Longest-serving Illinois inmate dead at 83

March 6, 2012 2:56:52 PM PST
William Heirens, the longest-serving inmate in Illinois history, has died at the age of 83.

Heirens, known as the Lipstick Killer, was convicted back in 1946 in connection with three murders on the North Side. He was found unconscious at the Dixon Correctional Center and died last night at the UIC Medical Center.

Heirens was a 17-year-old University of Chicago student and petty burglar when he confessed to the 1945 killings of two women and 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan. The child's remains were found scattered in Chicago's sewers.

Investigators at one of the women's homes found a message scrawled in lipstick that read: "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more."

Heirens later said he'd only confessed to avoid the electric chair.

"I was tried and convicted in the newspapers," said Heirens. "And the journalists all over the world recognize that."

There were notes left at the crime scene. The case was so riveting it inspired the film "While the City Sleeps".

"He deserved to be in prison for the rest of his life," said Dick Devinem, former Cook County State's Attorney. "And I have no reservations at all about that. I haven't lost any sleep over it."

"Bill Heirens today met the great judge of judges," said Jed Stone, Heirens' attorney. "And I'm sure he had nothing to fear."

Stone represented Heirens during his clemency petition in the 1990s and says multiple experts found Heirens' handwriting did not match those at the crimes scenes. Stone also claims Heirens' fingerprints appeared to have been planted.

"The full left and right edges of a rolled fingerprint were present on the door jamb and that doesn't happen in the real world," said Stone.

For Suzanne Degnan's relatives, who for 30 years attended every one of Heirens' parole hearings, there's zero doubt of Heirens' guilt.

"He was a sick man," said Betty Finn, victim's sister. "You had to be sick to do such horrible things."

"He changes his story," said Finn. "He's innocent. He's rehabilitated. He's tried everything."

"Nothing's changed. Ever. And nothing's been added," said Jim Degnan, victim's brother. "When asked where were you, Bill? He didn't have an answer."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.