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Six Nebraska residents who were wrongly convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a local widow are having their heartbreaking stories brought to light in a new HBO docuseries that explores the twisted tale of how they ended up confessing to the horrific crime – despite insisting that they had no memory of it whatsoever.
The so-called killers, who were known as the Beatrice Six, take center stage in the new Nanfu Wang-directed documentary, entitled Mind Over Murder, which lifts the lid on the heinous crime – and details how six innocent men and women were ultimately found guilty of it.
In the first episode of the documentary, which debuted on Monday, the gruesome killing of 68-year-old grandma Helen Wilson is laid bare, detailing how she was found strangled in her Beatrice, Nebraska, apartment in 1985.
After a three-year-long investigation, police arrested six people – Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, Ada ‘JoAnn’ Taylor, Debra Shelden, James Dean, and Kathy Gonzalez – for the horrific crime, after someone in the town claimed that JoAnn had told her that she and her friends had murdered Wilson.
All six of them ultimately confessed to killing Helen – but only after police allegedly threatened them and told them they would be given the death penalty if they didn’t – despite law enforcement officials having already discovered that none of them were a DNA match for the blood or semen found at the crime scene.
An HBO doc is uncovering the baffling case of the Beatrice Six (pictured) – a group who wrongly confessed to raping and murdering an elderly woman
The brand new documentary, entitled Mind Over Murder, dropped its first episode on Monday, which breaks down the gruesome killing of 68-year-old grandmother Helen Wilson (pictured)
Helen (pictured before her death) was found strangled in her Beatrice, Nebraska, apartment in 1985
Police later arrested Joseph White (left), Thomas Winslow, Ada ‘JoAnn’ Taylor, Debra Shelden (right), James Dean, and Kathy Gonzalez for the horrific crime
It was also later claimed that the group had been brain washed to believe they killed Helen by police psychologist Wayne Price, who is said to have told them that they were in fact guilty, but had no memories of the crime, because they had blocked out all recollection of it.
The group served 20 years in prison before getting exonerated in 2009, after DNA evidence linked another man – named Bruce Allen Smith – to the horrendous slaying.
Now, the HBO documentary is lifting the lid on the Beatrice Six’s shocking but true story – revealing how local police put the wrong killers behind bars for two decades.
In the first episode of the documentary, which is made up of six episodes, Helen’s family described her as the ‘glue that held them all together.’
‘She was a kind woman, she did everything for everybody,’ her grandson, Shane Wilson, said, while another one of her grandchildren, Bob Houseman, added, ‘From the start you knew she loved you because you could just feel it. It radiated from her.’
Shane – who was 15 years old when Helen died – recalled getting a call from a relative who told them she had passed away, but because she was sick with pneumonia at the time, it didn’t occur to them that she had been murdered.
‘We all kind of assumed it was from the pneumonia, until we were driving and my dad heard the radio on and we were listening to the radio,’ he said.
‘Nobody said a word. I was trying to act tough in front of my brothers and we had a [blanket] in the back that my grandma had made for my mom. I remember hiding under it so my brothers couldn’t see that I was crying.’
All of them confessed to killing Helen, after police told them they would be given the death penalty if they didn’t admit to it. James (left) and Thomas (right) are pictured
It was revealed they had been persuaded by police psychologist Wayne Price (pictured), who told them that they couldn’t remember the crimes because they had blocked them out
The group served 20 years in prison before getting exonerated in 2009, after DNA evidence linked another man to the horrendous slaying. Four of them are pictured after the release
Now, a new HBO documentary has told the Beatrice Six’s shocking but true story – and how the local police put the wrong killers behind bars for two whole decades. JoAnne is pictured
His uncle had found Helen on the ground of her apartment and notified the police. Gary Wiebe and Bill Fitzgerald were the two lieutenants who worked on the case.
‘The door was open, I just kind of walked in. I looked around the corner and saw what appeared to be an elderly lady laying in the middle of the living room with her head to the west and her feet back to the east,’ Gary recalled in the doc. ‘It was pretty quick to tell that the person in there was deceased.’
He discovered a knife on the ground in the bedroom, as well as blood on the corner of her bed and on the wall.
‘There was a struggle, definitely. She was laying on her back, nightgown was pulled up – the face was all wrapped and the hands were tied,’ he continued.
‘I can tell you about it but seeing that lady on the floor, brutally murdered, and seeing the pain… it’s a whole different ball game.’
Gary said her body was ‘mutilated’ and that her nose was ‘pressed flat.’ She also had ‘numerous’ cuts on her hands, and multiple broken ribs, as well as fresh semen in her vagina.
‘I can’t imagine what was going through her head when she passed away, how scared she must have been. Nobody should have to pass away that way,’ Helen’s granddaughter, Jan Wener, said as she broke down in tears during the doc.
