William George HEIRENS
A.K.A.: "The Lipstick Killer"
Characteristics: Juvenile - Robberies - Kidnapping
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: June 1945 - January 1946
Date of arrest: June 26, 1946
Date of birth: November 15, 1928
Victims profile: Josephine Ross, 45 / Francis Brown, 34 / Suzanne Degnan, 6
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife / Strangulation
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on September 5, 1946
William George Heirens (b. November 15, 1928 in Evanston, Illinois) is an American serial killer who confessed to three murders in 1946. Heirens has also been called The Lipstick Killer due to a notorious message scrawled in lipstick at a crime scene.
He is currently incarcerated at the Dixon Correctional Center minimum security prison in Dixon, Illinois (Inmate No. C-06103). Though he remains imprisoned, Heirens has recanted his confession, and claimed to be a victim of coercive interrogation and police brutality.
Heirens grew up in Lincolnwood, a suburb of Chicago.
At the age of 11, Heirens claimed to have witnessed a couple making love. He told his mother, who then told him that all sex was dirty, and would lead to diseases. While kissing a girlfriend he burst into tears, and proceeded to vomit in the presence of the girl.
At 13 years old, Heirens was arrested for carrying a loaded gun. A subsequent search of the Heirens’ home discovered more weapons hidden in a refrigerator and in the loft. Heirens admitted to a string of burglaries and was sent to the Gibault School for wayward boys for several months. He claimed that he mostly stole for fun and to release tension.
Not long after his release, Heirens was again arrested for burglary. This time, he was sentenced to three years at St. Bede's Academy, operated by Benedictine Monks. During his time at the school, Heirens stood out as an exceptional student. He was released when he was 16; Due to good test scores, he was enrolled at the University of Chicago.
Not long after his release, however, Heirens resumed his serial burglary, even as he studied electrical engineering.
On June 5, 1945, 43-year-old Josephine Ross was found dead in her apartment; she had been repeatedly stabbed, and her head was wrapped in a dress. She was presumed to have surprised an intruder, who then killed her. Dark hairs were found clutched in Ross' hand, indicating that she had struggled with the intruder before she was killed. No valuables were taken from the apartment.
Ross’ fiancé had an alibi, as did her former boyfriends and ex-husbands, and police had no other suspects. They looked for a dark-complexioned man who was reported loitering at the apartment or running from the scene, but were unable to identify or locate him.
On December 11, 1945, Francis Brown was discovered stabbed to death in her apartment after a cleaning woman heard a radio playing loud and noted Brown’s door partly open. Brown, too, had been savagely stabbed, and authorities thought that a burglar had been discovered or interrupted. Again, no valuables were taken but someone had written a message in lipstick on the wall of Brown’s apartment:
For heavens [sic]
sake catch me
before I kill more
I cannot control myself.
Police found a bloody fingerprint smudge on the door jamb of the entrance door. Also, there was a possible eyewitness to the killer's escape. An "ear-witness", George Weinberg, heard gunshots at about 4 a.m.
According to John Derick the Night Clerk stationed in the lobby of the building, a nervous man of 35-40 years old and weighing approximately 140 pounds had got off the elevator fumbled for the door to the street and left.
On January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her bedroom. After searching the home and not finding the girl, her family called police.
Her seeming kidnapping earned significant publicity, and police vowed to find whoever was responsible. Police found a ladder outside the girl’s window, and also discovered a ransom note which had been overlooked by the family. The note read:
Get $20,000 ready & waite [sic] for word. Do not notify FBI or police. Bills in $5's and $10's.
On the reverse of the note was written,
Burn this for her safty [sic].
A man repeatedly called the Degnan residence demanding the ransom, but hung up before any meaningful conversation could take place.
Police questioned the Degnan family's neighbors, but no one had seen anything unusual. Someone telephoned police anonymously, suggesting that police look in the sewers near the Degnan home. Police did, and discovered the young girl’s head in a catch basin that was in an alley.
In the same alley they discovered the girl's right leg in another catch basin; her torso in a storm drain; her left leg found in another alley. Her arms were found in a sewer a month later.
Searches uncovered a laundry tub in a nearby apartment building basement across where her head was found that seemed to have been where she was dismembered. The press called it the "Murder Room".
Police questioned hundreds of people, and gave polygraph exams to about 170. On several occasions, authorities claimed to have captured the killer, but were embarrassed when the cases proved baseless and the suspects were released.
A janitor, 65-year-old Hector Verburgh, was arrested on suspicion of murder, on the basis that he worked in the apartment building where Degnan lived, the sink in which the victim was dismembered was in an area he frequented, and the grimy state of the ransom note suggested it was written by a dirty hand, and janitors frequently have dirty hands.
So confident were the police that they told the press "This is the Man", despite discrepancies between Verburgh's profile and the one that was developed by them as to what kind of skills the killer had, including him having surgical knowledge or at least being a butcher.
The elderly man was repeatedly beaten under police questioning for 48 hours, suffering injuries including a separated shoulder. Despite this he refused to confess. Verburgh's Janitor Union lawyer got Verburgh released on a writ of habeas corpus. He said of the experience:
"Oh, they hanged me up, they blindfolded me", Verburgh said after his release. "I can’t put up my arms, they are sore. They had handcuffs on me for hours and hours. They threw me in the cell and blindfolded me. They handcuffed my hands behind my back and pulled me up on bars until my toes touched the floor. I no eat, I go to the hospital. Oh, I am so sick. Any more and I would have confessed to anything."
He spent 10 days in the hospital. It was determined that Verburgh couldn't write English well enough even by the crude standards of the ransom note itself, for him to have written it. He sued the Chicago Police Department for USD$15,000 but was awarded USD$20,000, approximately USD$211,000 in 2007 dollars.(Cost of living Calculator)
Five thousand dollars ($52,740 2007 dollars) of the $20,000 awarded to Verburgh was awarded to his wife. The police tried to pressure her to implicate her husband in the murder.
Another notable false lead was that of Sidney Sherman, a recently discharged Marine who had served in World War II. Police had found blond hairs in the back of the Degnan apartment building and nearby was a wire that authorities suspected could had been used as a garrote to strangle Suzanne Degnan.
Near that was a handkerchief the police suspected might had been used as a gag to keep Suzanne quiet. On the handkerchief was a laundry mark name: S. Sherman. The police hoped that perhaps the killer had made a fatal error leaving it behind. They searched military records and discovered that a Sidney Sherman lived nearby at the Hyde Park YMCA.
The police went to question Sherman but discovered that he had vacated the residence without checking out and quit his job without picking up his last paycheck, suggesting the actions of a guilty person since someone who is innocent would be unlikely to leave without their last paycheck.
A nation-wide manhunt ensued. Sherman was found four days later in Toledo, Ohio. He explained under interrogation that he had eloped with his girlfriend and denied that the handkerchief was his. He was administered a polygraph test which he passed and was later cleared.
Eventually the real owner was found; the handkerchief belonged to Airman Seymour Sherman of New York City who had been out of the country when Suzanne Degnan was murdered. He had no idea how it could possibly had ended up in Chicago and the presence of the handkerchief was determined to be a coincidence.
Mystery phone calls solved
On the day of Suzanne Degnan's disappearance several calls to the Degnan residence demanding ransom payment but without leaving further instructions or further conversation were made. The mystery of who placed those calls was answered.
While checking out local hooligans to see if they had any connection to the Degnan case, they picked up a local boy named Theodore Campbell. Under questioning, he admitted that another local teenager, named Vincent Costelloto, had killed Suzanne Degnan. The Chicago Tribune declared the Degnan case solved.
Costello lived only a few blocks from the Degnan apartment building and attended the nearby High School before being convicted of armed robbery at age 16 and sent to reform school. According to the story Campbell told the police, Costello told him that he kidnapped and killed the girl and disposed of her body. Costello allegedly told Campbell to make ransom calls to the Degnans. This corroborated the mystery ransom calls made to the Degnans the morning after Suzanne was reported missing. The police arrested Costello on that basis and interrogated him overnight.
The story started to fall apart when both Campbell's and Costello's polygraph test indicated that they had no knowledge of the murder. They later admitted that they heard police officers discussing details of the case and came up with the idea of calling the Degnans about the ransom.
Lack of progress
In February, Suzanne Degnan's arms were found by sewer workers about a half mile from her home after the rest of her was already interred. By April some 370 suspects were questioned and cleared.
By this time the press was taking an increasingly critical tone as to how the police were handling the investigation.
"I want to go back to Chicago and take my medicine, even if it means the chair", Richard Russell Thomas said. Thomas was a male nurse living in Phoenix, Arizona having moved from Chicago. At the time, he was imprisoned in Phoenix for molesting one of his own daughters.
Elements of his handwriting matched the ransom note and his medical training as a nurse matched the profile suggested by police. However, he apparently had some elements of the case wrong. Because of the errors, and the suspicion that Thomas confessed in order to avoid jail time in Arizona, the confession was disregarded.
In addition, the authorities were intrigued by a promising new suspect reported to the paper the same day the Thomas development broke. A college student was caught fleeing from the scene of a burglary, brandished a gun at police and possibly tried to kill one of the pursuing policemen to escape. By this time Thomas had recanted his confession, but the press didn't notice in light of this new lead.
Arrest and questioning of Heirens
On June 26, 1946, Heirens was arrested on attempted burglary charges when someone saw him breaking into an apartment. He fled, the building's janitor pursued him and blocked his path out of the building. However Heirens allegedly pointed the gun he was carrying at the caretaker saying "Let me get out or I'll let you have it in the guts!"
The Janitor ceased his pursuit. Heirens made his way to a nearby building to lay low, but a resident spotted him and called the police. Two officers closed in from two different directions. When trapped, Heirens brandished a revolver, perhaps pointing the barrel at one officer.
Some reports state that he actually pulled the trigger but the gun misfired. In the police account, Heirens charged them after his gun misfired twice. In Heirens' version, he turned and attempted to run after bluffing with the gun and the cops charged him. A scuffle resulted that ended only when an off-duty policeman dropped a flowerpot on Heirens’s head, rendering him unconscious.
According to Heirens, he remembered drifting into consciousness under questioning. The Police had taken him to Bridewell Hospital, which was adjacent to the Cook County Jail. Policemen were threatening him, pushing him and then punching him, jabbing him in the body. He felt his hands being pushed onto an inkpad.
With a prior record, he was familiar with the feeling. He drifted in and out of consciousness. The questioning became more intense, demanding to know how he did it, to say that he did it, they "knew" that he did it. At one point, someone punched him in the testicles, causing him to nearly vomit. They also burned them with ether.
Heirens later said he was interrogated around the clock for six consecutive days, being beaten and abused by police and not allowed to eat or drink. He was not allowed to see his parents for four days. He was also refused the opportunity to speak to a lawyer for six days.
Two psychiatrists, Doctors Haines and Roy Grinker, gave Heirens sodium pentathol without a warrant and without Heirens' or his parents' consent, and interrogated for three hours.
Under the influence of the drug, authorities claimed, Heirens spoke of an alternate personality named "George Murman", who had actually committed the murders. Heirens claimed that he recalled little of the drug-induced interrogation. What Heirens actually said is in dispute, as the original transcript has disappeared.
On his fifth day in custody, Heirens was given a lumbar puncture without anesthesia. Moments later, Heirens was driven to police headquarters for a polygraph test. They tried for a few minutes to administer the test but he was in such obvious pain that the test was rescheduled for several days later.
When the polygraph was administered, authorities, including Touhy, announced that the results were “inconclusive.” On July 2, 1946 he was transferred to the Cook County Jail where he was placed in the infirmary to recover.
Heirens’s first confession
After the sodium pentathol questioning but before the polygraph exam, Heirens spoke to Captain Michael Ahern, one of the few Chicago police officers who had shown him any kindness. With State's Attorney William Tuohy and a stenographer at hand, Heirens offered an indirect confession, confirming his claim while under sodium pentathol that his alter-ego of "George Murman" might have been responsible for the crimes.
That "George" (which happens to be his father's first name and Heirens's middle name) had given him the loot to hide in his dormitory room. Police hunted all over for this "George" questioning Heirens's known friends family and associations, but came away empty handed.
Details of the interrogation did get out at the time, valid or not. Heirens was attributed as saying while under the influence that he met "George" when he was 13 years old; that it was "George" who sent him out prowling at night, that he robbed for pleasure, "killed like a Cobra" when cornered and relating his secrets to Heirens.
