Saturday, July 28, 2007
Chicago’s Lipstick Killer Up For Parole
He was dubbed the, “Lipstick Killer” who was apprehended while armed with a .25 automatic as he allegedly tried to kill a Chicago cop responding to a routine burglary call. 1946 was not a good year for prisoner’s civil rights in the Windy City. Interrogation rooms were simply confessionals. Police tactics were legendary and make brutality claims of the last three decades pale by comparison.
He was an exceptionally bright 17 year-old student and part-time burglar from the prestigious University of Chicago. The crimes committed were in the Rogers Park neighborhood. A lot of burglaries and three brutal murders were pinned on the young suspect. The most notorious of the murders was that of six-year old Suzanne Degnan who’s dismembered body parts were retrieved from various catch basins.
Lipstick was used by the killer to scrawl the ominous message on one victim, Frances Brown's living room wall, "For heavens sake, catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself."
William Heirens became Chicago’s Boogieman feared by every young mother. Heirens was soon paraded around like a wild animal in a traveling zoo exhibit. Sensational news stories and bizarre photos were the rule for this sordid saga..
Along with the beatings, in two lawless exercises of Voodoo Science of the day cops and prosecutors forced Heirens to undergo a spinal tap and injected him with the drug sodium pentathol. For a while that drug was wrongly thought to be some kind of a truth serum. Curiously Heirens easily passed the heralded, Keeler polygraph test. I can’t imagine what the courts would say today about the experiments and torture used by Chicago’s crime busters on William Heirens.
Was this lad the killer or a scapegoat? In the mid-1990s I was asked by ABC news to find a Chicago man, Richard Russell Thomas who confessed to killing the Degnan girl while he was in the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona but was quickly dismissed as a suspect by Chicago police. Police had already made their investment in Heirens and lost interest in the second confessor who was a convicted child molester.
Richard Russell Thomas died decades before my search but his family members in Austin Texas verified the confession as well as telling me about his writing of at least one song made popular by Les Paul and Mary Ford. lots of additional evidence connecting Thomas to the Degnam murder surfaced over the years. Heirens’ Lawyer Jed Stone knows this story well and was not able to develop this as a basis for a new trial.
God only knows what really happened or who the killer was or if the three murders were somehow connected. There was no security video or DNA in 1946. I don’t have much faith that justice really happened in this case.
In the end William Heirens had two choices. Plead guilty to the crimes or be convicted and quickly fried in the electric chair. Unlike today, that process could be completed with all appeals within months in 1946. The Guilty plea was accepted and Heirens has since served more time than any Illinois prisoner.
Ever since Heirens arrived at the Illinois prison system he’s never been a discipline problem and was the first inmate to get a college degree while incarcerated. 61 years later Heirens is a feeble and wheelchair bound old man. Heirens is far from a threat to anyone and his prison cell needs to be filled by a much younger convict who is really dangerous.
There were several books published about this case. The Court TV crime library has a great article on this murder investigation that can be found here.
Lots of pictures gathered from Chicago's newspapers with information about the crimes assembled by S. Sherman can be found here.
These has been loads of misinformation published that tainted this case.
There there is this from author Dolores Kennedy.
The board ruled and you can read about it here.
An update: Hereins had a parole hearing in July 2009. In late late August he was denied parole, having received two votes when eight are needed. There was concerns that he is costing the state $70,000.00 per year in care. If he was released they could hire two prison guards for younger and more dangerous prisoners.