Historic Cases of Teen Killers

Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate “Natural Born Killers”

In 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather was desperate. Desperate to marry his jailbait girlfriend. Desperate to make some money for himself so he wouldn’t be broke every day of his life. Desperate to get out of the Nebraska town where everyone had figured him for a loser. He and Caril Fugate embarked on a murder spree that horrified the country. This was the country that had elected Eisenhower and Nixon for a second term in 1956 and where the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover was firmly entrenched as the national policeman. This was also a country that was undergoing unsettling cultural changes. Frightening and offensive symbols of rebellion emerged and thrived: Elvis Presley, James Dean and the whole rock ‘n roll culture focused on a new generation that challenged the status quo of the sterile 1950’s. They murdered 11 people. They were arrested in 1958. Starkweather was executed 17 months later. Fugate served 18 years in prison.

Charles Starkweather in his James Dean pose
Charles Starkweather in his James Dean pose

The country that uncomfortably watched James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause in 1956 suddenly saw a Dean-like figure in Charles Starkweather to make them really uncomfortable. What was the world coming to? Were the violence and the alienation of Starkweather just the beginning of some uncontrollable trend that would destroy the fabric of society? Perhaps, but it would take longer than anyone then expected. The cinematic embodiments of the Starkweather murder spree took a long time to hit the market and did not take hold as a genre for over 35 years. By then, Starkweather and Fugate are merely smudged antecedents, unrecognizable as a direct characters — present only in their angst and isolation. This frightening rebel twosome inspired a whole series of mainstream and not-so-mainstream movies like the 1974 Badlands of Terrence Malick, Wild At Heart by David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s 1993 True Romance, Dominic Sena’s 1993 Kalifornia, and Oliver Stone’s 1994 Natural Born Killers.

Leopold and Loeb – “Thrill” Killers Bent on Committing the “Perfect Crime”

Read the Wikipedia entry on this infamous case of teen killers who thought they were so bright, and could commit the “perfect crime” for the “thrill” of it.

Nathan Leopold

Richard Loeb

Here is how Wikipedia reports their “motive” for killing Bobby Franks, the 14 year old innocent victim :

“Leopold, age 19 at the time of the murder, and Loeb, 18, believed themselves to be Nietzschean supermen who could commit a “perfect crime” (in this case a kidnapping and murder). Before the murder, Leopold had written to Loeb: “A superman … is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do. “The two were exceptionally intelligent. Nathan Leopold was a child prodigy who spoke his first words at the age of four months; he reportedly had an intelligence quotient of 210, though this is not directly comparable to scores on modern IQ tests. Leopold had already completed college, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and was attending law school at the University of Chicago. He claimed to have studied 15 languages, was able to speak four, and was an expert ornithologist. Loeb was the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Michigan and planned to enter the University of Chicago Law School after taking some postgraduate courses. Leopold planned to transfer to Harvard Law School in September after taking a trip to Europe. Leopold, Loeb, and Franks lived on the south side of Chicago, in Kenwood, which was at the time a wealthy Jewish neighborhood. Loeb’s father, Albert, began his career as a lawyer and became the vice president of Sears and Roebuck. Besides owning an impressive mansion in Kenwood, two blocks from the Leopold home, the Loeb family had a summer estate, Castle Farms, in Charlevoix, Michigan. Leopold and Loeb met at the University of Chicago as teenagers. Leopold agreed to act as Loeb’s accomplice. Beginning with petty theft, the pair committed a series of more and more serious crimes, culminating in the murder.”

They were both sentenced to life and were, at that time being under 21, technically minors. So they were, in line with this website’s founding organization, “juvenile lifers”. But they did not serve life sentences.

These two horrifically evil human beings thoroughly illustrate, of course, that they were indeed very grown up and entirely culpable in what they did. Loeb was murdered in prison at age 30. Leopold ultimately got out of prison, and died in Puerto Rico in 1970.

William Heirens

William Heirens, the ‘Lipstick Killer,’ Dies at 83

William Heirens, the notorious “Lipstick Killer” who in 1946 confessed to three horrific murders in Chicago and then spent the rest of his life — more than 65 years — in prison despite questions about his guilt, was found dead on Monday in the Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. He was 83.

