It’s probably safe to assume that most people who have gotten away with murder take their terrible secret with them to the grave. However, there have been a few shocking instances where such people have suddenly found a conscience after realizing they are nearing the end of their life – in some cases bringing closure to killings that have long been unresolved and finally allowing the families involved to finally discover the truth about what happened to their loved one.
Whether it be for religious reasons, a desire for posthumous notoriety, or a simple matter of guilt finally catching up with them, the following fifteen people all ensured their places in history by admitting to shocking and horrific crimes while on their deathbed. From deadly crimes of passion to calculated child killings, these stories prove that sometimes the truth really is more shocking than any fiction — particularly when it comes to those who ended up making their deathbed confessions a little too early, and finally having to face the consequences of their crime in the process.
15. Geraldine Kelly
‘Geri’ was known for being a pretty tough woman; she had several attack dogs and had a penchant for tattoos and snakes. Even so, no one would have expected the startling revelation she made to her daughter while in the final stages of her cancer in 2004. For years, Geri’s children, who had been estranged from their mother since their early teens, had believed exactly what she had always told them; their father and Geri’s husband, John T. Kelley, had been killed in a tragic car accident.
In reality, the truth was much in fact much more sinister – Geraldine had actually shot him in the head at some point during the early nineties and hid his body in a freezer which she had then kept in a storage facility. The police recovered the body and were able to identify him by his well-preserved physical appearance as well as his tattoos.
14. Roy Heath
53-year-old Mohammed Taki disappeared after visiting the doctor in west London in 1998. Though it was hoped he had simply taken off somewhere rather suddenly, his sad fate was eventually revealed in February 2010. After receiving a tip-off, police found his remains wrapped in a duvet cover and buried under the patio of a flat in Fulham.
Detectives went to question the flat’s owner, 52-year-old Roy Heath, who was now terminally ill and being cared for at a South London hospice. It wasn’t until their fourth visit that Heath decided to come clean, and the mystery was finally put to rest. He admitted that he had strangled Mohammed Taki after a heated argument, then bound his body with tape, wrapped it in a duvet cover and buried it under the concrete patio, where it had stayed for the twelve years since. Heath passed away thirteen days after his confession, and the police were satisfied that the case was now solved.
13. Paul Branch
The mysterious disappearance of 17-year-old Amy Billig in 1974 understandably left the community in Coconut Grove, Miami shaken. She had been walking to her father’s art gallery on the afternoon of March 4th and was never seen again. No one was ever arrested for her abduction and no body was ever found.
It wasn’t until many years later that some light was finally shed on the case. Paul Branch, a member of the notorious Pagans’ motorcycle gang and a convicted murderer, told his wife while on his deathbed that the gang had killed Amy Billig. Though he, along with other members of the gang, had been questioned in relation to her disappearance in the initial investigation, they had always maintained they were in no way involved. He said that they had taken her to a party in the Everglades, but things had gone badly wrong and she was killed. Her body was then thrown into the alligator-filled swamp.
12. Margaret Gibson
On February 2nd 1922, Hollywood director and former actor William Desmond Taylor was found dead in his LA home, having been fatally shot. Though the case officially remains unsolved to this day, a surprising deathbed confession that took place 40 years later could just be the missing puzzle piece.
Margaret Gibson was a 27-year-old actress working in Los Angeles at the time of the murder. She had worked with William previously, and was a drug addict who was later charged with blackmail and extortion. Though her name never came up in the murder investigation, she fled the US soon after and lived in Singapore for many years. On the 21st of October, 1964, now living back in the Hollywood Hills (using the name Pat Lewis), Margaret told a neighbor that she had murdered the director after suffering from a heart attack. The confused neighbor had no idea who she was referring to, and as a result it was not until many years later that the story came to light.
11. Ottis Toole
Serial killer Ottis Toole, was already serving five life sentences for murder when he made a chilling confession to his niece while dying of liver failure; it was him who was responsible for the murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh in 1981. The young boy had been snatched while visiting a Hollywood department store with his mother, and it wasn’t until two weeks later that fishermen made the grisly discovered of his severed head 120 miles away.
