17 year-old William Heirens the alleged Lipstick Killer
On January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan is kidnapped from her home in Chicago. Illinois. Police found a ladder outside the girl’s window, and also discovered a ransom note which had been overlooked by the family. The note asked for a $20,000 in ransom and a man (presumably the kidnapper) repeatedly called the Degnan residence demanding the ransom, but hung up before any meaningful conversation could take place.
Someone later telephoned police anonymously, suggesting that police look in the sewers near the Degnan home. A search of the neighborhood turned up the girl's body. She had been strangled to death the night of the kidnapping, then dismembered with a hunting knife. Her remains were left in five different sewers and catch basins. Police questioned hundreds of people regarding the Degnan murder, and gave polygraph tests to 170 suspects but none ever proved to be the killer.
A break in the case came on June 26, 1946, when 17 year old William Heirens was arrested after a failed apartment burglary. When police searched his dorm room they found suitcases full of stolen goods, and a letter to Heirens signed "George M." Authorities soon learned that some of the stolen items had come from the murder victim’s homes. However, they couldn't track down Heirens' apparent partner, George. Heirens was given sodium pentothal (truth serum drug) and interrogated. During questioning the subsequent questioning Heirens claimed that George Murman had killed Suzanne Degnan. However, it quickly became evident that George wasn't a real person at all, but an alter ego of Heirens himself. Slowly, investigators pieced together the pathology that drove Heirens. Apparently, he could only find sexual gratification through burglaries. He later found that killing during these burglaries added to the thrill. While doubtful that he was a true schizophrenic, prosecutors decided not to risk losing to an insanity defense and agreed not to seek the death penalty against Heirens.
Dubbed the Lipstick Killer by the media, Heirens pleaded guilty to three murders, Josephine Ross, Francis Brown and Susan Degnan and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. But many still doubted whether Heirens was the real killer. Though he remained imprisoned until his death, Heirens recanted the confessions, and asserted his innocence, claiming to be a victim of coercive interrogation and police brutality. He spent the later years of his sentence at the Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Illinois and died on March 5, 2012. At the time of his death Heirens was reputedly the world's longest serving prisoner, having spent 65 years in prison.
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