- Category : Passions-Criminal-Perpetrator-Homicide-serial
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 5/2 - Heretical / Hermit
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Dedication 2
- Birth Year: 1928
- Birthday: 15. November
- Birthplace: Springfield, USA - Illinois
- Category: Passions-Criminal-Perpetrator-Homicide-serial
- Profile: 5-2
- Type: Pure Manifesting Generator
- Inc.Cross: Dedication 2
- Definition: Single
- Variables: BLL-MRL
- 1020 Awakening
- 2343 Structuring
- 1034 Exploration
- 2034 Charisma
- 0952 Concentration
William George Heirens (November 15, 1928 – March 5, 2012) was a convicted American serial killer who confessed to three murders in 1946. Heirens was called the Lipstick Killer due to a notorious message scrawled in lipstick at a crime scene. At the time of his death, Heirens was reputedly the world's longest-serving prisoner, having spent 65 years in prison.
He spent the later years of his sentence at the Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Illinois (Inmate No. C-06103). Though he remained imprisoned until his death, Heirens had recanted his confession and claimed to be a victim of coercive interrogation and police brutality.
Charles Einstein wrote a novel called The Bloody Spur about Heirens. The novel was later adapted into the film While the City Sleeps by Fritz Lang.
On March 5, 2012, Heirens died at the UIC Medical Center.
Heirens grew up in Lincolnwood, a suburb of Chicago. His family was poor and his parents argued incessantly, leading Heirens to wander the streets to avoid listening to them. He took to crime and later claimed that he mostly stole for fun and to release tension. He never sold anything he had stolen.
At 13 years old, Heirens was arrested for carrying a loaded gun. A subsequent search of the Heirens's home discovered a number of stolen weapons hidden in an unused storage shed on the roof of a nearby building along with furs, suits, cameras, radios and jewelry he had stolen. Heirens admitted to 11 burglaries and was sent to the Gibault School for wayward boys for several months.
Not long after his release, Heirens was again arrested for burglary. This time, he was sentenced to three years at the St. Bede Academy, operated by Benedictine Monks. During his time at the school, Heirens stood out as an exceptional student, and his test scores were so high he was urged to apply for the University of Chicago's special learning program. He was accepted into the program just before his release and asked to begin classes in the 1945 fall term, allowing him to bypass high school. He was 16 years old.
Heirens returned home to live and commuted to the university, but this was impractical, and he eventually boarded at the university's Gates Hall. His parents were unable to afford either the tuition or boarding, so Heirens worked several evenings a week as an usher and at the university as a docent to pay his way. However, he also resumed his serial burglary, even as he studied at the University of Chicago.
University of Chicago graduate Riva Berkovitz (PhD 1948) reports that Heirens was quite popular in the ballroom dancing class that they had together:
"I remember the most popular boy in my class, who was handsome, smart and a good dancer. We all wanted to dance with him - the foxtrot, tango or a waltz. It didn't really matter."
On June 5, 1945, 43-year-old Josephine Ross was found dead in her apartment at 4108 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago. 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-complected man who was reported loitering at the apartment or running from the scene, but were unable to identify or locate him.
On December 10, 1945, Frances Brown, a divorced woman, was discovered with a knife lodged in her neck and bullet wound to the head in her apartment at 3941 North Pine Grove, Chicago, after a cleaning woman heard a radio playing loudly and noted Brown's partly open door. Brown had been savagely stabbed, and authorities thought that a burglar had been discovered or interrupted. No valuables were taken, but someone had written a message in lipstick on the wall of Brown's apartment:
sake catch me
before I kill more
I cannot control myself.
Police found a bloody fingerprint smudge on the doorjamb of the entrance door. Also, there was a possible eyewitness to the killer's escape. An "eye-witness", George Weinberg, heard gunshots at about 4 am. 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 got off the elevator, fumbled for the door to the street and left.
Four days after the murder the Chicago Police announced they had reason to believe the killer was a woman.
On January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her first floor bedroom at 5943 North Kenmore Avenue, Edgewater, Chicago. After searching the apartment and not finding the girl, her family called the police.
