Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack Season 5 Episode 24 Full Episode

This program is about unsolved mysteries. Whenever possible, the actual family members and police officials have participated in recreating the events. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast. [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: On the surface, Reggie DePalma was a caring and dedicated fireman. In reality, DePalma was a cynical manipulator who used his position as a scout leader to prey on vulnerable young girls. For years, a woman named Miriam was haunted by erratic, frightening images from a life she barely remembered. In time, a fragmented portrait emerged of two very special people Miriam believes helped her survive a troubled, traumatic childhood. Based on his own confession, Michael Self of Webster, Texas was convicted of murdering two teenage girls. But Self has always maintained that he is innocent and that the confession was coerced by a sadistic police chief. Surprisingly, both a local Sheriff and a state prosecutor believe Michael Self's story is true. And from the annals of World War II, the fascinating legend of the ghost blimp. In 1942, a US Navy airship crashed to earth in California with no one on board. To this day, the fate of its crew remains an unsolved mystery. Join me. Perhaps you may solve a mystery. [INTRO MUSIC] NARRATOR: Her name is Miriam. She's 50 years old, lives in New York, and has one grown daughter. Miriam's husband died in 1984. And she now does extensive volunteer work with other widows and widowers. I have this vague feeling that, uh [INAUDIBLE]. NARRATOR: In July of 1982, Miriam was seeing a psychologist. Therapy led her down a frightening path filled with confusing, fragmented images, which appeared to spring from the depths of her memory. [GASP] Oh my god! I had this image like a mummy was the only thing I could liken it to. It was so terrifying and so frightening. And I became so petrified by it. I didn't know what was happening. I didn't understand what was going on. The human mind is a vast, uncharted universe. The thoughts, and moments, and memories lurk randomly. For 10 years, Miriam has been piecing together the events of her childhood attempting to understand what is real and what is not. Wondering if things happened as she remembers them. Her doctors are convinced they did. In any case, Miriam has now embarked on a search for two people whom she recalls with love and compassion. NARRATOR: Miriam's journey into her past began in 1983. Once her disconnected memories started to break through, they simply refused to go away. I found myself getting up at night, and sitting on the floor in the bathroom. And all of these memories started coming back of my father attacking me, of my father being subdued by the police. I really allowed the images. I worked at it. I let them come, and I tried to figure out what I was seeing and try to understand what was happening to me. What would happen is that she began to become subject to what she called flashbacks. These would be images that would suddenly come out of nowhere, and grab her in such a way that she would just be paralyzed for the instant that it occurred. I don't I just-- Those flashbacks indicated that there was a certain amount of abuse that went on very early in life that she did not have a handle on. And there was a big part of her that they did not want to deal with it. You're not gonna like me. I only remembered good things about my father. And to suddenly have a whole new side of him revealed to me was a terrible shock. And I remember saying in therapy I don't want this to be true. I don't want to believe this about my father. NARRATOR: Miriam was an only child. Her father, Harry, died in 1984, two years into Miriam's psychotherapy. Although he had often exhibited erratic behavior, Miriam's conscious memories of him had always been happy ones. Now, however, the years between her third and fifth birthdays began to haunt her. At the time, Miriam lived with her mother and father in Miami Beach. The detail recreations you are about to see are based solely on Miriam's memories. I won't need a ride, honey. Jane's gonna pick me up. All right. I'll see you later Miriam. Bye. Can I have that coconut? I don't see why not. Honey, I don't think that coconut's ripe yet. Honey, what are you talking about? A coconut is ripe when it falls off the tree. It's fine. Miriam, would you rather have some crackers? Crackers? She said she wanted a coconut. What is the big deal? Oh, not with that knife. So now your mommy's an expert on coconuts, huh? [CRASHING] Why are you looking at me like that, huh? I remembered that he grabbed me. What's the matter with you? And my father was attacking me. What's the matter with you! And somehow, I guess, I kicked him enough to hurt him. And he put me down, or dropped me, or whatever. And I ran and wanted to hide from him. I remember watching from a hiding place where he finally left me alone. Here doggy, doggy. Come on, boy. Come on. He was calling me a dog and a cat. He was calling me an animal. I mean, he didn't know it was me anyone. And somehow, policemen were there. My father, I mean, he was ranting. He had no idea there was anybody there. [YELLING] NARRATOR: Miriam says that she remembers hospital orderlies with the policeman trying to subdue her father. She assumes they were called by her mother. I was terrified beyond anything I can possibly relate to you. I don't know how to tell you the terror that I felt. Get you some ice cream and-- NARRATOR: Miriam has come to believe that her father suffered from severe mental illness. You'll be fine. NARRATOR: She now feels certain that while her mother tried to cope, Miriam herself was taken away. When I started having these flashbacks, I started thinking about mommy and daddy. And the images that went with my parents weren't the images that were popping in my mind. And I didn't know who these people were. I suddenly realized they were people in my life that were important to me. And I didn't know who they were. I brought you something to eat. You're really afraid. It's all