'Eleven to Heaven' serial killer Harold Bell dies in prison, leaving the murders of 11 teen girls unsolved

79-year-old Harold Bell collapsed this past week and died at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, a facility about 60 miles northwest of Houston

                            'Eleven to Heaven' serial killer Harold Bell dies in prison, leaving the murders of 11 teen girls unsolved
Bell (Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

A convicted murderer serving 70 years in prison for a 1978 killing near Houston, who was also under investigation in the unsolved deaths of 11 missing girls, has died in a Texas prison.

According to the Associated Press, 79-year-old Harold Bell, who most may recognize as the 'Eleven in Heaven' serial killer, collapsed this past Saturday, April 20, at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, a facility about 60 miles northwest of Houston known for holding several elderly prisoners.

Bell was serving time for the 1978 murder of Larry Dickens, a Marine who confronted him after he exposed himself and began masturbating in front of a group of girls in Pasadena. Dickens' mother reportedly watched from her house as Bell killed her son by shooting him four times with a pistol, and then once again with a rifle.

Bell was sentenced to 70 years in prison over the 1978 murder of a Marine (Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

But it would be 14 years before authorities apprehended and charged Bell with the murder. Pasadena authorities had initially arrested him after the shooting when they found the murder weapons in his pick-up truck, but he made bail and went on the run.

He was only caught in 1993 in Panama after he was the subject of an episode of 'Unsolved Mysteries' which, coincidentally, happened to also be Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey's first television role. He was later convicted of murder and jailed in 1994.

In 2011, after serving 17 years in prison, Bell made a bombshell claim that in the 1970s, before he killed Dickens, he kidnapped and murdered 11 girls who had disappeared from the Galveston, Dickinson, Houston, Clear Lake, and Alvin areas and whose deaths had till then remained unsolved.

In one of several letters, Bell allegedly called the victims the "Eleven who went to Heaven", and acknowledged that he had also sent confession letters detailing several identical crimes to prosecutors in Galveston and Harris counties as far back as 1998.

Excerpts of the letters, which were obtained by the Houston Chronicle, filled in the blanks concerning Bell's life. He claimed he was the victim of a "brainwashing programme" begun by his father which forced him into becoming a "flasher", and encouraged him to "rape girls" and kill. He also claimed his three ex-wives were a part of this programme.

He said in the letters that he had murdered 11 young girls in Houston and the counties of Galveston, Webster, and Dickinson between 1971 and 1977 — five in 1971 alone, and then a further six from 1974 to 1977 — mentioning three of them by name.

The first two were Debbie Ackerman and Maria Johnson, both 15, who were last seen in Galveston County on November 15, 1971, accepting a ride near an island ice cream shop from a man driving around in a white van. Both their bodies were later found bound and partially nude in Turner's Bayou.

He wrote in the letters, "I was 'Brainwashed' into killing Deby (sic) Ackerman and Maria Johnson in November 1971," explaining how he killed them by shooting them and even described the remote bridge where their bodies were discovered. 

Just nine days after their bodies were found, authorities recovered the body of 13-year-old Colette Wilson near the Addicks Reservoir. Wilson disappeared on June 17, 1971, on County Road 99 and Highway 6 after she was dropped off by her band director.

While he did not mention Wilson's name, he did confess to killing a red-haired teen he called "Pitchford", after kidnapping her near a mall. Indeed, police records from the time show 16-year-old Kimberly Pitchford disappeared on January 3, 1973, after taking a driving class. Her body was found in a ditch two days later.

He admits to not remembering the names of his other victims but does mention the color of their hair. These could possibly be referring to 14-year-old Rhonda Johnson, and Sharon Shaw, also 14, who both disappeared on the same day in August 1971 along Seawall Boulevard in Galveston, and whose skeletal remains were found in a marsh near Clear Lake five months later. 

It's likely that he was also responsible for the murders of two middle school students, 14-year-old Georgia Geer, and 12-year-old Brooks Bracewell, who disappeared on September 6, 1974, from the U-Totem convenience store off of FM 517 and I-45, which was very close to a field owned by Bell at the time.

Despite Bell being a well-known sex offender in the 1970s — he was stopped by police on several occasions for masturbating and flashing at girls — and despite prosecutors reopening the murder cases of Ackerman and Johnson, he was only ever charged for Dickens' murder.

The 79-year-old was reportedly also a key suspect in numerous other unsolved murders, but unfortunately, the departments in charge of the 11 cold cases he claimed to be responsible for were neither able to locate weapons nor find DNA evidence which would allow them to prosecute him.

His death now means questions about the deaths of the 11 girls are likely to go unanswered. Jeremy Desel, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the Associated Press that there were no signs of foul play involved in his death.

Following his death, Ria Brestrup, a sister of Johnson, said she had no words for the 79-year-old but reportedly said she was happy he "no longer walks this earth and will never be paroled".