Heirens allegedly claimed that he was always taking the rap for George, first for petty theft, then assault and now murder. Psychologist explained at the time that Heirens made up this duo-personality like how normal children made up imaginary friends to keep his diabolical deeds separate from the person who could be the "average son and student, date nice girls and go to church,..."
Authorities were skeptical of Heirens’s claims and suspected that he was laying the groundwork for an insanity defense, but the confession earned widespread publicity with the press transforming "Murman" to "Murder Man".
While handwriting analysts did not definitely link Heirens’ handwriting to the "Lipstick Message", police claimed that his fingerprints matched a print discovered at the scene of the Frances Brown murder. It was first reported as a "bloody smudge" in the door jamb.
Further, a fingerprint of the small left finger also allegedly connected Heirens to the ransom note with nine points of comparison. At the time Heirens' supporters pointed out the FBI handbook regarding fingerprint identification required 12 points of comparison matching to have a positive identification.
Later, Chief of Detectives Walter Storms confirmed that the "bloody smudge" left on the door jamb was Heirens's.
Police searches (without a warrant) of Heirens’s residence and college dormitory found other items that earned publicity. Notably found was a scrapbook containing pictures of Nazi officials that belonged to a war veteran, Harry Gold, that was taken when Heirens burgled his place the night Suzanne Degnan was killed. Gold lived in the vicinity of the Degnans that put Heirens in the circle of suspicion.
More relevant considering the context of the case against him, the police found in Heirens' possession a stolen copy of Psychopathia Sexualis. The press focused on it and started to depict the young burglar as a real life Mr. Hyde.
The police also found a stolen medical kit among Heirens' possessions. They announced that the medical instruments could not be linked to the murders. No trace of biological material such as blood, skin and hair were found on the tools.
However, no biological material of the victims were found on Heirens himself or any of his clothes. The medical kit tools were considered to be too fine and small to be used for dissection. Heirens had used the four inch long medical kit to alter the war bonds he stole.
A gun was found in his possession that was linked to a shooting. A Colt Police Positive revolver had been stolen in a burglary at the apartment of Guy Rodrick on December 3, 1945. Two nights later, a bullet crashed through the closed eighth floor apartment window of Marion Caldwell, wounding her. Heirens had that gun in his possession and, according to the Chicago Police Department, the bullet that injured Caldwell was linked through ballistics to that same gun.
As Time observed in its July 29, 1946 issue:
"The News and Hearst's Herald-American hit the street together with front-page layouts showing Heirens as a Dr. Jekyll (hair combed) and Mr. Hyde (hair mussed). He had not yet been charged with murder, but the Tribune airily convicted him: HOW HEIRENS SLEW 3.''
On July 14, State's Attorney William Tuohy met in a close door meeting with Heirens' lawyers, the brothers Malachy and John Coghlan, to discuss a possible plea bargain.
In this atmosphere of five daily newspapers fighting to be the first with a "scoop" on the Heirens story, a totally fabricated "confession" written by Chicago Tribune staff reporter George Wright was printed as fact on July 18, 1946 under the title:
The Heirens Story! How He Killed Suzanne Degnan and 2 Women.
Wright cited "unimpeachable sources" that Heirens had confessed (when he had not) and provided manufactured details. The Tribune devote 38 columns for the story. It began:
"This is the story of how William George Heirens, 17, kidnapped, strangled and then dismembered Suzanne Degnan, 6, last Jan. 7, and distributed the parts of her body in sewer openings near her home. It is the story of how William George Heirens climbed into the apartment of Miss Frances Brown...and shot and stabbed her to death, and left a message on the wall with lipstick imploring the police to catch him...And it is the story of how William George Heirens entered the apartment of Mrs. Josephine Ross...and how he stabbed her to death when she awoke."
The other four competing daily newspapers reprinted it in their publications. As "The Trib" about itself:
"So great was public confidence in the Tribune, that other newspapers . . . reprinted the story solely because the Tribune said it was so. . . . For a while, Heirens maintained his innocence. But the whole world believed his guilt. The Tribune had said he was guilty."
Heirens had a few supporters in the press. The London Sunday Pictorial ran an article called "Condemned Before His Trial, America Calls This Justice":
"While all America waits for a man to be charged in one of the most complex murder cases in history, a suspected youth has already been tried in the pages of Chicago newspapers. And he has been found guilty.”
As late as 1975, the Chicago Daily News was still taking credit for its "scoop."
George E. Subgrunski, an active duty soldier, made a statement the day after the murder of Suzanne Degnan that he saw a figure walking in the direction of the Degnan residence with a shopping bag. He said he was about "about five feet, nine inches tall, weighing about 170 pounds, about 35 years old, and dressed in a light-colored fedora and a dark overcoat". Due to the lack of light he couldn't make out this person facial features. When the police showed him a photo of Heirens on July 11, he could not identify him as the man he saw.
On July 16, during a hearing, he pointed to Heirens and says "That's the man I saw!" when he was brought into a courtroom and made the identification in person. The Chicago press stated that this solidified the case against Heirens. Subgrunski's testimony helped to return an indictment. Later, Subgrunski's in court testimony would be discredited, but quietly.
The second confession
A radio newscast reported on the Chicago Tribune's scoop of the "confession" which Heirens heard in his cell. He was incredulous stating:
"I didn't confess to anybody, honestly! My God, what are they going to pin on me next?"
Heirens' lawyers pressured him to take Touhy's plea bargain. That deal, which was the topic of that closed door meeting with Touhy, stated that Heirens would serve one life sentence if he confessed to the murders of Josephine Ross, Frances Brown, and Suzanne Degnan. With the help of his lawyers, he began drafting a confession using the Chicago Tribune article as a guide:
"As it turned out, the Tribune article was very helpful, as it provided me with a lot of details I didn't know. My attorneys rarely changed anything outright, but I could tell by their faces if I had made a mistake. Or they would say, 'Now, Bill, is that really the way it happened?' Then I would change my story because, obviously, it went against what was known (in the Tribune)."
Both Heirens and his parents signed a confession. The parties agreed to a date of July 30 for Heirens to make his official confession. On that date the defense went to Tuohy's office, where several reporters were assenbled to ask Heirens questions and where Tuohy himself made a speech. Heirens appeared bewildered and gave noncommital answers to reporters' questions, which he years later blamed on Tuohy:
"It was Tuohy himself. After assembling all the officials, including attorneys and policemen, he began a preamble about how long everyone had waited to get a confession from me, but, at last, the truth was going to be told. He kept emphasizing the word 'truth' and I asked him if he really wanted the truth. He assured me that he did...Now Tuohy made a big deal about hearing the truth. Now, when I was being forced to lie to save myself. It made me angry...so I told them the truth, and everyone got very upset."
Tuohy withdrew the previously agreed sentence of one life terms with a few minor charges and changed it to three life terms to run consecutively and threatened Heirens with the death penalty if he went to trial.
They threatened to charge him with the murder of Estelle Carey even though Heirens was attending the Gibault School for Wayward Boys a boarding school in Terre Haute, Indiana at the time. Heirens’ own attorneys were angry at their client for reneging on the plea bargain. The Chicago Tribune had a headline:
MUTE HEIRENS FACES TRIAL - KILLER SPURNS MOTHER'S FERVENT PLEA TO TALK.
Tuohy announced that he would press ahead to try Heirens for the deaths of Suzanne Degnan and Frances Brown.
Heirens agreed with the new plea agreement. The public allocution was held again in Tuohy's office. This time, Heirens talked and answered questions, even reenacting parts of the murders he had confessed to. Ahern changed his opinion and believed he was culpable when he heard how familiar Heirens was with victim Frances Brown's apartment.
Heirens said later: "I confessed to save my life."
In his confession, Heirens stated that he disposed of the hunting knife with which he said he cut up Suzanne Degnan on the Elevated Subway tracks near the scene of the murder. The police never searched the EL tracks, however. Learning of this, reporters inquired with the track crew if they had found a knife. They had found it on the tracks and they kept it in the Granville station storage room.
There reporters determined that the knife belonged to Guy Rodrick, the same person who had his Colt Police Positive .22 caliber gun stolen and found in Heiren's possession. On July 31, he positively identified the knife as his. Heirens acknowledged that he threw the knife there from an EL train, claiming he didn't want his mother to see it.
Heirens took full responsibility for the three murders on August 7, 1946. The prosecution had him reenact the crime in the Degnan home in public and in front of the press. On September 4, with Heirens' parents and the victims' families attending and Chief Justice Harold G. Ward presiding, Heirens admitted his guilt on the burglary and murder charges.
That night, Heirens tried to hang himself in his cell, timed to coincide during a shift change of the prison guards. He was discovered before he died. It was apparently despair that drove him to suicide:
"Everyone believed I was guilty...If I weren't alive, I felt I could avoid being adjudged guilty by the law and thereby gain some victory. But I wasn't successful even at that. "Before I walked into the courtroom my counsel told me to just enter a plea of guilty and keep my mouth shut afterward. I didn't even have a trial..."
On September 5, after further evidence was written in the record and the prosecution and defense made their closing statements, Ward formally sentenced Heirens to three life terms.
As Heirens waited to be transferred to Statesville Prison from the Cook County Jail, Sheriff Michael Mulcahy asked Heirens if Suzanne Degan suffered when she was killed. Heirens answered:
"I can't tell you if she suffered, Sheriff Mulcahy. I didn't kill her. Tell Mr. Degnan to please look after his other daughter, because whoever killed Suzanne is still out there."
Soon after Heirens was arrested, his parents and younger brother changed their surname to "Hill". His parents divorced after his conviction.
Heirens was first housed at Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. He has since learned several trades, including television and radio repair; at one point had his own repair shop.
He became the first prisoner in Illinois history to earn a four year college degree on February 6, 1972, receiving a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. He has aided other prisoner educational progress by helping them earn their General Educational Development (GED) degrees and becoming a "jailhouse lawyer" of sorts helping them with their appeals.
In 1975 he was transferred to the minimal security Vienna Correctional Center in Vienna, Illinois and then in 1998 upon his request to the Dixon Correctional Center minimum security prison in Dixon, Illinois. He resides in the Hospital Ward. He suffers from diabetes, which has swollen his legs and limited his eyesight; He is now confined to a wheelchair. He continues with his efforts to win clemency.
Claims of innocence
Some observers have long questioned whether Heirens was actually guilty of the crimes he confessed to committing. Within days of his confession in open court, Heirens denied any responsibility. Mary Jane Blanchard, daughter of murder victim Josephine Ross, was one of the first dissenters, being quoted in 1946 as saying:
"I cannot believe that young Heirens murdered my mother. He just does not fit into the picture of my mother's death … I have looked at all the things Heirens stole and there was nothing of my mother's things among them."
Many examples of the collected evidence held against Heirens as evidence of his responsibility of his crimes have come into question as to there accuracy and validity.
The sodium pentathol interrogation
Heirens was subjected to an interrogation under the influence of sodium pentathol, popularly known as "truth serum" This drug was administered by psychiatrists Doctors Haines and Roy Grinker. Under its effects he allegedly stated that a second person named George Murman actually committed the killings.
This form of interrogation, which was done without a warrant and administered with neither Heirens's or his parent's consent, is believed to be of dubious value by most scientist today. Indeed, by the 1950s so-called truth serums had been largely discredited.
When Heirens was arrested in 1946, growing scientific opinion against "truth serum" had not yet filtered down to the courts and police departments. Since the 1950s the medical consensus has been that "truth serums" including sodium pentathol have no scientific validity regarding eliciting the truth from those subjected to interrogation.
Modern medical practitioners have pointed to the high suggestibility of people under the influence of sodium pentathol and other so-called "truth serums" to support this claim.
"....by the 1950s, most scientists had declared the very notion of truth serums invalid, and most courts had ruled testimony gained through their use inadmissible."
During Heirens’s post conviction petition in 1952, Tuohy admitted under oath that he not only knew about the sodium pentathol procedure, he had authorized it and paid Grinkel USD$1,000. The same year, Grinkel revealed that Heirens never implicated himself in any of the killings.
The polygraph test
In 1946, after Heirens underwent two polygraph examinations, Tuohy declared the results inconclusive. However, John E. Reid and Fred E. Inbau published the test findings in their 1953 textbook, "Lie Detection and Criminal Interrogation" seem to contradict that assertion. According to the book, the test was not inconclusive:
"Murderer William Heirens was questioned about the killing and dismemberment of six-year old Suzanne Degnan...On the basis of the conventional testing theory his response on the card test clearly establishes (him) as an innocent person."
