Fourteen months on from the devastating death of his wife, Beth, Duane Chapman is introducing ET to the woman who has helped him heal from the loss and given him another chance at love and marriage. Chapman, aka Dog the Bounty Hunter, lost Beth, who he had been married to for 13 years, to cancer in June 2019.
Francie lost her husband, Bob, an excavator, to cancer just six months before Beth died. In fact, it was Francie who Duane was talking about when he last spoke to ET and mentioned that he had teared up earlier in the day while speaking to a woman who had just lost her spouse. Little did Duane realize that next time he spoke to ET, he would be introducing that woman as his fiancée!
Francie admitted she hadn’t heard of Dog the Bounty Hunter, until a friend mentioned he had lost his wife and that the two should meet. That was two days after Beth passed away and Francie called her friend “nuts” after she made the suggestion.
Fast forward six months and Duane, presumably needing an excavator, called Bob’s phone not knowing he had died. Francie heard the voicemail and called back, initially unaware she was talking to the television star until he mentioned he was Dog the Bounty Hunter. It was during that call the two realized they were both grieving their partners.
“As soon as I hung up the phone, I called my girlfriend and was like, ‘Are you sitting down right now because you're not going to believe who I just talked to,’” Francie says. “She was screaming, ‘I told you!’”
Duane eventually asked her out and she replied, “Yeah, if you go to church.” While initially brushing off Duane’s advances, the emotional, tear-filled church service culminated in the two holding hands and Duane declaring, “Gotcha!”
Francie is a former rancher and hunter, so Duane says there “couldn’t have been a better pick that God picked” for him. The two quickly bonded over their grief and Duane says he, “knew right away this was love.”
“We understood the pain that the other one was feeling and [in] those tough days and moments, we helped each other stand up,” Francie adds. “We could cry with each other and talk about what we were feeling. We were able to walk alongside each other through the pain and heartbreak and it brought us together in this amazing way.”
Duane wasted no time proposing, even getting down on one knee. The two are still deciding on a date and debating how big the ceremony will be, with Duane eager for a “huge” wedding attended by his fans.
While the couple have found love, they continue to grieve their loved ones. Duane shared how Beth used to love tubing down the Platte River in Colorado every Father’s Day, so this year he, his children and Francie visited the spot on June 26, the anniversary of her death. They plan to return every year to mark the date. They also honor Dec. 30, which is when Bob passed away.
“We honor those dates and we don't feel guilty, but it's kind of strange,” Duane said. “But we're in love and I say all the time, ‘Beth, I'm glad you provided me with Francie because that wasn't on my list.’”
Adds Francie: “We're both still grieving. We're never going to leave Bob and Beth behind [or] forget about them. They'll always be a part of us. We thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives with them and that's not what happened and we were dealt a really hard hand. Both of us had a decision to make – are we going to rise up from the ashes and get back to life and what Beth and Bob would have wanted from us?”
Chapman previously told ET he would never marry again and that Beth used to joke she would haunt him if another woman ever took her place.
“She haunted me for a bit!” he says. “I would never [have] thought [there would] be another Mrs. Dog, but by God there will be a final Mrs. Chapman.”
As for Bob, Francie believes he would wholeheartedly approve of Duane. And, the rest of her family is thrilled about Duane, especially her son who was initially in disbelief about his mom dating the star.
“I had them come over and [Duane] shows up at the door and I think my son sat there for five minutes and couldn't say a word because he was shell-shocked,” Francie says. “Now they love him. My grandson calls him ‘Grandpa Dog’ already.”
Francie has also proved to be a positive force in Duane’s health. As well as helping him quit smoking, she says he now eats better – “he’s juicing with me!” – has normal blood pressure and has lost around 30 pounds.
As for those who feel he has moved on too fast from Beth, Duane says he was “dying of a broken heart” following her death, and needed to find a way forward. Francie also understands if some Dog the Bounty Hunter fans are dubious about the romance.
“Duane and Beth built a legacy with the shows and she has – in her own right, outside of Duane – thousands of fans [who] genuinely love her,” she says. “So, I do understand the, ‘How could you do this so quickly?’ We didn't expect this either. My son thought I was going to run off and be a missionary in Africa just not to deal with life without Bob anymore. Neither one of us were expecting what happened, but God brought us together and how it fell into place was a miracle.”
While recent months have brought newfound joy and love, Duane has also been back at work. He channeled some of his grief into a film project, playing himself in Hunter’s Creed. The movie, out on Oct. 6, is about a man mourning his wife who reunites with church friends to film a hunting show.
“If you've been through the scenes in your life, you're just bringing it back up, so it wasn't hard for me,” he says about the deeply personal themes of the faith-based movie. “I didn't have to pretend and I didn't have to know storyline – I just let it out.”