Meet the Red-Eyed Skeleton Designed to Scare Criminals into Confessing Their Crimes

A dramatically lit, secretly surveilling skeleton-based interrogator — what could go wrong?
Derya Ozdemir
The photo credit line may appear like thisHelene Shelby/Public Domain

The 1920s were a peculiar time, and it would have been even more so if law enforcement officials had taken the advice of one Helene Adelaide Shelby of Oakland, California.

This cunning inventor had patented an invention called Apparatus For Obtaining Criminal Confessions And Photographically Recording Them and her, genius to some crazy to others, idea was brilliantly hard to believe.

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The patent was filed by Shelby on August 16, 1927, who wrote that "It is a well-known fact in criminal practices that confessions obtained initially from those suspected of crimes through ordinary channels are almost invariably later retracted," in her application.

In order to solve this problem, she came up with a rather bizarre concept: How about a skeleton with glowing red eyes who looked like the death himself questioned the suspect instead of an ordinary detective? 

Meet the Red-Eyed Skeleton Designed to Scare Criminals into Confessing Their Crimes
A handsome front view of the skeleton interrogator, Source: Helene Shelby/Public Domain

Here's the concept in her own words, "The present invention relates to a new and useful apparatus for obtaining confessions from culprits, or those suspected of the commission of crimes, and photographically recording these confessions, in the form of sound waves, in conjunction with their pictures, depicting their every expression and emotion, to be preserved for later reproduction as evidence against them."

The execution, however, was the most bizarre part. The suspect was to sit in a small, dark chamber as the examiner sat in a nearby chamber and asked the question through a megaphone. The suspect wouldn't be able to see the questioner, instead, they'd be facing a skeleton. 

Meet the Red-Eyed Skeleton Designed to Scare Criminals into Confessing Their Crimes
Source: Helene Shelby/Public Domain

As if in a horror movie, the eyes of the skeleton would glow red and it would look like the questions were coming from the skeleton's mouth.

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Adelaide believed that being confronted with such a supernatural character would shake the suspect to their core and "enable an inquisitor operating in conjunction with the recording system to obtain confessions and graphically record them."

Meet the Red-Eyed Skeleton Designed to Scare Criminals into Confessing Their Crimes
The skeleton's skull would have a recording device, Source: Helene Shelby/Public Domain

The skeleton would record the interrogation so that if the suspect were to ever try and change their testimony in the court, the documented audio and picture could be shown as evidence.

Meet the Red-Eyed Skeleton Designed to Scare Criminals into Confessing Their Crimes
The skeleton would spit out the audio-visual tape, Source: Helene Shelby/Public Domain

Well, as you'd imagine, the dramatically lit, secretly surveilling skeleton-based interrogator never caught up. If that's for better or worse you be the judge.

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