The handwriting evidence
During the Degnan murder investigation, the Chicago Police Department contacted Chicago Daily News artist Frank San Hamel to examine a photograph of the ransom note. Three days after the murder, Hamel told the police and the public that he had found "hidden Indentation writing" i.e. writing impressions from a note written on an overlying piece of paper, leaving a ghostly impression.
At this news, Storms broke the chain of custody and provided Hamel with the original note for him to examine directly. Since the chain of custody was broken by this action, the note was rendered useless in court no matter the result.
After Heirens was arrested for the Degnan killing, Hamel reported that it implicated him. The FBI had previously issued a report on March 22, 1946 that it examined the note and declared that there was no indentation writing at all and Hamel's assertions...
"...indicated either a lack of knowledge on his part or a deliberate attempt to deceive.".
Even the actual handwriting on the note has been apparently discredited. Most handwriting experts, both attached to the Chicago police and independent at the time of the original investigation, believed that Heirens had no connections to either the note or the wall scribble.
Charles Wilson, who was head of the Chicago Crime Detection Laboratory declared Heirens's known handwriting exemplars obtained from Heirens' hand written notes from college agreed with the Police Department experts who could not find any connection between Heirens the note and the wall message. Independent handwriting expert George W. Schwartz was brought in to give his opinion. He stated flatly that
"The individual characteristics in the two writings do not compare in any respect."
A third handwriting expert, Herbert J. Walter, whose credentials included working on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932 was brought in. After examining documents written by Heirens, Walter declared that Heirens wrote the ransom note and the lipstick scrawl on the wall and attempted to disguise his handwriting.
However, this was in direct contradiction from what he said several months before, at which time he said he doubted that the two writings were authored by the same person. He was quoted as saying there were "a few superficial similarities and a great many dissimilarities."
In 1996, FBI handwriting analyst David Grimes declared that Heirens’ known handwriting did not match either the Degnan ransom note or the infamous "Lipstick Message." supporting the two earlier results of the original 1946 investigation and Herbert J. Walter's original January 1946 opinion. In addition, the handwriting of the notes don't match each other.
The most damming evidence that has been demonstrated toward Heirens's guilt has been the fingerprint evidence on the Degnan ransom note and on the door jamb of Frances Brown's bathroom door.
However, suspicions on the veracity of door jamb fingerprints found at the Brown crime scene has come into question, including charges that the police planted the fingerprint since it allegedly looks like a rolled fingerprint, the type that you would find on a police fingerprint index card.
Both sets of prints have come under serious question as to their validity, good faith collection and possible contamination; even the possibility of them being planted.
Ransom note fingerprints
On or about June 26, 1946, to much fanfare, State’s Attorney Tuohy announced that "there can be no doubt now" as to Heirens's guilt after the authorities linked Heirens's prints to the two prints on the ransom note. It was this assertion, unchallenged by Heirens's defense council at sentencing that help prompt Heirens to confess to the murders he was charged with.
However, the validity of those prints on the Ransom Note has fallen under suspicion by some due to the timing of discoveries of fingerprints on the card, the broken chain of evidence, its handling by both inexperienced law enforcement and civilians.
The Degnan Ransom note was first examined by the Chicago Crime Detection Laboratory, but they couldn't find any usable prints on the note. Captain Timothy O'Connor took the note to the FBI crime laboratory in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 1946 with the idea of enlisting the FBI's more sophisticated technology in finding any latent prints. The FBI subjected the note to the then advanced method of Iodine Fuming to raise latent prints.
The process was similar in execution to today's polycyanoacrylate "super glue" fuming in which Cyanoacrylate is heated to a vapor. This vapor sticks to the skin oils on the friction ridges of a latent fingerprint. The older Nynhidrin method which is a liquid that is sprayed on paper to detect latent prints on paper is similar.
The FBI were able to raise two prints which they photographed promptly because unlike modern polycyanoacrylate fuming prints revealed by the Iodine process fade quickly. Captain O'Connor later testified at Heirens's sentencing hearing that he only saw two prints on the front of the note and did not mention the existence of any on the back.
Upon his return to Chicago he turned over the photographs of the revealed prints on the note to Sergeant Thomas Laffey, the Chicago Police Department's fingerprint expert. After his examination he stated to the press that they were "....so incomplete that it is impossible to classify them."
Despite checking these "incomplete" prints with everyone arrested between January 1946 and June 29, 1946 he was unable to find a match even though William Heirens was previously arrested and fingerprinted on May 1, 1946 on a weapons charge.
Heirens was arrested for burglary on June 26, 1946; three days later Sergeant Laffey announced a nine point comparison match to Heirens left little finger with one of the prints. Then a match was announced between Heirens and the second print.
In a news conference State's Attorney Tuohy declared that "...there could be no doubt now" about the suspect's guilt but then incongruously also stated that they didn't actually have enough evidence to indict Heirens.
Months after the FBI had returned the note and the photograph of the note to the Chicago police, the police announced that Laffey had discovered a palm print on the reverse side of the note also matching Heirens to 10 points of comparison. No other prints were found on the note prompting Police Chief Walter Storm to say:
"This shows that Heirens was the only person to handle the note."
This declaration is suspicious to some because:
The Chicago Police couldn't find any prints originally, hence the necessity to send the ransom note to the FBI for further processing, indicating that they were incapable of finding it in the first place.
Captain O'Connor only mentioned the two prints on the obverse side of the note and none on the reverse. Further, since both sides of the note are photographed immediately after fuming by the FBI a third print on the reverse side would had been obvious on the note itself and at the time of the development of the photograph of the note. Yet despite the testing occurring in mid January this third print wasn't discovered until early July, six months later and approximately two weeks after Heirens was arrested despite Laffey working on the Degnan case almost exclusively for six months.
The original note was previously given to Chicago Daily News reporter Frank San Hamel the previous January (after the FBI had processed it) to examine to find any "hidden indentation writing" that Heirens supposedly left. This broke the chain of custody making the note inadmissible as evidence in court. Additionally, any number of people including Hamel had compromised the integrity of any prints on the note by depositing additional prints and obscuring and corrupting the prints of the culprit.
Indeed, even before the police own crime lab got a chance to examine the note Charles Wilson, the chief of the Chicago Crime Detection Laboratory stated:
"When we got the Degnan note it came late after other people had photographed it and handled it."
In the same vain, a March 22, 1946 FBI report noted:
"...it is evident that the note has been handled considerably."
These statements are in direct contradiction of Chief Walter Storm's assertion that no one else but Heirens handled the note.
Further, Laffey testified during the September 5, 1946 sentencing hearing that one more fingerprint on the reverse sided of the note was linked to Heirens to 10 points of comparison. He also increased the points of comparison of the palm print to Heirens from 10 to the FBI standard of 12.
As to the fingerprints on the front of the note that were discovered by the FBI in January 1946, Laffey only identified one and did not say it belonged to Heirens when he testified at the sentencing hearing. Only the prints not found by the FBI and allegedly discovered after Heirens's arrest were mentioned at the sentencing hearing and not the two front prints that was supposedly "indisputable" proof of Heirens's culpability.
They were hardly mentioned nor linked to Heirens in a court hearing in which the witnesses had to testify under oath.
As a further indication of what could be called ineffective defense by Heirens's lawyers, none of these issues were raised at the sentencing hearings and no objections were made nor did they bring up chain of custody issues.
The door jamb print
A "bloody, smudged" print of an end and middle joint of a finger was found on the door jamb of a door between the bathroom and dressing room in Francis Brown's apartment. A photograph of the print was taken, but no match was made with anything on file.
After Heirens was arrested on June 26, his prints were compared with the Degnan note. When Laffey claimed a match with Heirens and the prints on the Degnan note an attempt was made to match him with the door jamb print. It was unsuccessful, and the police declared him cleared of the Brown murder because the print at the crime scene was not his.
Twelve days later, however, it was declared to match Heirens' prints to 22 points of comparison, well above the FBI standard.
At Heirens' sentencing, Laffey testified that the end joint of the bloody print had only an eight point comparison to Heirens' and the middle joint a mere six point comparison. Ironically, the middle joint didn't live up to even Laffey's personal standard of seven or eight points to make a positive identification match.
Another source of contention is that the Brown crime scene fingerprint has the appearance of having been rolled, which is the practice of taken a person's inked finger and rolling them on an index card, and not the smudged, bloody and unreadable print as originally reported.
Traditionally, after the fingertip is covered in ink from either the suspect's hand being pressed on top of an ink pad or an ink roller being run across them, the finger is placed on the card on one edge. It is rolled once from one edge to the finger's other edge to produce a large, clear print.
Heirens' attorneys did not question the veracity of the prints, however.
The confession itself is suspect due to the inaccuracies of key details including times and locations. This is no surprise since he basically transcribed his official confession from the falsified Chicago Tribune report of his alleged earlier confession, which provided fabricated details of the crime.
Twenty nine inconsistencies are known between his confession and the known facts of the crime. It has since become the understanding that the nature of these inconsistencies is a clear indicator of false confessions.
Some details did seem to match, like the police theory that Suzanne Degnan was dismembered by a hunting knife and Heirens confessed to throwing a hunting knife on to a section of the Chicago Subway "EL" trestle near the Degnan residence.
However, it was never determined scientifically that it was at least the dismemberment tool and Heirens had an alternate explanation for it. Further, it was not initially recovered by the police but members of the press who recovered it from the transit track gang who found it.
An alternative suspect
After the Degnan murder, but before Heirens became a suspect, Chicago police interrogated 42-year-old Richard Russell Thomas, a drifter passing through the city of Chicago at the time of Degnan's murder in the Maricopa County Jail in Maricopa, Arizona.
Police handwriting expert Charles B. Arnold, head of the forgery detail of the Phoenix police in Thomas’s hometown of Phoenix, Arizona noted similarities between the handwritten Degnan ransom note and Thomas’ handwriting when Thomas wrote with his left hand, and suggested that Chicago police investigate Thomas.
Upon being questioned, Thomas confessed to the crime, but he was released from custody after Heirens became the prime suspect. Others contend that Thomas was a strong suspect, to wit:
Thomas previously had been convicted of an attempted extortion — with a ransom note that threatened the kidnapping of a little girl.
As previously noted handwriting experts at the time state that the Thomas' ransom note from his previous conviction of extortion bears similarity in both style in regarding the wording and in form of the actual structure of the letters formed to the Degnan ransom note.
Thomas was in Chicago at the time of the Degnan murder.
At the time he confessed to the Degnan crime, he was awaiting sentencing for molesting his daughter.
Thomas had a history of violence, including spousal abuse.
Thomas was a nurse who was known to masquerade as a surgeon. He often boasted to his friends that he was a doctor and he was known to steal surgical supplies. Chicago Police had previously developed a profile of the Degnan killer as having surgical skills or being a butcher.
He frequented a car agency near the Degnan residence. Parts of Suzanne Degnan's body was found in a sewer across from that car agency he often visited.
Ironically, like Heirens, he was a known burglar.
He had confessed freely to the Degnan murder, although he would shortly recant it.
The Chicago detectives dismissed Thomas' claims after Heirens became a suspect. Thomas died in 1974 in an Arizona prison. His prison record and most of the evidence of his interrogation regarding the Chicago murders have been lost and/or destroyed.
Petition for clemency
In 2002, Lawrence C. Marshall, et al., filed a petition on Heirens' behalf seeking clemency. They cited not only strong doubts about Heirens' guilt, but also his behavior in prison. The appeal was eventually denied.
Heirens' most recent parole hearing was held on July 26, 2007. The mood of the parole board was illustrated by this statement: "God will forgive you, but the state won't", said Thomas Johnson a member of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board who voted 14-0 against parole. However, the parole board also decided to revisit the issue once per year from now on.
William Heirens: Lipstick Killer or Legal Scapegoat
by Joseph Geringer
In The Shadow of Bill Heirens
"Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind." -- Nathaniel Hawthorne
In August, 1946, 17-year-old University of Chicago student William George Heirens confessed to three brutal murders and closed a case that had enwrapped the full-time attention of the states attorney and the Chicago Police Force over many months. It had kept city readers glued to the front pages of their newspapers. Reports were lurid and tawdry, for they rang of depravity and reminisced of the darkest prose of Edgar Allen Poe. After one murder, the killer had left a note to the police, written on the wall with the victim's lipstick - thus the name "Lipstick Killer"
According to his confession, he had, in the course of six months, murdered two women and dismembered a six-year-old child. When he confessed, relieved Chicagoans read in any one of their five dailies that walking the streets at night was now a bit safer, now that (as one circulation put it) "the werewolf was in chains".
