William Heirens

Nickname: The Lipstick Killer

Reign of terror: 05/06/45 - 07/01/46

Motive: Unknown


Date Victim Age Crime Place
05 / 06 / 45 Josephine Ross 43 Murder Chicago
10 / 12 / 45 Frances Brown 30 Murder Chicago
7 / 01 / 46 Suzanne Degnan 6 Murder Chicago

Method: Ross was beaten around the head and stabbed in the throat. Brown was beaten around the head and shot twice, then a breadknife was pushed into her neck until it stuck out the other side. Degnan was strangled, and her body cut into 7 pieces.

Sentence: Four life sentences to run consecutively.

Interesting facts: The reason Heirens is called "The Lipstick Killer" is because at the scene of the murder of Frances Brown, the message For heAvens sAke cAtch me BeFore I kill more I cAnnot control myselF was daubed on the wall in lipstick.

With the murders of Ross and Brown, after their murders, their bodies had been cleaned and bandaged - this is the reason the two crimes were linked. They were only linked to the murder of Degnan when police announced that they had matched the smudged fingerprint found in Brown's apartment to Heirens, who had been arrested for Degnan's murder.

Degnan's body was found, following a search for her, in 7 separate pieces, that had been dumped in the sewer using different manholes for each piece. This murder caused much consternation among the press and citizens of Chicago, and the police were under a lot of pressure to catch the killer. Heirens was caught following a chase, after he was seen acting suspiciously in an apartment block. He was eventually knocked unconscious by being struck over the head with a flowerpot. This apparently knocked him out for several days, during which his fingerprints were taken.

It was claimed that one of the prints matched a print taken from the scene of the Degnan murder. It was believed that Heirens was faking his coma and so he was given a dose of sodium pentathol (truth serum), to discover whether he was faking it or not. Whilst he was under the influence of the drug, the police questioned him about the Degnan murder. He suggested that it may have been a friend, George Murman, who killed her, and explained away the fingerprint found on a ransom note by saying that Murman had asked him for a piece of paper, and Heirens had given him a piece.

Heirens' lawyer convinced Heirens and his parents that there was enough evidence against him to be convicted and therefore get a death sentence. He therefore pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence. He gave a lengthy confession and went through a reconstruction of how he entered his victims' homes with the police. Once in prison he retracted his confessions, claiming he only confessed to avoid the death penalty. He has maintained his innocence ever since.

Before being sentenced, Heirens was examined by three psychiatrists. They claimed that he was a hysteric. Hysteria is a neurosis that is caused by a conflict between a desire and the feeling that it should be repressed. This causes mood swings, bursts of temper, and, in extreme cases, a split personality. The psychiatrists claimed that George Murman was Heirens' split personality. Heirens also revealed to them that he got sexual satisfaction from the actual act of burglary.

There is much speculation as to Heirens' guilt, and many think that he is not guilty. It is claimed that the confessions that were obtained were weak, as they were obtained when Heirens was disorientated, having not slept for 5 days, not eaten, been given sodium pentathol and a spinal tap without anaesthetic, not to mention the 1940s police brutality. It is claimed that the confessions did not contain anything that had not already been revealed in the press, and that Heirens had been led through the reconstructions by the police. Handwriting analysis, it is claimed, was flawed, and subsequent experts have stated that Heirens' handwriting was not a match for either the lipstick message or the ransom note. Further fingerprint analysis cannot be done, as the prints from the murder scenes are no longer available.