right. I remember I was absolutely frightened out of my mind. Slowly, I realized that this was a safe place. That these people were kind. And they weren't going to hurt me. And they were loving. And I was very happy there. What are you coloring, sweetheart? It's the stars and the moon. NARRATOR: As the gates of repressed memory opened, Miriam began to believe she had once been placed with foster parents. She was inundated with images of warmth and love. My foster father had white hair. And he was a young man. It was very striking. I remember his hands. I remember that they were strong and powerful hands that made me feel very safe. Bye. See you later. OK. NARRATOR: Miriam believes she called her foster parents mommy Pat and daddy Mike. Bye! NARRATOR: Mike was a fireman. And Pat sang her to sleep with Irish lullabies. [SINGING IN IRISH] I remember a song called Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra. All my life, I've known this lullaby was sung to me. [SINGING] Don't you cry. I just remember being hugged, and kissed, and just playing with mommy Pat's ringlets, and the overwhelming sense of being loved. [SINGING] Too ra loo ra loo ra. They thought I was the most wonderful child in the world. And I really delighted in that. We have to talk to you. There's some people who think it might be better-- NARRATOR: But unhappy memories soon intruded. --if we didn't live together anymore. NARRATOR: First, a serious discussion with Mike and Pat. Miriam sensed that she was about to lose them. Baby, what's important is that we love you. We'll always love you. Always love you. [GAVEL BANGING] After hearing the testimony of all the parties-- NARRATOR: Miriam then saw herself in a courtroom sitting with a social worker. Her real parents, as well as Pat and Mike, were also there. Clearly, Miriam Parten's foster parents have provided a good home during a difficult period. However, in cases like this, we must consider first and foremost the best interest of the child. Since the original reasons for placement in the foster home no longer exist, it's the decision of this court that Miriam Parten be returned to the physical custody of her natural parents. [GAVEL BANG] Court is adjourned. I'm so sorry. I was very, very distraught. I did not want to leave them. [CRYING] As far as I was concerned, these were the people I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. [CRYING] I really didn't remember about that kiss for a very long time. Actually, it didn't come until almost the very, very end of all my memories. In fact, that was probably one of the very last flashbacks I had. And until I had that memory, I really felt at a loss. And somehow, that I love you that came across in that kiss has been enough for me to make peace with the loss, and to go on with my life, and just keep their memory in my soul and in my heart. NARRATOR: Miriam lived with her natural parents until she married at the age of 21. At the age of 47, she began her search for Mike and Pat. Their names were Pat and Mike. And I think their last name was McGuire. NARRATOR: According to Miriam, her mother admits that Miriam's father had emotional problems and that life was often difficult. However, Miriam says her mother denies that she was ever placed in foster care, which has prompted suggestions that Miriam might suffer from false memory syndrome and that Mike and Pat might never have existed. The question of whether all of this is made up certainly arises because it's hard to believe that people could be this way. All right. [SIGH] But I can't help but believe that this is the absolute truth. There may be a certain amount of condensation and distortion around the edges. But essentially, I think that the story is accurate, and it was relayed in a truthful manner, especially since all during the relation of this tale Miriam was wanting to get out of the treatment. Her emotional reactions to the pieces and to the whole were consistent with a real event and not with a fantasy. And repeated flashbacks, we got the beautiful picture of these marvelous foster parents. And without these months with two loving parents, she might not have survived. They gave me a lot. They saved me from despair. And I would like them to know that there was a good outcome. I just pray that their lives are wonderful and that they've had happiness. And I hope that I'll get a chance to be reunited with them and share with them the good things that I have in my life. Miriam believes that she lived with her foster parents in 1945 or 1946 when she was between three and four years old. She remembers their last name as McGuire. Neither records of a court hearing or records of foster care from Miriam have been found. However, the Dade County clerk's office says this was not unusual in Florida during the period right after World War II. [MUSIC PLAYING] Along the Pacific Coast, the hunt is on for the Jap submarine that brought the war to US soil. NARRATOR: In 1942, the final outcome of World War II was still very much in doubt. The United States had every reason to fear a Japanese invasion of it's Western shores. There were known to be Japanese submarines operating off the coast. There had been an attack on an ore refinery down near Santa Monica, Los Angeles. There was a great fear that there would be more attacks. NARRATOR: One response to the threat was unusual, to say the least. The Navy assembled an unlikely fleet of 12 odd sized blimps to monitor possible enemy activity along the California coastline. The mission of airship squadron 32, though critical, was largely routine and uneventful until August 16, 1942. That day, an airship on its regular patrol made a spectacular descent and crashed to earth with no one on board. Incredibly, its two man crew had vanished. And no trace of them was ever found. The legend of the ghost blimp had been born. It was almost impossible for them not to have been seen by somebody. But nobody saw them go. Nobody saw them jump. And there's no relics of them at all. A real puzzle. It was, perhaps, a strangest home front incident of the Second World War. So strange that many remember it as if it happened only yesterday. Throughout the entire war, airship squadron 32 lost only the two men who disappeared on that patrol. 