Voluntary False Confessions

12 Cases

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CA - Los Angeles - Bob Williams 1955-56

FL - Dade - Joseph Shea 1959

HI - Hawaii - Frank Pauline 1991

IN - Allen - Ralph Lobaugh 1944-45

IN - Knox - John Jeffers 1975

MO - Boone - Chuck Erickson 2001

TX - Bell - Eugene Padgett 1931

TX - Ector - James Harry Reyos 1982

TX - Williamson - Henry Lee Lucas 1979

Ontario - Romeo Phillion 1967

England - John Perry 1660

England - Sean Hodgson 1979




Date of Alleged Crime


Los Angeles County, CA Bob Williams 1955-56

Robert E. Williams, also known as Bob, was was convicted of the murders of Matt Manestar and Ralph Burgess.  Manestar, 56, was the owner of the Rose Motel located at 1345 West Pacific Coast Highway in Harbor City.  He was killed on the night of Jan. 22-23, 1956.  Williams confessed to this murder while in a northern California juvenile correction camp.  He figured his confession would allow him to contact his girlfriend as it would force his transfer to police custody in southern California for questioning.  He was anxious to contact her because he believed she was about to marry someone else.  He also figured that he could not be convicted of murdering Manestar as he was incarcerated at the correction camp when the murder occurred.  Unfortunately Williams figured wrong.

Two years later, in an effort to free himself by proving that an innocent person could be convicted of murder due to a false confession, Williams decided to confess to another murder that occurred while he was in the correction camp.  In a Long Beach newspaper Williams found a story about the unsolved murder of Ralph Burgess.  Burgess, a salesman, was murdered on Nov. 20, 1955 at McKinney's furniture store at 2430 East Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach.  While five fellow inmates watched him, Williams wrote out a confession to this murder using details from the newspaper.  Williams was proven right more than he had hoped.  When put on trial for the murder, he was convicted again.  He was not allowed to refute his confession by calling his fellow inmates as witnesses.

Seventeen years later, in 1975, Williams was paroled from prison.  He began working on establishing his innocence.  Eventually, in a San Pedro police records room, he found a letter from a correction camp supervisor camp stating he had been in custody at the time of Manestar's murder.  This letter had been withheld from Williams' defense at trial.  In 1978, a judge released Williams from his life parole, effectively ending his sentence.  (News Article) (ISI)  [7/09]


Dade County, FL Joseph Shea Feb 23, 1959 (Miami)

Joseph F. Shea was convicted of murder after confessing to committing one.  The victim, Mary Meslener, 23, was a National Airlines clerk and was found on a canal bank three miles from Miami International Airport.  She had been shot once in the head.  More than two months after the murder, Shea, 20, an airman in the U.S. Air Force, waved a bloody shirt at his sergeant in West Palm Beach and vaguely insisted that he had done “something bad.”  Because Shea had been trying to fake a medical discharge, the sergeant was skeptical.  However, the incident brought Shea to the attention of police.

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Hawaii County, HI Pauline & Schweitzers Dec 24, 1991

While riding her bicycle, 23-year-old Dana Ireland was hit by a car.  Then she was taken to a remote area 5 miles north of the collision site where she was raped and murdered.  Two-and-a half years later an Oahu inmate, Frank Pauline, Jr., came forward with information.  He said that in exchange for the information he wanted the authorities to look kindly on his half-brother who was facing drug charges.

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Allen County, IN Ralph Lobaugh 1944-45

Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh was sentenced to death for the murders of three women.  Within an 18-month period of time, four women were abducted and killed in the Fort Wayne area:  Wilhelmina Haaga, 38, on Feb. 2, 1944, Anna Kuzeff, 20, on May 22, 1944, Phyllis Conine, 17, on Aug. 6, 1944, and Dorothea Howard, 36, on Mar. 6, 1945.  The murders of these women were all committed during inclement weather.  They were possibly the work of a single serial killer dubbed “The Killer in the Rain.”  There were some differences between the first three murders and Howard's murder, suggesting a different killer had murdered Howard.

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Knox County, IN John Jeffers Mar 1, 1975

John Jeffers was convicted of the abduction, rape, and murder of 23-year-old Sherry Lee Gibson.  At first this crime went unsolved, but two years later, Jeffers, then 17, confessed to it while at a juvenile detention facility.  Jeffers first confession was inconsistent with the known facts of the crime.  However, over time his confession evolved, growing consistent with the facts of the crime – apparently because of information he gathered during interrogation sessions.  Because of his evolved confession, a judge accepted his guilty plea and Jeffers was sentenced to 34 years in prison.  Jeffers died in prison five years later.

In 2001, a participant in the crime, Ella Mae Dicks, walked into an Atlanta, Georgia police station and confessed.  She named her former husband, Wayne Gulley, as her co-participant.  Based on the detailed facts known by Dicks, she and Gulley were indicted.  When asked why Jeffers confessed, his brother Mark stated, “He had a need to feel important.”  (CWC)  [1/06]


Boone County, MO Ferguson & Erickson Nov 1, 2001 (Columbia)

Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson were convicted of the brutal murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.  A janitor, Jerry Trump, caught a glimpse of two young white men running away from Heitholt's car around the time of the murder.  The janitor said he could not provide a detailed description of them.  Two years after the crime, after reading anniversary newspaper coverage, Erickson began telling friends he dreamed he had killed Heitholt.

