Edward Harold Bell, a convicted killer who in 2011 admitted to killing two Galveston teenagers in the 1970s, died Saturday.

Bell died after collapsing at the Wallace Pack Unit, a prison in Grimes County, according to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.

He was 79 years old.

His death is currently under investigation by the Independent Office of Inspector General, department spokesman Jeremy Desel said. Such investigations are normal protocol after an in-custody death, Desel said.

Bell had long been a suspect in the 1971 deaths of two local teenagers — Debbie Ackerman and Maria Johnson. The girls disappeared on Nov. 15, 1971, and their bodies were found four days later, shot and stripped of clothing, in Texas City.

Bell was sent to prison in 1993 for the 1978 murder of a Pasadena man, who he shot after the man saw Bell exposing himself to a group of children.

He fled the country after posting bond. In 1992, police received a tip that he was living in Panama and working at a boat shop. He was arrested and extradited back to Texas, where he was ultimately convicted.

He was never charged in Ackerman or Johnson’s death. However, in 1998, he sent a letter to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office claiming responsibility for the killing of not only Ackerman and Johnson, but of five other people, including two middle-school girls from Dickinson, Georgia Greer, 14, and Brooks Bracewell, 12, who were last seen Sept. 6, 1974, at a pay phone outside a Dickinson convenience store.

Bell’s confession letter was not revealed publicly until 2011, when he granted two interviews to reporters. In two interviews, Bell said he had killed 11 people.

Bell’s claims were never corroborated and he at times denied his written confession. He refused to provide details about his claims without receiving immunity from prosecution, which he did not receive.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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