50 years later, their exact fate is still unknown. And the mystery surrounding the ghost blimp remains a subject of endless fascination. [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Sunday, August 16th 1942, the flight of the ghost blimp began like hundreds of others had. Just after 6:00 AM, the blimp designated flight 101 prepared to take off. The weather looks good today. Flight 101's pilots were 27-year-old Lieutenant Ernest Dewitt Cody and 34-year-old Ensign Charles Ellis Adams. Both were experienced and reliable. All the more reason to wonder about what would occur over the next five hours. Good. Good. Lieutenant Cody was a thoroughly experienced pilot. He had many, many hours in this particular type of an aircraft. He was called a very cool, determined if, somewhat, taciturn officer. Adams had flown in the large dirigibles and was thoroughly checked out. But he had never flown in the small blimps. And this was an indoctrination flight for him that Sunday morning. NARRATOR: Aviation machinist Mick Riley Hill was assigned to crew for Adams and Cody that morning. But just before departure, Hill was inexplicably ordered to leave the ship. No need for you to go, Riley. Adams and I will take it. Yes, sir. NARRATOR: Hill now believes heavy moisture in the air was weighing the blimp down making it unwise to take off with three men aboard. So I got out, shut the door and locked it closed, and they took off. The flight plan called for the 101 to depart Treasure Island, pass over the Golden Gate Bridge, then head to the Farallon Islands 25 miles off the coast. From there, the patrol would continue north to Point Reyes, then south along the coastline. The first leg proceeded without incident. An hour and a half after takeoff, at 7:38 AM, Lieutenant Cody had radioed squadron headquarters at Moffett Field. Position four miles east of the Farallons. Stand by. Four minutes later, Cody called again. Investigating suspicious [INAUDIBLE]. Stand by. Go 101. NARRATOR: Those were the last words ever received from flight 101. Go 101. When it came time for further explanation and we didn't get it, we just assumed, well, that was negative, and they had went on their way. Then, it came time for the hourly position report. And that didn't come in. And the second one didn't come in. And that's when we began to feel that something was grossly wrong. And we just could not believe that our radios weren't working because we had good radio crew. And the machinery was working. NARRATOR: After more than three hours of radio silence, personnel at Moffett Field grew increasingly alarmed. Frantic attempts to contact the blimp went unanswered. Any word yet? No, sir. No communications from the crew since the report at 7:42. I'm investigating suspicious oil slick. Yes, sir. Flight 101-- NARRATOR: Finally, a message was received, but not from flight 101. MAN (ON RADIO): San Francisco shore control. One blimp [INAUDIBLE] crashed into the golf course. Just dropped the depth charge. Peeled it off. Let's get a team over there right away. NARRATOR: The blimp had come ashore just south of San Francisco. Flight 101 had inexplicably drifted eight miles off course. There was a swimmer there, a man called Mr. Kapovia, who was standing ready to go into the water. And all of a sudden, he saw this huge gray mass just coming right at him. But remember, this thing is 47 feet wide. And it wasn't too high off the water. And he watched it come in. It dragged it's wheel along the sand at the water's edge. Then, hit a little sand knoll. It bounced up into the air, and then slid up a little bit of a canyon. And then, hit rather heavily on the side of the canyon. And this knocked off what turned out to be a depths charge. Relieved of the weight, the L8 then soared up into the overcast again and out of sight of this Mr. Kapovia. And began to drift inland, I guess, with the winds over Daly City. NARRATOR: The rapidly deflating blimp was seen by hundreds of people. Bunny Gillespie was 16 years old at the time. I was on the way home from Sunday school. And I saw this big, gray thing coming in over what I thought was going to be right over Templeton Avenue. When I saw this thing coming in through the sky, I was very surprised, as were a lot of other people because things like that just didn't happen in Daly City. NARRATOR: Flight 101 was quickly losing altitude and in danger of becoming entangled in power lines. The blimp was on a collision course with the steep hills in Daly City. One woman's house almost became the point of impact. It was a Mrs. Appleton. She said that, all of a sudden, this huge behemoth had settled and scraped across the top of her roof. And she said it sounded like chains dragging. But the entire house was blacked out because of the size of this thing. And she raced to the front window wondering what in the world was going on. And she saw the rest of the gondola hit the cross arm, break off part of the mechanism there, and gradually settle down to the ground. I missed the actual landing of the thing. But when I got there, it was just like a great, big, gray monster with the gondola jutting up towards the tops of the houses. It was huge. NARRATOR: Miraculously, no one was injured as the blimp came to rest in the middle of the street. Almost immediately, Daly City officials were on the scene. When Navy personnel arrived, they were stunned to discover that there was no sign of Lieutenant Cody or Ensign Adams. Apparently, the blimp had piloted itself straight into downtown Daly City. A search of the gondola left investigators perplexed. The door was latched open, a highly unusual in-flight position. The safety bar, normally used to block the doorway, was no longer in place. A microphone hooked to an external loud speaker dangled out of the gondola. The ignition switches were still on. The radio was still on and working. Nobody had touched my fuel valves. They were set up just exactly the way that I'd left them. We still had another six hours of fuel. It's two life jackets out of the