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Bell County, TX Eugene Padgett Feb 1931 (Little River)
Eugene Padgett was convicted of the murder of Will Sanderford.  Sanderford was beaten to death during a Feb 1931 burglary in Little River, Texas.  Padgett confessed to the murder while serving a 20-year sentence for burglary because he thought his trial for murder would necessitate his being held in a small town jail and that he would be able to escape from it.  Unfortunately he was held in the relatively secure Travis County Jail in nearby Austin.  The courts did not allow Padgett to appeal his murder conviction until he served out the full term of his burglary conviction, which they felt was justified because he planned to escape.  Padgett's murder conviction was eventually set aside in July 1955.  (SDC) (The Innocents)  [7/05]


Ector County, TX James Harry Reyos Dec 21, 1981 (Odessa)

For reasons unknown, James Harry Reyos confessed in New Mexico to police that he had killed a Catholic priest, Father Patrick Ryan, during a homosexual tryst in a West Texas motel.  However, every other piece of testimony controverted his guilt.  Reyos had an airtight alibi:  He was 200 miles away when the priest was bludgeoned to death.  Reyos could prove his alibi with time-stamped receipts, a speeding ticket, and even an eyewitness.  Father Ryan was a much beloved priest, and Reyos's allegations that the father had repeatedly solicited young men for sex shocked and offended the jurors.  Reyos was convicted and sentenced to 38 years of imprisonment.  The state's attorney responding to Reyos's appeal made himself a timeline of the crime and realized that Reyos could not have committed the crime.  The attorney put in a pardon request but it was turned down.  Reyos was paroled in 2003.  (AJ) (Chronicle)


Williamson County, TX Henry Lee Lucas Oct 31, 1979

Henry Lee Lucas was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder of an unidentified woman whose body was found along I-35 near Georgetown, Texas.  The case was known as the “Orange Socks” case because the victim was found nude except for a pair of orange socks.  Lucas had confessed to the crime.  In his videotaped confession, Lucas said that he had consensual sex with the victim, but this statement was edited out when played at trial, because the prosecution needed to maintain that the victim was raped in order to make Lucas eligible for the death penalty.  The medical examiner had found no evidence of rape.  The victim had an advanced case of syphilis, but Lucas had no venereal disease.  It was later proven that Lucas was in another state at the time.  In 1998, three days before his scheduled execution, Texas Governor George W. Bush pardoned Lucas.

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Ontario, Canada Romeo Phillion Aug 9, 1967 (Ottawa)

Romeo Phillion was convicted of the murder of Leopold Roy.  Roy, 48, was stabbed to death on Aug. 9, 1967 at the Churchill Court Apartments located at 275 Friel St. in Ottawa.  Roy worked for the Ottawa Fire Department and was also superintendent of the apartments.  The killer had some claim to have acted in self-defence as Roy had assaulted him merely because his behavior was suspicious.

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England Perry Family Aug 16, 1660

William Harrison, the manager of a wealthy estate, went out to collect rent money from tenants.  When he did not return at his usual time, his servant, John Perry, was sent to look for him.  Harrison's hat and comb were found and had been slashed.  Harrison's collar band was also found with bloodstains.  Harrison was presumed murdered and searches were made for his body, but it was never found.

For unknown reasons, John Perry confessed to the murder of Harrison and implicated his brother and mother.  Perry later retracted his confession and his brother and mother professed their innocence, but all were convicted of the murder and hanged.  Two years after the executions, Harrison turned up alive.  He told a story of having been kidnapped and held as a slave in Turkey.  (CWP) (CW) (FJDB)  [12/06]


England (Winchester CC) Sean Hodgson Dec 1979 (Southampton)
Robert Graham “Sean” Hodgson was convicted of the murder of Teresa de Simone, 22.  De Simone's partially clothed body had been found in the back of her Ford Escort outside the Tom Tackle pub in Southampton where she worked part-time as a barmaid.  She had been strangled with her own gold chain.  Twelve months later, Hodgson, who had been in the area at the time, confessed committing the murder to a prison chaplain, prison warders, and police while serving a jail sentence for a separate crime.  Four other people had also confessed to the crime, but their confessions were discounted by detectives.  Hodgson later pleaded not guilty on the grounds he was a pathological liar.  Material recovered at the scene belonged to a man of blood group A or AB.  Hodgson shared this group, although so did about one-third of the male population.  However, in 2009, DNA tests of semen recovered from the scene showed that it did not belong to Hodgson and his conviction was quashed.  He was released after serving 27 years of imprisonment and believed to be the victim of Britain's “longest miscarriage of justice.”  (Telegraph)  [3/09]