Six Nebraskans — Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Debra Shelden, James Dean and Kathy Gonzalez — spent more than 70 years behind bars for the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson. They became known as the Beatrice Six. Then, in 2008, DNA evidence linked the crime to a man named Bruce Allen Smith who had been arrested earlier in the case. The six wrongfully convicted people sued Gage County, claiming it ran a reckless investigation that led to their convictions. In 2016, a jury awarded them $28.1 million, which will rise to $30 million with interest and attorney fees.
In the years since their exoneration, the Beatrice Six have scattered across the country and don’t speak much to one another. But their case still resonates in the small town where Wilson was murdered and where suspicions about them hang over coffee shops and bars.
With the same patient thoroughness that marked her HBO Max series Mind Over Murder, director Yingling Wang examines the tangled case of the Beatrice Six with the help of candid interviews with four of them and many lawyers and police officers who worked on the case. The second half of the six-part documentary explores how investigators compelled the men and women to give false confessions, including feeding them details and urging them to reach into their dreams for repressed memories that would implicate them in the rape and murder. It’s a heartbreaking reminder that even in an age of fake news indoctrination, people are still inclined to believe what they want to believe over concrete, indisputable facts.