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Thread: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

  1. #1

    mystery Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    Galveston police investigated an imprisoned murderer, who recently claimed to have killed four girls in the county decades ago, but officers found nothing to support his statements, authorities said Monday.

    Edward Harold Bell, 72, sent letters from prison to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office in 1998, claiming he was responsible for the deaths of two high school girls from Galveston and two middle school girls from Dickinson, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday.

    A story published Nov. 19, 2006, in The Daily News detailed how Galveston police detective Fred Paige investigated Bell as a person of interest in the Galveston girls’ homicides but couldn’t get Bell to meet with him.

    Bell, who was sentenced in 1993 to 70 years in prison on a murder charge from Harris County, also declined an interview then with The Daily News.

    Bell wrote the letters from prison, claiming to have killed Ball High School students Debbie Ackerman and Maria Johnson, according to the Chronicle’s story.

    The girls, both 15, were found in Turner’s Bayou in Texas City on Nov. 19, 1971, four days after they were reported missing. The girls were shot and found half nude, according to The Daily News’ archives.

    Galveston police built a cold case file on the killings, three binders thick, police Capt. Jeff Heyse said.

    ‘He Wants Immunity’

    “He wants immunity before swearing to anything, and if he’s not going to swear to anything, you’re not going to get a conviction,” Heyse said.

    Police began trying to place Bell at the scene of a crime committed 40 years ago, Heyse said.

    “Fred Paige put a lot of work into it,” Heyse said. “When you have time to go back and look at that stuff ... We have so many tips on murders, you really need a full-time cold- case team to look at it all.”

    Galveston has some 100 unsolved murders in its cold-case files dating back to the middle 1900s, Heyse said.

    “He can confess to a laundry list of stuff, but we have to prove his confession is true,” Heyse said, noting there was no corroboration to the claims made in the letters.

    Paige started working on the Ackerman and Johnson case in 2005 and turned over findings about Bell to the district attorney’s office.

    “Ed Bell was probably our main suspect,” Paige said. “Circumstantially, we didn’t have enough. Time ruins a lot of good cases.”

    Attempts to obtain the letters Monday from Galveston police were unsuccessful. A voice message and email sent to Galveston County Criminal District Attorney Jack Roady, seeking the letters and comment on the matter, went unanswered.

    In 1971, Bell approached a surf-shop owner about storing diving equipment. Ackerman and Johnson were among those teens that regularly hung out at the shop. After they vanished, two witnesses told police they saw the girls last in a white van. Bell drove a white van in 1972 when police arrested him for exposing himself to young girls.

    ‘Fascinating Coincidences’

    Paige told The Daily News in 2006 that he had other “fascinating coincidences” connecting Bell and the two girls, but no physical evidence. He vowed not to give up, though.

    Bell, who lived for a time in Galveston, was sentenced to 10 years in prison each on two counts of indecency with a child in Harris County cases.

    The Chronicle reported it interviewed Bell in prison, saying he didn’t know the names of the other girls.

    Two Webster girls, Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson, both 14, came to Galveston to surf and were last seen alive Aug. 4, 1971, on 61st Street. In early 1972, police found the girls’ skulls in Turner Bayou a month apart.

    Decades later, investigators believe the wrong man, Michael Self, received a life sentence in the girls’ killings. Self died in prison.

    The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office also is investigating whether there is a connection between Bell and the disappearance of Dickinson middle school students Georgia Greer, 14, and Brooks Bracewell, 12, who were last seen Sept. 6, 1974, at a pay phone outside a Dickinson convenience store. Their remains were found in an Alvin marsh. Dickinson was incorporated in 1977.

    “I’d heard about the guy before, but until I read the article, I’d never heard of Bell connected to Brooks Bracewell and Georgia Greer,” Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo, a Galveston County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said.

    When Tuttoilmondo worked on the case a few years ago, he recalled not having much to go on.

    “That’s something for us to look at,” Tuttoilmondo said.


    Mysteries Along Interstate 45

    Here is a list of unsolved cases of missing and murdered girls and women in Galveston County:

    • July 1, 1971 — Brenda Jones, 14, was last seen in Galveston, saying she was on her way to visit a relative in the hospital. She never made it there. Brenda’s body was later found floating in Galveston Bay, about 500 yards west of the Pelican Island Bridge, with a head wound and a piece of cloth stuffed into her mouth.

    • Nov. 9, 1971 — Allison Craven, 12, vanished from her Galveston home. About three months later, her dismembered remains were found buried in two separate places — in a field near her family’s home and in another field in Pearland, about 13 miles southeast of Houston.

    • Nov. 19, 1971 — The half-nude bodies of Ball High School students Debbie Ackerman and Maria Johnson, both 15, were found in Turner’s Bayou in Texas City four days after they had gone missing. Both had been shot to death.

    • Sept. 6, 1974 — Brooks Bracewell, 12, and Georgia Geer, 14, were last seen at a payphone outside a Dickinson convenience store. Their remains were later found in an Alvin marsh.

    • Oct. 10, 1983 — Sondra Romber, 14, left her Santa Fe home for school but never arrived there. Her father reported her missing the day after he returned home to find his daughter gone and his house unlocked.

    • Oct. 26, 1985 — Michelle Doherty Thomas, 17, disappeared after leaving her Alta Loma home with a group of friends. Investigators believe she may have been kidnapped and killed because she had served as a police informant in a drug bust.