Heirens (pronounced High-rens) had been a central suspect since he had been arrested some fifty days prior to his confession. An admitted petty burglar, he was apprehended, in fact, during one of his house-breakings. While in custody, he was targeted by authorities as the butcher of the three victims. Harshly interrogated, interviewed under the effects of a truth serum and brutally treated by law officers (it was the age before the Miranda Act), Heirens finally admitted to the murders in answer to a plea bargain that promised him immunity from death row. ("I confessed to live," he later said.) He was sentenced to prison for three life terms.
He lives today, still in prison, 53 years later. He continues to assert his innocence.
Opinions concerning his guilt differ. Both sides are equally headstrong. The official records uphold his conviction and the authorities, then and now, contend that Justice was adequately served. Social journalist Lucy Freeman has reported their side in her book, Before I Kill More..., and studies the synapses of his childhood that turned what should have been a normal college kid into a savage-destructive.
"To explain the method in Bill's killings," she writes, "two things must be considered - what psychiatrists call 'the predisposition toward' the deed and the 'precipitating factor'...If the foundation of a life is one of excessive fear and anger which then pervades the whole life, a person may be said to have a 'predisposition toward' murder. The 'precipitating factor' is the straw that broke Bill's psychic back, allowing the anger to erupt into violence."
But, others, such as activist Dolores Kennedy, author of the investigative Bill Heirens: His Day in Court, alleges that the boy in custody was a scapegoat, that he was shaped to look like what she calls "a Jekyll-Hyde freak" to cover the inadequacies of a botched and ineffective manhunt by authorities. Kennedy, who heads a corps of lawyers, psychiatrists, handwriting experts and other professionals working for Heirens' release, says, "(He) was convicted by a sensation-seeking press (because) he had no legal protection from media excesses. There was to be no trial for Bill Heirens, no testing of state's evidence, no introduction of state's witnesses." While there is much damaging evidence against Heirens, Kennedy claims it was all created or "fixed," just as a particular damaging eyewitness testimony was altered to lean negatively on the boy.
The following report looks objectively at the major events in the Bill Heirens case: the murders, the background of Heirens himself, and the subsequent arrest, investigation, confession and conviction.
For this article, I referred to a number of sources (see Bibliography). As well, I was afforded a rare interview with Dolores Kennedy, who clarified some of the points she makes in her book. I would like to thank her for her time, the result of which makes this a more up-to-date and more thorough examination of Bill Heirens for the benefit of Crime Library readers.
"And I looked, and behold, a pale horse..."
-- The Bible
Chicago in advent of 1946 had fallen prey to an almost self-indulgence of relaxation, shuffling off the coil of wartime now past and determined to live the good life, nothing more. The Gotterdammerung had ended. Hitler had blown his brains out in a bunker, Mussolini had been strung up by his betrayed cumpari, and Hirohito shivered under the blast of atomic fallout. Chicago - any big city in America, for that matter - was sick of violence and bedrought of tears; no more sons and brothers and fathers would be marching to a Guadalcanal. Peace had come, if you may, with a vengeance.
When the crime rate escalated immediately after the war, due in part to returning soldiery unable to procure lawful employment, the city's people found themselves disgruntled. Hollywood was chucking out goodwill all around (The Best Years of Our Lives and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were smash hits), literature adopted only the highest of morals (The Yearling ran months on the best-seller lists); so why couldn't Chicago, they asked, conform? The public dreaded another battleground like the one it had endured during an earlier time, Prohibition, when Al Capone ran the city like a war zone. With the Axis powers overseas defeated, Chicago would damn itself first before reverting to the domestic rat-a-tat-tat that was.
Chicago remained in part, after the war, "a city in conflict," according to Lucy Freeman, author of Before I Kill More..., "caught between the wish to be sophisticated and yet remain a pioneer town. It (possessed) some of the virtues of the larger city and some of its vices, some of the virtues of a village and some of its vices."
Nevertheless, its police failed to reduce an obvious and sudden criminal flow, and the public was fit to be tied. This made the politicians nervous. It made Mayor Edward J. Kelley nervous. It made State's Attorney William J. Tuohy nervous. It made Police Commissioner John C. Prendergast nervous.
The word went out, and the word was (in plural, mind you) ARRESTS.
But, solutions came hard and the city police seemed unprepared to dam the flood of rising crime. The Chicago Police Department's operations director, Virgil Peterson, came out rather defensive and simultaneously smug by reminding Chicagoans that, "We've been warning the public for four years that there would be a crime wave after the war. There has been one after every war."
Dolores Kennedy in her book, William Heirens: His Day in Court, writes, "Peterson placed the responsibility on a letdown in moral standards during and after the war years, the coming of age of juvenile delinquents developed during the war, and the return of millions of persons to civilian status from the armed services. J. Edgar Hoover, chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reinforced the finding, stating that murders (in America) had increased an unprecedented 32 percent since the previous year. During the first ten days of December (1945), Chicago reported 109 robberies, 265 burglaries, 109 stolen autos, 4 rape cases and 8 murders." These were horrific numbers for the era.
In the City of Big Shoulders, Chicago, testimony to crime was tangible. "In the 1940s, syndicate taverns-concealing slot machines and games of '21'-and 'B-girls' hustling customers for drinks in the Randolph Street dives were a public nuisance and an embarrassing eyesore in the very shadows of City Hall," explains Richard Lindberg in Return to the Scene of the Crime - Chicago. "These petty forms of vice gradually gave way to an even more unsightly aggregation of all-night pinball arcades."
* * * * *
Three terrible murders took place between the months of June, 1945, and January, 1946, to startle not only Chicago, but the rest of the country as well. They shocked even the old-timers who remembered the midnight sounds of machine guns during la regime d'Alfonso Capone - and shattered a public trust in the local law enforcement departments. More than that, the killings - rather, barbarisms - rattled many a belief in the stability of Mankind itself. Crimes like this, they said, couldn't happen even in Chicago.
Josephine Ross, 43 years old, thrice-divorced and unemployed, lived with her daughters Mary Jane (Blanchard) and Jacqueline (Miller) in a small Kenwood Avenue apartment in the Edgewood District, Chicago's North Side.
It was a pleasant area of small water-fountain parks where nationality-conscious neighbors still clung to their own and partied with their own. Separating the Irish from the Germans and the Lithuanians from the Poles were freight yards and viaducts and a diversity of factories (now called industrial parks). Church steeples pricked the low skyline here since not long after the Chicago Fire of 1871.
The resident North Side claimed rows on rows of family-run markets on the main thoroughfares; Chicago Surface Lines streetcars that rattled along the electric tracks; vendors' carts that clattered, horse-drawn still, over the cobbles of geometrically square blocks of latticed front porches and bungalows' bay fronts.
Single-family dwellings were brick and tile-roofed with a dormer, and the apartment buildings varied in size and shape - mostly brick - from two-flats to three-flats to six-flats and more - with decorative foyers. Back yards sprouted oak trees and sometimes fence-bottom gardens. Wooden fire escapes clung to each apartment, overlooking gravel alleys that divided the blocks into neat cubes. Along those alleys, private garages stored one or two family automobiles. Most families by 1946 claimed one car.
Josephine Alice Ross spent most of her time attending movies, visiting fortune tellers and fighting her last husband's insurance company for a policy they said wasn't valid. She had been planning to open a local restaurant with the money, but, financially, things looked bleak. Strapped for real income, she had set her eyes on a new husband named Oscar. Attractive, she secretly had two interested suitors.
June 5, 1945, dawned with no apparent apprehension felt by any of the three women who occupied the apartment. Josephine had had a fortuitously good reading the day earlier at the psychic's. The daughter had gone off to work by 9 a.m., their mother decided to sleep in. She had risen early, chatted briefly with her children and then, after they left for their respective jobs, returned to bed.
Her body was discovered at 1:30 that afternoon when Jacqueline came home, as she usually did, for lunch. Finding the apartment aclutter - drawers pulled out, chairs knocked over, newspapers unfurled across the floor - she hurried to her mother's bedroom where she found a horrendous sight. Josephine was sprawled across her bed, her throat gashed by multiple stabbings, her head wrapped in a dress; blood had spewed across the room onto the walls, the drapes, the furniture, and it soaked the mattress. In the adjoining bathroom, several articles of the woman's clothing and undergarments lay in a pool of bloody water in the tub. Only change money was missing from the premises.
No fingerprints were found, fiancée Oscar Nordmark had an airtight alibi, and the police were stumped. A pair of witnesses, the building's custodian and a fellow tenant, both described an unfamiliar swarthy, dark-haired male in white sweater and dark trousers whom they had seen, seemingly without purpose, wandering through the building. Janitor Elmer Nelson estimated the stranger to weigh in at about 190 pounds; lodger Bernice Folkman called him slender.
Eight weeks after the incident, Police Captain Frank Reynolds admitted that the department had, to date, drawn a blank on motive and culprit, but that the investigation would continue.
Meanwhile, the murder - and murderer-- faded into forgetfulness.
* * * * *
Honorably discharged U.S. Navy WAV, Frances Brown was petite, brown-haired and demure. She lived in Room 611 at the Pinecrest Apartment Building on Pine Grove Avenue - not far from where Josephine Ross had lived - and was home alone the evening of December 10, 1945. Roommate Viola Butler was spending the evening at a friend's house and Miss Brown, arriving home late, about 9:30 p.m., was told by a desk clerk that a man had entered the foyer earlier inquiring about her. When informed that she was out, he left. According to the clerk later, Frances seemed to have been expecting the caller.
She continued up the elevator to the sixth floor and spent what remained of her quietude relaxing and arranging her next-day's wardrobe. She called her mother to say she'd be visiting for Christmas, then showered and retired to bed. Outside, a winter wind blew quietly and coldly. The streets were glazed with ice. It was a good night to stay indoors.
Author Richard Lindberg describes Brown:." A homespun girl from Richmond, Indiana...she attended business school, worked hard, and eventually landed a good job with the A.B. Dick Company. When the War came, she enlisted in the WAVs and put her office skills to good use as a telegrapher. She spent three years in the service, then returned to her old job after the Japanese surrendered in August, 1945."
Her nude body was discovered the following morning by Martha Engels, the housemaid. Curious as to why the tenant's radio was playing so uncharacteristically loud at 9 a.m., and why her door was ajar, Engels peeked into Room 611 to find Brown's bed splattered with blood and a trail of it leading to the bathroom. There, she found the tenant stretched over the bathtub, her head wrapped in her pyjamas, a butcher knife rammed into her neck and a bullet hole in her skull.
Starkly written on the living room wall, in letters of lipstick, were the words: For heavens sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself. >As in the Ross apartment, the place was ransacked. No valuables were missing. But, this time they had one fingerprint - a bloody one smudged on a doorjamb. This fingerprint would prove to be an important factor in the months to come.
George Weinberg, a neighbor, had heard what sounded like gunshots around 4 a.m. Night clerk John Dedrick told police that at about that time a man had emerged from the down elevator, looking very nervous, fumbled at the front door, and left. By description, he was about 35- to 40-years-old and weighed about 140 pounds. Police determined he had entered through the fire escape into the victim's apartment.
Suspects were meagre. One theory was that the message-writing killer might have been a woman since the term, "For heaven's sake," was more feminine than masculine. A local butcher named George Carraboni confessed to the crime, but his story changed so many times that the police didn't take him seriously. "Despite the fact that Carraboni was under investigation for thirteen murders in Cleveland, Ohio, in which men and women had been beheaded and dismembered, the police were unable to hold him," exclaims Dolores Kennedy.
Again, the police were baffled. Suspicions came and went until they seemed to tire, then dissipated beneath the merriment of a city celebrating the first Christmas in peacetime since 1940.
* * * * *
The very worst was yet to come.
Rosy-cheeked, toe-headed six-year-old Suzanne Degnan went to bed Sunday evening, January 6, 1946, with visions of sugar plums still dancing in her head from the holiday season. She died that night, a horrible death.
Jim and Helen Degnan bore a happy family, living at Thorndale and Kenmore in the Edgewater District. With their two daughters, Suzanne and Betty, they shared a huge turn-of-the-century home with another family. The Degnans occupied the first floor and the Flynns lived upstairs. Mr. Degnan worked for the Office of Price Administration (OPA) and had recently been transferred from Baltimore, bringing his family with him.
Good at his job, his salary nevertheless barely afforded him the necessities of life, but he had managed to show his children a happy Christmas just the same.
January 6 had been a busy Sunday for the Degnans. They had been out all day, not returning until late, at which time Helen made sandwiches for both her daughters and shuffled them off to bed. Tomorrow both would return to Sacred Heart Academy, the holidays ended.
