Nearly 20 years ago, in letters he wrote to local prosecutors, Texas murderer Edward Harold Bell claimed the Marine he’d shot and killed in 1978 was not his only victim.
In fact, he said, there were seven others, all girls.
Years later, in a series of prison interviews with the Houston Chronicle in 2011, Bell revised that number of purported victims. It wasn’t seven, he said — it was 11.
The “11 that went to Heaven,” he called them, according to the Chronicle. Along with his supposed confessions, Bell, now 78, provided names for some of the girls he said he killed. He claimed he’d been brainwashed into violence.
But was he telling the truth?
Six years after the Chronicle‘s investigation of Bell, first published in 2011, comes A&E’s new six-part docuseries The Eleven, which premieres on Thursday and is exclusively previewed above.
Featuring Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen, who first broke the story, alongside retired police detective Fred Paige, The Eleven traces the history of the girls Bell claimed to have killed. He later recanted the confessions, according to A&E, and was never prosecuted for them.
The cases remain unsolved.
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“With a parole hearing for Bell looming this fall, Olsen and Paige must try to piece together evidence that demonstrates a definitive link between the convicted killer and girls … before he has the possibility to walk free,” a network press release states.
“If you could get me immunity from prosecution of any kind, I could lay a lot stuff on you and I will,” he previously told the Chronicle from prison.
Among the possible victims are Debbie Ackerman and Maria Johnson, both 15, who were shot to death in a bayou in 1971; Colette Wilson, 13, who vanished while waiting for her mom to pick her up after band practice; and 16-year-old Kimberly Pitchford, who went missing after her driver’s ed class in 1973.
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While Olsen’s reporting has shown that authorities past and present differ about the amount of evidence supporting Bell’s claims, “Several senior investigators familiar with Bell’s letters of confessions [said] they have long believed he committed multiple murders,” she wrote in 2011.
Bell, who murdered Marine Larry Dickens in August 1978 after the latter man intervened when Bell exposed himself to a group of girls, reportedly evaded capture for years until he was arrested at a yacht club in 1992.
“It makes it hard that we don’t know if this Bell guy is a nut or if he’s telling the truth,” the relative of one possible victim, Sharon Shaw, told Olsen in 2011. “As bad and as mean as he is, he could be telling the truth because of his conscience … Not knowing is heartbreaking.”
The Eleven premieres on Thursday (9 p.m. ET) on A&E before moving to a 10 p.m. time slot each Thursday after that.