George Whitmore Jr., an eighth-grade dropout who confessed in
1964 to three New York murders that he did not commit, and whose case became
instrumental in establishing historic legal reforms — including the Supreme
Court’s 1966 “Miranda” ruling, which protects criminal suspects, and the partial
repeal of capital punishment in New York State — died on Oct. 8 in a Wildwood,
N.J., nursing home. He was 68.
The cause was a heart attack, his daughter Regina Whitmore said.
Mr. Whitmore was 19 in April 1964 when he was first picked up on a Brooklyn
street, in Brownsville, for questioning about an attempted rape in the
neighborhood the night before. A soft-spoken young man, he had grown up in a
house in a junkyard that his father owned in Wildwood, N.J. He had tried hard in
school but dropped out at 17, moved to Brooklyn and was waiting for a ride to
work when the police pulled their car over and started asking him questions.
He would later tell interviewers that he had secretly been pleased at being
asked for help in solving a crime, and at the prospect of having a good yarn to
tell his friends.
But when his interrogation ended several days later, Mr. Whitmore had confessed
to the attempted rape, and to the rape-murder a few weeks earlier of another
woman in the neighborhood, Minnie Edmonds. He had also confessed to the double
murder in Manhattan, on Aug. 28, 1963, of two women whose bodies were found
bound and stabbed numerous times in the apartment they shared on East 88th
Called “the Career Girl Murders” in newspaper headlines, the killings of Janice
Wylie, 21, a researcher at Newsweek magazine, and Emily Hoffert, 23, a
schoolteacher, had been the focus of an eight-month investigation.
Mr. Whitmore recanted his confession, and he consistently claimed afterward that
the police had beaten him and that he had signed the confession without knowing
what it was. He said he was innocent. And in the case of the Wylie-Hoffert
slayings, he said, he could provide the names of a dozen people who saw him on
that day and who would remember it, because it was the day of the civil rights
march on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream”
speech. He and everybody else in Wildwood had watched it on television and
talked about it incessantly, all day, he said.
In 1964, Mr. Whitmore was convicted by a Brooklyn jury on the charges of
attempted rape. Though the verdict was overturned because jurors were found to
have been reading newspaper accounts of the case, which referred to Mr. Whitmore
as the “prime suspect” in the Career Girl Murders, he was tried a second time.
He was convicted again, but the verdict was again thrown out, on different
By 1965, Manhattan prosecutors had evidence that Mr. Whitmore was wrongly
accused in the Wylie-Hoffert murders. They had linked the brutal slayings to
Richard Robles, a recently released prisoner who would later be convicted of the
crime, and who remains in prison.
Still, while Mr. Whitmore now faced a second trial, in the murder of Ms.
Edmonds, his indictment in the Wylie-Hoffert case remained in place. News
accounts said that by refusing to dismiss the indictment, prosecutors hoped to
deny Mr. Whitmore’s defense lawyers an argument: that the dismissal of the
double-murder indictment proved it had been coerced, and that Mr. Whitmore’s
confession to the Edmonds murder, elicited in the same long interrogation, had
therefore been coerced, too.
Selwyn Raab, a reporter then for The New York World-Telegram and Sun, and later
for The New York Times, had found a dozen witnesses who remembered seeing Mr.
Whitmore in Wildwood on the day of the double murder. They had bumped into him
in the homes of friends and relatives while watching Dr. King’s speech, Mr. Raab
wrote in a front-page story in The World-Telegram.
“Whitmore’s case showed how fragile the whole system was, and still is,” Mr.
Raab said in an interview on Sunday. “Even now, police use the same techniques
to manipulate suspects into giving false confessions. And 90 percent of
convictions are still based on confessions.”
The police and prosecutors at the time denied any misconduct. Legal reformers
asked Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Republican, to appoint a panel to
investigate, but he declined.
Yet Mr. Whitmore’s legal troubles were far from over. With the Manhattan
district attorney still refusing to clear him entirely in the Wylie-Hoffert
case, Mr. Whitmore went to trial for the murder of Minnie Edmonds, solely on the
evidence of his “confession.”
