Catherine Stroup, Jim Stroup’s wife, inspired the true-story movie To Love, Honor, and Betray. Catherine Stroup was murdered by the Leach brothers, two men hired by her son-in-law Michael Seawright. The movie, To Love, Honor, and Betray, first aired on CBS on Wednesday, May 12, 1999, and it aired for years on Lifetime. The names of the real people and the real locations were changed in the TV movie. The real woman died in 1983. I wrote about the case extensively on the now defunct website Movies Based On True Stories Database and Archives.
To Love, Honor, and Betray Movie
When a nurse finds out that her father is a womanizer and her mother ends up dead, she suspects the killer is her father. Her testimony helps put him away, until further evidence suggests the murder was masterminded by her husband. (starring James Brolin, Crystal Bernard, David Cubitt, and Dee Wallace Stone.)
Some notes on the real Jim Stroup and an interview I had with him ten years ago
The last time I spoke with Jim Stroup he told me he was old, but he “remembers it all.” I began my discussion with him by asking how he liked the movie, To Love, Honor, and Betray, and if he thought it was accurate. He said it was fiction, nothing like the real story.
“The movie is very Hollywood.”
Jim Stroup thought the way To Love, Honor, and Betray producers depicted the city of Twenty Nine Palms as a nice high-class area in the movie was interesting and inaccurate. According to Stroup, it is a “gritty place” plagued with drug houses and shady people, “not a good place to live,” then or now, he said.
Catherine Stroup’s son, Mark Stroup, reached out to me a few years ago and said his mother was killed in Hawthorne, not Twenty Nine Palms as shown in the movie. Jim Stroup confirmed this.
“My mother was found dead in her home in Hawthorne, CA. not 29 Palms. The movie was anything but the truth. My sister’s husband had my mom murdered ,and according to trial transcripts and statements made by Mike Seawright himself , my sister knew about it before, and after the murder , and seemed to go along with it. She was in no way a victim as she is portrayed in the movie, to the contrary , she was an accomplice. So don’t you dare try to pass this garbage of a movie off as truth. And one more thing , my sister even profited from the murder of her own mother as she was paid $20,000.00 for her interviews for the movie. It was based on the interview my sister gave the screenwriter.
The murder happened at a rundown apartment out in the desert. At the time, there was no phone, and it was not ritzy in any way. They used it as a weekend place.
In To Love, Honor, and Betray’s true story movie, based on Catherine Stroup, it was the daughter who investigated her mother’s murder and brought her father to justice. Jim Stroup said he was the one who found his wife’s body and who figured out Michael Seawright was involved all along.
Jim Stroup, along with many others, believe Cheryl Seawright knew what really happened to her mother, but she was never charged in the case. During the interview, Jim said Cheryl (Sheryl Lynn Seawright) was living in Las Vegas and working at a gas station, and that he hadn’t seen her in years. (not a nurse as shown in the movie)
Mark Stroup told Traciy Curry Reyes the following.
It [the movie] was based on the interview my sister gave the screenwriter. My sister was no trauma room nurse. She didn’t make it past 8th grade. She got pregnant at 13 and had 2 kids by the time she was 15. The only truth in that movie was the color of the jailhouse jumpsuits. Read the case transcripts. The brothers testified that she was there when this was planned. They thought they would get the house , the water business, and the 80,000.00 life insurance on my dad.
Investigators said the killers told them Cheryl was there when the robbery was planned, though it has never been proven as fact.
What is known is that Cheryl Seawright supported Michael Seawright during his trial and kept her married name. Jim Stroup and his daughter, at the time of the interview, didn’t have a close relationship. He went years without hearing from her until she called all of a sudden about a year prior to our conversation, and it went like this.
Cheryl Seawright–“Hey, it’s me.”
Jim Stroup–“Well, what does me want?”
Jim Stroup also told me he didn’t want anything to do with her or her kids, especially after what went down at trial. It was shocking to find out Michael Seawright, who was still handling aspects of the business, had orchestrated the entire murder, even while the Paul and Peter Leach were in prison, no one suspected Michael’s involvement, at first.
Jim Stroup thinks Michael Seawright was smart, and that he “played them all.” Seawright made sure to keep up with the investigation and had access to—and was obsessed with—the attorney’s “murder book” on the case.
“Michael was more interested in the murder book than I was.”
Once Jim Stroup’s gun turned up and was identified as the murder weapon, it all made sense. According to Jim, when he first met Michael Seawright, he didn’t trust him, believing he was a smooth talker and a conman. He said his wife, Catherine Stroup, liked her son-in-law so much she thought of him as one of her real sons and convinced him to hire Michael.
A scene out of To Love, Honor, and Betray, shows Catherine arguing with a man in her home when a neighbor walked by and heard it. We were told in the real case it was the maintenance man, not a neighbor, who heard the argument and that it was actually Catherine Stroup and her son arguing, though they didn’t specify which son.
In the true story movie, To Love, Honor, and Betray, neighbors also heard thudding and commotion coming from the apartment that night. Investigators say what they heard was the actual murder happening at that exact moment. By the time Jim Stroup made it there, after a night of drinking, his wife was dead. He fled to the neighbor’s home for help and stated his wife had been shot, but the neighbors told police Jim Stroup said he was the one who had shot her. That misunderstanding led to Jim’s arrest.
Jim and Catherine Stroup were married for 27 years, and during that time, she put up with his drinking, his late nights, and his womanizing ways, but according to Jim, they were on their way back to mending their relationship when the murder occurred. He said his life worsened after her death.
- Stroups guns were stolen.
One of his guns turned up at a pawn show that Michael Seawright used.
Seawright distanced himself from the family and started living at a rundown trailer on the outskirts of town. This is what inspired the cabin scene in the movie.
Movie producers kept up with the story in the news and later contacted Cheryl Seawright and Jim Stroup for interviews about the case. They were paid nearly $4,000 for their stories. They weren’t told how much moviemakers would change the true story and were shocked to see the fictionalized version.
After Catherine Stroup died, Jim Stroup married a kind “Spanish” woman. He said Catherine Stroup was his second wife, and that one of his previous wives had died after a gallbladder operation.
Though he was old and not in good health at the time of the interview, Jim Stroup said he was very happy with his new life and his new wife, but that sadly, one of his sons had trouble with the law.
Updates in the Case: Where Are They Now?
- Peter Leach died in prison in 2006.
- Paul Leach is no longer listed in the California inmate search and could also be dead.
- Michael Seawright is in his late 60s and is incarcerated at Valley State Prison.
The story aired recently on Investigation Discovery’s Betrayed. To see what happened to killers Paul Leach and Peter Leach visit our previous article.
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To Love, Honor, & Betray True Story Movie On YouTube.