State Seeks Pardons for Defendants Wrongfully Convicted in 1985 Nebraska Murder

Another, less common, form of false confession also appears to have played a part in the Beatrice case. Some innocent people, especially those who are emotionally vulnerable or mentally unstable, come to believe they committed the crime.

"They believe the police have good evidence. They start to say maybe I did do it," Kassin said. "At that point the interrogation shifts to getting them to imagine how it happened."

Helen Wilson Murder Discovered

Florence Arnst went to check on her sister, Helen Wilson, at about nine in the morning on Feb. 6, 1985. She'd last seen Wilson, who was sick with pneumonia, the previous evening, when Arnst brought her a hamburger for dinner.

Arnst let herself in to the small one-bedroom apartment and found her 68-year-old sister lying on her back in the middle of the living room. Wilson's blue nightgown was pulled up to her chest and her hands were bound in front of her tied with a towel. A yellow and brown afghan was tied around her head, covering her face.

Vicious Struggle Before Helen Wilson Rape, Murder

It looked like there had been a vicious struggle. Blood stained the bed and bedroom walls. Police would find that Wilson died from suffocation and had been raped, probably after her death. About $1,300 in cash was still in the apartment.

The neighbors hadn't heard a struggle. Wilson, a quiet woman who babysat for children at her church, always locked her door. Arnst couldn't think of anyone who would want to kill her sister.

Not long after the murder, Beatrice police considered Bruce Allen Smith as a possible suspect. Smith had been seen near Wilson's apartment on the night of the murder and had left town not long after. He was a suspect in a different murder in which a woman had been bound, raped and suffocated.

Police tracked him down and obtained blood samples. But a blood test, using forensic evidence available at the time, excluded him as the killer.

Around the same time, Burdette Searcey, a farmer and sometimes private investigator, began looking into the case. Searcey, who knew Wilson's family, had retired from the police department and had turned to farming, growing wheat and raising hogs.

Searcey said an informant told him that a woman named Ada JoAnn Taylor had admitted that she was involved with the murder and had asked for $500 to leave town. According to police reports, Taylor told the informant intimate, and accurate, details of the murder and crime scene.

Searcey also learned that a man named Joseph White was considered a suspect in a recent attempted robbery of an elderly woman. White, who went by the nickname Lobo, knew Taylor. They both were known as drug users and known to spend time with the people who would become the other suspects in the murder -- James Dean, Debra Shelden and Thomas Winslow. White had also lived with Kathy Gonzalez for a short time.

Shelden, who was Winslow's grand-niece, moved into Wilson's apartment shortly after the murder and lived there for a few weeks. She would later say she did not immediately recall the murder but began having nightmares about it, in which she saw the other co-defendants. She would later testify that she had trouble differentiating between her dreams and her memories. She and her husband both implicated Tom Winslow, White and Taylor in the murder, saying Winslow had threatened them if they talked to the police.

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