HBO’s ‘Mind Over Murder’ delves into the infamous case of Helen Wilson’s murder in 1985. Burdette Searcey, a Deputy Sheriff, zeroed in on six suspects through his investigation, but in the end, none turned out to be responsible. However, all of them spent several years behind bars before being exonerated. Debra Shelden, a young woman when the incident occurred in 1985, implicated others after claiming to have seen them in her dreams. So, if you’re curious to find out more, we’ve got you covered.
Who is Debra Shelden?
Debra was Helen Wilson’s grandniece and was seen as a potential suspect because she hung out with Ada JoAnn Taylor’s group at the time. Debra was married with a child and had a problematic past like Ada, with her stepfather sexually abusing her when she was younger. A psychologist later said, “She is essentially incapable of defending an independent opinion.” In March 1989, during an interview with the police, Debra mentioned that her husband, Cliff, informed her that he had received a letter from Ada in which she confessed to the murder.
While the police sergeant’s report regarding the interview stated that Debra didn’t see the letter, Burdette’s report mentioned that Debra had talked about reading the letter, which said Ada and Joseph White killed Helen. In April 1989, Debra claimed to have been at the apartment and witnessed the assault. She added that Joseph shoved her, resulting in a bleeding wound to her head.
Furthermore, Debra had a prior connection to Wayne Price, the psychologist, and like Ada, she had given up her parental rights a few years prior. As the investigation and interrogations continued, Debra, like the others, came to believe that her memories of the murder were repressed. In one interview, she claimed that James Dean, who was later arrested, was present at the crime scene. According to Debra, she had a dream that showed her that.
During the interview, Debra said regarding James, “I was blocking it, I guess. I wasn’t thinking enough to push it all out.” Similarly, she claimed after a nightmare that Kathy Gonzalez was at the crime scene with a bloody nose. When Burdette showed her a picture of Kathy, Debra asserted that she looked like the woman who appeared in the dream. While she claimed to remember the assault and Ada holding a pillow over Helen’s face, Debra admitted these recollections mostly came from her dreams.
Where is Debra Shelden Today?
Debra Shelden was the first to plead guilty and was sentenced to 10 years for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. While in prison, Kathy said Debra was eager to be close to the deputies and jailers, greeting them regularly. Eventually, she was released after serving about four-and-a-half years behind bars. But even after DNA results proved in 2008 that Debra wasn’t involved, she was reluctant to accept it.
Debra said that Bruce Allen, the actual killer, wasn’t in the house with them on the night of the murder. She mentioned being present at the apartment even in her pardon application. An attorney who helped with the case later felt that it was easier for Debra to believe in her guilt because that would explain her prison time and, more importantly, how the others spent time behind bars because of her testimony. Her name was cleared in January 2009, along with the others.
In 2014, Debra reached a $300,000 settlement with the state for the wrongful conviction, with $50,000 being paid immediately. Then, as part of the civil suit, she was awarded about $1.8 million. However, she was initially resistant to the idea of even filing for a pardon. While Debra lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband in a van, it was reported in 2014 that she was homeless but was still in Lincoln. From what we can tell, that remains Debra Shelden’s last known location.
Read more: Where is Beatrice Six’s James Dean Now?