Evelyn Stevens was a women’s wrestling trailblazer and one of the few to taste championship gold during the authoritarian reign of Fabulous Moolah. However, in 1986, her world shockingly came crashing down.
“If anybody was the aggressor in this relationship, it was her. She just blew him away. There was nothing in the lady’s background to indicate she was a timid wallflower.”
– Prosecutor Juan Chavira
Evelyn Stevens – The Unfortunate Case of a Championship Wrestler
Evelyn Stevens, along with Kay Noble, Betty Niccoli, Beverly Shade, and Donna Lemke, were some of the brave women who paved their way in wrestling without the Fabulous Moolah’s in-between business dealings.
A Tampa, Florida native but raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Evelyn enjoyed cheerleading and playing hoops.
Once in the grappling game, the statuesque blonde was unafraid to play on her sex appeal.
Deep in the kayfabe era of wrestling, an April 1969 edition of The Wrestler ran an article that Evelyn supposedly wrote entitled "Sex and the Girl Wrestler."
The article related how older men in the arenas ogled the lady wrestlers and couldn’t avoid fantasizing about them when laying in suggestive positions, as often happens in wrestling. The article resembled wrestling erotica and was a precursor to the hot and steamy apartment wrestling pieces shot by sports photographer Theo Ehret that were soon to come.
Stanley Weston, founder of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine and its sister publications, believed that “broads and blood” is what sold the magazines. There were many years when the covers featured women in skimpy bikinis next to horrific photos of blood-drenched wrestlers.
Evelyn Stevens primarily plied her trade as a heel in the Midwest and Great Plains region until settling in Texas, where she went into the wrestling history books after a match booked by Gary Hart.
“In October 1978, I had Moolah booked in a couple of matches against Evelyn Stevens, and I thought it would be good to do a quickie title switch,” said Hart in his must-read (albeit incredibly hard to find in print) book, My Life in Wrestling.
"There were a couple of problems with that, however. First of all, Moolah first won the belt in 1956, and she didn’t like losing it. Second, Evelyn wasn’t one of Moolah’s girls- she was considered independent.
"It was rare enough she was getting in the ring with someone she didn’t control, and now I was asking her to drop her belt to that person! Moolah had a lot of trust in me, though, so when I asked her if we could do a title switch, she agreed."
Evelyn Stevens won the title on October 8th, 1978, but had it for only two days. Nonetheless, she is one of the few women who boast of pinning the Fabulous Moolah cleanly and holding her championship title.
When speaking about her decades-spanning championship reign, Moolah never acknowledged Evelyn Stevens’ title win. And neither did she recognize the previous three women she dropped the title to (Bette Boucher on September 17th, 1966, Yukiko Tomoe in Japan in 1968, and Sue “Tex” Green on February 2nd, 1976, who got Moolah to scream “I quit,” by placing Moolah in an Indian death lock.
Fun fact: After 22 minutes, Green’s match with Moolah became a shoot (it went off-script and turned real). The catalyst seems to have been years of the controlling Moolah and strong-willed Green not getting along. On top of it all, Moolah slapped Green hard in the face before the match. Later Vince McMahon Sr. stepped in and obliged Sue Green to return the title. Some sources claim Green held it for a couple of days, but Green, in an interview on Dan and Benny in the Ring, assures that it was for five months. Eventually, she returned Moolah’s belt but demanded a picture be taken of her handing it back!
It is unclear whether the current NWA recognizes these women as world titleholders, and currently, there is no information on their official page. But at the time they occurred, they were not officially recognized.
When Moolah sold the title to the WWF in 1983, the lineage started anew, and the accomplishments of these three ladies were ignored.
In the mid-’80s, Evelyn Stevens was still wrestling in the Texas area, mainly for Southwest Championship Wrestling, where she became their Texas Women’s Champion.
Previously, she had married Donald Delbert Jardine, better known in wrestling circles as the Canadian masked wrestler managed by Gary Hart, The Spoiler. His infamous claw hold and his ability to walk the ring ropes made the feared Spoiler a popular attraction in many regions.
Once the two divorced, Stevens kept the Jardine surname and married Frank Riegle, a bodybuilder fitness center owner. But tragedy would soon strike during a lover’s spat.
The following is what San Antonio’s Seguin Gazette Enterprise reported on December 18th, 1986:
“A former women’s wrestling champion has been charged with murder in the shooting death of a gymnasium owner she claimed was her common-law husband, police say. Frank Riegle, 41, died of gunshot wounds to the face and chest.”
The news release continued, “Officers reported that Riegle had driven from Powerhouse Fitness Center, the business he operated, to a home in San Antonio at the time of the shooting that Tuesday afternoon. Evelyn Jardine Riegle, 43, was charged with murder on Wednesday and was being held in the Bexar County jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond.
“Evelyn’s divorce attorney, Diane O’Heir of Bandera, said that her client, who was under psychiatric care, had filed a police report stating that Frank Riegle threw her across the room. Also, several neighbors had witnessed him tossing her back and forth across her front yard in the snow.”
Prosecutor Juan Chavira believed that Evelyn was to blame for how things ended between the couple, warranting punishment.
“I guess if anybody was the aggressor in this relationship, it was her. She just blew him away. There was nothing in the lady’s background to indicate she was a timid wallflower. The pattern of the battered wife syndrome does not fit her at all. She was a wrestler. Wrestlers are actors.”
The book Sisterhood of the Squared Circle, written by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy, adds that Evelyn shot Frank Riegle three times at point-blank range during the argument. Police also found a hand-written confession at the scene of the heinous crime.
“May God in heaven forgive me for what I’ve done," the letter stated. "I have reached out to everyone for help. I love [Frank] enough for us to die together.”
Subsequently, Evelyn pleaded guilty to murder and spent years behind bars.
A Second Chance At Life
Evelyn Jardine Riegle only served five years of a 20-year prison sentence after being paroled to Western Colorado. Before Riegle’s death, a judge had signed a mutual restraining order.
While imprisoned, a nationwide clemency movement began. It prompted to help release women who could prove through hospital records, police reports, or sworn eyewitness accounts that they killed for self-preservation or to protect a child after enduring long-term physical abuse.
Evelyn applied for clemency to no longer report to a parole officer.
The thinking was that if the state was letting out "hard, cold, murderers every day, then they should be letting out these battered women who would never kill again."
Inconsistencies on the Current Whereabouts of Evelyn Stevens
Some sources mistakenly claim that Evelyn Stevens is still serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of Frank Riegle. But a trusted source and friend of the page reached out to us (thank you), and after exhaustive research, he indicated that he could confirm that she is, in fact, still alive.
After re-marrying again, he believes she lives in Florida under a new last name. Although he provided us with the last name, for his and her safety, we preferred not to share it.
It is a somber ending to a woman with a successful career and former NWA Women’s Champion. We cannot condone anyone’s murder, but if it was in self-defense, and if she is alive, hopefully, she has found peace after all these years.
These stories may also interest you:
- Fabulous Moolah – Her Career and Controversial Legacy
- Lucha Libre | 5 Chilling Cases of Murder and the Paranormal
- Dino Bravo | His Shocking Death and Murder by the Mob
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