"Lipstick Killer" dies after 66 years in Illinois prison

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2012 2:58 PM

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - William Heirens, known as the "Lipstick Killer" because he once scrawled in lipstick on the wall of a victim's apartment a plea for someone to catch him before he murdered again, has died after nearly 66 years in an Illinois prison, authorities said.

His actions later became the basis for the 1956 Fritz Lang film, "While the City Sleeps."

Heirens was the longest-serving inmate in Illinois history, and may be the longest-serving inmate in the United States, according to Steven Drizin, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, who has represented Heirens in his requests for parole.

Heirens died on Monday night at age 83 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

He had been transferred to the hospital from the Dixon Correctional Center due to illness on February 26, according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

Heirens was a 17-year-old student at the University of Chicago when he confessed in 1946 to killing two women in their homes and strangling a 6-year-old girl. The girl's body was dismembered and disposed of in the city's sewers, according to local media accounts.

A message on the wall of one victim's apartment read, "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself."

Heirens recanted his confession, saying he admitted to the murders to avoid the electric chair. Drizin said Heirens had been tortured before his confession, and then became a model prisoner, with no discipline problems for 50 years. He became the first person in Illinois to get a four-year-college degree in prison, and redesigned the prison library system, Drizin said.

In arguing against Heirens' multiple requests for parole, prosecutors have noted that Heirens' fingerprints were found on a ransom note for the child and at one of the woman's apartments.

(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Will Dunham)