In the debate in the New York State Legislature over a proposal to abolish the
death penalty, Mr. Whitmore’s case became a warning cry against the killing of
innocents. “In Whitmore’s case,” said Assemblyman Bertram L. Podell of Brooklyn,
“we have learned to our shock and horror that a 61-page statement of completely
detailed confession was manufactured and force-fed to this accused.”
Governor Rockefeller signed a bill in 1965 abolishing capital punishment, except
in the killing of police officers. (The death penalty was reinstated in 1995,
and declared unconstitutional in 2004.) The Supreme Court cited Mr. Whitmore’s
case as “the most conspicuous example” of police coercion in the country when it
issued its 1966 ruling establishing a set of protections for suspects, like the
right to remain silent, in “Miranda v. Arizona.”
Mr. Whitmore was tried several times in the murder of Ms. Edmonds, with each
trial ending in a hung jury.
As a result of the various cases in which he had become entangled, he was in and
out of prison, for months and years at a time, until April 10, 1973, when the
Brooklyn district attorney, Eugene Gold, dismissed the last case against him — a
retrial of the attempted rape case — with new evidence exonerating Mr. Whitmore.
On his release from custody that day, Mr. Whitmore said that what he felt was
“just beyond expressing,” adding “I’m not bitter. I appreciate greatly what the
His life after prison was marked by depression and alcoholism, said T. J.
English, author of “The Savage City: Race, Murder and a Generation on the Edge,”
in which Mr. Whitmore’s life is chronicled.
Mr. Whitmore moved back to Wildwood, operated a commercial fishing boat for a
time, and was later disabled in a boating accident. He was unemployed for long
Mr. Whitmore’s daughter Regina said he had children but never married.
Besides her, she said, his survivors include three other daughters, Aida, Sonya
and Tonya, and two sons, George and James, all of whom have taken the name
Whitmore, and more than 20 grandchildren.
“He told us about what happened to him,” she said. “But he said he never held it
against anybody. He was always a very sweet man with us. He wanted us to grow up
This article has been revised
to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 15, 2012
An earlier version of the headline with this article
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Coroner's officials on Friday identified a
man whose dismembered head, hands and feet were found in a Hollywood park as a
66-year-old from Los Angeles, and police continued to hunt for his killer.
The victim's name is Hervey Medellin, coroner's Lt. David Smith said. Public
directories show Medellin lived in a Hollywood apartment near the rugged,
hillside park where his remains were found.
Investigators served a search warrant Thursday night on a Hollywood apartment in
the area, but it wasn't immediately clear if it was Medellin's apartment.
"They did serve a search warrant last night. They are following clues, and the
case is progressing. Guys are working around the clock to find out who did it
and find the rest of the body," police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Friday.
He did not elaborate on why the warrant was served or what, if anything,
"We don't want to give out too much information because the investigation is
ongoing," Smith said.
Medellin's head was found Tuesday by a dog walker at Bronson Canyon Park, and
police searchers discovered the hands and feet during a two-day search that
ended Thursday. The park, a brushy, wooded expanse of rolling hills just below
the Hollywood sign, reopened Friday.
Although police have concluded no other body parts were dumped in the park,
visitors who find anything they believe are related to the victim's death should
contact authorities, Smith said.
More than 120 police officers, firefighters and Los Angeles County sheriff's
deputies searched 7 acres of the park after the head was discovered in a plastic
grocery bag. The hands and feet were found nearby.
Police have said they believe the victim was killed elsewhere and his remains
dumped just inside the park, which attracts hundreds of hikers and dog walkers
on most days.
Although rustic, it is located just a short distance from film studios and other
Police believe the body parts were left there no more than a day or two before
the head was found because they had barely decomposed and had not been attacked
by coyotes that roam through the park at night.
Authorities don't believe the Los Angeles case is connected to a case in Tucson,
Ariz., where police found a torso on Jan. 6. They say if the two were related,
the remains would have been more badly decomposed.
Medellin's head was found after the dog walker let one of the animals she was
shepherding through the park off its leash and it began playing with a plastic
bag. When it shook the bag, the head fell out.
Smith said whoever dumped the head had gone to some effort to conceal it.
"If it had not been for the dog walker, we might never have found it," he said.