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

  Falsely accused of being Chicago’s 1945 “Lipstick Murderer”



Heirens  2003.jpg

 17-year-old Heirens Booking 1946      Heirens at Dixon Correctional Facility 2003      



 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.


See Washington Post article here.


 My response in the POST article comments section was as follows:


Eddiethekid did get it RIGHT.


Read Dolores Kennedy’s book, William Heirens: His Day In Court if you want to learn the truth of it. Other than in her book, published decades after the crime, Bill never did have his day in court.


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.)


Judge Luther Swygert of the U.S. Court of Appeals had this to say about the Heirens Case in 1968:


“The case presents the picture of a public prosecutor and defense counsel, if not indeed the trial judge, buckling under the pressure of a hysterical and sensation-seeking press bent upon obtaining retribution for a horrendous act. The State’s Attorney and defense counsel usurped the judicial function, complying with a community scheme inspired by the press to convict the defendant without his day in court.”


Heirens when informed by prison officials that ” if he would admit to his crimes he would very likely be paroled and set free”–had this to say:


“In 1946, I had to be guilty to live. I was seventeen and I wanted to live. Now they tell me I have to be guilty to be set free. I’m sixty years old now and I will never again admit to murders I did not commit.”



Based on a decade of personal investigation into the facts surrounding William Heirens 1946 arrest, I have no doubt that Bill was wrongfully imprisoned for a series of murders – HE DID NOT COMMIT. 


Separate from my own investigation as laid out in my book, MOST EVIL (Dutton 2009) professional and independent investigations by attorney Steve Drizen’s Team at Northwestern University’s, Center on Wrongful Convictions, as well as Dolores Kennedy’s investigation as documented in her book, William Heirens: His Day In Court (Bonus Books, Chicago 1991) as well as the dozens of forensic experts and legal investigators who all agree- HEIRENS WAS INNOCENT.


 The evidence is support of his wrongful conviction is overwhelming.

See just a partial summary  here.




Bill Heirens did not commit the crime, but did the time.


Arrested when he was just a boy of 17, he served 66 years in prison.


Imagine being locked in a 6×6 foot cell and waking up every day knowing you ARE innocent and  counting as the clock ticks off the days, the months, and the years of your life.


Bill Heirens did just that. He counted each day until the clock and his heart stopped on the–23,979th day.


Only now, in death is he FREE.


My heart felt  thanks and utmost respect to all of you who brought a little Hope and Light into Bill’s life.


Especially to Dolores Kennedy his best and closest friend.  Dolores never gave up and  fought the good fight on behalf of Bill until the very end. 


Also, thanks to attorney Steve Drizen and his team at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, at Chicago’s, Bluhm Legal Center, Northwestern University School of Law.



Kennedy Book.jpg  HeirensReenactmen.jpg



Left- Dolores Kennedy’s excellent book- William Heirens: His Day In Court


Right- Heirens faking it to save his life seen demonstrating to police how he supposedly climbed out window and  down wood ladder to carry victim’s body away. (Many argued, the act as described, would have been physically impossible)


Below- Witness George Subgrunski on front page of Chicago Tribune laughing while pointing to photo of Heirens. Subgrunski an “eye-witness” initially told police the suspect he saw on night of Degnan Murder was “Male approx 35-years, but he didn’t see the man’s face clear enough so was unable to ID anybody. Later he told police he couldn’t ID Heirens as the suspect, then after newspaper printed a made-up Heirens “confession” Subgrunski changed his story to “That’s the man” and became “star witness” and a hero to the press and public.






Author/Journalist Dolores Kennedy Bill Heirens Best Friend and Strongest Advocate

Photo from her book Bill Heirens: His Day in Court  1999







  1. This child was tortured into a confession. He endured stitches to the head without anesthetic, a spinal tap without anesthetic, “pain tolerance” testing, sodium pentathol, etc. After the spinal tap, he suffered a searing spinal headache during which he was relentlessly questioned and, if I remember correctly, even made a court appearance. I would have confessed too if at the age of 17 someone has shoved a needle deep into my spine. Look at the kid’s booking photo–he can’t even sit up without assistance. We haven’t come that far from Salem, have we?
    Rest in peace, Bill. It’s all over now.

  2. Sarah: Yes, and not to mention he was the 6th “suspect” to “confess” to the crimes. Chicago PD arrested and released a number of suspects prior to Bill. One of them, an elderly janitor who lived in the building where the bisection of the little girl, Suzanne Degan occurred was taken in, tortured and in his own words, “almost confessed.” He said, “another ten minutes and I would have.” The janitor sued for police brutality and won. He received $20,000 which in 1946 was a sizeable amount.All this occurred six-months before they arrested Bill Heirens in the Dragnet.