Though Toole had confessed to the killing twice before, he had later withdrawn the admission, and as he had a long history of making false confessions, it was not looked into any further. Adam Walsh’s family however, remained sure that he was responsible, and years later their suspicions were confirmed when the police found him to be the culprit following a review of the case after Toole’s deathbed confession.
10. Christopher Smith
The body of 26-year-old mother-of-two Joan Harrison, was discovered in an unused garage in Preston in 1975. She had been r*ped and beaten to death. Though it was initially thought that she was another victim of notorious British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, aka the Yorkshire Ripper, he was later ruled out and the case went cold.
However, after the death of 60-year-old Leeds resident Christopher Smith, from cancer in 2008, the case was finally brought some closure. Smith had written a three-page note the day before he died stating that he had killed Joan. He wrote: “Two how (sic) ever it concerns I would like to put the record straight. I can’t go on with the guilt.”
“I am truly sorry for all the pain I have caused to anyone. Please believe me when I say I am sorry. Please God help my family who I worship. I have been out of trouble for over 20 years so please Gold help me.”
The final confirmation of his guilt came in 2011, when advances in DNA testing meant that police were able to match the DNA taken from the crime scene with Smith’s, who had rather fortuitously given a swab after being arrested for drinking and driving six days before his death.
9. Frank Thorogood
The death of founding member of the Rolling Stones Brian Jones, was a huge shock to friends and fans. The 27-year-old rock star was found dead in a swimming pool on the 3rd of July, 1969. Though police ruled his death an accident, many have long believed he was actually murdered.
A deathbed confession from 1993 seems to lend some credence to this theory. According to writer Terry Rawlings, Jones’ building contractor, Frank Thorogood, admitted killing Jones in his last days. Further investigative work by journalist Scott Jones, revealed Janet Lawson’s (who discovered Jones’ body in the pool) memories of that fateful night.
She is quoted as saying: “Frank came in in a lather. His hands were shaking. He was in a terrible state. I thought the worst almost straight away and went to the pool to check. When I saw Brian on the bottom of the pool and was calling for help, Frank initially did nothing.”
8. Sharron Smith
The fatal shooting of two young women at an ice cream parlor in Staunton in 1967, sent shockwaves through the local community – and the mystery of who killed 19-year-old Constance Smootz Hevener and her 20-year-old sister-in-law Carolyn Hevener Perry. It wouldn’t be until four decades later that the mystery was finally solved. On November 28th, 2008, two months before her death, 60-year-old Sharron Diane Crawford Smith admitted to police that she was responsible for the murders.
Diane, who had worked at the store alongside the victims at the time, said that she had been “just pushed so far” by the pair, who she claimed teased her about her being gay. Alongside her confession, she also made the rather startling claim that she had given the murder weapon to David Bocock, a local police detective she was friendly with. It remains unclear if the now deceased detective was aware that Diane was behind the killings.
7. James Washington
One person who made a ‘deathbed’ confession a little prematurely was James Washington. Already in prison for another crime, he admitted to killing a woman in 1995 after suffering from a heart attack. He is thought to have believed he was dying when he told prison guard James Tomlinson: “I have something to tell you. I have to get something off my conscience and you need to hear this. I killed somebody. I beat her to death.”
He attempted to recant the confession when he recovered, but it was too late – in 2012 he was sentenced to 51 years for the murder of Joyce Goodener, much to the relief of her family. “I didn’t have any trust in the system. All of a sudden, I got this phone call and they said, ‘We think we found him,’” said her daughter, Sonya Kimbrell.
6. Henry Alexander
The body of 24-year-old Willie Edwards Jr. Was discovered by a pair of fishermen in April 1957. He had spent his last moments alive being terrorized by members of the Ku Klux Klan, who had abducted him and taken him to a bridge where he was told to jump off, just because he had apparently offended a white woman. Henry Alexander was a Klansman at the time, and though he (along with other members) had been accused of killing Willie, the judge threw out the charges twice.
