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The "Lipstick Killer" Guilty or Innocent?

Updated on August 11, 2013
William Heirens
William Heirens

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.

William Heirens and his younger brother
William Heirens and his younger brother
A young Heirens in custody
A young Heirens in custody

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
Josephine Ross

The Victims

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.

Francis Brown
Francis Brown

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:

For heavens

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.

Suzanne Degnan
Suzanne Degnan

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.


Submit a Comment

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Texas

    susanjk yes I think that the police messed up a lot of evidence that probably could have been dna tested. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers.

  • SUSANJK profile image


    6 years ago from Florida

    I guess this many years later, there is not DNA to test.

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    GPAGE great to see you again, thanks for reading. I agree that mysteries like this are so intriguing arent they? Thanks again, cheers.

  • GPAGE profile image


    8 years ago from California

    Ladyjane.....this is really interesting. I am intrigued by this sort of thing...."innocent or guilty?" We will never really know about some.....I always enjoy your writing! Great job! You are one cool lady!!!!! G

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Morgan thanks again for reading. I agree with you that so many years in prison could make anyone go nuts. This was a strange story indeed and the interrogation was terrible but this sort of thing happens all the time unfortunately. Thanks again cheers.

  • Morgan F profile image

    Morgan F 

    8 years ago from USA

    Great Hub Ladyjane. I had never heard this story before now. I have no idea whether or not he was really guilty but I agree that the method by which he was interrogated was awful and could lead to a false confession for sure. I couldn't even imagine spending your whole life in prison though, I would go insane!

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Duchess thanks for reading I agree that almost everyone in prison claims to be not guilty it just makes it harder for the people who are really innocent to be heard. I guess only Heirens knows if he is the lipstick killer or not and more than likely he will take it to his grave but whether guilty or innocent everyone should get a fair trial and it looks like the cops really did botch this one up. Thanks again cheers.

  • profile image

    Duchess OBlunt 

    8 years ago

    Very interesting Hub ladyjane1. Well written and very detailed. I always find it interesting too, that no one is ever guilty. On the other hand, the cops handled this one badly. And the evidence disappeared? Convenient or more mishandling by the cops?

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Hello Degreek I think you commented on my Serial Killer Among Us hub but not on this one. Cheers.

  • De Greek profile image

    De Greek 

    8 years ago from UK

    What happened to my comment? :-))

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    hello kowality thanks for your comments and you are right most people in prison do claim to be innocent for sure but I guess what I have trouble with is the way in which some law enforcement get confessions out of people and sometimes they can take it too far just to get the pressure off of them and when they are dealing with someones life here they should be more careful. Thanks for reading. Cheers.

  • kowality profile image


    8 years ago from Everywhere

    Nice job. I have always found it interesting that in any prison population there is not a single 'guilty' person incarcerated (according to the person jailed they re always innocent). The crimes you mention are heinous and if he is, indeed guilty then as far as his personal discomfort goes - tough luck, buddy. Great hub!

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    vocalcoach thanks for reading my hub and im glad it took your mind off your troubles. Cheers.

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 

    8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

    Thanks for this hub. I enjoyed it very much. I was actually feeling a little "blue" and began reading your hub.Took my mind off of my own "stuff" and in no time I felt so much better. I owe it all to you. Thanks

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Thanks rose I appreciate your comments. Cheers.

  • rose56 profile image


    8 years ago

    Good job on your featured hubs and this one was very good.

    I also remember this story makes you wonder. I enjoy your hubs very much, so keep on writing MIss Ladyjane.