  3. I have been wondering about this case recently and had thought about writing you to see if there were any new developments…It seemed to me it was probably inevitable that he wouldn’t live to see himself cleared, but I am very sorry to hear it. Thanks, Steve, for all you do.

  4. I also agree he is innocent, he has a different countenance than a serial killer, he was tortured by the police, they let the child molestor go and pinned everything on him, I knew the Lapd was corrupt, I wonder how many others. Poor William I
    he is at peace now.

  5. This arrest occurred in Chicago in 1946, no LAPD involvement on the investigation. But, yes, I believe it was connected to the LA serial-killings.

  6. Janet Hopkins says:

    It is very sad, that this man died without recourse. It happens more than many people know.

  7. Yes Janet, it is very very sad. It does happen much more frequently than people realize. That is why I oppose the death penalty. Think over the past decades how many wrongul convictions have taken the life of innocent people. I pray that sometime soon our nation joins with the rest of the “civilized” world in stopping them. Best Regards, Steve

    • The worst criminal is Heirens” alleged lawyer. I wish I had a case so easy to disprove. The death penalty was an empty threat. Truth is, all that stands between an accused and the criminal justice system is the ability and integrity of defense counsel. The system wins when hefails. Truth is that this disgraceful lawyer is the most important factor in Heirens’ fate, not the press.

      • Geo L.
        Well said. I agree completely. Then the “defense” attorney had the unmitigated gall to publicly claim he helped get a killer off the streets. Got to be a special place in hell for that kind of person. skh

  8. catherine turley says:

    hi steve, can you tell me how heirens’ writing and your father’s writing matched up with the degnan ransom note and the lipstick note?

  9. Hi Catherine: In my book, MOST EVIL I present the results from the Court Certified HW expert, Hannah McFarland as relates to her analysis of my father’s HW compared to both the Heirens ransom note and the lipstick writing on the wall in the Brown murder. Her findings were “probably written by George Hodel” which in HW terminology “strongly points to being the author, but does not meet the standard of “highly probable” which compares to being “virtually certain.” Keep in mind the Chicago HW was disguised. I also included samples of Bill Heirens HW written three weeks before the murder which has no similarity to the suspect’s HW of the ranson or the lipstick lettering. As most of my readers know, I am not a huge supporter of HW analysis due to its subjectivity. That said, it is valuable circumstantially when taken with other connecting evidence, but should never be relied on BY ITSELF. In the Heirens investigation the most compelling evidence for me is that a skilled surgeon performed the bisection of the child’s body between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae (a hemicorpectomy) identical to the same procedure performed on Elizabeth Short. Then Short’s body was posed on what the suspect mistakenly believed was “DEGNAN AVE” in Los Angeles. And of course, there is much more linkage as the investigation unfolded. Best, Steve

  10. catherine turley says:

    thanks for your response, steve. i am going to get your book because the more i read, the more interested i become. i only now saw the handwriting samples posted. it does not seem like a stretch that the degnan and black dahlia killers were one in the same. although, targeting a child before or after adult females is odd. i’ll have to read your thoughts on that.

  11. Jaime Woolfolk says:

    I know that it has been a long time since anyone wrote on here but it just broke my heart to hear what happened to this poor boy. There were two victims in this terrible crime the poor little girl and Bill. I dont know how her family can live with its self denying that poor boy freedom all those years and not going after the real killer who did take the lives of others. The sister said it was not about retribution but in honesty that was all it was about and not even against the guilty but instead the innocent, What is also wrong with the retrial group and the parole board after hearing the evidence they did more harm then the first trial. They knew the truth yet denied the man any peace.

    • Steve Hodel says:

      Jaime: Yes, a great tragedy of INJUSTICE. Every week we see a new example of an innocent men freed after spending decades in prison for rapes and murders they did not commit. Sadly, Bill Heirens fell victim to one of the most political and corrupt law enforcement agencies of its day, Chicago PD, Cook County, Illinois. Unfortunately, they still, to this day, rank at the top of the nation’s list for “wrongful convictions.” That he had to die in prison after sixty-four years, makes it all the worse. Steve

  12. Steve, as I commented on another thread: while I allow that it’s possible your dad committed the Chicago crimes, I considered it a “stretch”.

    And yet…. it could be.

    Would you happen to know what hotels your dad lodged at during his brief visits to the city? There were many tourist hotels in the Edgewater neighborhood in that era (now apt buildings), and the chief was the famous Edgewater Beach, since demolished. If your dad was lodged at any hotel on the far north lake front at the time of any of those murders, that circumstance would strongly support your suspicions.

    • Steve Hodel says:

      Hi Laura: No records exist, so impossible to document any presence there. At least so far. As I mentioned, the most compelling links to the Lipstick Murders are: Elizabeth Short’s trip to Chicago in ’46 and her own active investigation of the crimes while GHH in China; the fact a hemicorpectomy was performed by a skilled surgeon on the body identical to the one performed on Elizabeth Short and the placing of Short’s body on DEGNAN St., the name of the Chicago child victim. Stay tuned, more info soon.

