Chicago, IL

William Heirens, 65 years, longest American prison term ever served

William HeirensPhoto byLeah Silverman

Chicago police were battling a deadly serial killer in the latter part of 1945. Police first discovered Josephine Ross, a woman, deceased under suspicious circumstances. Then, a few weeks later, the body of Francis Brown, another lady, was discovered. The city was in turmoil over her death. On the wall next to her body, a horrifying message had been scribbled in lipstick. The message said, "For God's sake, capture me before I kill more, I cannot control myself."

After two weeks, the murderer attacked once more. In the Midwestern city, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan's body and dismembered body parts were found. Following that, the killings ceased for a short while. However, six months later, the cops got a lucky break. William Heirens, a teenager, was detained on suspicion of breaking and entering. Police took his fingerprints and found that they matched those left at the Degnan murder site. Heirens admitted to the murders when confronted with such proof. After his trial, he received a swift life sentence.

Heirens asserted he wasn't the murderer even decades afterwards. He said that he just confessed to escape the death penalty. Residents of Chicago have argued over Heirens' guilt for decades. There were other claims that the murderer had not even left the lipstick note at the scene where Brown was killed. Residents of Chicago questioned whether a journalist trying to sell newspapers had scrawled the message after the fact and then marketed the murder as being committed by "The Lipstick Killer."

Yet, the police and parole boards didn't agree. For many years, they were satisfied with the confession they had received from Heirens. He was sentenced to prison in 1947, and his time there seemed to go on forever. Heirens would be up for parole every few years. Also, the parole board would reject him every few years. The man spent more than 65 years behind bars in total. He eventually ran out of time to wait out Father Time. He passed away at the age of 83 in 2012 while residing at Illinois' Dixon Correctional Facility.

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