Murder of Helen Wilson led to the false imprisonment of the Beatrice Six: ID investigates

Mugshot of Bruce Allen Smith
The true killer of Helen Wilson was Bruce Allen Smith. Pic credit: Oklahoma Police Dept.

Investigation Discovery is examining the 1985 murder of Helen Wilson, who was raped and killed in her apartment in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, Ada Taylor, Debra Shelden, James Dean, and Kathy Gonzalez, who would later become known as The Beatrice Six, were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the crime.

The six were considered by law officials to be on the margins of society, which helped place them on the radar of the investigators who were struggling to come up with a conviction four years after the murder.

The police, aided by a psychologist, managed to convince five of the suspects that they killed Wilson despite them having no memory of the crime. They were told that they had suppressed the memory and over the course of the investigation, they began to believe that they were guilty and even confessed. This idea of ‘memory repression’ was fashionable among police psychologists in the 1980s.

On February 6, 1985, the body of elderly woman Helen Wilson was discovered in her apartment. She had been raped and murdered. Four years later, based on rumors on the street, the police picked up Ada Taylor.

Taylor was a friend of Joseph White, and for the police in Beatrice, the pair seemingly fit the criteria for criminals. The police believed they were looking for someone who was interested in pornography and Taylor and White both had experience in the porn film industry.

Despite having no memory of being in Wilson’s apartment or of what Wilson looked like or who she was, Taylor eventually confessed to her murder. Shockingly, she admitted to suffocating Wilson with a pillow while White raped her.

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The police interrogators had gradually persuaded her that she was a murderer and that she’d supressed the memories.

Unfortunately, neither White nor Taylor had type B blood, which was a problem for the police as it had been found at the scene. This caused the investigators to drag in four acquaintances of White and Taylor; these were Thomas Winslow, Debra Shelden, James Dean, and Kathy Gonzalez.

Eventually, the police managed to persuade five of them that they had been present at the murder and had suppressed the memories. It’s also thought that the police had threatened the suspects with the death penalty had they not confessed. Only Taylor continued to profess his innocence.

Bruce Allen Smith was the real killer of Helen Wilson

All six were convicted and given lengthy convictions. However, they were all exonerated in 2009 when advances in forensic science allowed for further DNA testing in the case. The true killer was found to be Bruce Allen Smith.

Smith’s blood and semen were identified at the scene of the crime and on Wilson’s clothing and remains. Witnesses recall that on the night of the murder, he’d been drinking at a party when he was asked to leave after threatening to rape someone.

Smith was last seen that night in the vicinity of Wilson’s apartment, and the following morning, a store clerk spotted blood on him. And within a few days of the murder, he had moved to Oklahoma. In 1985, he was identified as a possible suspect but was dismissed.

The killer had a lengthy criminal record that included burglary and rape. He passed away from aids in Oklahoma City in 1992.

Gage County was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay compensation worth $28.1 million to the Beatrice Six and the heirs of Joseph White, who tragically passed away in a workplace accident in 2011.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more chilling murder cases profiled on ID.

In another miscarriage of justice, after three 8-year-old boys were found naked and hogtied in an Arkansas ditch, the local authorities scapegoated three teenage boys instead of looking for the real killer. The wrongfully imprisoned became known as the West Memphis Three.

Shane Young shot dead Ken Horton and held four women from four different generations of the Mann family hostage when he went looking for his ex-girlfriend. He wounded his hostages and two officers before he was taken into custody.

The Beatrice Six: Keith Morrison Investigates airs at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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