This week, we saw news that the infamous gangster Whitey Bulger supposedly knows what happened in a 1980 murder case in which an innocent man was convicted. He is now one of a handful of serial killers who have admitted to crimes for which someone else was convicted.
Fred Weichel has spent over 32 years in prison for killing 25-year-old Robert LaMonica, but Bulger said in a jailhouse letter that he knows who did it. Although he has not revealed the name, he indicates it was a friend of Weichel’s. Reportedly, Bulger played an indirect role, so he knows what he’s talking about. He hopes the real killer will “do the right thing” and come forward.
Weichel’s attorneys have Bulger’s handwritten letters, and he has offered to give them a tape-recorded statement on Weichel’s behalf. He’d supposedly met with a young boxer who’d beaten up a man and was afraid that LaMonica, the man’s friend, might seek revenge. Bulger had advised him to make a pre-emptive strike and kill him.
LaMonica was gunned down shortly after midnight on May 31, 1980. Eyewitness testimony helped to convict Weichel, now 62. In 1980, eyewitness memory had more credibility than it does today, thanks to psychological research that demonstrates how faulty it can be. In addition, Weichel’s attorney claims that the police chief involved in the case had believed that the eyewitness was unreliable.
It is unclear what impact Bulger’s letters could have. He wrote that he was not looking for anything in exchange for helping Weichel prove his innocence.
Other serial killers have also taken credit for murders in which innocent people were suspected. Some did it for notoriety, but several have credibility:
In a convoluted (and expensive) 1983 case in Illinois, three men were indicted for the rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. They were convicted and two were sentenced to death.
In 1985, Brian Dugan, imprisoned for another crime, told his attorney that he was responsible. He agreed to confess if the death penalty was taken off the table. Prosecutors rejected his demand and dismissed his confession. Dugan withdrew his cooperation, but DNA eventually proved that Dugan was indeed the girl’s rapist and killer. The errors in this case influenced Illinois’s moratorium on the death penalty.
Tommy Lynn Sells, recently executed, claimed that he’d killed Julie Rea’s 10-year-old son, Joel, in 1997 in Illinois. The boy had been stabbed to death in the night. Rea had stated that an intruder had entered her home and her son’s screams woke her. She’d found a man in Joel’s room who then attacked her, dropped the knife, and fled. The knife had come from her kitchen, so she was arrested, tried, and convicted.
Sells confessed to this murder multiple times to several law enforcement officers with details that matched the statement that Rea had given, but he was never charged. The Illinois Innocence Project corroborated what he’d said on 53 different points. In 2006, Rea was finally acquitted.
Kevin Lee Green came home one evening in September 1979 to find his pregnant wife, Diana, bashed in the head in their bedroom. She suffered a severe head injury and lost her baby. With her memory seriously impaired, Diana believed her husband had raped and bludgeoned her, but he insisted he was innocent. Still, he was convicted of attempted murder, second-degree murder (of the fetus), and assault.
A DNA profile in the CA offender database matched the semen from the rape to a serial killer, Gerald Parker. Although he didn’t exactly come forward on his own, he did confess to the brutal attack. His MO had been to break into bedrooms to attack vulnerable women, and he’d murdered others in a similar manner. After 16 years in prison, Kevin Green was exonerated.
In each case, there was resistance to admitting error. Although stranger-murders are rare, they do occur. When confessions are offered, they should be fully considered, especially in cases where the investigation relies on items like memory, in which significant human error has been well documented.
Too often, ego and politics have blocked justice, and these cases serve as a good reminder that people's lives are more important than law enforcement reputations.