Mary Kay Beard
Mary Kay Beard (born 1945) is a former bank robber and the founder of the Angel Tree ministry, an international effort to benefit the children of prison inmates. She currently runs her own group of ministries from her home in Center Point.
Mary Kay grew up in the midwest, the fifth of nine children in the family of a devoted Christian mother and an alcoholic and abusive father. She patterned her early life to be like her mother, graduating at the top of her class in high school at 15 and completing nursing school in record time. A brief marriage that produced two children ended in divorce. Later she met Paul Mahaffey, a music promoter and gambler, as well as bank robber and safecracker. She married him nine days after they met and gradually fell into his life of crime. At first she just assisted with gambling cheats, but soon she was holding up banks herself and even staged a prison break to free her husband.
Paul abandoned her during a long hospital stay. She continued the criminal life, partnering with two of her husbands former associates. The stakes continued to climb and by 1972 she was on the FBI's most-wanted list and had a contract on her life from crossing the mafia in a diamond heist.
She was arrested by the FBI in Peoria, Illinois in June 1972 and charged with 11 federal and 35 state counts of grand larceny and armed robbery. She did time at the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, from 1972 to 1978. While in prison she started attending church services and reading the Bible. The other states that had outstanding warrants eventually dropped the charges and she was unexpectedly paroled after serving only six years. Her success with classes at Tutwiler earned her a scholarship to Auburn University, where she completed her Masters in education in 1982. She also met and married former prisoner Don Beard on January 29, 1984.
In 1982 she joined Prison Fellowship, a Virginia-based national prison ministry founded by Chuck Colson, where she was asked to serve as Alabama State Director, and to create a Christmas program. She disdained the usual practice of bringing small gifts to inmates because she had seen that often, the women would turn around and give those tubes of toothpaste and bottles of shampoo to their children, who otherwise would get nothing for Christmas. Instead, she created the "Angel Tree". She placed a christmas tree in two shopping malls with the names and ages of prisoner's children. The ministry delivered gifts to over 550 children that first year and has grown to serve over 6.3 million children around the world today.
She and her husband have founded several other social service programs, including the Shepherd's Fold halfway house in West End, the Encourager Center for Biblical Counseling in Houston, and Encourager Ministries and Impact Family Counseling in Birmingham. Don Beard died in 2006.
In 2006, Beard was named the "Resident of the Year" by the Birmingham East Rotary Club.
- Werhanowicz, Jodi. "Rogue Angel: The Spiritual Journey of one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted." Ezekiel Press