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
PROVO, Utah (AP) -- An autopsy done on the body of a student
found dead in a canyon after an extensive search has turned up no evidence that
her death was a homicide, police said Monday.
Results of the autopsy conducted Monday on Camille Cleverley's body were not
immediately released, and the investigation was continuing, but Provo police
Capt. Cliff Argyle said, ''Nothing we have found so far has pointed us toward
The body of the 22-year-old Brigham Young University student was discovered by
searchers at the base of a 200-foot cliff on Sunday, 10 days after she was last
Utah County Sheriff James Tracy said it appeared she had made her way up a rocky
talus slope halfway up Bridal Veil Falls, then followed a series of angled
ledges to an outcrop, where she fell. Pine trees and heavy brush on the steep
slope made her body difficult to see.
After her body was found, a campus candlelight vigil Sunday night was turned
into a memorial service attended by more than 1,000 people. The city flew flags
at half-staff Monday.
Cleverley, of Boise, Idaho, was last seen riding her bicycle in Provo on Aug.
30. Police got a break in the case Sept. 6, when two people heard about the
search for Cleverley and admitted stealing a bike that resembled hers from a
rack near Bridal Veil Falls.
Before the discovery, the possibility that Cleverley might have been abducted
chilled some students in this college town 40 miles south of Salt Lake City.
They form a kind of shadow police force, uniformed but unarmed
and unpaid. Part community-minded volunteers and part would-be officers, they go
on neighborhood patrols, help with crowd control at places like Yankee Stadium
and serve as an official-looking eyes and ears.
The city’s 4,800 or so auxiliary police officers are never far from trouble, but
usually, said John W. Hyland, the president of the Auxiliary Police Benevolent
Association, trouble goes the other way when they come around.
“For the most part, you’re on routine patrol,” he said. “For the most part, the
bad guys can’t tell the difference whether it’s an auxiliary cop or a regular
cop. It’s one of the best crime deterrents that there is.”
So is the seven-pointed star that auxiliary officers wear. Few, other than
sharp-eyed criminals, could tell that it is different from the shield that
regular officers wear. And few would know that officially, anyway, auxiliary
officers do not have the power that regular officers have: the power to make
“It’s a citizen’s arrest,” Mr. Hyland said. “You’re the eyes and the ears. You
make the call.” Meaning, most of the time, an auxiliary officer reaches for his
or her radio and calls for regular officers.
Until last night, six auxiliary officers had been killed in the line of duty in
the half-century since the auxiliary police force was organized. Before the two
deaths in Greenwich Village, the most recent was Milton Clarke, killed 14 years
ago when he heard shots in the street outside his garage in the Bronx. Carrying
his own licensed .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol, he confronted a suspect who
opened fire and struck him six times. Mr. Clarke’s gun jammed after he pulled
the trigger once.
Facing street crime was not the original mission of the auxiliary force, which
was organized as a civil-defense group in the 1950s. Its mission reflected the
nuclear paranoia of cold-war America: to direct crowds to subway stations and
school basements that doubled as bomb shelters.
Auxiliary officers attend classes on topics like handling their nightsticks and
giving Miranda warnings, even though they rarely make arrests. The Police
Department requires that auxiliary officers be older than 17 and younger than
60, though those over 60 may apply for administrative duties. The department’s
Web site also says that auxiliary officers must be United States citizens or
have a valid visa or alien registration card, must live or work in the city,
must be able to read and write English and must have a clean record.
“A lot of the younger guys are using it as a steppingstone to go into law
enforcement,” Mr. Hyland said. “It gets them in the door. They see, do they
really want to do this?”