Henry’s wife, Diane, had always believed that despite the accusations against her husband, he was innocent, so when he told her in the run up to his death in 1993 that he actually had been involved in the tragic death, she was horrified. He told her that he had falsely identified Willie as the man who had insulted the white woman, which lead to the group of Klansmen giving him two options on the bridge that night; run or jump. “I didn’t think he would jump,” he said. “If he’d run, they would never have shot him.”
5. Alice Mock
Back in 1975, Wayman Cammile Jr., a black construction worker, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the r*pe of Alice Mock, who told police he had raped her after he was found drunk in her bed. He had already served 11 of those years, when Alice Mock finally revealed the truth while on her deathbed; she admitted to a former neighbor that she had lied about the r*pe.
The reason? She was worried she would be evicted if her landlord discovered she had willingly had a relationship with a black man. Mock revealed to the shocked neighbor that she had invited Cammile, a known alcoholic, into her apartment and had stolen money from him when he had passed out drunk, then in a panic had made the false claim to the police. She fell into a coma the day after making the confession and died five days later.
4. Vernon Seitz
Perhaps one of the most bizarre deathbed confessions in history came from barber Vernon Seitz, in 2009. The 62-year-old told his psychiatrist that he had killed two children. The psychiatrist alerted the police, who went to question Seitz but found he had already died of natural causes at his home. They did find some rather disturbing items in his possession, including child pornography, articles about missing children and bondage items. Of particular interest was his collection of photos and videos of Jacob Wetterling; an 11-year-old boy who had disappeared in 1989. As a result, many people speculated that Seitz was responsible for the abduction, until the real culprit, Danny Heinrich was identified earlier this year after the boy’s remains were finally found.
Whether or not Vernon Seitz did actually commit any murders remains a mystery; the police have since said that they have exhausted all leads and have not been able to link him to any such crimes and his family have maintained that he had developed an obsession with missing children as he was kidnapped himself as a child.
3. Joe Douglas
The kidnapping of four-year-old Charley Ross in 1874, was the first case of its kind to garner large-scale press attention, mainly due to his parents’ wealth and the fact there was a ransom involved. Months passed, and there were still no real leads in the case, despite Charley’s father spending tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to find him. Then, in December of the same year, two professional criminals were caught red-handed attempting a burglary.
Bill Mosher was killed at the scene, but his partner in crime Joe Douglas, survived his gunshot wounds for another few hours; long enough to confess that it was he and Mosher who had kidnapped Charley Ross. Charley’s brother Walter, who had been with him when the abduction took place, was taken to see the dead bodies of Douglas and Mosher, and confirmed that they were indeed the culprits. Despite this, unfortunately Charley was never found, and exactly what took place that fateful day remains a mystery.
2. Eileen Tessier
Seven-year-old Maria Ridulph was abducted and murdered in December 1957, though it wasn’t until over five decades later that an arrest was made, thanks to a shocking deathbed confession. In 2008, the half-sisters of one of the main suspects in the case, John Tessier, revealed that their mother had admitted to lying about her son’s alibi on the night Maria was taken. According to the pair, Eileen Tessier had told them while terminally ill in 1994: “Those two little girls, and the one that disappeared, John did it. John did it, and you have to tell someone.”
The case was reopened as a result, and John Tessier, who was now known as Jack McCullough, was convicted for the murder in 2012. However, the case took another unexpected turn earlier this year when, after a post-conviction review, McCullough was deemed innocent and released from prison on April 15th, 2016.
1. James Brewer
After suffering a stroke in 2009, James Brewer decided it was finally time to get something off of his chest; he had become a regular churchgoer in his later years and wanted to ‘cleanse his soul’ before he died. He told police at his hospital bedside that he was in fact responsible for the murder of his neighbor Jimmy Carroll in Tennessee over 30 years ago – he had shot him in a fit of rage after accusing him of flirting with his wife.
Brewer had been arrested on suspicion of the murder at the time, but he and his wife had fled town and started a new life as devout Christians in Oklahoma, taking on new identities in the process. However, in a lucky twist of fate Brewer recovered from the stroke, and as a result was forced to finally face justice for the crime that he very nearly got away with.