Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Enigmatic Case of Robert Charles Browne

False Confessors

It would seem to defy reason to confess to something one did not do, especially murder, but some ambitions override reason: notoriety, for example, gamesmanship, leverage for better conditions, and even self-aggrandizement. Let's consider similar cases:

Herman Mudgett aka<br />H.H. Holmes
Herman Mudgett aka
H.H. Holmes

H. H. Holmes was convicted in Philadelphia in 1896 for an insurance fraud that involved murder. He insisted he was innocent, but for $10,000 proclaimed himself the world's most notorious killer, claming 100 victims before reducing that number to twenty-seven. "The newspaper wanted a sensation," he whined, and before mounting the gallows, he pared his confession to only two. The truth was probably somewhere in between.

During the 1980s, coverage of serial killers became its own industry, inspiring groupies, wannabes, and entrepreneurs who created trading cards and sold serial killer memorabilia. Serial killers became cultural anti-heroes. In a "wound culture," where people openly displayed their physical and psychological scars on talk shows, some serial killers were cast as the ultimate in traumatized children lashing back, and many were willing to play this to the hilt. For television cameras, these killers spoke about their lack of self-esteem, their abuse, and their unrestrained compulsions to erase the lives of others in order to feel alive themselves.

After killing a 10-year-old child, Donald Leroy Evans, 34, a self-described white supremacist, confessed to more than sixty murders in several different states since 1977. He was finally convicted of only two murders, and he recanted his extravagant confession.

Donald Harvey
Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey, a male nurse, claimed over eighty murders before making plea deals in 37 of the cases, and when the police arrested Glen Rogers in 1995 in connection with five murders, he took credit for seventy, including those of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Then he said he was only joking. He was convicted in two.

Pee Wee Gaskins told his story to an author, claiming that he'd killed more than one hundred people, mostly women, and while he was certainly prolific, many of these murders were unverified by the time he was executed.

Claudine Eggers, 78, became pen pal to Joseph Fischer, in prison for the murder of a sixteen-year-old boy. He was paroled in 1978 and moved in with Eggers in her New York home. She financed his cross-country "trip," on which he killed several people, including her, but after being caught he pursued the distinction of being the most notorious serial killer. Initially he said he had decided on twenty-six but had accomplished only nineteen. Various murders from around the country were attributed to him, and soon his total went over thirty. However, he was only tried for the murder of Eggers, for which he was convicted of second-degree murder. He then granted interviews to the media, including tabloid-style talk shows, and soon his claimed victim total was up to 150. He thrived on the notoriety. Many believed him, but it would not be long before another killer made law enforcement officers realize how easily they could be duped.