The "Lipstick Killer" Guilty or Innocent?
Longest Serving Inmate
William Heirens also known as the “Lipstick killer”, has been in prison since 1946. He is believed to be the longest serving inmate in the U.S. This November Heirens will be 82 years old. He has been in prison for 64 of his 82 years. He was only 18 years old back in 1946, and was accused of 3 killings that happened in his town of Chicago. Although he did confess to the 3 killings, he maintains now that he was coerced in the worst possible way back then in order for them to get a confession out of him.
At the age of 82, he has diabetes and is not doing very well as far as his health goes, but his friends maintain that he stays focused on the positives of his situation and still believes that one day he will be freed before he dies and that he will be vindicated, and his innocence will be proved.
Heirens, also known as inmate C06103 spends most of his days watching television and sits in his wheelchair. The longest serving inmate in Illinois State Prison history.
It was at the end of World War II that Heirens was put away, the accused serial killer was known to leave a message at the crime scenes with lipstick, therefore labeling him the “Lipstick Killer”, notorious for the nature of the crimes, these crimes are still fresh in the minds of the people of Chicago, especially the victim’s families.
Heirens has many supporters that say that he has served enough time in prison for his actions even if he was guilty, and because he has been a model prisoner for all these years, they maintain that he should be paroled already and that he has paid the price.
While his lawyer still works on his parole year after year there are many that still believe that Heirens is a manipulative killer that should never see the light of day. Apparently so does the correctional center in Illinois because his parole petitions keep getting denied year after year.
A Young Criminal
William George Heirens (born November 15, 1928) is at the Dixon Correctional Center minimum security prison in Dixon, Illinois. The movie, While a city sleeps, is a depiction of the events that unfolded that would label Heirens the “Lipstick Killer“.
Up until the convictions for the 3 murders, Heirens was never a model human being. He had been in trouble several times during his teen years for burglary and was sentenced to the St. Bede Academy that was run by monks, he would be there for 3 years. After his release, he continued to get caught for petty crimes, and burglary was his specialty. When he was 16, he was accepted to the University of Chicago and took up electrical engineering. During this time the murders happened.
Josephine Ross was found dead in her apartment on June 5,1945 at the age of 43. She was found clutching a handful of black hair. She had been stabbed repeatedly and the police found her severed head wrapped in a dress nearby. Nothing of value was taken from her apartment such as jewelry or money.
Several of her ex-boyfriends and her ex-husband’s had been questioned but they all had an alibi. The police were looking for a dark complexioned man who had been seen loitering around her building that night, but were unable to find him.
On December 20, 1945 Francis Brown was also found in her apartment stabbed to death. A cleaning woman heard loud music coming from Francis’s apartment and noticed her front door ajar when she found the gruesome killing. The police thought that maybe a burglary had been interrupted but again nothing of value had been taken. However, the killer left a message written in lipstick and the message read:
Sake catch me
Before I kill more
I cannot control myself
Police found a “bloody fingerprint” on the door and the front desk clerk said that he had heard a gunshot at about 4 am. He had seen a nervous man come out of the elevator shortly after, looking shaken up and nervous, the clerk said it was a man of about 30-40 years of age and he ran out the door in a hurry.
The third victim was Suzanne Degnan. She was 6 years old on January 7, 1946 when it was discovered that she was missing out of her bedroom. The police were called and they found a ransom note that demanded the family not go to the police or the FBI, the ransom note demanded $20,000, in 5’s and 10’s. On the back of the note the ransom note stated that they should burn the note for the girl’s protection.
A man called several times to the Degnan residence demanding the money, but was never kept on the phone long enough to get any real information from him. Police questioned the whole neighborhood but didn’t come up with any leads. Then there was an anonymous tip over the phone that suggested where to find the body of Suzanne. The caller told them to look in the nearby sewer and that is where they found the body of Suzanne, although she had been badly dismembered. It took a while to find her entire body as it had been thrown around in several places. They found legs and arms in different places and her head was found a month later in another sewer. Close to the severed head the police found a bloody basin in the basement of an apartment across the street where the head had been found and the police assumed this is where the victim had been killed. Police questioned and gave polygraph tests to 170 people but all of them were eventually cleared.
