They Didn't Kill Her. So Why Were They Convinced They Did?

Found innocent years ago, the Beatrice Six remain unsure
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 13, 2017 5:59 PM CDT
How 6 People Were Convinced They Were Rapists, Murderers
Four of the six people known as the Beatrice Six in 2009. Despite having their wrongful convictions for rape and murder overturned and being found innocent "beyond all doubt," many of the Beatrice Six still have flashbacks to a crime they didn't commit.   (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

Years after being exonerated for the rape and murder of a 68-year-old woman in Nebraska, Debra Shelden catches herself starting to describe the crime scene. “I don’t remember what I did at the crime ... because I wasn’t there, apparently.” The Beatrice Six are a unique case in the history of American crime, and the New Yorker takes a long look at their harrowing experience. The six were convicted of raping and killing Helen Wilson in 1985 despite not matching blood and semen found at the scene. Even after a judge in 2009 found they were innocent "beyond all doubt," many of the six still have vivid memories of committing the crime. Some still don't seem convinced of their own innocence; they can feel the pillow they believe they used to smother Wilson and remember who else was in her apartment when they did it.

Psychiatrist Eli Chesen says the Beatrice Six suffered Stockholm syndrome at the hands of a local psychiatrist named Wayne Price. A number of the Beatrice Six had been treated by Price before becoming suspects in the crime. They had histories of abuse, mental health issues, and more. “We were all broken in one way, shape, or form," says one. A pig farmer-turned-sheriff's detective obsessed with the case started fingering people on the fringes of Nebraska society as guilty, and Price convinced the already suggestible suspects of that guilt, insisting their dreams were real memories of the crime. He was so successful that one of the Beatrice Six still claimed she was present for the murder in her pardon request. Read the unbelievable story of false memories and false convictions here. (More Longform stories.)

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