three that were normally carried aboard we're missing. But there was no other equipment that was gone. The machine gun was still there. The other flares, there were three other flares, were still there. The expandable life raft was there, and one more life jacket. There was nothing missing. NARRATOR: Lieutenant Cody's cap lay on the instrument panel. The missing life jackets indicated the crew had put them on before takeoff as regulations required. [INAUDIBLE] still here. NARRATOR: A locked and heavily weighted briefcase containing top secret codes was still in place. It was as if Cody and Adams had opened the door and simply stepped out into thin air. The Navy investigation revealed that flight 101 had been seen by several ships and planes between 7 and 11 AM. Some of the eyewitnesses reported being close enough to make out Cody and Adams in the gondola. In each instance, everything about flight 101 seemed normal. Speculation on the fate of the two Navy airman ran rampant. Some people believe that Cody and Adams had spotted an enemy submarine. When they descended to investigate, they were taken prisoner. One outrageous rumor suggested that the pilots were involved in a lover's triangle with an unknown woman. One had murdered the other in a jealous rage, the story went. And then, fled when the L8 reached land. The Navy finally settled on the most plausible theory. There had been an accident on board, perhaps, caused by a mechanical malfunction. Presumably, one of the men had climbed outside the gondola to correct the problem and had run into trouble. When the second man tried to come to his aide, both fell to their doom. A year later, on August 17, 1943, Lieutenant Ernest Dewitt Cody and Ensign Charles Ellis Adams were officially declared dead. And the mystery of flight 101 passed into legend. [MUSIC PLAYING] After the crash, the L8 was patched up and put back into service by the Navy. Ultimately, the blimp became part of the Goodyear fleet. And during the 1960s and 70s, it was seen by millions of sporting events. Few of them had any idea that the stately craft circling overhead was a fabled ghost blimp. NARRATOR: Next, a respected community leader goes into hiding after he is convicted of statutory rape and sexual assault. [THEME MUSIC] Perhaps, the most disturbing crimes are those that betray the trust of children. In 1981, a group of teenage girls in Danbury, Connecticut were betrayed by a respected community leader. Reggie Depalma was a 12 year veteran of the Danbury Fire Department and adviser to a local explorer scout post. But behind that facade of respectability, DePalma was a time bomb just waiting to explode. Boyfriend [INAUDIBLE]. No, we're not boyfriend and girlfriend. No? No? NARRATOR: In 1978, Reggie DePalma had organized the explorer post in affiliation with the fire department. You guys want to, uh, go get the mats for me? NARRATOR: His girlfriend, Connie, was co-leader. And the group quickly became a popular after school activity. Yeah, that'd be really great. Oh, that would be great. Yeah-- When I first joined the troop, my impression of Reggie and Connie were that they were very nice people. So it was just never even a question that you would not trust them with anything. I mean, you just tell them confidential things. And you would really feel like you would trust them all the time and go to them if you needed help. Should we put them here? Yes, put the blankets down. - OK. - Oh, my gosh. [INAUDIBLE] NARRATOR: By 1981, the explorer post had grown to include 15 girls and 10 boys. They met at the fire station regularly and were drilled in lifesaving and rescue techniques. OK, you're going to be administering five pumps in the chest. NARRATOR: Reggie was supervisor of Dan Barry's ambulance service. And the scouts training was often interrupted by emergency calls. [EMERGENCY ALARM] All right. It's an emergency call. Let's get this stuff cleared up. All right, guys, let's get this stuff together. - Out of the way. - Come on! Come on. NARRATOR: The post members idolized Reggie DePalma. And he soon became a virtual hero, especially to the girls. [SIRENS AND ALARM SOUNDING] It's kind of hard to describe Reggie. Reggie was a lot of fun. Reggie and his girlfriend, Connie, they were easygoing people. They were easy to talk to. If you had a problem, they really wanted you to open up to them and get close to them. And you know, they were good at getting people's trust. NARRATOR: In 1981, the Explorer's organized a Halloween haunted house to raise money for an upcoming camping trip. It was a night which would burn itself into Terry's memory. So you're 13 and you still don't have a boyfriend? Yeah. Have you ever gone all the way with a boy before? No. Well I'd like to teach you about that because I'm your friend. Are you my friend? Yeah. Good. I thought that he was concerned with me and, you know, how I'd handle it because we were at that age. And you know, I took it as, like, a fatherly concern and something that he wanted to not be a part of but help with. Hey, you OK? Yeah, just something Reggie said. Connie came up to me and said, you know, we have to go get some things. Why don't you come back to the house. And why don't you come with me. And we promptly went back to the house where Reggie was waiting. Can't have you upset. OK, um, well here's the towel. We went back to the apartment. And you know, she said why don't you go shower and get some of this makeup off. So I did. I didn't think anything of it. When I came out, it all happened. (ON TV) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you you're too kind. Hey. Hey. Come on in, honey. Yeah, we're just watching some TV. NARRATOR: That night, Reggie forced Terry to have sexual intercourse while Connie watched. Tragically, Terri was not Reggie DePalma's first victim, nor would she be his last. I was 13 years old. And I did not go immediately to my parents or the authorities because, at that age, I don't think that you have any understanding even what's going on. You just feel a terrible amount of humiliation, of guilt. What did I do wrong to cause this to happen? I don't know what to do. I