Associated Press

William Heirens, center, in a Chicago courtroom in July 1946.

Peter Thompson/Associated Press

Mr. Heirens served more than 65 years in prison in Illinois.

He was pronounced dead at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, where an autopsy was to be performed, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. Mr. Heirens was known to have had diabetes.

Mr. Heirens’ notoriety stemmed from the separate killings of two women, Josephine Ross and Frances Brown, in 1945. At the scene of the second murder, that of Miss Brown, someone had used lipstick to scrawl on a wall: “For heaven’s sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.”

The reports of a “lipstick killer” terrified Chicago as the press took note of other unsolved murders of women. Then, about two weeks after the Brown murder, on Jan. 7, 1946, a 6-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her bedroom at her North Side home. A ladder was found outside the window. The police later determined that the killer had strangled her and taken the body to the basement of a nearby building, where it was dismembered. Her head was found in a sewer; other body parts were found scattered about the neighborhood.

The newspapers called the killing the crime of the century, and though the police questioned a parade of suspects, there was no arrest.

Almost six months later, Mr. Heirens (pronounced HIGH-rens), a 17-year-old student at the University of Chicago, was apprehended at the scene of a burglary in the girl’s neighborhood. The police charged him with the murder after determining that his fingerprints were on a $20,000 ransom note that had been left behind at her home.

The offender as a college age teen at his trial:

A reporter who covered the crime said, “Heirens was a sexual psychopath who would split off to another self to do things William Heirens didn’t dare do. Heirens called his evil self “George Murman,” which meant “Murder Man.” He often said he had sent George to Mexico, because George was a bad boy. Heirens/Murman did three bizarre murders, Heirens was a serial signature killer. A gamy part of his signature: he used defecation to assert dominance over his victims; Heirens defecated at his crime sites, to say, “I poop on everybody.” Another part of Heirens’ signature: he left messages at the murder sites; this wasn’t a game; it was compulsion.Heirens’ MO varied, but he used a knife and a tub in all of his murders. This begot a Heirens quirk: he put gauze on wounds of his dead victims. Suzanne Degnan was Heirens’ final murder victim. The Degnan episode was Heirens’ masterwork. He cut Suzanne into pieces. He washed and drained Sue’s pieces free of blood. He shampooed her hair . . . carried the pieces outside, and . . . .”

ED NOTE – too gruesome to continue – we do not need to glorify the work of the Lipstick Killer here on this website.

5 Responses to Historic Cases of Teen Killers

  1. No, I don’t agree with your analysis of the Lipstick case.
    What about the fact Beth Short’s body was found posed on or next to Dengan Ave., also the same last name as Susan Dengan, the child victim of the Lipstick Killer.

    That’s NOT a common name, nor a common street name. (I currently live near Chicago, btw).

    BOTH cut with surgical precision. And the fact Hodel was in Chicago in 1946.

    There is some pretty compelling circumstantial/coincidental evidence that Elizabeth Short’s murder and The Lipstick Killer could be the same person.

    Yes, they found a knife with Heirens’ prints on it (this evidence is highly problematic since the prints were only found months after the knife was recovered). But even if it were his knife, there is no evidence it was used in any of the murders. Why would Heirens take the trouble to meticulously clean the knife before throwing it away? I doubt it could even have been cleaned that thoroughly. A weapon used to dismember someone ought to have some trace evidence remaining.

    NO trace evidence of any kind on Heirens’ clothing or possessions was ever found linking him to the murders.

    Yes, they had Heirens’ signed confession but because of the methods used it is meaningless. And he did try to retract the confession when his case went before the judge.

    He was cleared of one crime, but we can’t infer from this that Heirens is guilty of the rest. Maybe police had a line on another suspect for the Estelle murder.

    In re Hodel: No, he wasn’t a suspect in ’47, but he became one in ’49. That’s when he should have been interrogated, etc., based on the incriminating tapes.