A Person of Interest
Then on the night of June 26, 1946 Heirens was arrested for burglary and his life would never be the same again. Heirens was beaten pretty badly when taken into custody and when he regained consciousness the police continued interrogating him pretty severe from his hospital bed. They punched and prodded him and told him to just confess and that they knew that he “did it”. At one point they punched him in the testicles so bad that he threw up. They burned him with ether as well.
Heirnens has stated that he was interrogated in this manner for 6 days and not allowed to call his parents or a lawyer. Two psychiatrist’s named Haines and Grinker, gave Heirens sodium pentothal, which is supposed to be the truth drug without consent from Heirens or his parents or even the counsel of a lawyer and without a warrant. While under the influence of the drug Heirens mentioned a man named George Murman and that he was the one that did the killings. But Heirens claims not to remember anything about what he said under the influence. Most of what he said was in dispute and ironically all the information from that interrogation has since disappeared.
Heirens was also given a lumbar puncture without anesthesia and was in too much pain to undergo a polygraph test, and it was found inconclusive because of the condition that he was in.
The police found the information about Heiren’s supposedly alter ego George Murman interesting but was ultimately dismissed because they felt that Heirens was just trying to lay a foundation for the insanity plea, so they did not give the story too much credence.
However, the police did find the most damaging bit of information at one of the crime scenes and that was a bloody fingerprint that was left on one of the victim’s door. This was very damaging to Heirens, although many of his supporters believe that the fingerprint looked too much like a rolled fingerprint, such as when the police take someone into custody and that the fingerprint was planted.
With the evidence that they had against Heirens, his lawyer felt that Heirens should take a plea bargain for the 3 killings to avoid the death penalty, and this is exactly what he did. He did it against his better judgment, stating that he felt that he had already been tried and convicted before he even had a chance to defend himself in a trial. He took responsibility for the crimes on Aug 7, 1946 and the prosecution had him reenact the crime, although his supporters believe that everyone already knew so much about the case that anyone could have acted it out with information from the newspapers.
Heirens then and now
Heirens tried to commit suicide that night of his confession but it was a failed attempt. He stated that he was in total despair and said,
“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 Sept 5, Heirens was sentenced to three life sentences and was taken to the Statesville Prison, in Joliet, Illinois and would later recant his confession stating that he only confessed to save his life. He stayed in Joliet until 1988, then he was taken to the minimum security prison in Dixon, Illinois. Since his confession Heirens has had several supporters including one of the victim’s daughters, who has never believed that it was Heirens who killed her mother.
The Mystery Remains
Since 1950 the sodium pentothal has been used in several cases but the drug has been deemed unreliable because a person who lies well may be able to get around the questions while under the drug. Most of the evidence against Heirens has been proven to be inconclusive and several books have been written in detail of all the evidence used in the case, such as fingerprints, ransom notes, polygraph test and the sodium pentothal.
There has been several attempts to clear the name of Heirens but none of his parole attempts has seen the light of day and he continues to sit in prison, suffering from diabetes. His lawyer has attempted many times at clemency citing doubts about Heirens guilt and that he is a model prisoner who has received his bachelors degree and has helped several inmates receive their GED, but have fallen on deaf ears. There are many who still believe in his innocence. But unfortunately the parole board of Illinois does not and at his last parole hearing, board member Thomas Johnson told Heirens, “God will forgive you, but the state won’t”!
In the state that Heirens is in physically, it is more than likely that he will die in prison after over 60 years incarcerated.
I think that there is a good chance that Heirens is indeed the “Lipstick Killer“, but the way in which his confession was coerced was just not right. A person at such a young age of 18, certainly would’ve been scared and would have been intimidated enough to confess to something that they didn’t do, especially if there was abuse in getting that confession, surely it isn’t so far fetched an idea that the brutality of the interrogation could’ve resulted in a confession. If he would have had a trial then most of the evidence would have probably been cited as inadmissible and he might have been cleared of these crimes. But I guess the “Lipstick Killer”, at this point will always remain a mystery.
More info about William Heirens
- truTV.com: Not Reality. Actuality.
truTV is television's destination for real-life stories told from an exciting and dramatic first-person perspective and features high-stakes, action-packed original shows.
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