Mark "Chopper" Read (photo ABC)
When death stares them in the face, even cold-blooded murderers sometimes feel the need to unburden themselves before they go. Perhaps they do it so they can leave the world with a “clear conscience” or maybe they do it to benefit the people they will leave behind. Some of these deathbed murder confessions are harrowing in the extreme.
by Siobhan Pat Mulcahy
Australia's most notorious killer makes four more murder confessions from his deathbed
Mark "Chopper" Read offered a callous confession to four murders, including two unsolved cases, in his final interview just 16 days before dying from liver cancer. Read, who shot to international fame when the 2000 film "Chopper" based on his book How to Shoot Friends and Influence People was released, spent 23 years in jail but was never convicted of murder.
During his interview with Australian current affairs program, “60 Minutes,” the “Chopper” claimed to have carried out four murders. In a candid recounting of three shootings and the hanging of a child-killer in his jail cell, Read denied feeling any remorse and said he felt “nothing at all.”
Among his alleged victims were two unsolved murders – that of trade union official, Desmond Costello in 1971, and Sydney Collins, president of the Outlaws motorcycle gang – missing since 2002.
Read was just 17 when he claims to have shot Costello and said the union official had been "insulting" him.
Years later, Read spent six years in jail for shooting Sydney Collins in the stomach during a dispute over money. Collins told police Read was responsible and Read was determined to get his revenge.
He said he got his chance when Collins showed up at one of his stand-up comedy performances in 2002 and asked that "bygones be bygones."
“This time I was shooting to kill him,” Read told his interviewer. “I stuck him in a hole and filled the hole in.”
His other two alleged victims were a pedophile child-killer whose death was recorded as a suicide in Pentridge Prison in 1974, and a man known as “Sammy the Turk,” who Read claimed (in court) he had shot in self-defense.
“When I killed Sammy the Turk that wasn't self defense, that was outright fucking murder,” he said.
Read claimed to have been shot once, stabbed seven times and also run over by a car. He also claimed he had a claw hammer embedded in his head and to have been made to dig his own grave. His most notorious deed was persuading a fellow inmate to hack off both his ears so he could gain access to a prison's mental health wing during a war between rival factions.
Terminally ill Londoner confesses to strangling a man and burying him under concrete
|Police search outside Roy Heath's house (photo Daily Telegraph)|
After receiving a tip-off, London police discovered the skeletal remains of Mohammed Taki, aged 53, who had been buried under a patio for 12 years. The police used radar equipment to reveal his body which had been covered with several layers of concrete. The body was found “lying in the fetal position with both the wrists and ankles tightly taped.” There was insufficient evidence to help identify the remains but police showed photographs of the clothing found on Taki's skeleton to the friend who had reported him missing and when he was shown a picture of a hat, he burst into tears.
Roy Heath, aged 52, confessed to strangling Taki when police interviewed him at a west London hospice. He said he had strangled Taki after a heated argument at his Fulham flat.
Because Heath was terminally ill at the time of his confession and under the care of a psychiatrist for “anger management issues,” police were only allowed a few hours to interview him over the course of several days.
Heath died in 2010, 13 days after his confession.
The murder had taken place during 1998 though Heath claimed he did not remember precisely when. The coroner published its finding of “unlawful killing” in June 2012.
Pillar of the community makes deathbed confession to murder so he could “cleanse his soul” then he doesn't die
|James Brewer (photo Crime Library)|
In 1977 James Brewer was arrested in Tennessee on suspicion of killing his neighbor in a fit of jealous rage. Brewer had indeed shot and killed Jimmy Carroll because he believed he had been trying to seduce his wife.
But Brewer, a “respectable member of the community,” was granted bail and fled to Oklahoma where he and his wife began a new life together under the names Michael and Dorothy Anderson. They became active members of the local church where Mrs. Brewer established a Bible study group. They also had a married daughter and became grandparents.