      • François Houle says:

        And the fact that GHH had a Chicago Police Officer badge. Which is a terrible thing when in the hands of a serial killer. Especially in Chicago.

        • Steve Hodel says:

          FH: Exactly so. And later, GHH actually used that badge in Elizabeth’s presence in Hollywood to “jump the queue” to gain access to the radio studio “Jack Carson Show.” I’m sure she had seen it prior and that’s the likely reference in the DA Files she made that, “I know a Chicago Policeman.” Steve

  13. Patricia O'Neill says:

    Hello Steve: Just read the very sad blog on William Heirens and while reading, it brought to mind the tune of “Only the Good Die Young.” In reality this poor boy died 64 years ago. But another thought came to mind too. Perhaps your investigations into the Black Dahlia, Zodiac murders and others during your father’s lifetime have set the stage for the future of police department investigations….be it murder, rape, child abuse, domestic violence etc. The public is becoming very aware of the lapse of truth and honesty where so many big name PD’s, public figures and big money are involved. Watching “The Seventies” on tv just 2 nights ago they had the Zodiac killings and showed Martin Lee (at the time Chief of D’s in SF, I think) speaking out on progress to apprehend the killer. I knew Marty in my youth as the man who took over after my Uncle Jim English’s horrible (for us as family) fall from grace in the late 50’s. I liked Mr Lee very much. Like you finding the photo of Elizabeth Short after your father’s death, I too was brutally confronted with my uncle’s debacle almost 50 years later in the little town of Tubac AZ as an old shopowner polished my cowboy boots!! But that is another story…. similar to yours. My point right now is perhaps the LAPD will not drop the ball on investigating the allegations against Bill Cosby. Maybe there has been just enought criticism against the LAPD (Chicago & SFPD too) by those who have read your books that the law cannot turn away from seeking and leveling justice! Elizabeth Short, Bill Heirens, Zodiac victims…..you have not left this earth in vain. Their names have been thankfully revived by you Steve, to be remembered and honored. Keep up the momentum!! Pat O’Neill

    • Steve Hodel says:

      Patricia: Thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated. Stay tuned. New findings soon. Best, Steve

  14. L Perez says:

    Hi Steve, I’ve just recently become interested in this case, and I agree that what happened to William Heirens is heartbreaking. I know you had a chance to meet Heirens, and I assume you have researched this the case as thoroughly as all the others you write about. What I question is how the three “lipstick” murders were connected to each other in the first place. Based on what I’ve read, there don’t seem to be many common threads. The first two victims Josephine and Frances were similar in age, and both were found in their apartments, where buglary was suspected. But while Frances had head wrapped with a dress and been stabbed repeatedly, Josephine had a knife lodged into her neck and had also been shot in the head. When you add in Suzanna’s murder it makes even less sense. She was only only 6, and she was taken to another location to be killed and dismembered. There was also a ransom note, and an anonymous call from the killer about where her body could be found. So how did the police link them?

    • Hi Lauren: We have to be very careful when attempting to look at George Hodel’s crimes by judging “M.O.” At first glance, many of his crimes do not appear to fit into the normal guidelines. “Too old. Too young. Sexual. No sex. Etc.” Fact is, he was all over the radar screen and cannot be placed in any one box. Couple reasons for this. His primary reason for killing is not understood his victimology, but rather by understanding he was an urban terrorist. His main motive was to hold cities in fear and terror, which he did in L.A., Chicago, and the SF Bay Area as “Zodiac.” The Brown/Ross Lipstick Murders are clearly linked as bathtub murders. (LA Sheriffs investigated them as possibly connected to the 1944 LA Bathtub murder of Georgette Bauerdorf, based on MO.) The Degnan murder is linked by the use of a lipstick message, a promise that “there will be more”, suspect contacting both family and police with letter taunts, the skilled surgical bisection, a “hemicorporectomy” and of course GHH’s later placement of Elizabeth Short’s body on what he thought was a street named ‘DEGNAN’. (This after she began personally investigating the Lipstick Murders in Chicago while he was away in China, which effectively, once he discovered it and quickly returned home, signed her death warrant.) A lot more, with Zodiac’s “By Knife, By Gun, By Rope”, and thirty-two Crime Signature links. See details at the following link. MO and Crime Signatures Regards, Steve.

  15. kwan woo kim says:

    Robert K. Ressler, a former FBI agent who coined the term ”serial killer” has said that broken homes and corrupt communities can creat circumstance that inspire cruel crimes.
    That means that the responsibility for such vile acts rests on all of us.

    R.I.P William Heirens.

    For reference THE NEW YORK TIMES.

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