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S05.E02: The Bad Old Days

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Chicago is gripped with terror after three bizarre and savage murders go unsolved; police officers and newspaper reporters are eager to deliver a suspect amidst the public furor.

Sat 02/17 10:00 PM - 11:00 PM 

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I'm really looking forward to this one, since I've always been of the opinion that Heirens was framed by the police. 

Coincidentally, I mentioned the Black Dahlia in the "what would you like to have covered" thread a week or so back.  There are theories that have connected these murders to the Dahlia (I think a case was made for George Hodel possibly being in Chicago at that time)  and I'm hoping they might bring that up in the course of the show.  Some of it is rather far fetched, but a few of the similarities are compelling.

Edited by Sile
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That was one hell of a story. I'm glad that lady pointed out the inconsistency in the murders, 'cause that was the first thing that jumped out at me, too. The idea that the killer goes from murdering two adult women, wrapping their heads (and apparently cleaning one of them), and leaving them intact, to killing a little girl, cutting her up, and dumping her in a sewer? I mean, I know some criminals can change their M.O.s, but that would be one hell of a dramatic change, and in such a short time frame at that. The connection between the first two murders and the last one definitely was threadbare at best

And even if Heirens was guilty, that is truly some of the shittiest, most horrifyingly inept. police work and investigating I've ever heard. I shouldn't be surprised by the torture he suffered, because as noted, it was sadly very common (and unfortunately, we still hear occasional horror stories of that sort even now), but still. Pouring ether on his testicles to get him to talk is just... The mind boggles. 

Fascinating story. Disturbing in its portrayal of how easy it is to fuck this stuff up, but fascinating.

(Significantly lighter, deeply shallow aside: loved seeing all the reporters in their suits and hats, and the rolled up sleeves and whatnot. That's a really handsome look on a man.)

Edited by Annber03
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I have serious doubts about Heirens guilt. That poor man. As you said @Annber03 the torture they inflicted on him was horrific! Such shoddy police work. The murders did not seem connected just way, way different. Wow indeed. This one will stay with me for a long time!

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JUSTICE DENIED- William Heirens Dies in Prison While Serving 66th Year for Crimes HE DID NOT COMMIT



William Heirens, Prisoner C-06103 is dead at age 83-

A friend called me this morning to inform me of the sad news.

William Heirens, branded in 1946 by the Chicago Police and Press as “The Lipstick Killer” died two days ago, on March 5, 2012.

Bill was found unconscious and “non-responsive” in his prison cell and was rushed to a Chicago hospital where he later died.  An autopsy is pending, but will likely show his death was the result of complications arising from his long suffering diabetes.

There was NO TRIAL. No evidence was ever presented. No testimony was ever provided as to his guilt. Bill was simply convicted by the tabloid press, who printed a made-up confession based on “official sources” which was totally false.

His attorneys told the teenager that he had one of two choices: 1) Confess and save your life or 2) Plead “not guilty” and the court will execute you in less than a year.” Bill opted for #1- TO LIVE.

To those who say there were no similar crimes after his arrest. NOT SO. In my own book, MOST EVIL, I present a summary of the Heirens investigation and make a strong compelling case that additional crimes occurred both BEFORE and AFTER his arrest.

In fact the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office contacted and requested info and conducted a formal investigation of the Lipstick Murders, believing they were connected to the LA “bathtub murder” of Georgette Bauerdorf in 1944. There is also strong evidence connecting the crimes to the 1947 “Lipstick Murder” of LA Lone Woman Murder victim, Jeanne French.

Based on Dolores Kennedy’s investigation, along with attorney Steve Drizen’s and my own follow-up, the facts leave little doubt that Heirens was in truth innocent. Experts in examining the so called “fingerprint linkage” discovered that the lifts were “rolled prints” of the type found from a booking procedure. The expert in his report stated that he had “never in the thousands of print examinations he had conducted, seen or found such a rolled print at a crime scene.”

Incidentally, the arresting officer, Abner Cunningham and Sgt. Thomas Laffey, who discovered the fingerprint, split the sizeable reward money for Heirens arrest.

Heirens never gave up his belief that “one day, the truth would be known and he would establish his innocence.” Sadly, that day never came.

Rest in Peace Bill.

Steve Hodel, LAPD Hollywood Homicide (ret.)

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Thanks Druzy. It was really hard to watch. The torture. Also, not even staying to listen to the guy trying to confess was stupid and horrible police work. 

A true tragedy all the way around.One other thing, if there is a rush to judgement and an innocent is convicted, while it may calm people there is no justice for the dead and a crime was committed to solve it.

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I wonder if anyone who worked as defense for Heirens over the years tried to point out that the police also beat and tortured the one guy they interrogated before Heirens, the one whose hands were strung up and his shoulder injured in the process. That could've helped back up Heirens' statements about how he was tortured into a confession, and would be further proof that the police didn't do their job at all with any of the suspects they talked to. 

2 hours ago, applecrisp said:

Also, not even staying to listen to the guy trying to confess was stupid and horrible police work. 

Yes. Especially since he'd already committed some serious crimes and was clearly a danger as it was. I know they said he was a convicted felon-did he ever go back to jail for any of his other crimes at any point?


One other thing, if there is a rush to judgement and an innocent is convicted, while it may calm people there is no justice for the dead and a crime was committed to solve it.

