The Innocents (1964)
by Edward D. Radin

Excerpt from Chapter 10 on

Louis DeMore

Fear for one's life can cause an innocent person to make a voluntary false confession.

After his wife left him, Louis DeMore, a Chicago taxi driver, decided to start a new life elsewhere. He went to St. Louis and, in keeping with his determination, even adopted a new name, registering at a hotel as Peterson.

That same night in April, 1934, shortly before midnight, a man boarded a streetcar in the downtown section of the city, and while he fumbled in his pockets as if seeking the fare, the motorman started up the car. The passenger suddenly whipped out a gun and demanded the receipts. The motorman slammed on his brakes and ran, shouting, to the rear of the car. The only passengers on board were three women who promptly began screaming. The bandit panicked, smashed a window, and leaped out of the car. A produce merchant, who had been driving behind the streetcar in his automobile, saw the unorthodox exit, sensed what had happened, and found a police officer. Patrolman Albert R. Siko set out in pursuit and caught up to the fleeing man, who stopped so suddenly that the officer lunged by him. As he did, the man grabbed Patrolman Siko's gun and fired three shots into him. Police soon swarmed in the area, but the only clues they could find were a discarded gray hat and six exploded .38 shells. Siko's gun was missing. The officer was dying in a hospital.

It was about an hour after the shooting when DeMore left his hotel and crossed the street to an all-night restaurant. It had been a trying day for the lonely taxi driver, accustomed to talking to many people. Three patrolmen who had taken part in the futile search for the wanted man were drinking coffee, waiting for further orders. When DeMore entered the restaurant he called out to the officers that he had just arrived in St. Louis that day, liked the city, and was going to settle there. The morose patrolmen merely glanced at him and returned to their coffee. A few minutes later a sergeant entered the restaurant with a more detailed description of the wanted man, which he read aloud to the officers. DeMore, who was on his way out, paused to listen and then remarked that he answered the description. He promptly became the focal point of interest. Now the officers not only wanted to listen to him but they had questions to ask.

DeMore said he had strolled about the city from 7 P.M. until 10 o'clock and then had returned to his room until he went to the lunchroom at 1 A.M. When he was taken across the street to his hotel, the desk clerk there confirmed that he saw the guest come in at 10 o'clock and not leave again until he went out for coffee, but he also added that there was a side-door exit that was out of his view and any guest could slip out without being seen by him. And when DeMore's personal identification papers did not agree with the name he used at the hotel, the officers brought him to headquarters for further investigation.

The various witnesses were still present, looking at photographs of known criminals. The motorman promptly identified DeMore, but the three women passengers were uncertain. The prisoner was taken to the bedside of the dying patrolman. Siko nodded his head when he looked at DeMore, and this was taken to be an identification. Not long afterward Siko sank into a coma and died the following day. A coroner's jury ordered DeMore held for trial for murder.

Alone in a strange city without friends, with little money, and told by cell mates that he was sure to be executed, the frightened taxi driver grasped at a straw when he heard that if he confessed he would receive life imprisonment. When an assistant prosecutor confirmed this, DeMore promptly confessed to the murder of the patrolman. Asked what he had done with the gun, he said he had thrown it into the river. He was so anxious to plead guilty that he would not even wait until he was indicted. At his request he was taken into court and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on information filed against him. Within five days of the murder he had both been sentenced to life imprisonment and taken to the prison at Jefferson City on the same day that the funeral was being held for the slain patrolman.

Ten days after DeMore had been sent to prison for life, St. Louis police picked up George Couch, twenty-seven, who had served ten years for armed robbery in Indiana. He had been spotted on the street at 4 A.M. and, when he refused to give his address, had been taken into custody. Officers finally located his room and found a Colt Police Special under his mattress; it was Patrolman Siko's gun.

Couch refused to discuss where he got the weapon. DeMore in his confession said he had thrown it into the river, but there were no indications that the revolver had been in water. Puzzled detectives went to prison to interview DeMore. The taxi driver explained how he had panicked at the identification and had confessed to a crime he had not committed simply to avoid being executed. "I've been praying that the real killer would be found," he told the startled officers.

A thorough investigation was made. The three women passengers all identified Couch and so did the motorman, who admitted he had been mistaken about DeMore. The gray hat found at the scene was tested on both men; it fitted Couch but was too large for DeMore. Additional evidence was found placing Couch at the murder scene. On October 1, 1934, DeMore was pardoned and released from prison. Couch, was was convicted of Patrolman Siko's murder, was killed later in prison by another inmate.