The death of the ‘Pecan Queen’

SAN SABA, Texas (KXAN) – Just outside of San Saba sits the town of Harkeyville, the namesake of the Harkey family which is known for its multi-million dollar Pecan farms. Today, there are no Harkey’s left on the farm, They’re all either dead, or in jail charged with murder.

The matriarch of the family, Bonnie Harkey was “One of the sweetest ladies I ever knew, and also one of the best, she wouldn’t miss church,” her friend Donna Bush explained.

Known as the “Pecan Queen” of San Saba, Bonnie was getting old. Her husband Riley had passed-away and she relied on a care-taker, Karen Johnson, to get around. At 85, Bonnie didn’t have many years left. But tragically, those who knew her best say her family just couldn’t wait for her to die.

“She was very good to everybody she knew,” Bush said, “too good to these people who took advantage of her.”

So one Sunday, while Bonnie was at church, her grandson Carl Pressley broke into her home and waited for his grandmother to return. As a signal, Pressley’s girlfriend rang the doorbell and when the caretaker came to the door, Pressley snuck-up behind her, killed her and kidnapped his grandmother.
Pressley was in custody hours later, confessing to the crimes, and remorseful.

“He did, um, say he was sorry repeatedly, investigator Sgt. John Wilkerson told KXAN, “he asked me to forgive him, made comments about burning in hell for the actions that he did.”

Photo Gallery: Death of the ‘Pecan Queen’

Pressley brought investigators to a campground in Leon County where he admits to holding his grandmother’s head underwater and burying her body here in a shallow grave, covering her body with leaves.

Autopsy reports indicate Bonnie Harkey may have been buried alive. Pressley and his girlfriend, Lillian King are now facing charges in multiple counties

But almost immediately, Pressley told investigators a bizarre story. While admitting to the kidnapping and murders, Pressley says he only did it because his uncle, Bruce Harkey, paid him to do it.

“There was a payment made to Carl Pressley and of course there were some arrangements to be made that further payment would be made to Carl Pressley for killing Bonnie Harkey,” Wilkerson explained.

Bruce Harkey was Bonnie Harkey’s step-son. He’s also a former cop and investigator with the Attorney General’s Office. and he was set to inherit a large portion of the family fortune when Bonnie died. Those close to Bonnie say she was afraid of Bruce.

Bruce Harkey called KXAN from behind bars, to say he is innocent and his nephew, Carl Pressley is a liar.

“I didn’t have a damn thing to do with harming that woman in any way,” Harkey told KXAN in 2012. “I don’t feel guilty because Carl’s not a human being, he is the living epitome of evil,” he continued.

Investigators say the motive is pure greed. Bruce, they say, was feeling the pressure from years of past-due child support and the family Pecan fortune was his way out.

His adamant denial is no surprise to them.

“Bruce Harkey would not confess to anything he’s done wrong,” Wilkerson said.

Still, it seems hard to believe a man would pay his own nephew to kill his own stepmother. Hard to believe until you look at Bruce Harkey’s past. And, we did.
It turns out, this is not the first time he’s been “accused of” solicitation of murder.

Harkey’s Past

“He said he would kill me, they would never implicate him,” His ex-wife, Kami, said, “he tried to have me killed.”

“He started to warn me at least once a week, that if I ever tried to run.. and that’s what he called it, to run, that he would kill me,” she told KXAN.

In 1996, barely 20-years-old, this woman became Bruce Harkey’s eighth wife. He was 44. She says he was immediately abusive.. and after their daughter was born, she says the threats turned deadly.

This woman’s name is Kami, she’s changed her last name. And has been hiding from Bruce Harkey for years. We’re not saying where in the United States she now lives, but we found her, flew-out to meet her, and she told us when she finally left Bruce Harkey, his threats had turned to action.

“I had an ATF agent and a Texas Ranger knock on my door one day and they just said we needed to have a seat. Your soon to be ex-husband, and we know you’re in a big custody battle and trying to go through a divorce, but we have reason to believe he wants to hurt you, and I said ‘no, no, he wants to kill me.’ And they said that’s actually true, he is trying to get someone to kill you.

KXAN obtained arrest reports alleging that Bruce Harkey had asked a maintenance worker to build him a gun silencer to kill Kami. What he did not know, is ATF Agents and Texas Rangers had Harkey under electronic surveillance.

According to Federal Court documents, Harkey tells the maintenance worker about his conversation with Kami, saying “There ain’t no witnesses to it, I ain’t got no tape recorder that’s running, you ain’t got no tape recorder that’s running either. I will kill your sorry (expletive)

Police reports say he then told the worker, “he was going to step over the edge and not be able to come back one of these days”.

Days later, when Bruce Harkey was arrested on federal charges, police found a Winchester Rifle, a silencer and 450 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle.

Kami says Agents played a portion of the videotaped surveillance for her to see.

“…and it was chilling,” she said, …”The ways to dispose of my body and the gruesome way, what he was going to do to my body.”

Bruce Harkey was sentenced to five years in federal prison for possession of an unregistered silencer. Released in 2008 and now charged again, this time with “solicitation of murder” in the death of his step-mother, Bonnie Harkey, a woman loved by so many in her small Texas town..

“The sad part is, I wasn’t surprised. Because he tried to kill me. But um, that sweet, sweet woman, she just didn’t deserve to die that way and she was just the sweetest lady…just, such a gift,” Kami said. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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