    The killer certainly had some medical knowledge, as indicated by the type of bisection performed on the victim. It was a specific surgical procedure called a “hemicorpectomy”, which was taught in some medical schools in the 20s and 30s. It was a difficult and meticulous affair which would have taken over an hour to perform. Dr. Newbarr believed it was so cleanly done that it indicated the work of “a very fine surgeon.”
    I would like for everyone to realize the prosecution does not admit to any wrong doing in this case. They administered sodium penethol but deny any physical abuse and completely deny Heirens claims of abuse. So the only thing we know for sure that might have been wrong doing, in hind sight and based on todays standards, is the administering of sodium penethol and perhaps the fingerprint comparison which compared 9 points as opposed to 12 points As I though most of the evidency in the Heirens case is gone, completely gone!!! How does that happen? Obivously this guy was not expected last this long. But that is not all I discovered. First no one refutes that the knife, Heirens describes and tells others how to find, was the murder weapon! To my knowledge even the defense admits this. That is a strike against Heirens in my opinion, unless it is not the murder weapon. But I digress. Here is the big and most important thing that I discovered! Josephine Ross, supposedly one of Heirens victims, was found with black,or dark, hairs in her hand as if she struggled with her killer! The hairs did not look like her own! They surmise that the hairs belonged to the killer. They had physical evidence. If they still had those hairs they could possibly get DNA evidency for or against Mr. Heirens. How on earth do you lose evidence

    • Adam Galvan says:

      This is from the book Clues From Killers.

      “Police let Chicago Daily News staff artist Frank van Hamel photograph
      the ransom message as part of a newspaper story. He excitedly told
      Storms that by carefully examining the paper under a magnifying glass,
      you could see faint impressions. Police studied the note again by using a
      bright light held at an angle and could tell that the paper was taken
      from a pad on which some words had been written on a sheet above it.
      Hamel helped several detectives decipher the markings. They discovered a
      few names and phone numbers, leading them to University of Chicago
      students and a popular restaurant near campus. But four letters kept
      turning up together had no evident meaning: eire.

      Of course, “eire” could just be part of his name: Heirens.”

      So they found that the note was written by someone with a connection to
      the University of Chicago. This was the same University where Heirens
      went. They also found four letters, which could have been the vague
      impression of the name Heirens on the note as well.

      Not only this, but at least three famous criminal profilers stated that Heirens was guilty. These were Bob Kepple who’s famous for having interviewed Ted Bundy, and John Douglas and Robert Ressler.

      The FBI also found prints on the Degnan ransom note which they matched back to Heirens. J. Edgar Hoover himself would even state that the finger print and palm print matched to Heirens in a telegram.

      They’d also link his handwriting to the note. This handwriting they also linked back to the lipstick writing on the wall in the second murder. In this case they also found a print from Heirens. Supporters of Heirens love to argue on how many points there was matching back the prints to him. In this case the one in the Frances Brown murder they either argue that it wasn’t enough of a match, or that it was too perfect.

      With the points of a print supporters love to mention how the print was only a 10 point match.
      On the subject of matches, Richard Ramirez was linked to the Night
      Stalker crimes with only a 3 point match. Ramirez even talks about it in
      the book by author Philip Carlo.

      This is from page 343 of The Night Stalker: The Life and crimes of Richard Ramirez.

      fingerprints should not have been allowed in at all. They had only
      three discernible loops, and for a print to be admissible in court, it’s
      supposed to have seven loops.”

      how 3 points are good enough to link Ramirez to a crime, but 10 point
      matches aren’t nearly good enough to match William Heirens? And if a
      print is too good, then the police must have some how planted it. A
      claim by his supporters was that one fingerprint was too good, and
      looked like it was rolled like on a finger print card, because it was
      just too good a match.

      problem with the claims of supporters is that the Degnan note had oil
      poured on it by the killer in an attempt to get rid of prints which was
      why the note was sent off to be checked for prints rather than the
      police check for them. They weren’t nearly as good as the FBI at getting
      prints, and were afraid of ruining it, destroying anything that may
      have been there.

      the FBI gets the note, and even though oil was poured on it, there’s
      two good prints still left on it, which they’re able to lift off of it. A
      giant palm print from Heirens holding the note, and a finger print which
      also matches to him.

      Here’s Heirens also talking about how he misspelled words the same exact way as the murderer.

      Heirens discussing the misspelling in one of his confessions.