can't believe he did it to you too. NARRATOR: Over the next year, Reggie Depalma continued to sexually abuse girls in the Explorer post. Finally, they began to confide in one another. Are you guys gonna go back, I mean, if he asks you? I've been back, but I can't go back anymore. One of the girls had gotten upset about something and started talking. And it just started snowballing because as soon as she said something, then the next person. And everybody started coming forth. And then, we all realized that we weren't alone. That we were all in this group together and that, together, we could try to stop this. We have to tell somebody. OK. Are you gonna do it? We'll go with you if you want. Yeah. Will you tell ? Yeah. I'll, I'll tell my mom. OK. One of the girls mothers came to the police station to report what her daughter had told her. So Detective Benjamin and I were assigned to investigate this. And I spoke with all the girls involved. And he spoke with all the boys. At that point, you know, I was still very young in high school trying to deal with all this. It was not an easy thing to just discuss with someone to tell them. She was very supportive. She was very nice and helped me through it a lot. So what I need to know is, did you ever have, um, occasion to be alone with Reggie? Um, yeah. There was one time when I was at his apartment. OK. So, um, what happened once you got to the apartment? He gave me some wine. Uh huh. And um, how much wine did you have? Three glasses. Three glasses of wine? Three. OK. Right off the bat, when I heard the stories that these girls told, I felt, myself, betrayed. And I don't even know Reggie. These girls were so devastated over what had happened to them that I had nightmares. Went to his bedroom. The details of what they were telling me made me feel such rage towards this man. [INAUDIBLE] into the bedroom? I had to get him arrested as soon as possible. Why don't you just tell me what's going on, Russ? Five counts of child molestation, Reggie. You have the right to remain silent. You understand? Yeah. You have a right to an attorney. You understand? If you waive that right, anything you say or do will be used against you in a court of law. You understand? - Yeah NARRATOR: On the same day Reggie was arrested, his girlfriend, Connie, was questioned. She believed in him so much, she would have done anything for him. And she felt so insecure about their relationship that she even went this far to do these things with these girls for Reggie. Uh, ladies and gentlemen, I just have one more set of questions I'd like to ask Terry [INAUDIBLE]. NARRATOR: Just over a year after his arrest, Roger DePalma went to trial on nine counts, including two counts of statutory rape and five counts of risking injury to a minor. Why on this terrible night you didn't tell someone about what happened? Why, particularly, you didn't tell your parents. I thought, um, I thought that they would think less of me. And that, maybe, it was my fault too. And Reggie had told me not to tell anybody. Reggie told you not to-- Reggie DePalma, the first day during the trial, it was obvious that he did not believe the girls had the courage to testify against him. He felt he still had sufficient sway over them that they would crumble on the witness stand. After the first witness was able to testify against him, certainly then his confidence had to waver. And of course, after a third girl had testified, he must have decided that he would be better in parts unknown. NARRATOR: After the fifth day of the trial, Reggie DePalma who was out on bail, left Danbury to visit his mother. She was hospitalized at New Haven, Connecticut, 38 miles away. Although his car was found in the hospital parking lot, DePalma never showed up in his mother's room. A fugitive warrant was issued for his arrest. The trial continued without him. And on October 25, 1983, Reginald DePalma was convicted on seven counts and sentenced in absentia to 21 years in prison. He is still at large and has never served a single day behind bars. His victims are now adults. But the Chilling effects of abuse linger. There are times when I'll psych myself out, like if I'm leaving work late or, when I was in college, if I was walking back to the dorms or something late at night that it was, like, you know, he's out there somewhere. You know, he could be watching me right now. When I think about the fact that he's still out there somewhere is very upsetting. The first, of course, to all of us. The injustice that we feel because he is not paying for the crimes that were committed. And then, again, the fear for other people out there that he could be harming individuals all over again, and put them all through this living hell. [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: When we return, a convicted killer claims he is innocent. And at least one prosecutor believes he is telling the truth. [THEME MUSIC] NARRATOR: In the past, we presented a number of final appeal cases. Dramatic profiles of men and women who claim they have been wrongfully convicted of a crime. They were saying that they knew that that baby had been poisoned by either me or my husband. I was devastated. I was blown away. I just could not believe that they could even think-- I mean, Ryan was my world. NARRATOR: In 1989, Patty Stallings was arrested for poisoning her 5-month-old son. When the baby died, she was charged with murder and later convicted. Unfortunately, we can't undo the suffering that the Stallings have endured. And I apologize to them, both, personally and for the state of Missouri. NARRATOR: After our broadcast, Patty Stallings was released from prison and exonerated when doctors determined that her son, Ryan, had actually suffered from a rare genetic disorder. I absolutely did not commit the robbery or the shooting of the police officer. I'm a musician and a artist. I'm not a criminal. NARRATOR: Tony Miller spent 8 1/2 years in prison for robbery and assault. Today, Miller is a free man. The charges against him have been dropped. After his story aired, a viewer who had been an eyewitness to the crime contacted the court. Miller's