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Hey Nell good to see you. I agree with what you are saying but to me it seems like Heirens is one of those people who has fallen between the cracks and the state of Illinois basically doesn't really care about proving anything at this point in his life. And as someone mentioned in the comments, he probably would be better off being taken care of in prison because of his health. After so many years institutionalized he would be shell shocked in the outside world probably. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    8 years ago from England

    Hi, this was fascinating, I was going to mention the dna, but as you said, everything has disappeared, so that is not possible. Surely in this day and age, we can use computer polygraphs that pick up eye movement and sweat glands etc to find out if he really did it. it seems to me that by losing all the evidence then I believe that he is probably inoccent, but who knows? really interesting and kept me reading it and wanting more, rated up. cheers nell

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    mickydee I agree with you completely, thanks for reading cheers.

    outdoorsguy you are correct about the DNA testing but the fact is that so much evidence was tainted during the years that I don't believe that there is anything left that they can use to prove anything or they probably would have done that to free Heirens a long time ago. Thanks for coming back cheers.

  • outdoorsguy profile image


    8 years ago from Tenn

    DNA testing is a fairly recent method around for what twenty eight years now. maybe a tad longer. but several places have started going back thru old cases and where there's hair, blood, or other samples that can be tested, they apply the test.

    I know that in Dallas they have overturned convictions from as far back as thirty years due to Testing. Im all for that. but those people still spent years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.

    Sadly police departments and DA's still shoot for convictions using the " because I said so " rules. Police can point to cases being solved and DA's mainly because High conviction rates keep them in office. the old see Im doing my job well look how many I put behind bars.

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 

    8 years ago

    Too bad police, too often, get their confessions like this. Fact is- cops ruined the case. Those cops had no "validity".

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Hello saddlerider I tend to agree with you although like you say I don't like the way they got the confession, it wasn't only underhanded but it was also illegal. People need to know what their rights are so this doesn't happen but Im sure it does happen everyday as you mentioned. Thanks for reading, cheers.

  • saddlerider1 profile image


    8 years ago

    I would tend to agree with Mike Licktieg on this case. All this time in prison, he is better off remaining there to die. He alone has to live with his demons, no need to expose him to the public, he still may be a risk to someone outside if he is released.

    It reads to me like they got the right man. However they certainly used underhanded tactics to squeeze what they wanted out of him, a confession of guilt. Governments and police states know just how to do that, it happens every day.

    And there truly are a lot of innocent people behind bars, I hope he was not one of them. But like Mike says who will ever know? Cheers

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    breakfastpop good to see you and as far as dna testing, all of the evidence such as the hair found at the crimescene and the fingerprints, "mysteriously" dissappeared so there was nothing to test. Cheers.

    @Gojijuicegoodness good to see you again and I agree with you that his behavior in prison doesn't have anything to do with his guilt or innocent and apparently didn't work for his parole either as far as whether the killings stopped, it would be hard to tell because they never even connected the killings all to one person so they don't know if the same person did the killings or not and I found nothing to connect them to any other killings during that time this is why I say he should have gone through with a trial. A person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty but it didn't happen for Heiren and I personally think that he was a scapegoat like so many people before him when the police are stressed to find the killer. Thanks for reading cheers.

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Mike hello and thanks for your insightful answers. I tend to agree with you about him being better off in prison at this point in his life. From what I understand his parents and brother have all died so aside from distant relatives and friends I dont think he has many people on the outside, especially someone who would be willing to take him in. Thanks for reading. cheers.

  • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image


    8 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

    Was this before the days of DNA testing or did they do that in the 40's?

  • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image


    8 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

    I would tend to think they got the right guy, but this was all before my time, so who knows?

    And his behavior in jail now has nothing to do with is "he guilty or not?"

    Just out of curiosity, did the killing stop when they got this guy?

  • breakfastpop profile image


    8 years ago

    Interesting hub. What about DNA testing?

  • Mike Lickteig profile image

    Mike Lickteig 

    8 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

    It is easy to believe no one will ever know if this fellow is truly guilty of murder or not, but I would suggest that at this point in his life, freedom would be a mixed blessing. does he have family left alive who could care for him in his illness or support him? How would he survive on the outside, old, frail and penniless? Truth be told, he is probably better off, as odd as that sounds. Freedom is now an abstract goal for him, not a practical one.