In the doc, which is set to have six episodes which will come out every Monday, Helen’s family described her as the ‘glue that held them all together’
‘She was a kind woman, she did everything for everybody,’ her grandson, Shane Wilson (seen with Helen before her death), said
A family member found Helen on the ground of her apartment and notified the police. Gary Wiebe (left) and Bill Fitzgerald (right) were the two lieutenants who worked on the case
Gary said Helen’s body was tied up and ‘mutilated.’ She had ‘numerous’ cuts on her hands, and multiple broken ribs, as well as fresh semen in her vagina
Gary recalled discovering a knife on the ground in the bedroom, as well as blood on the corner of her bed and on the wall
Shane added, ‘We know she fought for her life. She had battle wounds, skin underneath her nails. She fought until she couldn’t fight anymore.
‘The family was obviously destroyed. The one person who brought us together is now gone and in such a horrific way…’
The police soon started their investigation – but continued to hit dead ends.
‘The longer you work on it the more frustrated you get,’ Bill explained. ‘You go from one person to another to another and you don’t appear to be getting anywhere. It was frustrating.’
‘We didn’t have any answers, we felt like the Beatrice police department had no clue what happened,’ Shane shared.
‘Everyone was coming to grips with the fact that we were never gonna know what happened to grandma.’
Eventually, the family turned to a private investigator – a local former cop named Burt Searcy.
Burt got in contact with a woman named Lisa Podendorf – after a source told him that she knew something about the homicide.
Lisa told Burt that the morning after Helen had been killed, she saw JoAnn, Joseph, and Thomas congregating outside the crime scene.
The police soon started their investigation – but continued to hit dead ends. Eventually, the family turned to a private investigator – a local former cop named Burt Searcy (pictured)
Burt got in contact with a woman named Lisa Podendorf (pictured) – after a source told him that she knew something about the homicide
Lisa (pictured talking to Burt) told him that the morning after Helen had been killed, she saw JoAnn, Joseph, and Thomas congregating outside the crime scene
And when she asked them if they knew what happened, she claimed JoAnn said a woman had been killed and that they ‘did it’ – alleging that she even described the body in detail.
‘Lisa didn’t know what to do because she was scared of JoAnn Taylor. I understood that because I knew JoAnne Taylor,’ Burt said in the doc.
When Lisa asked them if they knew what happened, she claimed JoAnn (pictured) said a woman had been killed and that they ‘did it’ – alleging that she even described the body in detail
‘She was on the street a lot, known to steal, did drugs. I knew if she threatened you, it might very well happen.
‘So Lisa didn’t tell the police. I had no reason but to believe she was telling me the truth. So I started digging and researching.’
Burt said he brought his findings to the police, but they told him they had already interviewed them and ruled them out as suspects.
‘I was told, “They weren’t involved don’t worry about it.” I felt like my information fell on deaf ears, it went cold,’ Burt revealed.
Years went by, but in 1988, Burt rejoined the police force and told his new boss about his past findings regarding Helen’s murder. He then brought Lisa in to question her further about her accusations.
He explained: ‘If you tell a lie, you can’t remember what you said. If it’s a truthful, factual thing you’re telling me, you’ll never forget it. She told me the same story she told me in 1985.
‘As I furthered the investigation, I realized, I think I solved this. I’m going to go after what I need to go after, and I will get it done.’
JoAnn, Joseph, and Thomas, as well as three more of their friends, were later arrested and found guilty for the murder.
JoAnn, Joseph, and Thomas, as well as three more of their friends, were later arrested and found guilty for Helen’s murder. Helen is pictured before her death
However, after two decades behind bars, they were all exonerated after DNA evidence revealed that a man named Bruce Allen Smith (pictured) had actually committed the crime
According to the doc, Bruce was at a nearby bar (pictured) the night of Helen’s death. He was dropped off a block and a half away from Helen’s apartment before he broke in and killed her
According to the Washington Post, by the end of the investigation, all of the Beatrice Six ‘wholeheartedly believed in their guilt.’
‘Long after the group went to prison, some still cried to family and friends about their deep remorse, never shaking the gnawing feeling of shame,’ the outlet reported.
However, after two decades behind bars, they were all exonerated when DNA evidence revealed that a man named Bruce had actually committed the crime.
According to the doc, Bruce was at a nearby bar the night of Helen’s death with some friends. After partying most of the night, he attempted to have sex with a woman but was ultimately kicked out of her trailer at around 4 A.M.
One of his friends recalled him saying ‘he was going to get a piece of a** one way or another,’ before he dropped him off a block and a half south of Helen’s apartment.
Bruce died in 1992, before he was ever tried for the crime. The Beatrice Six were later awarded $28 million in a civil suit for their wrongful conviction.