During the night, the only sounds the household heard were the momentary barking of the Flynn dogs, a disturbance not out of the ordinary, and some men talking in the street. Cecilia Flynn thought one of the men had said, "This is the best-looking building around." Mrs. Degnan, at one point, sat up in bed, waking her husband beside her in the process. She explained that she thought she had heard Suzanne crying. The couple listened a few more minutes, heard nothing more, then returned to sleep.
In the morning, Jim went to wake his daughters for school. He thought it odd that Suzanne's door was closed - the child was much too afraid to sleep in the dark. Peering in, he saw that her bedroom window was fully raised, the curtains blowing in the ice cold breeze, and the girl was nowhere to be seen. The rest of the family scoured the quarters - closets, window seat, even outside on the fire escape - then woke the Flynns and asked them to search their premises. Panic emerged when it became apparent Suzanne was gone.
Because of the nature of the crime, a child's disappearance, and because of the heat it had been taking over unsolved crimes, the police department dug into this case with fervor. The new police commissioner, John C. Prendergast, became personally involved. The Degnan apartment, according to Dolores Kennedy, was immediately "filled with police from the area, eager to resolve the disappearance of little Suzanne Degnan." On the floor of the girl's bedroom, they found what at first appeared to be a discarded tissue but turned out to be a ransom note. Probably blown from the bed by the wind, which gushed through the open window, it read: "Get $20,000 ready & waite (sic) for word. Do not notify FBI or police. Bills in $5's and $10's." On the backside was a warning: "Burn this for her safty (sic)."
Outside the apartment, police found a seven-foot ladder that, when held upright, reached to the sill of the girl's window. The ladder, police learned, had been stolen from a nursery several blocks away. Investigators spread throughout the area, searching, asking questions, hoping to find witnesses. An anonymous call suggested they check surrounding sewers.
That evening, January 7, detectives Lee O'Rourke and Harry Benoit did just that. Noticing that a sewer cover on nearby Winthrop Avenue looked misplaced, they shone their flashlight into the well and found what looked like the head of a golden-haired doll. But, it was no doll's head. An alarm went out. Before the evening ended, the rest of Suzanne Degnan - her legs and torso - were found scattered in the debris of adjacent sewers. (Her arms were found several weeks later.) A basement washtub below an apartment off Winthrop Avenue proved to be the place of dismemberment. Blood, pieces of human flesh and blonde hairs were found in its drain.
"Chicago's greatest manhunt, and perhaps one of the most intensive ever conducted in the nation, was on. Police had the task of trying to pluck the killer out of a city of four million," writes Lucy Freeman. "They worked around the clock, often driving their own cars and using their own time...Police worked day and night questioning suspects. They interviewed more than 800 persons suspected of the crime; gave lie detector tests to 170. The crime laboratory compared 7,000 sets of handwriting with the ransom note. A total of 5,250 were received from all over the world offering clues or theories; 3,153 were investigated."
Police believed that the kidnapper-killer must have driven a car the few blocks to the place of dismemberment; that carrying a 74-pound child through the streets would have drawn too much notice. After all, the streets were not exactly empty, even for the bewitching hours. Witnesses had seen a woman in the vicinity carrying a large bundle in both her arms in the vicinity of the Degnan home. She got into what seemed to be an awaiting automobile where a balding man sat behind the wheel. Another witness, a serviceman on furlough, saw a large dark man carrying a shopping bag. But, the phantom couple and the man with the bag were never identified.
States Kennedy: "The most promising suspects were arrested, and, upon those arrests, States Attorney William J. Tuohy and Chief of Detectives Walter G. Storms would tell the press that this time they had found the killer. Inevitably, the suspect passed the lie detector test, or came up with an alibi, or the police were forced to admit that the fingerprints did not match."
Each fizzle was a blow to William J. Tuohy, reportedly a man with high political ambitions and his eye on the circuit court. Mayor Kelly's right-hand-man, or enforcer of Chicago laws, could not afford to fail after so many successful stepping stones up. Under Tuohy's thumb, the police were hard-pressed to find the killer.
Under his dictum, they often plied ahead zealously. Hector Verburgh, the janitor at the Winthrop Street apartment which housed the depository washtubs where the Degnan girl was cut up, became for a while the chief suspect. Although of impeccable reputation, the 65-year-old man suffered two days of physical battering at the hands of policemen. He was beaten so badly that he had a shoulder separated. Upon his release, he was hospitalized for ten days due to the abuse thrust on him. Immediately following his recuperation, he filed a $15,000 lawsuit against the department. After an investigation, the Verburghs were awarded $20,000.
As winter turned into spring, the police had theories galore, but not one concrete lead. The ransom note had been sent to the FBI laboratories where fingerprints were found. Most of the prints belonged to family members and policemen who had handled the paper, but a few unidentified smudges of prints were discovered. Thomas Laffey, the Chicago Police Department's expert, spent many months matching the latter against thousands on file. And was drawing blanks.
The search seemed impossible - that is, until a college student named Heirens turned up out of nowhere and the spotlight of suspicion was turned on him with full force.
The Sneak Thief
"Thieves respect property. They merely wish their property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it." -- G.K. Chesterton
Bill Heirens was born November 15, 1928, to parents Margaret and George, a couple whose marriage wasn't necessarily in trouble, but was far from happy. Always teetering on the edges of poverty, the coming Depression made matters worse. Mr. Heirens' meagre pay checks, earned as an odd-job laborer, often went to treat himself and his pals at the local bowling alleys. Money, or the lack thereof, continued to be the source of all family problems to come.
Heirens' childhood, for all practical purposes, and despite the domestic problems, was normal enough. He was a restless boy, mischievous. Because his mother was forced to help provide income, he and his younger brother Jere, born three years after him, were often left at home with babysitters who found them a handful. One afternoon their mother returned from her job at the bakery to find the parlor draperies charred and a section of the carpet burned. A science experiment gone wrong.
One time, Mrs. Heirens found her son aloft the garage roof, cardboard wings strapped to his arms, and him in the pose of a pterodactyl about to leap from a cliff. She shrieked and the would-be Wright Brother was discouraged from attempting his solo flight.
Friends remember Bill Heirens as a curious boy who liked toying with chemistry sets, taking things apart and putting them back together. Basically a loner, he would potter for hours. His mother recalled that he liked to work on model airplanes, fix old clocks, tinker with mechanical things, and draw. "Some of our friends commented on Bill's ability to do such work with care and precision," she said. "They thought his drawings of airplanes and ships were especially good, and they predicted interesting things for him in the future."
But, the little spats between mother and father, ever about money, turned into violent arguments. Heirens couldn't stand it. ("Jere seemed to be able to cope with it," he explained years later, "I couldn't.") He would fly from his home at 714 Grace Street and take to the streets, would go on long walks, stay away, anywhere, to avoid listening to his parent's squabbles. That is when he took to burgling.
Breaking and Entry
Robbing houses, apartments and stores. He found it exciting, an outlet for the tensions that had dammed up daily at home. The dangers he felt thrilled him and proved to be an antidote to overcome - forget - his personal travails. Except for the occasional cash he stole, he never robbed for money, never tried to pawn off the objects he took - cameras, radios, jewellery - he didn't know any fences on which to unload the merchandise, never cared to pursue that channel. It was simply the feelings he was able to conjure up from the act, a buzz of excitement as well as a hug of security, if you may.
His first theft occurred when he was in seventh grade, during his first job as delivery boy for a local grocer. Finding that a customer had short-changed him by a dollar, he panicked, knowing that the grocer depended upon him to collect the correct amount from each customer. Afraid he would lose his job, he determined to make up that dollar's loss. At the next stop he made, to a customer in a nearby apartment building, he spotted some singles lying unchecked on a table - and took one. The surge of satisfaction came easy.
In an interview with author Dolores Kennedy, Heirens explained his modus operandi, which differed from season to season. "In the winter, I chose early evening between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. because it grew dark early and I could tell whether or not anyone was home. Often, especially in the winter, I burglarized the lakefront area. I would walk around the building, check the windows, ring the front bell and if no one answered, go to the back door. I would enter through the window off the porch and then chain or double-lock the front door so I couldn't be surprised."
In the summer months, Heirens robbed mostly apartment hotels, he told Kennedy, gaining access through the buzzer then following a random hallway to possible luck. "Tenants often left their doors open to catch the cross draft. (It was the age before air conditioning.) I could look into the room to see if there was anything of value. Fire escapes were a last resource because there was too much exposure."
Author Lucy Freeman, in researching Heirens' modus operandi for her book, Before I Kill More... determines that, at times. Heirens proved somewhat of a Houdini. She quotes Earl R. Downes, who was in charge of the robbery investigations at the time: "That kid was like a monkey...Back in '42, he used a narrow board to span a five-foot areaway from a third-floor porch to reach a third-floor bathroom window at 837 Belle Plain. He crawled across the narrow board while 30 feet below him was a cement sidewalk - death if he fell...The same holds true for the time he lowered himself over a roof to a third-floor apartment at 3933 Pine Grove, something like a human fly. Or the time he climbed up a wire mesh-covered English basement window to grasp the window ledge and then pull himself up into the fist-floor apartment at 3744 Pine Grove. How he got a foothold in the wire meshing is beyond imagination..."
Most of what he stole he stashed in an unused storage shed on the roof of a nearby apartment building. In no time, the shed bulged with women's furs, men's suits, radios, utensils - and guns. Heirens admitted he liked guns, they fascinated him; his father had been a security guard at one time and he loved to study the unloaded object, to investigate the mechanical gadgetry of it. In those days, many residents owned a gun for protection against home invaders. While pilfering private abodes he would occasionally find one in the dining room bureau or in the bedroom dresser and steal it. At age thirteen, right before grade school commencement exercises, he encountered his first run-in with the law, involving a heisted .25 caliber automatic.
A policeman stopped a suspicious-looking teenage Heirens in a park and, in frisking him, uncovered the weapon on his person. The lad stammered, explaining that he had just found it on the ground, but the officer didn't believe his story. He escorted the boy to the Delinquent's Home where he was locked up until his hearing, some three weeks hence. In that period, Bill Heirens admitted to eleven burglaries and to being the procurer of the booty that the police found in his rooftop hideaway. The juvenile courts sentenced him to the Catholic-run Gibault School for wayward boys in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Upon his release the following June, Heirens returned to his slippery-fingered habits. Stealing had become an obsession and even though he knew it was wrong, he required the thrills it brought. He was arrested again, now for prowling in the Rogers Park Hotel. In his possession was the front door key of another hotel down the block. At the nearest station house, a policeman beat him during his interrogation but the boy admitted to his mother, "It was the punishment I deserved."
This time, a judge ordered him sent him to St. Bede's Academy, a detention center run by the Benedictine Monks on the banks of the Illinois River in Peru, Illinois. In its fold, he proved to be an excellent student and a team player, earning top grades and partaking of the school's sports offerings.
Heirens' scholastic average was so high that he was urged to take a test for admittance into a special learning program offered by the University of Chicago. Right before he left the center, he was notified that he was accepted into the program and was urged to start classes the following fall term, 1945, skipping his senior year in high school. He would be only 16 years old. This achievement pleased his professors and, more than them, his mother who figured her son had finally outgrown his insurgent ways.
However, Heirens was a tough learner when it came to the commandment, Thou shalt not steal. While he was in St. Bede's, his parents had leased a rambling old frame house on a large lot in suburban Lincolnwood, with plenty of room for a restless boy to roam. His mother thought that new scenery would encourage new ideals. But, even though he loved to roam, his rovings led him straight back to the dark side world of break-ins. Despite new surroundings, closer to country air, his parents still argued incessantly. Once again, Heirens sought peace of mind the only way he had come to know, by psychologically blanketing his problems with pulsating color. The robberies represented to him a fantasy, a daydream of freedom, as a highwayman of old would experience on the open country road.
"It later became obvious that Bill only stole when he was spending substantial time at home," Dolores Kennedy writes in her book, Bill Heirens: His Day in Court. She quotes him as saying when he was away at boarding schools, "I wasn't even tempted. Then I would go home, and the tensions would build, and I would find myself burglarizing to ease them."
In the meantime, Heirens had begun classes at the university, majoring in electrical engineering. He commuted at first, his father dropping him off and picking him up from Hyde Park on his way to and from the steel mills. But, after realizing too much time was being spent on the road, Heirens decided to board at Gates Hall, near his classes. His parents could not afford the tuition nor the dorm costs, so the student grabbed whatever jobs he could find. He worked several evenings a week at Orchestra Hall downtown as an usher and at university functions as a docent. For a while, all went well.
