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William Heirens “Lipstick Killer”

Dec 29, 2014


William Heirens


William Heirens, who confessed to 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan’s murder, is photographed by police. After brutal interrogations, the University of Chicago undergraduate also admitted murdering two other women. He now proclaims his innocence. “I confessed to live.”


Another picture of Heirens in custody perhaps also on July 3, 1946 (he appears to be wearing the same clothes with the same right sleeve cuff unbuttoned and shoved up to his elbow), perhaps beaten after a few days in custody.

The first murder attributed to the Lipstick Killer took place on the night of June 4, 1945. The victim was 43-year-old Josephine Ross, who was stabbed and her throat slit. The next victim, 33-year-old Frances Brown, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, stabbed post-mortem and her body interacted with in a way similar to that of Ross. This time, the killer wrote a message on a mirror above the apartment’s bed in the victim’s lipstick: “For heaven’s sake, catch me before I kill more, I cannot control myself”. This led to him being nicknamed “the Lipstick Killer” in the media. On the night of January 7 the following year, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was abducted from her family’s apartment. She was taken to a nearby basement laundry room, where she was strangled to death and dismembered. Her body parts were then dumped in sewer drains and catch basins near the laundry room; police kept finding them for weeks afterwards. The coroner estimated that she had died between 12:30-1:00 am. A poorly spelled ransom note telling the parents to pay $20 000 in five- and ten-dollar bills for the return of their daughter and not to contact the police or FBI was found in the apartment. The case attracted a great deal of media attention and spurred an intense manhunt by the authorities.


William George Heirens was born in 1928 in Evanston, Illinois, but grew up in Lincolnwood, a suburb of Chicago, during the Great Depression. His parents had been in the floral business, but lost it due to the state of the economy. Though he grew up in a relatively poor household, his upbringing was fairly normal. His father, George, was an odd-job laborer who often spent the small earnings he made on socializing with his friends. His mother, Margaret, worked at a bakery and often had to leave him and his three years younger brother, Jere, with babysitters. William was reportedly a loner and enjoyed playing with technical things, such as chemistry sets and toy airplanes, and also liked drawing and repairing old clocks. In order to escape the out-lashes of his parents’ troubled marriage, he would usually leave the house and hang outside, eventually taking up burglary just for the sake of tension relief. The only thing he stole for financial reasons was small amounts of cash. The rest of his loot, which included expensive clothes, radios and guns, he kept in a storage shed near where he lived.


At the age of 11, Heirens saw a couple having sex. When he told his mother about it, she told him that sex was dirty and led to diseases. Later, he burst into tears and vomited after kissing his girlfriend. At the age of 13, he was arrested for carrying a .25 handgun he had stolen. He confessed to his many burglaries and was sent to the Gibault School for wayward boys in Terre Haute, Indiana (which years later would also house Charles Manson). After months there, he was released and arrested for burglary again. He was sent to the St. Bede Academy, a Catholic college-preparatory high school, where he was an excellent student. In 1945, aged 16, he was released, having skipped his senior year. With good test scores, Heirens enrolled in the University of Chicago, majoring in electrical engineering and continued his serial burglaries. During his first years, things went well, even though his parents couldn’t afford the tuition fees or the dorm fees, forcing him to do part-time work at night as well as doing burglaries for money. He eventually started stealing War Bonds as well. During his second year, his grades started slipping due to him starting dating and spending less time doing homework. In 1945, when Heirens was 17, the Lipstick Killer murders began.


On a wall next to Frances Brown’s bed, police found something that has since become legendary. Written in the victim’s lipstick.

On June 26, 1946, Heirens was caught trying to burglarize an apartment. Two officers, Constant and Owens, responded to the break-in and went into pursuit. As Heirens ran, he pulled out a gun and threatened Constant, who charged at him. A nearby off-duty officer, Cunningham, saw the fight and intervened, dropping three flower pots onto Heirens’ head. Heirens later claimed that for the next six days, he was tortured, starved, and denied a lawyer by the Chicago police. At one point, he was administered sodium pentathol (commonly referred to as a “truth drug”) without a warrant or consent. At the time, the authorities claimed that during this questioning, Heirens claimed that an alternate personality named “George Murman” had committed the murders. Heirens himself claimed not to remember much of the interrogation and the transcript disappeared. A psychiatrist who had taken part in the questioning claimed in 1952 that Heirens didn’t say anything that implicated him in any of the murders. The police also searched his residence and dorm, again without a warrant, and didn’t find anything that seriously incriminated him in the murders besides a scrapbook of Nazi officials Heirens had stolen from Harry Gold, a WWII veteran who lived near the Degnans, on the night of the Degnan murder. Though there was very little hard evidence implicating him in the murders, he was put on trial for them. The killings became a media sensation and Heirens was publicly declared the killer before he had even been found guilty; one headline read “The Heirens Story! How He Killed Suzanne Degnan and 2 Women”.

One of the few pieces of evidence linking Heirens to the first two murders was a bloody fingerprint smudge found on the door jamb on the entrance door. It was compared to Heirens prints and was declared not a match. Twelve days later, it was announced to have matched by 22 points, but a fingerprint expert testified during the trial that it only matched no more than eight points. Two fingerprints and a palm print found on the ransom note were compared to Heirens’ by the FBI, who found that they matched to nine points, three points too low to be declared a positive match. On August 7, Heirens confessed to all the Lipstick Killer murders (he later claimed to have gotten several details about the crime from reading the newspapers). In prison, he was a model inmate. In 1972, he became the first prisoner in the history of Illinois to earn a BA degree. He also took up several trades and helped several inmates get their GEDs. He spent the last years of his life incarcerated in the Hospital Ward of the Dixon Correctional Center minimum security prison, suffered from diabetes and was confined to a wheelchair.

There are people who believe he was innocent of the murders. According to social activist Dolores Kennedy, who in 1994 formed a forensic investigation team to review the evidence in the Lipstick Killer case, they found several inconsistencies (including the fact that the print from the Brown scene was apparently taken from a fingerprint card) and that Heirens’ confessions didn’t fully match the evidence. They also concluded that the handwriting of the lipstick message and that of the ransom note were not the same and that neither matched that of Heirens. In 2007, Heirens once again applied for parole and was denied it. On March 5, 2012, Heirens was found dead in his cell, apparently from natural causes.

William Heirens

William Heirens, who has served more than 50 years in prison for three notorious 1946 killings, stands in the yard at Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. in 2002.


Suzanne Degnan



The laundry tub where little Suzanne was butchered


Body parts were found in sewers.


Investigators find dismembered body parts of 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan in a sewer south of her Edgewater home.


Josephine Ross On June 5, 1945, 43-year-old Josephine Ross was found dead in her apartment; she had been repeatedly stabbed, and her head was wrapped in a dress.


Francis Brown On December 11, 1945, Francis Brown was discovered stabbed to death in her apartment after a cleaning woman heard a radio playing loud and noted Brown’s door partly open.

Did he do it? After I watched this video I believe he didn’t…

You make up your own mind!

Video Link HERE





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