When you picture a bounty hunter, you probably think of someone like Duane “Dog” Chapman—a big bruiser of a guy kicking down doors and chasing fugitives from the law—not a little lady who stands 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds. But bounty hunting is precisely what Grand Junction native Betty Tanksley, 75, did from 1998 to 2002.
It started with a promise
Married at 17, Tanksley found herself the single mother of five at age 24. Determined to make it on her own, she made a vow to God that if she were given the strength and the means to give her kids a good education and raise them properly, she would dedicate her life to the service of others. While working two jobs and caring for her children, she enrolled in nursing school in Denver.
“I put my kids through Catholic school and it was really hard being a single mom,” she said. “I made this promise that if the Spirit helped me get them all through school then I’d give back to the Spirit.”
Once her children were grown, Tanksley fulfilled her promise by serving as a pediatric nurse at the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and left for Uganda in 1989. She worked in a clinic and provided health care to children in nearby villages. During her time there, she unknowingly met Mother Teresa, whose words ring true for her today: “The pain in your eyes is evidence of the love in your heart.”
In her early 50s, Tanksley returned to Colorado to work in Denver’s Five-Points Area, a neighborhood wracked with drugs, guns and violence. She said working there was more frightening than working in Africa, where she was once shot at from a
“I’ve had more guns pointed at my head than anyone should,” she said.
She wasn’t done with danger, though. Her next nursing assignment took her to Colombia, where she rode a burro from campo to campo providing medical care. She returned to Colorado in 1995.
“I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore,” she said. “It was just too dangerous. I got tired of guns, so I took a break. That’s when I became a bail bondsman and a bounty hunter.”
A new career
Tanksley’s oldest son had begun a bail bond business in Denver, where he collaborated on cases with Chapman before the television show “Dog the Bounty Hunter” launched him to fame. Tanksley joined the business in the late ’90s, working out of her home in Breckenridge. She chose to never carry a gun, but traveled with a hammer under the seat of her car.
Like any profession, bounty hunting comes with its own lingo. Tanksley recalled her first “bust” of a man who had failed to show up for his court date.
As she approached the suspect’s home with two of her sons accompanying her, one of them turned to her and said, “You hit the door, and we’ll hit the sides.”
He meant that the men would stand on either side of the door as she knocked, but finding the door unlocked, she kicked it open and walked in. She handcuffed the man and marched him outside.
Luckily, no one ever tried to assault Tanksley or hurt her as they were being arrested.
“That only happened when I was a nurse,” she said.
Her kids never showed concern for her new profession until she received an order from the FBI to stop pursuing one man because he was a terrorist.
“That’s kind of why I got out,” she said. “My son got very careful after that and I didn’t have the freedom anymore.”
She said bounty hunting allowed her to meet some really good people and have some memorable experiences.
“I think it got rid of my prejudice toward people who go to jail,” she said. “They’re just people that make mistakes. I met as nice of people coming out of that jail as I ever met coming out of church.”
One of her most satisfying arrests involved a man she apprehended in a motel. He was concerned about leaving his girlfriend behind because she had no money and nowhere to go. Tanksley went back for her. She was using drugs and had just discovered she was pregnant. When her parents were called, they refused to have anything to do with her.
Tanksley took the distraught girl to her home, where she lived for six months. Tanksley weaned her off drugs and provided her with counseling and a healthy diet. When she was seven months along in her pregnancy, she called her parents again and they were reunited. Eight months later, the girl reappeared at Tanksley’s door with a healthy baby girl in her arms and thanked her for everything she did.
After moving to Grand Junction, Tanksley stopped working as a bounty hunter in 2002 in order to care for her ailing parents, but she continued to help her son by performing surveillance of suspects.
“It wasn’t as fun to be a bail bondsman in Grand Junction because I dealt mostly with college kids who came on vacation and left on probation,” she said.
Tanksley returned to nursing and retired in March.
Now she’s planning to write a book about her adventures from the viewpoint of the Birkentstocks she wore everywhere she went. It’s titled “Sole to Soul.”