    • May 1986 — Shelley Sikes, 19, left her summer job at Gaido’s restaurant for her Texas City home but never made it. Her car was found on Interstate 45’s northbound feeder road about a mile north of the causeway. Her body was never recovered, but Bayview resident John Robert King and El Lago resident Gerald Peter Zwarst were later convicted of aggravated kidnapping, the most severe charge prosecutors could pursue without a body.

    • Oct. 1988 — Suzanne Rene Richerson, 22, disappeared from the lobby of the Casa Del Mar Condominiums on Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard. One of her shoes was found, but no one has been able to turn up any other trace of her.

    • Sept. 1991 — The remains of an unidentified woman, known as “Janet Doe,” were found in a Calder Road field, just east of Interstate 45. Her body was the fourth found in the field since 1984. Heidi Villareal Fye, 25, disappeared in 1983 and Laura Miller, 16, disappeared in 1984, both from the same convenience store. The bodies of Fye and Miller later turned up in the field, as did another unidentified woman, known only as “Jane Doe.”

    • March 5, 1996 — Krystal Jean Baker, 13, was reported missing after being seen last walking in the 4500 block of FM 1765. Her body was later found near Interstate 10 and the Trinity River in Chambers County. Authorities retested DNA evidence in the case and arrested Kevin Edison Smith on Sept. 22, 2010. He awaits trial on a capital murder charge.

    • April 1997 — Laura Kate Smither, 12, disappeared while jogging near her Friendswood home. Her body was found weeks later in a Pasadena retention pond. Friendswood Crime Stoppers, at 281-480-8477, is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of anyone involved in the child’s death.

    • Aug. 17, 1997 — Jessica Lee Cain, 17, disappeared on her way home from a Bennigan’s restaurant in Webster. Her father found her tan 1992 Ford extended-cab pickup on the shoulder of southbound Interstate 45 between exits 7 and 8 in La Marque. Her wallet and keys were inside. The Cains have established a $50,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts, or to the arrest and indictment of anyone involved in her disappearance. Anyone with information can call the Laura Recovery Center at 281-482-5723.

    • July 12, 2001 — Tot “Totsy” Harriman, 57, was visiting family in League City when she left for a planned trip up state Highway 35 looking for property to buy. Neither she nor her 1995 Lincoln Continental have been seen since.

    • July 12, 2002 — Sarah Trusty, 23, was last seen riding her bicycle near Algoa Baptist Church. Fifteen days later, two fishermen found her decomposed body on the Texas City Dike. Her death was ruled a homicide, and doctors determined she had been dead more than a week when her body was found.

    • Nov. 3, 2006 — A man on a motorcycle found the body of Terresa Vanegas, 16, at the edge of a Dickinson High School practice field. Vanegas had last been seen three days earlier at a Halloween party on California Avenue. Her death was ruled a homicide, with police saying she had suffered various types of injuries.

    • Nov. 10, 2006 — A passerby found the body of Amanda Nicole Kellum, 27, lying facedown at the eastern edge of Omega Bay, just north of the neighborhood bearing the same name. She had been beaten and stabbed to death.

    • July 15, 2007 — Beach campers found the body of Bridgette Gearen, 28, on Crystal Beach. Gearen, a single mother who worked at a Beaumont law firm, had been raped, beaten and strangled. Gearen vanished one Saturday night from outside a beach house at the corner of Redfish and Crystal Beach roads that she was renting along with a dozen friends.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    I myself talked to Bell through a couple letters and he said he did not kill those girls, so I guess it just depends on what week it is with him.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    This case fascinates me. My mother got to know Colette Wilson's family at this time and even stayed with them while some of the investigation was going on. I don't want to misspeak but I think I recall from the Chronicle report that the police have lost or disposed of Bell's letters? Even if they don't put any credence in them, shouldn't they keep them on the slightest off chance they may be true? At least put them in his prisoner record.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    Yes they should have placed this in "an easy to find location" it is of extreme importance. I would be criticized in the past as I grab and save everything even if it does not at the time, you never know when that one piece will suddenly fit..

    There is no excuse for any loss, there are some reasons. First it may not be lost at all, but a single piece of paper with millions and millions of pieces atop it over 40 years, imagine not cleaning your house for 40 years.

    I feel that the "confession" is not lost, it is misplaced and has not been found. It is a formidable challenge to undertake in finding the item.

    I am , I hope you see, not defending any loss but having been there I know the task. Yes it is of extreme importance especially now.

    I do believe that the "confession" could not be corroborated and therefore it was reduced in significance. Many many people confess to things they did not do and many confess in a way that is too nebulous to make any sense of.

    I know personally that the "confession" could not be supported and the author never followed up. I know that he has been contacted by law enforcement and quite the opposite of the "confession" he refused to talk.

    The same for Galveston County. I have seen the confession and as a former professional investigator I saw nothing to support the truth of the confession beyond what had already been seen in the news media.

    I also know that there are in fact investigators in Galveston who have been trying to support the "confession" for many years with real effort. One investigator, Fred Paige , has put in many many personal and professional hours in trying to corroborate the confession.

    Hope this makes some sense as reason, but am making no attempt at excusing.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    It does make sense.

    I had read a report from April of 1972 that a Sam Garcia was arrested and charged with Colette's murder but I have never found anything else. The only other possible reference I found was in regards to the above story that police believed a convict had killed 3 of the girls Bell confessed to killing and that convict was killed in a 1972 attempted jail escape.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    I don't recall Sam Garcia..Harry Lanham confessed to killing Colette...

  7. #7

    Default Re: Police: No corroboration for killing confession

    And then was shot dead by escaping

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