conviction was overturned thanks, in part, to the witnesses sworn statement that Tony was not a guilty party. I am innocent is a phrase that echoes through every cell block and every prison in America. Almost always, it is an empty claim. A little more than jailhouse posturing. But as you have just seen, those three words do sometimes carry the ring of truth. A few cases like our next one deserve a second look. [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: January 3, 1972. Two boys out fishing on Taylor Bayou near Webster, Texas found evidence of a tragedy. What's that out there? It, kind of, looks like a ball. [INAUDIBLE] It's a skull! NARRATOR: It was a skull of a young girl. Six weeks later, police discovered the rest of her bones along with the remains of another young woman. [INAUDIBLE] Come on in here and get a shot of this up close, please. NARRATOR: Dental records identify the two girls as 14-year-old Rhonda Renee Johnson and 15-year-old Sharon Shaw who had been missing since a previous summer. The cause of their deaths could not be determined. Five months after the bones were found, police arrested 23-year-old Michael Self, a gas station attendant with below average intelligence. Self was charged with two counts of murder. 20 years later, he is still in prison convicted of a crime he swears he did not commit. I did not kill Sharon Shaw and Renee Johnson. It was just all behind politics and wanting a conviction. That was it. Just somebody to play the patsy. Imagine that you're a jury member in a murder trial. The defendant has confessed twice, and you vote to convict him. Later, you discover the confessions were allegedly coerced by two police officers who used a kind of rough justice. Physical and psychological intimidation. As it turned out, those two police officers were criminals themselves. It may seem incredible, but Michael Self claims that he was a victim of just that scenario. NARRATOR: Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw disappeared on August 4, 1971. They were last seen heading toward the Jericho Surf and Ski Shop in Galveston, Texas 20 miles south of Rhonda's hometown of Webster. No, that's OK. We've just got a couple more blocks to go. NARRATOR: Police immediately launched an exhaustive investigation. There was a great deal of community pressure to find the girls. Pressure intensified by the fact that Rhonda was a granddaughter of a prominent Webster City councilman. I put in many hours, many hours, night and day on trying to find out what happened to these girls when they disappeared. But I kept coming up to some loose ends. I was getting close, I thought. Then, it would disappear. All my leads would just disappear. We're awful lucky to have a couple of DPS boys on board. NARRATOR: In late May of 1972, the Webster City Council hired a new police chief, Don Morris. Morris and his assistant, Chief Tommy Diehl, came from the traffic division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Son, I'm glad you're with us. I know I can count on ya. Yes, sir. NARRATOR: The hunt for Rhonda and Sharon had been going on fruitlessly for 10 months. But within three weeks of taking office, Morris got a tip on a suspect. Seems to me, a few years back, a boy named Michael Self was [INAUDIBLE]. NARRATOR: Glen Price, another city councilman, suggested Tommy Diehl check known sex offenders and mentioned Michael Self's name. Self had been arrested twice in peeping tom incidents. I know you'll do a good job, Tommy. I'll give it a whirl, Glen. Bye. Bye bye. [BELL RINGING] NARRATOR: June 9th 1972, at 5:00 AM, assistant chief, Tommy Diehl, and officer Herman Morgan stopped by the gas station where 23-year-old Michael Self worked the night shift. Say, look here, Mike. What's up? You got ESP? Say it again. I got ESP. Is that right? That's right. And I can tell you exactly what you're thinking right now. You're thinking about two girls. [LAUGHING] Well I didn't know what two girls he was talking about. My wife and I had been separated. And I was dating a girl. And I thought that's who he was, you know, talking about. That's the only one I could think of. [PHONE RINGING] NARRATOR: Later that morning, Michael Self voluntarily went to the police station. Detective. Detective Hanes. Could you bring that file [INAUDIBLE]. I knew I hadn't done anything. I just went ahead and agreed to meeting there. Now Mike, I want you to answer some questions for me. I want you to tell us if you've ever seen either one of these girls before. NARRATOR: Self said he recognized the girls but did not know them. Yes. Renae Johnson. NARRATOR: To his surprise, he was immediately taken into custody. Sharon Shaw. That's right. Cuff him. - Why? We are putting you under arrest-- Come on in here, son. --for the murder of these two girls. Sit down in that chair. All right. Mike, Mike, Mike. You know we already know you killed those two girls. We got the evidence. Oh, come on. I didn't have nothing to do with killing no girls. And y'all know that. NARRATOR: While Self was being questioned, another police officer, Jerry Mitchell, stopped by to observe. If you cooperate, if you confess-- NARRATOR: Mitchell knew Self and says Self was not a tone nervous at that stage of the interrogation. So what happens to somebody they get caught for doing something like that? Mike looked relaxed. Easy going. Kind of laid back. He was grinning. And I don't know if it ever really sunk in, at that time, what he was being involved in. You got something to tell us? Well like I say, I ain't done nothing. I ain't broke no law. [SIGH] Don't you need to be on patrol. NARRATOR: Mitchell left the room. According to Self, Chief Don Morris then took personal charge of the interrogation. And the tone changed radically. No, Don. We're not. - What? Is he innocent? [LAUGHING] You innocent, Michael? Yes, sir. Tell you what, Tom. Why don't you go home and take a nap and let me, uh-- NARRATOR: What you are about to see is based on Michael Self's recollection. Yeah, Michael. Don Morris started asking me questions. Why I killed these girls. I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. I've seen a