By the second year, Heirens' grades had begun to slip. He had discovered girls - and they had discovered his smiling face and dark, wavy hair - and he began a series of romantic flings. His favorite date was attractive blonde fellow-student JoAnn Slama, who lived in the campus area. When not on a date, he and his roommate Joe Costello spent leisure hours discussing philosophy and playing games instead of attending to homework.
And then, of course, there were the burglaries. They continued without interruption as, what Heirens ascertained, a means to supplement his college costs. Hitting unwatched wallets and purses in homes and hotels in the campus area, Heirens was able to "save" enough to buy two $500 U.S. Savings Bonds. Through underground channels, acquainted through university chums, he also garnered stolen War Bonds that, once the owners' names could be etched off with a surgical scalpel, were worth $7,000. These he kept in a worn suitcase beneath his dorm cot, beside the surgical equipment that had come his way via most things he owned, thievery.
Heirens was described in 1955 in Lucy Freeman's psychological thesis, Before I Kill More.... "The expressions on his face, barometers of his moods, change swiftly. Most of the time it is a sensitive face but every so often a look of hardness possesses it...When a remark angers Bill, he loses the amiable expression, his hazel eyes glow grazed, and an invisible and impenetrable curtain rises. He has the hands of an artist, long, tapering, well-formed fingers that look as though they would be skilled in whatever they attempted. Once in a while, he puts his hands on his head to concentrate."
His Final Arrest
On the muggy afternoon of Wednesday, June 26, 1946, Heirens left his dormitory and walked in the direction of the Howard Street "EL" (or elevated) station. His ultimate destination was the post office in suburban Skokie, immediately north of the city. He knew the area well and had used the post office many times to cash checks. Today, he found himself low on available funds and spontaneously had decided to cash at least one of the bonds. College debts were due and, besides, he had promised to take JoAnn to the movies tomorrow night. As he boarded the EL, the bonds were tucked into the fold of his wallet. In the inside of his coat, he secreted an old pocket revolver, all seven chambers loaded. He later claimed that he wasn't even certain the gun worked; it was there for show; a comfort factor while carrying large sums of money.
Arriving at the post office at 3 p.m., he discovered it locked and dark. A sign he had never before noticed in the window announced that the place closed after noontime during summer months. Angered at having taken the long, hot trip for nothing, and realizing that he would have no cash for the upcoming eagerly anticipated date with his girl, he turned to what had worked so well before in a pinch: burglary.
"The Wayne Manor apartments on Wayne Avenue were familiar to Bill," Dolores Kennedy tells us. "He had memorized the layout of the six-story building, which had been his target several times before, and his operations remained the same. He opened the front door and approached the buzzer panel (and) a woman answered. 'I would talk gibberish,' Heirens recalls. 'In those days communication in such buildings was through brass tubes and by the time the sound got to the receiving end it was hard to tell what was being said. Since they couldn't understand me and I kept ringing the bell, they would simply buzz me in.'" As was his custom once inside, he rode the passenger elevator to a chosen floor, then paced the hallway until he spotted an open doorway.
On the third floor, he found one. From his angle, he could see a wallet resting on a cabinet. Scanning the empty living room, he entered. But, as he reached for the wallet, the adjacent neighbor, witnessing the deed, yelped. Heirens startled at the outcry, tore for the stairwell. Behind him, he could hear the others footsteps closing in hot pursuit. Not until he rounded the nearest intersection and darted down a private gangway did Heirens realize he probably lost his annoying tail. Wheezing, but afraid the nosey interceder might be circling the block roundabout, he climbed the wooden fire escape behind 1320 Farwell Avenue to gain a better vantage point of the alley beyond. A tenant, Mrs. Willett, saw the breathless, scared teenager and phoned the police.
Officers Tiffin Constant and William Owens responded. When Heirens saw their approach through the yard, he attempted to run. Seeing that the officers had blocked both ends of the staircase, however, the boy knew he was trapped. There was no safe way down. Both policemen neared him from opposite ends. Above them, on the landing and frustrated, Heirens saw no alternative but to wheel with gun in hand toward the closest officer, Constant. The officer ducked, but when the fugitive started away, the cop charged. A tangle ensued.
In the meantime, an off-duty patrolman named Abner Cunningham had witnessed the melee and joined it. He had seen Heirens point the gun. The suspect later expressed that he had had no intention to fire it - only to scare Constant out of the way that he might break through. If this were the case, he had done the worst thing anyone could have done to a policeman on a sweltering June day when tempers needed little to push them over the edge. The first to reach the struggling duo, Cunningham grabbed three adobe clay flower pots off a railing and dropped them one at a time, in angry, erratic but rhythmical succession, onto Heirens' head. He would never aim a barrel at a cop again.
For Heirens, it was lights out.
Psychoses, Fingerprints and Truth
"There is no person who is not dangerous for someone." - Marie de Sevigne
The first thing Heirens became aware of when he awoke in Bridewell, cranium bandaged, were a couple of words.... "Heirens... suspect... child... Degnan" ...whispered near his ear. Bridewell was the hospital attached to the Cook County Jail. His eyes still closed, he could feel his fingertips being forcibly pressed down, one after another, onto a cold ink pad, then onto the crinkle of paper. It was a sensation he recognized even half-conscious.
People into his room, people out. Voices fading, voices lingering into a monotonous undertone saying nothing. He wasn't sure, but he thought he felt himself being wheeled from one room to another...a jarring movement under his mattress...the squeak of bed wheels...interns in white coats...something about taking x-rays of his head...then a voice saying something like, "Now rush him back to the examining room where everyone's waiting"....then being wheeled once more down fuzzy hallways with fuzzy overhead lights...and into a room with more fuzzy overheads where many voices mixed together, chaotically this time, into an orgy of babbling....terse voices most of them...loud voices...and faces, too, blurred and twisted, fat noses shoving into his, glaring eyeballs nearly tapping his own.
He felt hands, meaty hands, shoving him while he lay in bed - and now he became aware he was strapped in - and the shoving continued. Big hands with fingers and thumbs like little logs pushing his shoulder, pinching his elbows, pounding his hips and jabbing his rib cage, and the more he woke the harder they pushed and pinched and pounded and jabbed.
It soon became apparent to Heirens that he was being accused of more than break-ins. He listened to their questions and, under duress, he slowly realized they, the police, were blaming him for killing the Degnan girl. They were asking questions about her and asking why he loved to cut up little children. The more he protested, he said later, the more they beat him. Hour after hour, the grilling persevered until it heated red-hot. At one point, a patrolman slammed his fist so hard against his testicles, he nearly vomited.
Alleges Dolores Kennedy in William Heirens: His Day in Court, "One shift of policemen left and another took their place...'Aren't you sorry, Bill?' his tormentors continued. 'Tell us how you did it. You know how you did it and God knows you did it...Confess, Bill, and save yourself...We know you're guilty. You killed her, you sonofabitch. The game's over. You're guilty. Now tell us how you did it. Tell us, Bill.'"
Gruelling questions and threatening accusations drummed without let-up over and over and over the first few days he was in Bridewell. Whether it was day outside or night didn't matter to either the suspect nor the inquisitors. When fully conscious, Heirens found himself strapped spread-eagled onto his cot with each arm and leg tied down. A policeman whose name he thought was Hanrahan picked up where other interrogators had left off, asking the same questions, hurling the same accusations, but walloping harder physically than any of the others.
The small examining room where he lay was, at any given time, packed with scowling men in uniforms blue, silent eyeballs sunken in umbrage under detective Stetsons, inquisitive brows that spoke strange lingo like doctors would speak.
Two psychiatrists who introduced themselves to Heirens as Doctors Haines and Grinker told him that they were going to put him to sleep. On the table over his bed they placed two vials, one containing an amber liquid, the other a white powder. The police around Heirens' cot stepped back and, like Heirens, watched silently as Dr. Haines mixed the two solutions together, then watched in equal awe as Dr. Grinker loaded the needle.
Curt, Heirens replied, "Leave me alone. I can go to sleep on my own."
The doctors, both, only smiled unaffected, and resumed their business with the nonchalance of a family physician taking a patient's temperature. They pricked the boy's right bicep with the needle and asked him to count backwards starting with 100. Kind of like the old song, "One-Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall," Heirens thought, and smirked to himself. They watched him smirk until he, at number 94, drifted off into the subconscious depths that only sodium pentothal (truth serum) could induce.
Now begins the first of many unanswered questions surrounding the weeks of interrogation and investigation of Bill Heirens, weeks that led to his ultimate confession as the slayer of Josephine Ross, Frances Brown and Suzanne Degnan. While it is not this story's purpose to defend or accuse the title subject, it will examine the central elements of the case as closely in a chronological order as possible. In doing so, keep in mind the verse of author Celia Green in The Decline and Fall of Science: "The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment."
The Truth Drug
According to authorities, Heirens, under the power of the serum, spoke of a strange alter-ego, a shadow named "George" who committed his crimes for him. The figure of which he spoke was reflective of Robert Louis Stevenson's character, Edward Hyde, who haunted the illimitable Dr. Henry Jekyll. George, according to those who were present at the interview, slipped in and out of Heirens' life uncontrollably, a hoodoo relentless and deadly and void of conscience. In short, Heirens showed strong indications of being schizophrenic, living two personalities within a flesh and blood shell called William Heirens.
Years later, Heirens told author Lucy Freeman, who wrote Before I Kill More..., that he woke up remembering very little of what he said under the eminence of the serum. Upholding his innocence, he nevertheless recalls one thing in particular: "After the use of the hypnotic drug I had the strange compulsion to take the blame for all the charges pressed against me. It must have been a post-hypnotic influence." And he attested, "In the beginning, it didn't have much effect, but later it overcame my own will and judgment of my innocence for these crimes."
When Heirens, under the drug, was asked George's last name, he supposedly told the examiners he wasn't quite sure, that it was "a murmuring name". According to Heirens, the police translated it to Murman and the press, afterwards, dramatized it to "Murder Man".
But, what happened in the examining room that day is debatable, even today. That there was a drug-induced interview there is no doubt, but the facts are unsettled - chiefly because the transcript of the interview taken - questions asked, answers given - has disappeared. In fact, it was never produced for public consumption. "There is no trace of it," says Dolores Kennedy.
Further complicating the issue is the confusion over who ordered it and why. Doctors claimed that the test was commissioned by State's Attorney Tuohy. Tuohy, after the interview, announced he had seen the transcript but that it was not ready to be released. Yet, he later denied any knowledge of the examination at all. Stranger still, the state's attorney stated he was not present at the interview - "or I would have liked to have asked him questions" - but witnesses have testified he was very much present at the event.
Of the drug sodium pentothal, experts claim that answers given under its effect could easily be "suggested" in advance by subtly, strategically formulated questions. A well-known psychiatrist inferred that the drug also digs into the layer of the subconscious in such a way as to surface pre-injected thoughts and re-fashion them as something valid: "Suppose for one or two days someone repeats to you that you are a monkey's uncle. 'Are you a monkey's uncle? Aren't you a monkey's uncle?' Then suppose you are given truth serum...You may very likely say, 'I am a monkey's uncle.'"
All of this is conjecture and cannot be defended nor argued, that is in reference to the Bill Heirens interview, since the transcript vanished thereafter. One revelation by Dr. Grinker did, however, emerge in 1952 when he admitted that, despite the allusions to an evil alter-ego, Heirens, during this interview, never did directly involve himself in any crime.
Immediately after Heirens' arrest, the police began to wonder if the boy they had in their custody, this boy who admittedly had been so adept at climbing in and out of high apartment windows to steal - and who, in all likelihood, might have butchered the Degnan youngster - had also killed Josephine Ross and Frances Brown.
He was being uncommunicative and, outside the ramblings of a "George Murman" fantasy character, had withstood their torrents of punches, kicks and taunts to leave them highly suspicious, yes, but still guessing.
Pressure was certainly put on the lab to find the one incontestable piece of evidence against Heirens: a fingerprint. And the police had at their disposal two sources from which to decipher a possible Heirens print.
One was the ransom note. (So far, fingerprint expert Sergeant Thomas Laffey, who had been comparing prints on the note to thousands of others on file, had come up - ahem! - shorthanded.
The other was the doorjamb from Frances Brown's apartment, where a "bloody smudge" was found.
