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Stolen Lives: The Story of the Beatrice 6 (Part One)

By: Jason Volentine Email
By: Jason Volentine Email

In 1985, 68-year-old Helen Wilson was found brutally raped and murdered in her Beatrice apartment.

The investigation that followed set off a nearly 24 year saga ending in the near ruin of six people's lives who were all convicted of being involved; all of whom DNA evidence has since proved innocent.

But how did this miscarriage of justice happen?

February 6th, 1985, just before 10:00 o'clock in the morning Helen Wilson's brother in law, Ivan Arnst, went to her apartment to help his wife take Wilson breakfast.

Instead, he walked into a nightmare scene. Wilson was spread out on the livingroom floor... dead.

In later court testimony Arnst said he pulled Wilson's nightgown down to cover her exposed mid-section, then called 9-1-1.

Donald Luckeroth was chief of the Beatrice Police when his department began investigating the rape and murder of Helen Wilson.

"Beatrice Police Department was the head investigating agency," said Luckeroth in a March, 2009 interview.

With the help the Gage County Sheriff's Office, the Nebraska State Patrol and the FBI investigators meticulously searched the apartment and body for evidence, finding hair samples, blood and semen.

"We had a blood type that we heard was involved so we ran a lot of people for their blood type. We ran several hundred probably, including the people who ended up being convicted," said Luckeroth.

Beatrice Police also talked with Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Debra Shelden, Kathy Gonzalez and James Dean. Neighbors remembered seeing Thomas Winslow's car parked near Wilson's apartment building that night and the six were know to be acquaintances.

But White had been living with Gonzalez in Wilson's building around the time of the murder. Soon police lost interest with the six, believing they had cruised around Beatrice in Winslow's car before possibly attending a party in Gonzalez's apartment the night of the murder.

Plus, blood tests for White, Winslow, Taylor and Gonzolez came back negative. James Dean and Debra Shelden weren't tested.

'"We run blood tests on them and let them go," said Luckeroth.

Time went by.

Finally, the case changed hands in the late '80's and the Gage County Sheriff's Department took a lead role, soon developing suspects under the supervision of then Gage County Attorney Richard Smith.

"We knew there was sperm, so we knew it was a male, and there was B blood," said Richard Smith, former Gage County attorney.

Then there was a break. Deputies questioned James Dean...

"Then James Dean comes up with, 'well I think Kathy Gonzalez might have been a lookout.' So you find Kathy Gonzalez in Denver... and she's B," Smith Said.

Eventually, they developed a theory later presented in court, where White and Winslow raped Helen Wilson and possibly cut her with a knife, as JoAnn Taylor helped smother her. This supposedly all when on while Shelden, Gonzalez and Dean Watched.

"From the evidence we were getting some were more involved than others," said Smith.

They settled on robbery as a motive, even though more than $1,000 was found in Wilson's apartment after the crime.

They completely dismissed the FBI's lone rapist theory.

We may never know exactly what happened inside Wilson's building on February 5th, 1985. Witnesses saw several of the six in the area on the night of the murder, but the evidence says none of them were actually inside Wilson's apartment, and it wasn't until four years later that any of them were arrested and questioned.

It was only then the nightmare of Helen Wilson's murder would haunt them all again.

By the time the Gage county Sheriff took over the investigation many of the six had spread out across the country. Joseph White was arrested in Alabama, and JoAnn Taylor in North Carolina. In fact, by the time they were all arrested few of them remembered each other by anything more than a first name.

Stay tuned to 10/11 News Monday, March, 16, when we go us inside the interrogations and wrongful convictions and explore how authorities convinced five of the six to admit committing this heinous crime.

Also stay tuned to kolnkgin.com for more exclusive content to come later this week.


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