      Q:You know that you misspelled the word ‘wait’ on the note don’t you?


      Q: That is the way you continued to misspell that word, isn’t it?

      A:No, not all the time.


      A:Not all the time.

      Q:Nearly all the time, isn’t it?

      A: Most of the time, yes.

      know that when you gave us samples of your handwriting you misspelled
      it that way, isn’t that right? You know you insisted that you found it
      in the dictionary?


      Q:You spelled it ‘waite,’ didn’t you?

      A:I insisted on it, yest.

      Q:The word “safety,” you misspelled “safety,” the way it is spelled in the ransom note?

      A:Not all the time. About the only time I spell words wrong is when I am nervous. This word here.

      Q:You were nervous when you wrote the ransom note, were you?


      Q:It accounts for your misspelling those words?


      Q:Were you nervous when you gave us samples of your handwriting at the Bridewell Hospital?


      Q:That accounts for the fact that you misspelled it again?

      A:The same way, yes, like the comma. I never make the comma like that, never at all, never on anything else.

      Q:You did on the samples you gave to us too?

      A:I do not know why I did it. In all my writings at school and all my figures and all, I do not write a comma like that.

      The handwriting even matched to Heirens, which I’ve attached a comparison that was done between the sample he gave police and the ransom note. If
      you didn’t know that the handwriting on the left side was his, you’d
      think it was written by the same person on the right side. It just looks
      that similar. What
      are the odds that he’d have the same handwriting, and misspell words
      the same way, be linked by fingerprints, and word impressions on the note and not be the person who wrote it?

      was also an attempted murderer who shot two women, one of which they
      connected to him through ballistics, and another he confessed to. A
      third woman he nearly beat to death with a crowbar after stumbling upon
      her in her room. He originally confessed to her attack, saying once he
      had an orgasm he stopped and started to feel bad, so he ran and got her
      help. He later started to deny this attack, but would still admit that
      he burglarized several apartments in the same building as her’s that
      day. He also tried to execute a cop when they eventually arrested him.

      also made racist statements about Jews to police. He said he liked to rob Jews, because they all had a lot of
      money. He also had an obsession with Nazies as part of his hatred. One of the apartments he burglarized near the Degnan residence was
      also a Jewish man’s which he refers to as “Gold” in his confessions.
      The police also came to believe that if they ever found out who had
      burglarized Harold Gold’s place which was right across from the Degnan residence that they’d probably catch
      Suzanne’s killer, which they did. They found a World War II scrap book
      Heirens had stolen from Harry Gold’s apartment, which was right across
      from the Degnan place. Heirens took it because of all the Nazi stuff in


      even recovered the knife he used to dismember Suzanne right where he
      claimed it’d be. The knife was on some train tracks near Suzanne’s home. It was even linked back to a burglary he had committed
      where he had stolen a gun and a knife. The gun was also matched to one
      of his attempted murders.


      • Aaron says:

        The note’s look nothing like each other, are you also forgetting the confession of the real killer? Everyone’s eye witness report said the man looked about 35-40s roughly the same age as the real killer’s Richard Russell Thomas was a nurse which also prove’s that he will have background in dissecting. Also regarding the notes this is what a handwriting specialist said about Richard Russell Thomas’s Handwriting, handwriting expert for the Phoenix Police Department first informed Chicago authorities of the “great similarities” between Thomas’s handwriting and that of the Degnan ransom note, noting that many of the phrases Thomas had used in an extortion note were similar and his medical training as a nurse matched the profile suggested by police. During the questioning by the Chicago Police, he freely admitted to the killing of Suzanne Degnan, from an outsider’s point of view he was not guilty, sadly that man will never ever get to clear his name.

        • I am well familiar with this case and you are repeating myths long promulgated by supporters of the killer Mr Heirens that are not true. He was in fact the killer and the family of Suzanne Degnan deserves our support.

  2. Michele Killen says:

    Watching ‘Kids Behind Bars: Lost for Life’ and I have to say I have more respect for Brian than Torey for taking responsibility for the murder of Cassie Jo Stoddart. Torey and his parents need to view those videos again and be honest with themselves. Prayers for Cassie’s family and friends.

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