    This was a very interesting hub, and unfortunately a sad testament to both the accused and his accusers.


  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Hello geegee thanks for reading, I know what you mean about people who may be innocent but rot in prison. This is why they should have never coerced this guy into taking a plea bargain and the reason that I believe plea bargains should never be given. He should have had his day in court and not been talked out of it. Thanks for the coments. Cheers.

  • geegee77 profile image


    8 years ago from The Lone Star State!!

    That was a great hub sis, A & E had a show about this guy awhile back, and I remembered wondering if maybe he wasn't the guy. Who knows it's pretty sad if he wasn't having to spend your whole life behind bars. It makes me wonder how many people die in prison and were innocent. Great hub, again. Love ge

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    sandyspider thanks for your input, great to see you. Cheers.

  • Sandyspider profile image

    Sandy Mertens 

    8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

    Interesting share on this fascinating case.

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    outdoorsguy thanks for reading. I pretty much agree with you about the confession and the torture. Unfortunately most of the evidence in all the cases were somehow mysteriously lost so no chance of dna freeing him. Great comments from you thanks. Cheers.

    @msorennson good to see you again. And what you mentioned is correct, that is the nature of the serial killer, they are psychotic and do not have a conscious and that is the most dangerous person there is. THanks for visiting. Cheers.

    @Wayne hey how goes it. Thanks for stopping by. As far as the murders stopping, I don't know if there was any evidence of them stopping because I don't think that they even proved that they were all related to each other so a trial would have been interesting and probably would have exonerated him because of the illegal interrogation, the polygraph, and the fingerprints. He should have never taken that plea bargain because he probably would have had a better chance but of course being 18 and a death penalty staring him in the face would have been enough to scare anyone. Thanks for commenting. Cheers.

    @Drbj thanks for reading, good to see you again. Because of the way everything was handled I think it was unfair to Heirens, although he was a petty criminal and he did have that cocky attitude, however with all the evidence conveniently disappearing I think that the police possibly had something to hide, who knows. Cheers.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    8 years ago from south Florida

    Interesting recap of the case, ladyjane. I have read about this case in the past and we will probably never know if Heirens was the lipstick killer or not.

    However, from all I know about the case, he did present the typical behavior of a sociopathic individual - one who does not recognize the rights of other people and believes whatever he (or she) does is permissible.

  • Wayne Brown profile image

    Wayne Brown 

    8 years ago from Texas

    I guess other dirty things happen in Chicago besides politics. The one thing that comes to light here is once he was removed from the street and imprisoned, the killings stopped (I assume). Assuming he was as sick as his desperate message initiatlly stated, I doubt that the killer could have stopped even if they had the wrong guy. So, on that basis, I would tend to say they probably did get the right one. Only he really knows. Good article! WB

  • msorensson profile image


    8 years ago

    In fact I was asking someone of this today. What of those people who do not feel guilty for hurting others?

    I do not know if he is guilty or not.

    I was just thinking that there must be something different about them, which allows them to detach from the pain of others.

    I do believe that everyone can be reformed, given sufficient time and education. Thank you for the hub.

  • outdoorsguy profile image


    8 years ago from Tenn

    great hub. Personally I dont know what to think, a confession extracted under torture isn't to be trusted and thats what it was torture. A fingerprint, is damning but doesn't prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt. especially when one considers the torture, the missing evidence and the claims that the print was planted.

    since there is a shadow of a doubt. Id say free the guy, or better yet.. test the hair samples from the first victim then attempt a DNA match with the Prisoner. if it doesn't match pardon the man, pay the family a few million for damages and wrongful conviction and torture. and establish an independent body to over see old case's and current cases to ensure real justice.

    they started doing that in Dallas a while back and found that DNA evidence from old cases showed a fifty percent wrongful conviction rate.

    again great hub I voted up.


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