Anyone who’s ever watched the true crime documentary series The First 48 will know which stage of any murder investigation is the most important. As its title suggests, the first 48 hours are easily the most vital.
The show’s opening titles help explain: ‘For homicide detectives, the clock starts ticking the moment they are called. Their chance of solving a murder is cut in half if they don't get a lead within the first 48 hours.’
Within those initial two days, there are sometimes breaks in the case that can wrench the entire investigation wide open. New spin-off The First 48: Critical Minutes aims to shed light on just those moments.
One way in which a murder case can turn on a dime is via a tell-all confession. That rare occasion where a killer, burdened by guilt, discloses everything...
If only things were always that easy for police.
In celebration of those scarce moments when a murderer admits their guilt and a killer can be locked up, these are some of the all-time most shocking police confessions ever made:
Sgt. Confesor meets a real-life confessor
The incredibly-named Sgt. Confesor Gonzalez is a legend in Florida policing. He retired in 2015 after spending more than 25 years as Homicide Sergeant catching killers for the Miami Police Department. Series 11 Episode 6 (‘Life Snatched’) of The First 48: Critical Minutes showcases a jaw-dropping confession that Confesor drew out of one man.
Something of a favourite for fans of the show, Gonzalez used his no-nonsense approach in 2010 to great effect. He successfully encouraged a man who killed a middle-aged mother of four in a botched purse-snatching to confess all. At the time, officers only had grainy surveillance footage to go on. They needed the confession. Gonzalez was confident of getting one, though... ‘He’s practically admitting it, he just needs to get over the hump,’ The First 48 cameras catch him saying at one point.
Get over he did. After some gentle cajoling, Wesley Bernard Henton spilt the beans in quite sensational style. The wily cop was careful not to push Henton, instead he encouraged him to ‘be honest’. Henton took a deep breath and then fully admitted to how he shot and killed 55-year-old Joslin Augustin.
It later transpired that she was only at the storage facility to pick up some blankets and warm clothes as it was January and the weather had worsened. She couldn’t afford new ones after losing her job the year before.
Henton was found guilty of Ms. Augustin’s murder and was sentenced in 2015 to serve 35 years in jail. His current release date is due to be April 2050.
The ‘deathbed confession’ from the man who didn’t die
Not all confessions to police come from guilty folk who quickly decide they can’t live with the guilt. Though infinitely rarer, the deathbed confession has been known to tie up cold cases for investigators. Like in the case of James Brewer. This confession comes with a twist, though.
In 2009, 58-year-old James Brewer suffered a bad stroke. Laying in bed, thinking back over his life, he made a decision. It was time to atone for his crime. 32 years before, Brewer had jumped bail, skipping town with his wife. The couple moved from Tennessee to Oklahoma and began lives under assumed names. Why? To escape a murder charge.
In a rage, Brewer had shot his neighbour Jimmy Carroll dead after Carroll had attempted to sleep with James’ wife. He didn’t fancy serving his time though and so the pair fled and lived as ‘The Andersons’ for more than three decades.
As Brewer felt close to death, he asked his wife to summon police to his hospital bed, where he confessed to the murder. He then waited for death… which never came. Instead, he recovered fully and was then forced to hand himself over to Tennessee Police. Whoops.
Samuel Little’s unbelievable kill count
Now regarded as America’s most prolific ever serial killer, Samuel Little confessed to 93 murders to law enforcement. It may have seemed a fanciful number, but with 60 of those having now been confirmed, it seems as if the abominable Little wasn’t lying when he admitted to slaughtering almost a hundred young women between 1970 and 2012.
An ulterior (snowy) motive
We know in Britain that murder confessions aren’t always legitimate. Anyone reading this who remembers or has read up on The Yorkshire Ripper case knows all too well how confessions can be hoaxes. The Wearside Jack recordings were, at least, admitting to crimes which had actually happened, though…
In February of this year, a man in the Ukranian city of Grybova Rudnya picked up the phone to local police to confess to a shocking crime. He admitted to having lost his temper and stabbed his mother’s partner to death.
'But at the same time he immediately warned the police that they should come with a snowplough, because there is no other way to get to him,' said Yuliya Kovtun, a police spokesperson.
'Immediately after arriving, they discovered that the relative was indeed at the house, but in one piece and unharmed. No one had attacked him.'
So what gives? Well, it turns out that Grybova Rudnya was, at the time, under some 20 inches of snow and the young man had been tasked with clearing it by the rest of his family. Feeling lazy, he couldn’t be bothered. So he struck upon the idea of ‘incentivising’ the police into clearing the snow for him.
He now, somewhat understandably, faces charges and a fine for wasting police time.
We’ve got a confession to make… that’s the last one.
Watch out for The First 48: Critical Minutes on Crime+Investigation