Best Evidence

George Allen claims police made him confess to rape and murder. Twenty years after Allen was convicted, his last hope hinges on a DNA test.

On the basis of Richardson's contact with Bell, the time of death was estimated to be between 10 and 10:30 a.m.

The investigators found an eight-and-a-half-inch long bloody butcher knife, concealed in a first-floor closet near the front door. It had been wrapped in a towel and placed in a Styrofoam cooler. The blood on the knife was Bell's.

On the towel was a beard hair. The chief criminalist of the St. Louis Police Department later testified that the beard hair came from a white man.

Mary Bell's boyfriend Russell Watters
Mary Bell's boyfriend Russell Watters
Bell's Marion Street apartment in LaSalle Park
Jennifer Silverberg
Bell's Marion Street apartment in LaSalle Park

Six weeks after Bell's murder, police still hadn't made an arrest. Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat carried stories and updates about the case, and police were under the gun to get the killer in custody. Three lie-detector tests were given, the police said, but they didn't divulge to whom the polygraphs had been administered.

Police ruled out John Bell, Bell's estranged husband, and Russell Watters, her lover, as suspects. Both had alibis.

John Bell said he was snowed in at home. Tom Liese, a lawyer and friend of Bell's, said he helped Bell dig out from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m., after which they were together until about 2 p.m.

Watters also had an alibi. Michael Pitzer, a lawyer with Watters' office, said Watters arrived at 9:30 a.m. or between 9:30 and 10 a.m. Pat Detjen, the law firm's receptionist, said Watters came in at 9:15 a.m. after a fifteen-minute commute from his apartment through snow-clogged streets. A year-and-a-half later, Detjen even remembered what Watters was wearing that day: charcoal-gray pants, a camel-hair sweater and Western boots. Robert Rosenthal, another lawyer at the office, said he went to lunch that day with Watters and Pitzer.

The police turned their attention to a man named Kirk Eaton, who'd been seen in the area of Bell's apartment shortly after the murder. Eaton was a convicted rapist whose brother lived near Bell. Eaton left town shortly after the Bell murder. A memo went out to officers about Eaton, describing him as "a Negro male, five-eleven, five-ten, 150 pounds."

On Sunday, March 14, 1982, officers Terry James and Mark Burford were patrolling the Lafayette Square neighborhood when they spotted a black man walking down Park Avenue in the 1900 block of Park -- several blocks from Bell's apartment in what is now a row of thriving retail shops and restaurants. The officers asked the man for identification, thinking he might be Eaton.

George Allen showed the officers several pieces of paper bearing his name but nothing with his picture. The officers ran Allen's name to see whether there were any outstanding warrants for his arrest. There was none. Nevertheless, the officers asked Allen to accompany them to the 3rd District station.

Allen asked why. Because Allen couldn't produce any photo identification, James testified, "We would like to take him to the 3rd District station, check him out, verify his name and see if he was wanted." If everything checked out, James testified, "I believe we said we'd cut him loose." The officers cuffed Allen and put him in the back of the squad car.

It was the last time Allen was a free man.

Allen was held in a holdover cell as the officers compared an old photo of Eaton with Allen. Unable to rule out the possibility that the man they had locked up was Eaton, they called Detective Pam LaRose of the sex-crimes department, as well as homicide detective Herb Riley. Riley asked them to bring Allen down to police headquarters.

Accounts of what happened next differ and would later become issues in Allen's trials and his appeals.

Allen later would claim in court filings that he was strip-searched while a female detective was in the room. He said he was "required to disrobe completely and was without clothes for one hour" and interrogated for several hours. He said he asked for a lawyer but was told that "he didn't need an attorney because he wouldn't be there that long." The officers asked him how many times a week he had sex and whether he liked to sleep with black women or white women. Allen said that Riley told him he was sure that Allen had committed the crime, that the police had his fingerprints to prove it. He said the police asked him to draw a diagram of the apartment but that when he did, they told him it was inaccurate. He said he talked to Riley for as long as three hours before the confession that would convict him was taped and that he made the confession because he felt he had no choice.

Police gave a different story.

LaRose said she read Allen his Miranda rights at police headquarters and interrogated him at the homicide office for about half-an-hour. She asked "personal questions ... about sex ... if he thought sex was a normal thing." She wanted to know whether he'd ever forced a woman to have sex. Allen said yes, then no. At that point, LaRose decided that she didn't have anything to book him on and "terminated the interview."

One of the arresting officers, Mark Burford, concluded that Allen wasn't Eaton and returned to duty after LaRose finished her interrogation. Then, at about 1 p.m., Riley met with Allen. Riley also concluded that Allen wasn't Eaton; he testified, "Once I came back and determined that he was not Kirk Eaton, he could have left."

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