lot of innocent people, Michael. And you don't look like one of them. Now tell me about the girls. I don't really know what you want me to tell you about the girls, sir. Tell me about the girls. He said that he wanted a confession. I wasn't gonna leave until he got one. Tell me about the girls. I don't nothing about no girls. I done told you. I think I'll go round up some stray dogs. Aye, you be careful out there. He said, don't you have a guilty conscience for doing this and having to look Roy Johnson in the face? And I'd tell him that I didn't know what he was talking about. Get up! He had me against the wall. My hands are behind my back. And he's poking this nightstick in my stomach and said he was gonna get a confession. You could tell that he was more or less a mad man about it. [COUGHING] You getting tired of this, Michael, huh? [COUGHING] I'm pretty tired of it myself. I was crying. I was upset. He took his gun, opens the cylinder, and takes five bullets, and stands them on end where I can see them. [CRYING] What are you talking about? I want you to tell me where you picked them up. [CRYING] told you, sir. I don't know. I want you to tell me-- I was more scared then I was anything. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what to say. Cause I will blow your head off. No! Tell me about the girls. [INAUDIBLE]. He closed it, he spun the chamber, and he points his gun like this, and says he's gonna blow my brains out if I don't sign a confession. [CRYING] OK. OK. OK. [INAUDIBLE] Now I want you to write down everything you remember about that day. He had already beat me half to death. Poked me in the stomach. And I can see that he meant what he said. And I asked him, what do you want me to sign? He tells me that he he'll tell me what to write. And you were drinking beer while you were riding around. Isn't that the way it happened? Yes, sir. NARRATOR: Less than an hour after Jerry Mitchell left the room, he returned. Self now seemed upset and visibly shaken. Now let me see what you wrote down. Let me see that. It was, in my opinion, kind of being led in a sequence of events of how they wanted it written. You gonna have to do it again. I had seen about a half a page of writing on there by the time it was all over with. And I think they had to rewrite that one. Something wasn't right in it. Now I want you to write some truth. Now let's start again. You-- Not being part of the investigation, I really wasn't privy to all the details of it, the whys and the wherefores, but I do know that they rewrote the confession several times. NARRATOR: Self's confession, however, did not fit the known facts of the girl's disappearance. One glaring instance. The confession said Self dumped the bodies at a place called El Largo 20 miles from the Taylor Bayou where the bodies were actually found. Self's appellate attorney, Gerry Birnberg, points out other discrepancies. There's the statement in here that what he did was, in essence, he choked one of the two girls. There was no evidence of the breaking of some very tender bones in the neck that necessarily would have been damaged if, in fact, he had choked one of the girls to death. There is this claim that he went to Sharon Shaw's house. Well Sharon Shaw's family contradicts that. So she wasn't home that day. That didn't occur. There is the statement that the girls were hanging out of the window and hollering as they were all driving in the car. And yet, Dave Colburn did this very thorough investigation, and nobody saw the two girls that night, or anybody else, driving down the road hollering, waving, and screaming. I had statements from two girls signed by their parents as a witness that they talked to Sharon Shaw and Renee Johnson in Galveston between 8:00 and 9 o'clock. There is no conceivable way that Sharon Shaw and Renee Johnson could have got another ride and been in Webster riding around with Michael [INAUDIBLE] itself at the time that they've gotten this confession. NARRATOR: Three days after Michael Self's arrest, he went against his original attorney's advice and agreed to take a lie detector test. Is your first name Michael? Yes, sir. NARRATOR: According to Gerry Birnberg, police asked Self about more area murders. Yes. NARRATOR: Between July 1971 and February 1972, seven other young girls and one young boy had been found murdered in a four county area that included Webster. Do you know who caused the death of the two girls? Yes. And the courts are giving him the polygraph exam. They say, well, now we've got this statement that you gave last Friday where you confessed to killing these two girls. Is it true? And he says, yeah. And the lie detector says no it's not! It's not true at all! Yes, sir. NARRATOR: After taking the polygraph, Self says he was still so afraid of Chief Morris that he agreed to sign a second confession. It did not mention any of the other murders but did contain a new version of the deaths of Rhonda and Sharon. Yes, that's how it happened. NARRATOR: In the first confession, Self said he struck Sharon Shaw with his fist and shoved the girl's bodies into a culvert. In the second, Self claimed he hit Shaw with a Coke bottle, and dumped their bodies in the bayou. The second confession also says self stripped the murdered girls of their clothing and tossed it out along the highway. However, clothing was found with the remains, along with an unidentified set of car keys, and a crucifix worn by Sharon Shaw. There was a slight difference in the two written confessions. But all I had to do was offer in evidence the confession I wanted to go with. And if the facts, the outlined facts, tended to support the elements of this confession, that's all I needed if the jury believed it. You were out driving around around 9:00 or 10 o'clock. Weren't you? Yes, sir. NARRATOR: Two weeks after Self's arrest, two Harris County Sheriff's deputies checked him out of jail on the pretext of buying him a hamburger. Afterwards, they drove him to places mentioned in the confessions and took pictures of him at each location. It was presented in court as a third confession. He didn't confess a third time. He went on a