season.
Beard found work in a mortuary during high school and in 1949 enlisted in the Navy’s hospital corps on Oahu. Scared of blood, Beard switched gears on a whim and enrolled in a private police academy in Oakland soon after his discharge became official.
A badge, a career
Without the formal training required of today’s police, Beard showed up in the Contra Costa town of Kensington and began his career on March 25, 1955.
Beard’s first job was also the only one in which he ever fired his weapon in the line of duty, after a parolee stole a vehicle and led Beard on a foot chase. Even then, the shot fired from the officer’s .357 Magnum was nothing more than a warning.
As police chief in Brisbane (San Mateo County), Beard made it a point to treat every one of his colleagues as equals. One day, he was forced to arrest the fire chief and some of the chief’s employees who were stealing parts from a city vehicle to put in the fire chief’s girlfriend’s vehicle.
“The fire chief didn’t consider it stealing,” Beard said. “He said it was payback for all his good years of service to the city.”
By the time Beard landed in Nevada City in 1978, he’d logged nearly a quarter century behind a badge. It was a job he held for seven years, during which he made a weak attempt to run for Nevada County sheriff, a decision he now regrets.
“I spent a lot of money to lose,” Beard said of his 1982 challenge against Bill Heafey, who Beard now admits was the best man for the job.
During the campaign, Heafey earned the backing of retiring Sheriff Wayne Brown, who served as Nevada County’s sheriff for 32 years.
A job offer by then-District Attorney John Darlington in 1989 to work in the sex crimes unit turned out to be Beard’s best career move yet.
Within a year, Beard helped return a young girl to Nevada County who had been missing for nearly nine years.
“It was the most awesome thing in the world,” said Kim Moffet, whose daughter Tiffany was just 2 years old when she was taken by her estranged husband. “I wouldn’t know my daughter today if it weren’t for him.”
Beard’s colleagues rib him as easily as they give him praise.
“I cannot imagine law enforcement without him,” said assistant District Attorney Ronald Wolfson, who has worked with Beard on and off for more than 20 years.
“There’s no substitute for experience, and Bill’s got it,” said John Casci, who has worked with Beard for 25 years, both at the District Attorney’s office and as one of Beard’s Nevada City police officers. “He’s pretty tenacious. He always gets his man … or woman.”
Name: Bill Beard
Residence: Grass Valley
Occupation: Investigator, Nevada County District Attorney’s Office
About me: “There’s a lot of reward in this job, but there’s also plenty of heartache.”
To contact staff writer David Mirhadi, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4229.
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