Exactly. They haven't solved anything, they've just added more chaos, and the actual killer is still roaming free to boot. Good work, investigators!

Echoing the thanks for the article, @druzy. Hodel's sadness comes through loud and clear throughout. Makes you wonder how things would've been had those neighbors not seen Heirens climbing out that window all those years ago. 

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Heirens had been arrested 14 times by the age of eleven,  had a stash of stolen weapons and had fired on police by age 17?  He was already hellbent for life behind bars even without the murder charge, but there's plenty of reasonable doubt in this particular case.   Did his lawyer say why he was denied a new trial?

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3 hours ago, Annber03 said:

I wonder if anyone who worked as defense for Heirens over the years tried to point out that the police also beat and tortured the one guy they interrogated before Heirens,

Cops regularly beat suspects back then. It wouldn't have made any difference.

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LIke most of you I had never heard of this case before.  Very depressing. 


A warning - even more than the average Wikipedia entry, this one was clearly written by a lot of different people, so there are repetitions, contradictions, and many unclear statements.   But there is enough there that I can see that you could easily get a mini-series out of this case.   In fact I was startled to find out from this article that the 1956 Fritz Lang movie While The City Sleeps was based on this case.  I've seen this movie and I wouldn't have gotten that, even though it does involve a Lipstick Killer.  The plot of the film involves a newspaper magnate who promises control of his empire to the first of his three sons who solves the Lipstick Killer case - the advertising tagline by the way was "They'd sell out their own mothers!" - which suggests that there was a feeling even at the time that this poor guy had been convicted by the press and by police torture, not by evidence.

I thought this section on the Degnan murder was interesting:


On January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her first-floor bedroom in Edgewater, Chicago. Police found a ladder outside the girl's window, and a ransom note:

GeI $20,000 Reddy & wAITe foR WoRd. do NoT NoTify FBI oR Police. Bills IN 5's & 10's. BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY.[8]

A man repeatedly called the Degnan residence demanding the ransom, but hung up before any meaningful conversation could take place.[13]

Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly also received a note:

This is to tell you how sorry I am not to not get ole [sic] 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 Office of Price Administration 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.[14]

Acting on an anonymous tip, police discovered Suzanne's head in a sewer a block from the Degnan residence, her right leg in a catch basin, her torso in another storm drain, and her left leg in another drain. Her arms were found a month later in another sewer.[13] Blood was found in the drains of laundry tubs in the basement laundry room of a nearby apartment building.[15][16]

Police questioned hundreds of people, gave polygraph examimations to about 170, and several times claimed to have captured the killer, though all were eventually released.

Also the cops thought the killer might be a woman, or a man and a woman.  

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This was extremely hard to watch. Just, every single thing about it was absolutely horrifying. They had the guy, the guy confessed, the guy had details of the murder of the little girl, and they ignored it because they had some poor kid in custody they could torture into a confession. So they not only torture and destroy an innocent guy (seriously what that kid went through was not appropriate for burglary, which is all they know he did), but they let a child killer go back out to kill again. And have the nerve to think of themselves as moral me. Sometime I really, REALLY hate human beings. I think what disgusts me most is that no one tried to help the kid, the doctors, the nurses, the shrink, were all complicit with the cops in destroying this kid. 

I don't get how Heiren was never exonerated for the murders. They had nothing on him. Their evidence was all fabricated, planted, forged. No real evidence pointed to him. 

This is why I hate the media. They are not interested in the truth they want to sell papers/advertising and they don't care what lives they destroy to get their story. 

It was fascinating to see the reporters swarming the crime scene, touching everything, one guy stole a photo, altering the body, etc BEFORE the police showed up to dust for prints etc. How did any crimes get solved back then? 

I nearly turned this one off I was so disturbed by the whole thing. 

I have no idea who killed the first two victims. I don't think it was the same guy as the little girl. He seemed to only be confessing to taking and killing the girl but I don't recall him mentioning the other two victims. But I don't think Heiren killed them either. He was a thief, not a murderer. I suppose it is possible that he went to rob them, found someone home and killed her, felt remorse and tried to clean it all up, I almost hope that is what happened because of everything he went through once the police got hold of him, but there is no way there is enough, hell, any evidence to convince me he did it. 

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2 hours ago, Mabinogia said:

I think what disgusts me most is that no one tried to help the kid, the doctors, the nurses, the shrink, were all complicit with the cops in destroying this kid. 

This. I felt so bad for Heirens' parents. I can't even begin to imagine the toll this whole crazy mess took on them. 

The other thing about the murders that gets me is that they're trying to pin them on this 17 year old kid, but they don't really look like the sorts of murders a teenager would be capable of committing. Not to say there can't ever be any teenagers capable of committing violent murders, of course-obviously there can be, and have been. But from what I've heard about most teens who commit murder, a lot of the time, they're generally very sloppy about it, and their lack of experience comes through very clearly in how the bodies are left and how they try and cover their tracks and whatnot.

And that didn't seem to be the case here. These murders were the sort that seemed to indicate the killer(s) had a history of murder, or, at the very least, likely had instances in their past where they violently attacked people, to the point where their eventually becoming murderers would not be a surprise. Heirens had a criminal record, yes, but they didn't indicate he had that kind of violence in his past, and he was a clearly scared 17 year old when being interrogated and tortured. So that makes it even harder to believe he's capable of crimes of this sort. 

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