Her disappearance 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:
GeI $20,000 Reddy & wAITe foR WoRd. do NoT NoTify FBI oR Police. Bills IN 5's & 10's .
On the reverse of the note was written,
BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY .
A man repeatedly called the Degnan residence demanding the ransom, but hung up before any meaningful conversation could take place.
Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly also received a note:
This is to tell you how sorry I am not to not get ole Degnan instead of his girl. Roosevelt and the OPA made their own laws. Why shouldn't I and a lot more?
At the time there was a nationwide meatpackers strike and the OPA was talking of extending rationing to dairy products. Degnan was a senior OPA executive recently transferred to Chicago. Another executive of the OPA had recently been assigned armed guards after receiving threats against his children, and in Chicago, a man involved with black market meat had recently been murdered by decapitation. Police considered the possibility the Degnan killer was a meat packer.
Police questioned the Degnan family's neighbors, but few had seen anything unusual. Someone later 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 storm drain sewer that was in an alley a block from the Degnan residence. In the same alley, they discovered the girl's right leg in a catch basin, her torso in another storm drain and her left leg in a drain in another alley, each location progressively further from her home. Her arms were found a month later in a sewer on the other side of the Red Line railway more than three blocks from the Degnan residence. All the drains were capped with circular cast-iron manhole covers, yet no one had heard them lifted or replaced. Searches of an apartment building near where her head was found uncovered a basement laundry room with four tubs that contained evidence indicating she had been dismembered there. The killer had mopped the floor, but blood was found in the drains of all four tubs. The press called it the "Murder Room" although the autopsy showed that she had been alive when taken from her home, murdered at a second location that was never identified, and then taken to the laundry room.
Police questioned hundreds of people regarding the Degnan murder, and gave polygraph exams to about 170. On several occasions, authorities claimed to have captured the killer, but the suspects were eventually released.
Coroner Brodie fixed the time of death at between 12:30 and 1:00 am and stated that a very sharp knife had been used to expertly dismember the body. The site was later found to be in the basement laundry room at 5901 Winthrop Avenue, near the Degnans' home; however, it was determined that Suzanne was already dead when she was taken to the room. Dr. Kearns, the coroner's expert, stated that the killer was "either a man who worked in a profession that required the study of anatomy or one with a background in dissection...not even the average doctor could be as skillful, it had to be a meat cutter." Brodie concurred, adding that it was a "very clean job with absolutely no signs of hacking."
Several residents of the Degnans' apartment building stated that on the afternoon before the murder, a woman dressed in a man's coat had chased the children after offering them candy. One child was scratched on the face by the woman's long fingernails.
Ethel Hargrove, who lived in an apartment above the Degnans, arrived home at 12:50 am. She reported hearing loud male voices downstairs and dogs barking in the Flynn apartment. Another tenant corroborated the barking at that time.
George Subgrunski went to the police shortly after the murder and reported seeing a man walking to the Degnan home carrying a bag at 1:00 am. He described the man as around 5 ft 9 in tall, 170 lbs and 35 years of age and wearing a light-colored fedora and dark coat. His evidence was found to be inconsistent and was dismissed by several investigators.
Robert Reisner, a cab driver, saw a woman carrying a bundle under each arm near the alley behind the Degnan home at 1:30 am. She got into a car driven by a gray-haired man.
Missy Crawford, who lived across the road, reported seeing a car containing a man and a woman repeatedly drive up and down the street at 2:30 am.
Marion Klein and Jake DeRosa, looking out her apartment window at 3:00 am, saw a man wearing a gray hat and tan coat trying to enter the basement laundry room where Suzanne was dismembered. He ran away after apparently being disturbed.
Freida Meyer, who lived above the laundry room, saw a man enter the laundry room at 3:40 am, stay 10–15 minutes, and then leave via the alley. He returned to the laundry room 15 minutes later, staying for several minutes before returning to the alley. He returned a third time 15 minutes later but only stayed a moment.
Hector Verburgh arrest
Notably, 65-year-old Hector Verburgh, a janitor in the building where Degnan lived, was arrested and touted as the suspect. Police 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. Police cited such evidence as Verburgh frequenting the so-called "Murder Room", and the grimy state of the ransom note suggested it was written by a dirty hand such as that of a janitor. The police tried to pressure Verbaugh's wife to implicate her husband in the murder.
