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After separating from his wife, 34-year-old Chicago cab driver Louis DeMore wanted a fresh start in life, so he decided to move to St. Louis, Missouri, in April 1934. His first night in St. Louis, he even used a new name – registering at a hotel under the last name of Peterson.
On April 29, 1934, the very same night that DeMore arrived in St. Louis, a man attempted to rob a St. Louis streetcar before breaking the streetcar’s window and fleeing into the street. Patrolman Albert R. Siko happened to be nearby as this occurred and chased after the man as he fled. Siko and the man had an encounter moments later, during which the man grabbed Siko’s gun from him and shot Siko three times. Siko was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Police obtained several .38 shells from the scene, as well as a gray hat that bystanders claimed had been worn by the culprit.
It was his first night in a new city, and after a few hours in his hotel, DeMore headed out to an all-night restaurant around 1:00 a.m. – just about an hour after the nearby shooting had taken place. Several police officers were drinking coffee in the restaurant and DeMore tried to engage with them, telling them he was new in town and asking them about the city. While they spoke, another officer came in and provided the group with a more detailed description of the shooter. DeMore pointed out that he fit the description, and, in doing so, became a suspect.
When the police then spoke with the clerk at DeMore’s hotel, she confirmed his arrival around 10:00 p.m., but had not seen him leave around 1:00 a.m., though the hotel had a side door. When police discovered that DeMore had registered under the false name of Peterson, their suspicions were aroused further. Several witnesses were still gathered and some identified DeMore as the shooter while others were unsure. DeMore was quickly taken to the bedside of the badly wounded Patrolman Siko, who nodded when he saw DeMore. Siko died the next day.
DeMore was charged with murder. Held in jail, he spoke with other prisoners who informed him that he was likely to get the death penalty unless he confessed. Terrified, DeMore immediately confessed to first-degree murder and claimed to have thrown Patrolman Siko’s gun in a river. DeMore was sentenced to life in prison five days after the crime.
Not long after DeMore was sentenced, police had taken 27-year-old George Couch into custody. Couch had previously served ten years for robbery and was picked up after being uncooperative with police on the street late at night. When police went to the room where Couch was staying, they found Patrolman Siko’s gun (with no indications that it had been underwater in a river) under Couch’s mattress. Confused by this development, police went to speak with DeMore, who told them he had confessed solely out of fear of the death penalty. The witnesses to the initial streetcar robbery attempt identified Couch as the perpetrator, and the gray hat found at the scene fit Couch’s head but was too large for DeMore. Photos featured in the newspaper show the uncanny resemblance between Couch and DeMore.
Louis DeMore was released from prison and pardoned by Missouri Governor Guy B. Park on October 1, 1934. George Couch was convicted of the murder of Albert R. Siko several weeks later.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.