In 2009, Brewer had a serious stroke, and thinking he was dying, he felt compelled to confess to the crime that had weighed on his conscience for over three decades. His wife called the police to his hospital bed saying her husband wanted to confess to a murder. Brewer told the police everything that had happened with his wife's help – she acted as “translator” because of the effects of her husband's stroke.
The only problem with this deathbed confession is that Brewer didn’t die. When he was released from the hospital several weeks later, Brewer surrendered himself to Tennessee authorities and appeared in court with the same lawyer he had used almost 32 years earlier when he skipped bail.
The pastor at Mrs. Brewer's Bible group, said: “I don’t know what their former life was but I do know they were both dedicated to the Lord. They’ve been in their own prison for 30 years. I think they’ve done their time.”
Shop worker kills two women for making fun of her being a lesbian
In 1967, Carolyn Hevener Perry, 20, and Constance Smootz Hevener, 19, were shot to death while working at an ice cream shop in Staunton, Virginia. Each had been shot once in the head at closing time and about $138 was stolen from the store.
Over the years, police worked the case but with no luck. Then in November 2008, police were led to Diane Crawford by new information revealed by a witness. When police went to question her, she was at the end-stages of heart failure and chronic kidney disease. When confronted by the evidence, she confessed in detail to the murders she had committed over 40 years earlier.
On the night of the shooting, Crawford who was 19 at the time, said she went to the store where she worked part time to tell the women she could not work the next day and ended up in a shoving match with them.
Crawford then took out a .25 caliber pistol and shot the two women because they had “made fun of me for being a lesbian.” Perry was the first to be shot at near-point-blank range and when Hevener rushed to her aid Crawford shot her too. She then took money from the store as she fled which led the police to think it was a robbery.
Diane Crawford moved away from Virginia after the killings, got married and had two daughters. She returned to Staunton 20 years later, without her husband and moved in with a woman and lived with her new partner until her death.
Crawford died in January 2009, two months after confessing to the murders.
Pedophile told his daughter he was the murderer but police have never found the body
In 1957, 11-year-old Moira Anderson went missing in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. She has never been found. The case shocked Scotland and beyond. The 11-year-old was last seen on a bus to Coatbridge, which was driven by Alexander Gartshore, a convicted pedophile. (Prior to 2002 when the Vetting and Barring law was enacted, sexual offenders were not prohibited from working with children.)
Some 49 years later Garshore’s daughter publicly accused her father of the murder following a confession he made on his deathbed. Sandra Brown said her father had confessed to being “haunted” by the girl’s murder and said he wanted “forgiveness.”
In her book, Where There Is Evil, Brown repeated her claims about her father in detail.
Brown's claims were supported by a fellow criminal, James Gallogley, who linked Gartshore to the girl's disappearance during his own deathbed confession in 1999.
Despite the exhumation of several graves in the North Lanarkshire area, Moira Anderson's body has not been found and police say they “remain unable to close the case.”
Norwegian felon confesses to rape and murder after innocent man spends 18 years in jail
Fritz Moen, who was deaf and suffered from a speech impediment so severe he needed an interpreter to communicate effectively, was arrested in 1978 for raping and killing 20-year-old Torunn Finstad in Trondheim, Norway. There was no physical or forensic evidence linking the 36-year-old to the crime and no witnesses saw him with Finstad. Moen was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
Several years later, police claimed that Moen had confessed to the 1976 murder of 20-year-old Sigrid Heggheim. During seven interrogation sessions, Moen's confession was given during the one time he did not have the benefit an interpreter. He was found guilty of this murder as well and sentenced to an additional 5 years in prison.
In 1996 after spending 18 years in prison Moen was released and placed under preventative supervision.
During the next several years Moen’s lawyers tried desperately to clear his name. In 2004, he was acquitted for the murder of Sigrid Heggheim when the appeal court found that “reasonable doubt should have acquitted him in the first place.”
Then in December 2005, a convicted felon called Tor Hepso confessed to three nurses in the hospital where he was dying that he had murdered two women: Heggheim and Finstad.