Police held Verburgh for 48 hours of questionings and beatings that severely injured him, including a separated shoulder. Throughout, Verburgh denied involvement in the murder. Verburgh's Janitor Union lawyer got Verburgh released on a writ of habeas corpus. Verburgh said of the experience:
Oh, they hanged me up, they blindfolded me ... 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.
Verburgh 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 $15,000 but was awarded $20,000, which is approximately $222,000 in 2010 dollars. Five thousand dollars ($55,000 in 2010 dollars) of the $20,000 awarded to Verburgh was awarded to his wife.
Sidney Sherman investigation
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 have been used as a garrote to strangle Suzanne Degnan. Near that was a handkerchief the police suspected might have 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 erred in leaving it behind. They searched military records and discovered that a Sidney Sherman lived 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.
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 have 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 persons of interest 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 Costello, 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 a 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 tests 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 1946, Suzanne Degnan's arms were found by sewer workers about a half mile from her home after her remains had already been 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 Degnan investigation.
Richard Russell Thomas was a nurse living in Phoenix, Arizona, having moved from Chicago. At the time of the Chicago investigation, he was imprisoned in Phoenix for molesting one of his own daughters but he was in Chicago at the time of the Degnan murder. A handwriting expert for the Phoenix Police Department first informed Chicago authorities of the "great similarities" between Thomas's handwriting and that of the Degnan ransom note, noting that many of the phrases Thomas had used in an extortion note were similar and his medical training as a nurse matched the profile suggested by police. Although Thomas lived on the south side, he frequented a car yard directly across the street from where Suzanne Degnan's arms were found. During questioning by Chicago police, he freely admitted killing Suzanne Degnan. However, 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, 17-year-old William Heirens was arrested on attempted burglary charges when someone saw him breaking into an apartment. As Heirens 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 lie low, but a resident spotted him and called the police. As Heirens attempted to escape down a staircase two officers closed in, one at each end of the staircase. 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's 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 three clay flowerpots on Heirens's head, one at a time, from the top of the stairs, rendering him unconscious.
According to Heirens, he remembered drifting into unconsciousness under questioning. The police had taken him to Bridewell Hospital, which was adjacent to the Cook County Jail. The questioning became more violent.
Heirens later said he was interrogated around the clock for six consecutive days, being beaten 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 pentothal without a warrant and without Heirens's or his parents' consent, and interrogated him for three hours. Under the influence of the drug, authorities claimed, Heirens spoke of an alternate personality named "George", who had actually committed the murders. Heirens claimed that he recalled little of the drug-induced interrogation and that when police asked for "George's" last name he said he couldn't remember, but that it was "a murmuring name". Police translated this to "Murman" and the media would later dramatize it to "Murder Man". What Heirens actually said is in dispute, as the original transcript has disappeared. In 1952, Dr Grinker revealed that Heirens had never implicated himself in any of the killings.
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 it was rescheduled for several days later after they found him to be in too much pain to cooperate.
When the polygraph was administered, authorities, including State's Attorney William Tuohy, 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 pentothal questioning but before the polygraph exam, Heirens spoke to Captain Michael Ahern. With State's Attorney William Tuohy and a stenographer at hand, Heirens offered an indirect confession, confirming his claim while under sodium pentothal that his alter-ego "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.
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, and "killed like a cobra" when cornered. "George" related 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. Psychologists explained at the time that, in the same way children make up imaginary friends, Heirens made up this personality to keep his antisocial feelings and actions 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 definitively link Heirens's 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" on the doorjamb. Further, a fingerprint of the left little finger also allegedly connected Heirens to the ransom note with nine points of comparison. As Heirens's nine points of comparison were loops, this could also provide a match to 65% of the population. At the time Heirens's supporters pointed out the FBI handbook regarding fingerprint identification required 12 points of comparison matching to have a positive identification.
On June 30, 1946, 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. Twelve days later, Chief of Detectives Walter Storms confirmed that the "bloody smudge" left on the doorjamb was Heirens'.