While Heirens was still prone in the Bridewell hospital bed, the Chicago Police Department announced that a print made by a small left finger on the corner of the ransom document matched that of Bill Heirens'. Fingerprints are measured by "loop patterns," 65 percent of the public bearing the same pattern, and by so-many "points of comparison" between one's exclusive print mark and the print pattern found on an object. The loop pattern of Bill's fingerprints was of the most common pattern found (that of the majority of the populace), but in points of comparison, nine points matched the print on the note.
Heirens' supporters at that time, however, were quick to allude to the FBI Handbook, which stated that "twelve (not nine) identical points will suffice."
Nevertheless, the department believed it had its man and, with renewed glow, their eyes turned to the evidence left at Miss Brown's death scene. "On June 30, Captain Emmett Evans had told newspapers that Heirens had been cleared of suspicion in the Brown murder as the fingerprint left in the apartment was not his," Dolores Kennedy avers. "In addition, the night clerk, who had seen a man leaving the hotel shortly after the time of the murder, viewed Bill at Bridewell Hospital and announced, 'He is not the man.' Twelve days later, Chief of Detectives, Walter Storms, revealed to the press that the 'bloody, smudged' print on the door of the victim did, after all, belong to Bill." Chicagoans remembered the case well, the Navy WAV who was maimed and mutilated and upon whose walls had been written in red lipstick, "Catch me before I kill more..." At that point, Bill Heirens became the author of that message and from then on was known as "The Lipstick Killer," a hellish moniker he would carry into infamy.
With the alleged confirmation of his fingerprint at Miss Brown's place, Heirens was removed from his jail cell and put into solitary confinement where he was watched around the clock. His attitude was despondent and a confession seemed imminent. He may have been in higher spirits had he realized that doubt still lingered in the minds of many citizens, many professionals.
States Attorney Touhy felt that one more job was inevitable, therefore, to link Heirens to Brown's and Degnan's murders before moving on to the Ross killing. He needed to prove that the ransom note and the scarlet words on Brown's walls really were penned by Heirens.
To date, says Richard Lindberg in Return to the Scene of the Crime - Chicago, "Detective John Sullivan, a seasoned Chicago police investigator who was always willing to cooperate with the press, theorized that the killer (of Miss Brown) was a woman (because) 'It would be out of the ordinary for a man to pick up a piece of lipstick and write a message with it...Others believed a sleazy crime reporter scribbled the message on the wall for a cheap headline...(As well) Handwriting experts who later compared the ransom note allegedly written by Heirens to the family of the little girl with the curious lipstick message on the wall in Room 611 found no connection. This opinion was affirmed by Charles Wilson, head of the Chicago Police crime detection laboratory."
George W. Schwartz, a handwriting expert, was summoned. After comparing both samples of the killer's writing - note and wall - to term papers Heirens had written at the university, he declared, "The individual characteristics in the two writings do not compare in any respect."
Another professional opinion was sought. This time, Tuohy hired Herbert J. Walter, the fellow whose handwriting analysis had cornered the killer of the Charles A. Lindbergh baby twenty years earlier. For four weeks, Walter poured over available Heirens-authored school papers. Finally, he announced that not only was that University of Chicago student the scribe of the ransom note, but also had scrawled the lipstick bravado. Despite some attempts to "disguise" his natural hand, Heirens undoubtedly had authored both, he said.
"But, in early January, not long after the Degnan crime and long before Heirens appeared on the scene, a reporter from the Herald American newspaper asked Walter if he thought the ransom note and the lipstick message matched," says Kennedy. "Walter's response was that he doubted they were done by the same person; there were a 'few superficial similarities and a great many dissimilarities."
Lie Detector Test
On the fifth day in custody, a nurse and doctor lay Bill in a foetal position and ordered him to remain so until they were done with what they needed to do. What they planned was a spinal tap, drawing fluid from Heirens' spine. According to Kennedy, "This was done with no anaesthetic preparation, apparently to rule out any possibility of brain damage," but for the patient the pain was excruciating.
Normally after this procedure, a patient is left on his or her back for several hours, giving the pressure in the spine time to equalize. But, after 15 minutes, Heirens was yanked from his bed, strapped into a chair and dropped into an awaiting patrol wagon. Says Heirens, "The ride to the detective bureau was pure hell as the police van travelled a street with a streetcar line on it. The tracks were lined with cobblestones and each jolt to my body set off a new wave of pain."
At the bureau, officials carted him into a small den where they told him to take a lie detector test. Heirens was in such physical agony that the test was rescheduled for four days later, at which time it was administered. Test results were, said State's Attorney Tuohy, "inconclusive". In 1953, John E. Reid and Fred E. Inbau, inventors of the instruments that measured Heirens' responses, published test findings in the textbook, Lie Detection and Criminal Interrogation. According to them, the test was not inconclusive: "Murderer William Heirens was questioned about the killing and dismemberment of six-year old Suzanne Degnan...On the basis of the conventional testing theory his response on the card test clearly establishes (him) as an innocent person."
"Why did the powers-that-be hide these findings?" asks Kennedy. "Obviously, if released, they would have put a strong doubt on the guilt of Bill Heirens and would have made mincemeat of the confession that State's Attorney Touhy was hoping to get."
The Return of George
Before the lie detector test, but not long after the truth serum fiasco, Bill Heirens asked to see Captain Michael Ahern, one of the few policemen who had showed him some kindness. He told Ahern that he had more to say about his alter-ego, George. Ahern sent for the state's attorney, Touhy, and a stenographer, in front of whom Heirens admitted a kinship to his shady other half.
He admitted that there was a George he talked to, who did things for him, who may have been responsible for the crimes that were being tacked to Bill Heirens. It was George who stole those guns, who may have crawled into Suzanne Degnan's window, and who may have killed those other women.
Tuohy remained skeptical and wondered if it were perhaps Heirens' attempt for an insanity plea. However, word of George (with the "murmuring" last name) leaked out and the public press made the most of whatever information they had. It was journalistic melodrama in high prose, and the memories of Suzanne Degnan's terrible death re-arose to terrify a reading public all over again. The Jekyll-Hyde concept made good headlines and columnists chewed into it with the fervor of a baseball pitcher with a wad of snuff. One newspaper ran two photos of Murder Man Heirens top-to-bottom, one taken as he looked before his arrest - hair combed, placid expression ---and the other as he appeared during his ordeal - hair a mess, mouth askew - and encased them in a box tomb stoned DUAL PERSONALITY.
In an interview conducted over the phone with Dolores Kennedy, part of which was to clarify Heirens' reasons for suddenly resurrecting the George fallacy, Ms. Kennedy answered, "Bill was tired, he saw the cards stacked against him, he was in pain, and he wanted rest. He didn't want to confess to the charges of murder because he knew he was innocent, but he thought if he could mislead the police he might, perhaps, buy a little time. In short, he hoped to make them all go away."
More Clues, More Inquiries
"The way to procure insults is to submit to them."
- William Hazlitt
In less than a week, the state's attorney's office had built up an almost impenetrable case against Bill Heirens. With the evidence mounting against him, the accused was refused permission to speak to his lawyers until six days after his arrest. He didn't know much about lawyers, and of his counsel he knew only their names. There were three: the two Coghlan brothers, John and Malachy, a pair of the smartest criminal lawyers in Chicago, and Rowland Towle, a whiz in civil law. On July 1, they petitioned to have Heirens, who was looking quite the worse for wear, released from the custody of the Chicago Police and transferred to the sheriff's office.
The lawyers met with him the next day, also, to represent him at his arraignment, where he was charged with a large number of burglaries and the murders of Josephine Ross, Frances Brown and Suzanne Degnan. Bail was set at $270,000, and the Coghlans saw that he was safely transported from the city's police headquarters downtown to the county jail under the wardenship of Frank Sain. After signing in at his destination, he collapsed from fatigue at the admissions desk. He was hospitalized for ten days.
That Bill had grown despondent and was falling deeper into a chasm of depression is no understatement. The cards, he knew, were stacked fully against him, he the joker against an ace in the hole. Police had raided his room at Gates Hall, the University of Chicago, and located certain incriminating items.
One of these was the surgical kit that Heirens had planned to use to scratch off the serial numbers from the stolen War Bonds. Had this, they wondered, been used to cut up Suzanne Degnan? Lab tests immediately ruled out the instruments as ever having been used on any human being, but the newspapers had gotten hold of the discovery and were having a field day. Headlines such as DISSECTING KIT FOUND! blackened the front pages.
Worse for Heirens, the police uncovered a scrapbook on Nazi soldiers and a copy of a book on sexual deviation entitled Psychopathia Sexualis. Both items, Heirens claimed, were things he had picked up in North Side apartments during robberies; he thought they looked interesting and took them, nothing more. The police even agreed that the Nazi book was circumstantial - that many boys might find photographs of the fighting German Luftwaffe and Panzers interesting; after all, Heirens, as he said, was studying German in college and studying a foreign language often meant better understanding the culture of the people who spoke it.
But, the other article, the sex book, they found less comprehensible. Psychopathia Sexualis, written by social crimes historian Richard von Krafft-Ebbing, is a history of dark fetishisms and sexual oddities; it includes tales of famous dismemberments and other sadomasochistic crimes. If the press went wild with the revelation of the surgical kit, it absolutely flipped all which ways over the presence of that particular book. Heirens metamorphosized as Mr. Hyde at his most devious, full of lasciviousness and larceny.
During the phone interview conducted in preparation for this article, activist Dolores Kennedy defends Heirens' having that book in this way: "It was a lark, something that college boys would have gotten a kick out of, much as teenagers pass around a Playboy today. I've seen the book, there are pictures in it that, I imagine, would titillate a young man's fancy. But, there are no instructions on how to dismember young girls or kill available bachelorettes! Everyone at that time seems to have turned it into some kind of an instructional how-to-murder thing."
Still, in light of the what happened to Suzanne Degnan, Psychopathia Sexualis was the worst possible keepsake for anyone accused of her death to have had in his possession.
Simultaneously to the raid on his dorm room, lawmen also converged at the Heirens parental home in Lincolnwood. They rounded up drawers- and closets-full of Heirens' clothing and trinkets. According to Margaret Heirens, the suspect's mother, "Policemen...asked me which items belonged to Bill, and they took everything of his. They also took the hunting guns which belonged to George (her husband) and the boys...The next place I saw our belongings was at the assistant state's attorney's office shortly before I was taken to see Bill. Two officers were inventorying the articles...There was a small instrument case, about four inches long, containing scissors, tweezers and scalpels. Later on these instruments were suspected as being the ones used in the Degnan murder. This notion was ridiculous because the tools were so small and delicate that a person would not have been able to dissect a chicken with them. Bill used them in his study of insects and in mounting various species of butterflies that he collected."
The prosecution team worked overnight to find victims' hairs or bloodstains on Heirens' clothing, but could detect nothing. States Attorney Tuohy understood that so far even the macabre sex book was circumstantial evidence; he needed more to convince the public of the boy's guilt.
"The state admittedly needed an eyewitness - (for instance) someone who had seen Bill in the vicinity of the Degnan home at the time of the killing," explains Kennedy. They found that persona in 25-year-old George E. Subgrunski, a soldier on furlough.
Subgrunski, the day after the Degnan tragedy, had testified he had seen a man carrying a shopping bag and moving toward the Degnan home at 1.00 a.m. on the crucial night; the figure he saw was, according to his statement, "about five feet, nine inches tall, weighing about 170 pounds, about 35 years old, and dressed in a light-colored fedora and a dark overcoat". Because the street was dark, he could not accurately give testament to the man's facial features.
When shown a photo of Bill Heirens on July 11, Subgrunski, said the Chicago Daily News, "was unable to identify the man as Heirens." But, reports Kennedy, only five days later at a criminal hearing, "Subgrunski pointed a finger at Bill and said, 'That's the man I saw!" the testimony and evidence continued to pile up, Heirens knew the end was near. He knew that the state's attorney office and the police already had condemned him and were expecting a confession; and the five metropolitan newspapers were literally at war scrambling over each other for the first to run the confession story when it came.
Of his treatment by the police and public media during his case, Heirens later told author Lucy Freeman, "They had a boy without any rights to stop them from painting just what they pleased...The police and prosecution made statements that they were convinced of my guilt - something the law doesn't even allow them to do in court...I didn't have the money to hire my own fingerprint expert to make an independent examination...Anyway, it didn't make any difference to the newspapers. They printed everything the prosecutor told them and when the prosecutor ran out of words the press fabricated their own."