After Hepso’s deathbed confession was thoroughly investigated, Moen was finally exonerated of the murders. Unfortunately, Fritz Moen died of natural causes earlier that year and was not alive when he was declared innocent of the both crimes.
This case was publicly criticized as one of Norway’s most shameful miscarriages of justice.
American housewife confesses to shooting her husband and storing his body in a freezer
|Geraldine Kelly's freezer|
Geraldine Kelly told her young children that their father had died in a car accident. In reality, after suffering years of domestic violence, Geraldine Kelly had shot and killed her husband in 1991 and stored his body in a freezer at the family home in Ventura, California.
Seven years later, when she decided she and her children would move back to her home town of Somerville, Massachusetts, she had her moving company take the freezer with the body inside and drive it across the country to a local storage facility in Somerville.
In 2004, 13 years after the murder, Kelly was gravely ill with breast cancer and confessed to her daughter that she had killed her father. She then told her daughter where the body could be found.
Police discovered the human remains in a locked, unplugged freezer in a Somerville storage room. The body – which had been “mummified” – was easily identified as John Kelly as he had several distinctive tattoos - including a panther, a Kewpie doll and a skull. A post mortem revealed the cause of death had been “a close-range gunshot to the back of his head”.
Somerville's District Attorney said he was unsure if Geraldine Kelly wanted to unburden herself before she died or if she wanted her children to know so they wouldn’t be blamed if the body had been found.
London crime boss confesses to a previously unknown murder but refuses to give the name of his victim
|Ronnie and Reggie Kray|
The most feared East End crime boss, whose very name terrified other London criminals in the 1960s, told a BBC documentary that he had murdered a man nobody knew about. His victim is believed to have been Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith, who has been missing since 1967.
Reggie Kray made the confession after inviting BBC cameras into the Norfolk & Norwich hospital a few days before he died of cancer in October 2000.
He spoke of the murder of Jack “The Hat” McVitie, for which he served nearly 33 years in prison, and was asked if he had committed any other murders.
He replied: “One, one,” but he refused to elaborate.
During the documentary, Kray associate, Leonard “Nipper” Read said: “I should imagine that was Teddy Smith. He suddenly disappeared.”
During the program, Kray also refused to apologize for his violent past.
He said he murdered McVitie because “I didn't like the fellow... he was very uncouth...a vexation to the spirit.”
He added, “But I suppose if I've been a bit too violent over the years, there's little I can do about it now.”
Reggie was released from prison in August 2000 after spending nearly 33 years behind bars for McVitie's murder. He died two months later.
Klu Klux Klan member confesses to murdering a black man but blames the victim for not running away when he had the chance
In 1957 the body of a 25 year old black man, Willie Edwards , was washed up on the shores of the Alabama River. Officials said that “decomposition” had made it impossible to determine the cause of death. More than 20 years later, an aggressive attorney general re-opened the Edwards case and four Klansmen were arrested including Henry Alexander. One of the men gave a sworn affidavit (in exchange for immunity). In the statement, the man described how he and three other men beat and forced Willie Edwards to jump off the Tyler-Goodwin Bridge because he said something offensive to a white woman. Even with this sworn testimony, Alabama Judge Frank Embry dismissed the charges because no “cause of death” was ever established. He concluded that “merely forcing a person to jump from a bridge does not naturally and probably lead to the death of such person.”
In 1992, Henry Alexander, now 63, was near death from lung cancer and decided to confess to his wife. He said he and the other Klansmen gave Edwards a choice to run or jump and didn’t think he would jump. He said. “If he’d a run, they would never have shot him.”
After her husband’s confession and subsequent death, Mrs. Alexander wrote a letter of apology to Mr. Edwards’s widow. In the letter she said: “I hope maybe one day I can meet you to tell you face to face how sorry I am. May God bless you and your family and I pray that this letter helps you somehow.”
