When facing the end, it's time to come clean - at least that's what happened for numerous individuals who committed some pretty heinous and noteworthy acts. Admissions of murder, theft, and the forging of famous photos are just some of the shocking deathbed confessions that have come down to us through history.
It's hard to tell if all of these confessions are true, but several of them provided answers to seemingly unanswerable questions, offered resolutions to previously cold cases, or gave families much-needed closure. These last words definitely left an impression.
- Photo: Susan Billig / Miami Herald
An Outlaw Biker Admitted To Slaying A Teenager And Feeding Her Body To Alligators
When 17-year old Amy Billig disappeared on March 4, 1974, the entire community of Coconut Grove, FL, was devastated. Billig reportedly made a trip home after getting out of school, changed clothes, and was seen getting into a van to visit her father's place of business. She never arrived.
Investigators looked for Billig, but to no avail, and even used her journal as a guide to try to figure out what had happened to the girl. Authorities found her camera by the highway, but there were no real leads as to her whereabouts.
Billig's mother, Susan, never stopped looking for her daughter and traveled around the world, following potential leads. She wrote a book about her investigation, detailing all of the tips called in and the motorcycle outlaw subculture she was drawn into as she searched for her daughter.
One of the strongest leads Susan possessed was that Billig had been taken by members of the Pagans motorcycle club to party in the Everglades. In 1998, a former "enforcer" for the Pagans, Paul Branch, confessed to the deed, admitting the club had picked Billig up, slipped her something, then taken her to their clubhouse, and repeatedly assaulted her.
Billig's heart stopped as a result of the substances and abuse, and the gang dropped her body in the swamps of the Everglades to get rid of the evidence, feeding her to the alligators to cover their tracks. According to authorities, Branch and other members of the Pagans had been questioned in Billig's disappearance, but repeatedly denied any knowledge of the event. Only at the end did Branch admit to his wife that members of the club were responsible.
It's unclear if Susan Billig ever believed Branch's confession or if an actual confession ever took place. Authorities were hesitant to believe Branch's widow, thinking she was trying to capitalize on the passings of Billig and her husband. Susan Billig continued to look for her daughter, indicating she wasn't satisfied with the widow's information.
Margaret Gibson Confessed To The Slaying Of Director William Desmond Taylor
Margaret Gibson wasn't a prime suspect in the death of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor, but in her final moments, she asked for a priest and confessed to slaying him. Gibson, a former actor, worked with Taylor in 1910. But after he passed, this connection didn't receive notice. There were several more likely suspects, including Taylor's friend (and possible lover), Mabel Normand; a young woman in love with Taylor named Mary Miles Minter; and Taylor's former valet, Edward Sands.
William Desmond Taylor was slain in early February 1922. There were no witnesses, and Normand was the last person known to see him alive. Normand had a substance abuse habit and there were theories that Taylor's attempts to clean her up may have been a motive.
When police searched his house, they found love notes from Minter, as well as a nightgown, and later discovered she had once tried to end her life with a gun that resembled the one used on Taylor. The investigation into Taylor revealed that Sands had been stealing money from Taylor, and authorities discovered one additional suspect, Minter's mother, Charlotte Shelby. Shelby was said to be opposed to any relationship that may have been budding between her daughter and Taylor.
There's no known motive for Gibson having slain Taylor, and the case remains unsolved. When Gibson confessed, she was going by the name Pat Lewis, and during her time in Hollywood, she'd been in trouble with the law. But aside from her confession, there is nothing linking her to the incident.
Nili Shamrat Told Police Her Late Husband Confessed He'd Stolen Marie Antoinette's Pocket Watch
In 2006, an anonymous woman hired a lawyer to negotiate selling some antique clocks and watches that her late husband had collected over the years. Some 40 time pieces were sold to the LA Mayer Museum in Jerusalem, and when asked by investigators later, the women stated her husband confessed to stealing them from that same museum in 1983.
The woman, Nili Shamrat, was the widow of Na'aman Diller, an Israeli thief who was "a repeat offender who specialized in forgery and break-ins... [and] could scale walls and slip through small windows." He was active in Tel Aviv during the '60s and '70s, during which time he met Shamrat. The two had a brief love affair, but she moved to the United States and married someone else.
In the '80s, the two reunited and were married in 2003, although Shamrat continued to live in the US. They met up regularly in Tel Aviv and Europe. Accounts differ as to how, but before Diller's passing in 2004, the spoils of his thievery were collected into a box and moved to Europe before Shamrat took possession of them.
One item was a watch made by Abraham-Louis Breguet for Marie Antoinette. The watch took over 40 years to complete and wasn't finished until 1827, long after Antoinette's time. In fact, even Breguet had passed, with his son taking over the task and completing it. Breguet was known as the "the watchmaker of the kings, the king of the watchmakers" and his works combined invention, innovation, and luxury into one timepiece. The watch that he constructed for Marie Antoinette was made out of gold and sapphires, and valued at over $30 million when it was recovered.
Diller had been questioned at the time of the robbery, but there was no evidence he'd committed the act. Nili Shamrat was arrested for possession of stolen items, convicted, and sentenced to probation and community service.
Christian Spurling Fessed Up To Faking The Loch Ness Monster Photos
Sightings of the Loch Ness monster date all the way back to the sixth century, but the most famous photographic "evidence" of the creature's existence comes from the 1930s. In 1933, several people claimed to see the Loch Ness monster, which increased interest in the mystery, as well as tourism to the area. The so-called "Surgeon's Photo," taken by Colonel Robert Wilson in 1934, captured the head of Nessie as the monster swam through the waters of Loch Ness.
Wilson, a British surgeon, claimed he'd been driving near the Loch and saw something swimming, at which point he stopped to take the picture. He never wanted credit for the image, hence it being called "The Surgeon's Photo," and until the 1990s, it was believed by many that he'd captured actual proof of the monster's existence. This isn't to say there weren't skeptics - in 1984, Stewart Campbell assessed the picture and decided that whatever was on the surface of the water couldn't be more than two or three feet long and must have been some sort of explainable wildlife.
Even Campbell was proven wrong, however, when Christian Spurling confessed, at the end of his life, that he'd perpetrated the hoax and been part of the fake photo's creation. 90-year-old Spurling passed in 1994. According to Spurling, he was in cahoots with his step-father and Loch Ness monster enthusiast, Marmaduke Wetherell, as well as Wilson, when he sent a toy submarine with an animal head attached to the top out into the Loch. The picture was staged by Spurling and Wetherell, who then handed it off to Wilson to give it credibility as he presented it to the public.