ride with two police officers who had illegally checked him out of the jail to drive him around to take pictures to get evidence for a trial. They didn't discover anything new. NARRATOR: While Self was awaiting trial, he was visited by Dave Colburn who was, by then, chief of police in nearby Cleveland, Texas. Hello, Mike. - How you doing, Mr. Colburn? - Fine. How are you doing? Well, not too good. At the time, he looked very depressed and very distraught, you know, when I walked in. And I asked him-- he said he didn't do it. And I asked him what had happened. And uh, he had told me about Don Morris threatening him with this billy club and poking him. He pulled out his gun. Yes. Opened it up. Started pulling out five bullets one at a time. When he made that statement to me, I knew what had come down because a year prior I witnessed Don Morris taking one shell out of his revolver, hiding it, placing five shells in front of a prisoner, and playing Russian roulette with that person, threatening him. And there's no doubt in my mind that he did that to Michael [INAUDIBLE] Self. And when it came to the trial, I was prepared to go in and make statements. And I was never called. And he said-- I don't know whether he did the Russian roulette number. Bottom line. All three confessions are consistent. I killed the girls. All of them are consistent. NARRATOR: On May 15, 1973, Michael Self was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Three years later, the town of Webster was shocked when Don Morris and Tommy Diehl were arrested for bank robbery. They were members of a gang of robbers that had been stinking up banks as far back as 1972, five months before Michael Self was arrested. In early 1976, Don Morris was sentenced to 55 years. Tommy Diehl to 30 years. Both were eventually parole. But Tommy Diehl returned to robbing banks and is now back in federal prison. Gerry Birnberg petitioned the court to get Michael Self a new trial. After an extensive evidentiary hearing, in just nine days before oral arguments, the defense got what looked like a gift from heaven. It's been bugging me for a long time. I just wanted to get it off my chest. It was Sharon Shaw and Renee Johnson. I'm the one that killed them. How, how did you kill them. NARRATOR: On April 2nd 1980, a man walked into the police station in Taylor Lake, Texas. He told George Keram and state prosecutor Douglas O'Brien that he, not Michael Self, had murdered Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw. [INAUDIBLE] really upset with them and I-- What'd you use to kill them with? I don't remember exactly. NARRATOR: Douglas O'Brian represented the state when Self appealed his conviction but now believes Self is innocent. What'd you do with their bodies after you killed them? I basically got the impression from him that what he wanted to do was to get it off his chest and confess to the fact that he'd killed the girls. But at the same time, not give me information, which would allow prosecution of him. Where'd you put their bodies in the water? I don't know. It was beside where the car was. I mean, they didn't want to go through with it on the date. And it was like, I tied them up with this, this black cord. And I tied them up. And I just, I put them in the water. His account of how he killed them or whatever was very vague and disjointed. But he did mention that he used a cord in which to tie the girls' bodies down when he put them into the water. The statement by this individual indicated that he had tied their feet with black cord, something Michael Self had never mentioned. Not found in any statement by Michael Self. That was the secret fact that the police had held back all these years. This guy knew it. That guy was out of his gourd. He was, he was a-- I don't know why he came forward. I think he was unbalanced. I don't remember exactly what I did. all right? I don't remember exactly. What he talked about was anything that could have been picked out of the newspaper. And even then, he had it wrong. The whole thing might've just been a dream. There's no question in my mind that this person who came forward was just, uh, one of these people who like to confess to crimes. The individual was clearly a very troubled person with some flights to psychosis. But he knew the girls. He lived in the same apartment complex with one of them. And the most important thing of all, he knew about the black cord. NARRATOR: Despite the surprise confession and the credibility gap created by the criminal activities of Morris and Diehl, Michael Self's conviction was upheld. They have no corroborating evidence whatsoever! Nothing to tie him to any murders or to even being seen with these girls except this, which is not worth the paper it's wrote on. Legally speaking, he's innocent just from a standpoint that, number one, I don't think his confessions were voluntarily entered. Number two, I don't think there's any corroborating evidence concerning those confessions. He was the type of personality that was easy prey for Don Morris, that was easy prey for Tommy Diehl. It's easy prey for bank robbers parading as police officers. And that's what happened. If he were tried today, naturally, some of these areas would be clarified, these particular points we're talking about. We'd go back and spend more time, and send better investigators out, and make our decision as to whether to prosecute or not. [THEME MUSIC] NARRATOR: Next Wednesday on the season premiere of Unsolved Mysteries, for five years, Bruce Kelly has been haunted by fragmented images of a life not his own. A life that, apparently, ended on a doomed submarine during World War II. Is Kelly's story a remarkable case of reincarnation? Or is there another more rational explanation? In Chicago, a young boy was victimized by a hit and run driver. His family needs your help to find the man they believe was responsible. And thanks to tips from you, our viewers, a fugitive cult leader wanted on criminal charges in Missouri has been arrested. Join me next Wednesday for the dramatic season premiere of Unsold Mysteries. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Loading