The Chicago Herald-American had, like its four newsy competitors, prematurely decided Bill Heirens was guilty and hired popular female mystery writer/researcher Craig Rice to produce a series of analytical articles about the murders. For a week, night and day, she poured over records, interviewed the principles (including State's Attorney Tuohy and Heirens himself) and then, to the chagrin of the newspaper that hired her, responded: "Let's think about Billy Heirens. I've seen him. I've talked to him (and) I believe him innocent." Her subsequent articles questioned the fingerprints and other major strong-points of the state's case; according to Time magazine's city editor, Harry Reutlinger, "She's working like a sonofabitch to prove his innocence."
Inferring the prosecution's strong-arm tactics, Rice wrote, "I could sit down in any newspaper office in the nation right now, get a box of clippings from the reference room, and write a convincing confession story about Bill Heirens which would include (his taking part in) the St. Valentine's Day Massacre..."
But, Rice's voice was a cry in the wilderness.
Within days, Bill Heirens, on the advice of his lawyers, would accept a plea bargain offered by the office of the state's attorney. The police, he felt had found him guilty; the newspapers advertised his guilt and hammered it home with a fiery eloquence. He would confess to the three murders to avoid the electric chair.
"I had to be guilty to live," says he.
"There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times." - Voltaire
On Sunday, July 14, William Tuohy and his assistant, Wilbert Crowley, met with Heirens' lawyers, the Coghlan brothers, behind closed doors. The purpose was to discuss the elements of the plea bargain. In essence, it offered one life-sentence imprisonment for Bill Heirens if he confessed to slaying Josephine Ross, Frances Brown and Suzanne Degnan. If all parties agreed, it would eliminate the need for a messy trial and save the state having to condemn to death a boy not yet 18 years old. Crowley assured the defense team that, even if the state failed to nail him in court for the murders, his burglary convictions together would mean life imprisonment.
Four hours after the lawyers disappeared inside Tuohy's office, they emerged, all smiling, a stark indication that an agreement had been solidified.
Despite pleadings from the anxious press, no details were divulged. However, in the wake, an unbelievably unethical event occurred. Chicago Tribune reporter George Wright, a professional who should have known better, created a fictional confession of the suspect. The following day, the Tribune ran it as if it were fact. They had won the race for the biggest scoop of the year.
The other newspapers had no choice but to growl at their own ineptitude and reprint the story, every detail.
"This is the story of how William George Heirens, 17, kidnapped, strangled and then dismembered Suzanne Degnan, 6, last Jan. 7, and distributed the parts of her body in sewer openings near her home," began the charade. "It is the story of how William George Heirens climbed into the apartment of Miss Frances Brown...and shot and stabbed her to death, and left a message on the wall with lipstick imploring the police to catch him...And it is the story of how William George Heirens entered the apartment of Mrs. Josephine Ross...and how he stabbed her to death when she awoke."
Heirens heard a radio report from his cell that Monday evening and alarmed. "I didn't confess to anybody, honestly!" he told Warren Sain. "My God, what are they going to pin on me next?"
His attorneys did not know where the information came from; some of it was already printed conjecture and speculation, but certain portions of the Tribune's "confession" were novel, quite fabricated.
Nevertheless, Heirens decided to confess to a crime, as he kept insisting, he never committed. His lawyers, he felt, proved weak and encumbered by a weighty public pressure that would vilify them if they tried too hard to defend an unforgivable Mr. Hyde. They had conducted no independent investigation, but, rather, accepted the evidence at hand. The electric chair was a real ghost and the best thing right now, he figured, was to shrink its presence that loomed in the shadows of his jail cell. With the assistance of his counsel, then, Heirens prepared a confession; absurdly, the Tribune article, in all its fakery, had become over the last couple of days such a believed narrative that the confession, Heirens felt, needed to parallel it.
In short, if Heirens is to be believed, he fabricated upon fabrication a chronology of events, times, places, dates, intentions and even a modus operandi for each of the three murders. "As it turned out, the Tribune article was very helpful, as it provided me with a lot of details I didn't know," he says. "My attorneys rarely changed anything outright, but I could tell by their faces if I had made a mistake. Or they would say, 'Now, Bill, is that really the way it happened?' Then I would change my story because, obviously, it went against what was known (in the Tribune)."
A date was set, July 30, for his official confession before the state's attorney. All of official Chicago turned out, and reporters steadied their pencils over tablet, cameramen posed with their Kodaks. But, Heirens, seated before William Tuohy, suddenly changed his mind and answered "I don't know" or "I don't remember" to every question put forth. Tuohy, as the rest of the city, was shocked.
Onlookers believed that Heirens' sudden change of heart was due the fact that he felt angered and intimidated by the media circus that confronted him inside Tuohy's office, that he had expected a private, not a social, event. But, according to Heirens, this was untrue.
"It was Tuohy himself," Heirens exclaims. "After assembling all the officials, including attorneys and policemen, he began a preamble about how long everyone had waited to get a confession from me, but, at last, the truth was going to be told. He kept emphasizing the word 'truth' and I asked him if he really wanted the truth. He assured me that he did...Now Tuohy made a big deal about hearing the truth - now, when I was being forced to lie to save myself. It made me angry...so I told them the truth, and everyone got very upset."
Embarrassed by the aborted confession, Tuohy changed the premise of his plea bargain from one life term to three life terms. Heirens' attorneys, livid at their client's display of silence, an act on which they hadn't been pre-consulted, warned him to reconsider. They reminded him, frankly, of the electric chair and that the probability of his being strapped into it at road's end was coldly, calculatingly real. Tuohy would not wait and was not open to bartering, they stressed, and because of his behavior at the hearing there was no way now that he could hope for a fair trial. Heirens, cooled down, opted for the one way out of the death chamber.
On August 7, says Lucy Freeman in Before I Kill More..., Bill Heirens "fully admitted his guilt. He told in detail how he had committed the Degnan slaying. He described how, after he threw the ransom note into the Degnan window, he tossed the knife with which he dismembered the body onto the elevated tracks near the Degnan home, burned his bloodstained topcoat, ate doughnuts and coffee in a nearby restaurant, took the EL back to the university and studied before he went to class at 8 a.m. As to the Brown and Ross murders, he described how he entered each apartment, killed each woman."
Sentencing was slated for September 4. Chief Justice Harold G. Ward presided. In attendance were the main-players of the drama from the legal and law enforcement circles, as well as many of the people whose names had been front-page news throughout; these latter included Mr. & Mrs. Heirens ("dressed as though they were attending their son's funeral," wrote Dolores Kennedy); James Degnan, father of the murdered Suzanne; and Mary Jane Blanchard, Josephine Ross' daughter. Surprisingly, Blanchard remarked to the Herald-American that she thought Heirens was framed.
"I cannot believe that young Heirens murdered my mother. He just does not fit into the picture of my mother's death," she stated. "I have looked at all the things Heirens stole and there was nothing of my mother's things among them."
The session opened with a concentration on the burglary charges, and to each charge Heirens pleaded guilty. The courtroom rustled, but when the murder indictments were read a silence fell over it.
"The clerk read the Degnan indictment," pens Kennedy, "and Bill hesitated. His hands clenched, he moistened his lips with his tongue and glanced swiftly at John Coghlan, who nodded encouragement. Then, taking a deep breath, Bill plunged forward: 'Guilty.'...And then the Ross and Brown indictments and Bill's reply of 'guilty' to all charges.
"Judge Ward sighed deeply and observed: 'That, it seems, disposes of all the murder cases.'"
Because of the long afternoon - hearing witnesses, reading indictments, methodically collecting Heirens' replies to each indictment - sentencing was postponed until the following day, September 5. That night, Heirens tried to hang himself in his cell. He threw a bed sheet across an overhanging pipe, climbed atop a chair, slipped a noose around his neck, and jumped. The guards had been in the middle of shift change, but the quick reaction of some who spotted him dangling saved his life.
In 1955, Heirens recalled to journalist Lucy Freeman the frustration that drove him to attempting suicide. "Everyone believed I was guilty...If I weren't alive, I felt I could avoid being adjudged guilty by the law and thereby gain some victory. But I wasn't successful even at that.
"Before I walked into the courtroom my counsel told me to just enter a plea of guilty and keep my mouth shut afterward. I didn't even have a trial..."
The following day, the court pronounced Bill Heirens guilty of all charges. Even though his lawyers had told him privately that he could expect parole consideration in time to come, Heirens soon discovered that his chances to ever see the light of day again would turn out to be like an impossible dream.
That evening, while Heirens sat in his cell waiting to be escorted to Stateville Prison, Sheriff Michael Mulcahy who was in charge of the boy during his weeks at Cook County Jail, paid him a visit. His manner was almost beseeching. "You probably didn't realize this, Bill, but I'm a personal friend of Jim Degnan. He wants to know - did his daughter Suzanne suffer?"
Heirens' eyes caught those of the sheriff who had been one of the very few who had not treated him like a monster. "I can't tell you if she suffered, Sheriff Mulcahy. I didn't kill her. Tell Mr. Degnan to please look after his other daughter, because whoever killed Suzanne is still out there."
"The bell strikes one. We take no note of time but from its loss." - Edward Young
After Suzanne Degnan was killed and before Heirens entered the scene, the Chicago Police began to concentrate and hone in on one man: Richard Russell Thomas, a 42-year-old drifter living in Phoenix, Arizona, but who had lived in Chicago at the time of the crime. He was, when the police located him, in jail in Phoenix awaiting trial for molestation of his 13-year-old daughter. He had confessed to the Degnan murder and, in fact, it was the handwriting expert for the Phoenix Police Department who had notified Chicago authorities after finding great similarities between the ransom note (which was photographed and ran in all the daily papers at the time) and Thomas' handwriting.
"Thomas was a brutal man," notes author Dolores Kennedy, who believes he may have been the girl's real killer. "He beat his wife and sexually molested two of his three children. He had been arrested many times and had served time for kidnap and extortion...Many of the phrases (used in that extortion document) are similar to those on the ransom note."
This suspect lived on the South Side of Chicago, where he worked as a male nurse, but frequently visited an automobile agency on the North Side, a few blocks from the Degnan home. To his friends he had often boasted that he sometimes posed as a doctor and had stolen surgical supplies from a hospital. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Suzanne Degnan's arms were found in a sewer directly across the street from the car agency he frequented.
But, when Heirens was arrested and brought into Bridewell, investigating officers were called off the Thomas case, treating Thomas' confession as the ravings of a madman. Thomas served time for molestation, then faded into obscurity, eventually passing away in Tennessee in 1974.
ABC-TV's PrimeTime Live conducted its own investigation into the Heirens case in 1996. In a special broadcast entitled, "The Wrong Man?" host Sam Donaldson interviewed several people who are taking a new look at the evidence. Among these are David Grimes, FBI handwriting analyst. Grimes contends that he had studied the ransom note and the lipstick writing on the wall, letter by letter, and found no match. Based on what he has seen, Grimes reports, "(Heirens) did not write the writing on the wall and he did not write the ransom note."
At this time, as we enter a new century, Dolores Kennedy, author of Bill Heirens: His Day in Court, and Heirens' lawyer, Jed Stone, are petitioning Illinois Governor George Ryan for a clemency hearing in April. Their request is that the governor reviews updated findings on the handwriting, fingerprints and other elements of the case. Bill Heirens has been denied parole many, many times over the years. The incriminating evidence and testimony continue to haunt him, and state's representatives continue to speak strongly against releasing him to the outside world. Incarcerated for more than 53 years, he is now 70 years old. His disposition is not bitter - he has resigned himself to his fate - but continually hopes that someday he may be paroled or exonerated.
He continues to be a model prisoner. Since 1946, he has tried to improve himself, efforts that have not gone unrewarded by the penal system. He was made overseer of garment manufacturing at Stateville and, having taken numerous courses in television and radio repair, was given his own repair shop on the grounds of Stateville's honor farm.
On February 6, 1972, Heirens became the first inmate in Illinois to receive a college degree. Taking courses offered by visiting professors and through television courses via nearby Lewis College, he accumulated the required 197 credit hours to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Since then, he has assisted in the development of educational programs and helps other inmates pass their GED. Heirens, inmate number C-06103, was transferred to the minimum security Vienna (Illinois) Correctional Center in 1975, thence to Dixon (Illinois) Center, which has upgraded facilities for older inmates. There, he works in the business office.
* * * * *
Is Bill Heirens guilty? To use a perhaps-overused cliché, but in this instance so very true, God knows.
Or, perhaps in considering the situation we may want to turn to the lines from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass:
"There's the King's messenger. He's in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn't even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all."
"Suppose he never commits the crime?" said Alice.
"That would be all the better, wouldn't it?"