Fall Guys: False Confessions and the Politics of Murder

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9780809321032: Fall Guys: False Confessions and the Politics of Murder
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Jim Fisher, criminal justice professor and former FBI agent, reveals how he uncovered the framing of two boys in a pair of unrelated murders committed in 1956 and 1958.

In the first of the cases, eleven-year-old Charlie Zubryd confessed that at the age of eight, he had murdered his widowed mother by driving a hatchet into her skull. The crime was committed in the basement of the modest Zubryd home in a rural section of Sewickley Township in western Pennsylvania, an area not far from Pittsburgh. Following intense police questioning, young Zubryd confessed to the crime in March 1959, a full twenty-eight months after the bloody murder of his mother.

Too young to prosecute, Charlie Zubryd was adopted after his confession and a brief stay in a mental ward. A childless couple gave Zubryd a new name and identity. It would be twenty years before Charlie Zubryd now going by the name Chuck Duffy would have any contact with his biological family.

When Zubryd/Duffy made an effort to get his real family back, he was rejected because his relatives still believed he had murdered his mother. In fact, until Fisher began to investigate the case in 1989, Chuck Duffy himself was not sure he had not killed his mother during some kind of mental blackout.

The second murder occurred in 1958, two years after the Zubryd case. Thirteen-year-old Jerry Pacek endured forty-one hours of police grilling before he confessed to raping and killing fifty-year-old Lillian Steveck as she walked home one evening from a bus stop in Breckenridge, Pennsylvania. Pacek told the same Allegheny County homicide detective who had framed Charlie Zubryd that he had killed the woman with a variety of blunt objects, none of which were ever found. The thirteen-year-old boy was tried and convicted of the murder the following spring. He was sent to Camp Hill Prison, where he remained incarcerated for ten years.

Fisher’s investigation cleared the names of both the wrongfully accused boys. Because of his investigation, the Zubryd case was reopened, which led to the identification of a vicious killer. In 1991, Fisher’s investigative efforts convinced the governor of Pennsylvania to grant a full pardon to Jerry Pacek, who as a teenager had served ten years in an adult prison for a murder he had not committed.

Jim Fisher and the Zubryd and Pacek stories have been featured on a number of nationally broadcast television programs.

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Review:

It was sheer serendipity that drew criminology professor Jim Fisher into the re-opening of two unrelated, 30-year-old murder cases. When Fisher's book The Lindbergh Case, about the famous 1930s kidnapping and murder, was published in 1987, people assumed that he was an expert on famous crimes. "In fact," he says, "I knew very little about this kind of history. It had therefore been stupid of me to accept an invitation to give a lecture on the history of celebrated crimes in western Pennsylvania." He asked a criminal justice student to help him prepare for the lecture, in the course of which he became intrigued by a 1956 crime in Allegheny County (near Pittsburgh). One thing led to another, and soon he was deep into two cases--the one in '56, and another in '59--in which young boys (ages 10 and 13) were convicted of horrible hatchet murders of women. Both boys had confessed to the crimes after many hours of grilling by the same ambitious homicide detective. Neither case had a shred of evidence to back up the confessions, and yet both boys were convicted--one of them spending 10 years in jail. Both were exonerated by Fisher's investigation. Fall Guys: False Confessions and the Politics of Murder is written in a deliberate, factual style that quietly builds suspense, placing the reader by Fisher's side as he interviews the principals in the cases, pulls out the old newspaper clippings, tracks down the autopsy reports and crime scene photos, becomes convinced of the boys' innocence, and goes in search of the real murderers. It's a mind-boggling story, well told, with two memorable and poignant scenes, when the author assures the "boys" (now men in their 40s), at long last, of their innocence.

About the Author:

Jim Fisher is a professor of criminal justice at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. His other books include The Lindbergh Case. He was a special agent for the FBI from 1966 to 1972.

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