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Caryl Chessman. The “Red Light Bandit”. Background. Born: May 27, 1921 Grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan Parents: Hallie Lillian (née Cottle) and Whittier Serl Chessman In and out of jail most of his life Age 27 when arrested for suspicion of being the “Red Light Bandit” in Los Angeles

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caryl chessman

Caryl Chessman

The “Red Light Bandit”

background
Background
  • Born: May 27, 1921
  • Grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan
  • Parents: Hallie Lillian (née Cottle) and Whittier Serl Chessman
  • In and out of jail most of his life
  • Age 27 when arrested for suspicion of being the “Red Light Bandit” in Los Angeles
  • Known as Red Light Bandit due to his ways of getting his victims
  • Would follow cars to remote areas flash a red light (like cops had and would do)
trial
Trial
  • Convicted on 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping and rape in July 1948, and condemned to death.
  • Delayed his death sentence by a little over 11 years
  • Represented himself in court
  • Signed confession saying he was guilty but then fought back in court pleading innocent
  • Unfortunately for Chessman the 'Little Lindbergh' law, which was passed in California in 1933 after the public outcry over the Lindbergh case, enforced severe penalties on kidnappers.
execution
Execution

Executed by asphyxiation-gas at San Quentin Prison on May 2, 1960

One of the most famous executions in history

I am not guilty. I am sure a future generation will listen.

-Caryl Chessman

slide5
“I thought Chessman must be dead but no, there was another agonizing period during which he choked on the gas. And again. And then again. There was a long period, another deep gasp. At the fourth such straining, Chessman’s head lolled in a half circle, coming forward so that he faced downward with his chin almost touching his chest. This must be the end. But the dying went on.

A deep gasp, his head came up for an instant, dropped forward again. After two or three deep breaths, which seemed something like sobs, a trembling set up throughout the body. Along the line of his broad shoulders, down the arms to his fingers, I could see the tremor run.

Then I saw his pale face grow suddenly paler, though I had not thought that it could be after his 12 years in prison. A little saliva came from his lips, spotted the white shirt that a condemned man wears for his last appearance. Even more color drained from his face and the furrows in his head smoothed out a little. And I knew he was dead.”

Reporter Gave a description of what was happening when Caryl Chessman was in the gas chamber…