Hollywood actress confesses to killing a movie director but the crime remains “unsolved”
William Desmond Taylor was an actor and top U.S. film director of silent films in the early days of Hollywood. When Taylor was shot to death in 1922, it became one of Hollywood’s most famous scandals.
In 1964 – 42 years after the murder – a reclusive old woman living in the Hollywood hills suffered a heart attack and called for a Catholic priest. When no priest was available, she asked to speak to one of her nearest neighbors.
As she lay dying on her kitchen floor, Gibson told her neighbor she had been a silent Hollywood film actress called Margaret Gibson and that she had shot and killed a man called William Desmond Taylor. She is alleged to have been involved romantically with Taylor but she gave no motive for the killing.
The neighbor who witnessed Gibson’s confession said his mother (who had been a friend of Gibson’s) later said that when they were watching a historical TV piece on the Taylor murder together, Gibson became hysterical and blurted out that she had killed him.
Taylor’s murder remains officially “unsolved” even though Gibson had nothing to gain by her confession. William Desmond Taylor and Margaret Gibson starred together in the silent Hollywood film, “The Kiss” made in 1896.
Farmer confesses to murder after the victim's wife is hanged
In 1884, William Lefley ate the rice pudding his wife Mary left in the oven for him while she called to a nearby town. Lefley died shortly after his meal, screaming in agony.
Four months later, Mary Lefley was hanged at Lincoln County Gaol for lacing her husband’s pudding with a lethal dose of arsenic. Mrs. Lefley did not go to the gallows quietly. Shrieking in terror, she had to be dragged to the execution chamber – still protesting her innocence.
She had never admitted to the crime, and the prosecution had never been able to show that she had purchased any arsenic.
The defense claimed William Lefley might have committed suicide as he had attempted it once before but the prosecution laughed at the suggestion. Another outlandish defense hypothesis was that some “unknown third party might have snuck in and poisoned the morsel” but this was also dismissed by the court.
Then in 1893, a dying farmer known only as “Mr. Saul” confessed to having done exactly that. He said that he had poisoned Lefley's rice pudding because of a long-standing financial grudge. He confessed because he said he wanted “God's forgiveness” before he died.
Mary Lefley believed she was convicted of poisoning her husband because she had known the notorious Lincolnshire poisoner, Priscilla Biggadyke — who was hanged for poisoning her husband in 1868.
“They are hanging me for my past!” Lefley screamed as she was dragged to the gallows.
A mother tries to implicate her son in a murder then asks him not to tell police she did it
On the afternoon of January 11, 1867, the residents of Dayton, Ohio were horrified to learn that the body of Miss Christine Kett, a pretty German girl about 18 years of age, was found brutally murdered at her parents' home. Parts of her skull and brains were found in the basement of the house and her body was discovered above the cellar steps.
The girl's hysterical mother accused every stranger in town and the boy her daughter had been “stepping out with” but police found no evidence connecting any of the suspects to the crime.
Neighbors spread rumors that it was Mrs. Kett who killed her own daughter. They had often heard the two arguing at all hours of day and night.
Police were reluctant to accuse the girl's mother and accepted that she had been “running errands” in town when the murder took place.
Seventeen years later, Mrs. Kett (also Christine) lay dying of inflammation of the bowels and she called her son to her deathbed. She confessed to killing her daughter by striking an axe to her head three times because she was too slow preparing the family dinner. She also said she had planted a pistol near the body to confuse the police. In fact, her son had been one of the many suspects in the case as it was his gun found near the body.
Mrs. Kett asked her son to keep her secret until just before his own death and he agreed. When his mother died the next day, he contacted the police and said he “could not live with the burden.”
The Dayton Daily News summed up the case: “Mrs. Kett is said to have been of sullen and almost vicious disposition, while in appearance she had none of the gentleness peculiar to her sex.”
“She did not shed a tear at her daughter’s funeral, but stood like a stone at the grave while her pretty little girl was being lowered.”