Turns Out, In The 1920s, This Inventor Came Up With A Skeleton-Based Confession Device Designed To Scare Criminals Into Confessing Their Secrets
Have you ever heard about the woman named Shelby Helene Adelaide? There’s a big possibility that you haven’t—there’s not much information about her on the interwebs. Except for ONE thing. One invention, to be exact.
“Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not,” Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, once said. But could the famous rule apply to this particular invention?
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Back in the 1920s, the inventor Shelby Helene Adelaide from Oakland, California, patented a peculiar (or genius?) invention and called it Apparatus For Obtaining Criminal Confessions And Photographically Recording Them. “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,” the inventor explains in her patent application. Shelby Helene Adelaide had a mission to come up with an invention that could solve the problem. And so she did. Sort of.
What if, instead of an ordinary detective, the suspect of a crime would be questioned by a skeleton with glowing red eyes?
How does that sound to you? Apparently, it sounded pretty great to the inventor Shelby Helene Adelaide. So good that she even patented this idea.
“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 inventor describes her invention.
The invention works somewhat like this: first, the suspect is isolated in a small, dark chamber. The examiner sits in a nearby chamber and asks their questions through a megaphone. But here’s a twist—the suspect isn’t able to see the questioner. Instead, they’re faced with “a figure in the form of a skeleton.”
Moreover, the eyes of the skeleton are glowing red “for the purpose of imparting to the eyes of the skeleton an unnatural ghastly glow”
In addition, the megaphone is positioned “in such a manner that the voice of the operator appears to come from the mouth of the skeleton.”
Why a skeleton, you may ask? Here’s the answer: “The primary object of my invention is the provision of an apparatus for the creation of illusory effects calculated to impress the subject with their being of a supernatural character and to so work upon his imagination as to enable an inquisitor operating in conjunction with the recording system to obtain confessions and graphically record them.”
Apparently, an encounter with a talking skeleton is supposed to singlehandedly convince you to disclose all your darkest secrets. Interesting, to say the least.
This apparatus records both visual and audio information
Apparently, the suspect is “being photographed the while upon the central section of a continuously moving film and having both the questions propounded by his examiner and his answers thereto simultaneously and similarly recorded upon either margin of the film caring also the suspect’s portrait, to be preserved as future evidence against him, in the form of reproductions of both pictures and sounds in the usual manner.”
Later, if the suspect tries to change their testimony in the court, the pictures and audio, which “depict [their] every expression and emotion,” can be shown as evidence.