The Naked City May 2 2017
PLAYING CHESSMAN
Did the legal system use him as a pawn, or was it the other way around?

Caryl Chessman and a detective named E.M. Goossen appear in the above photo made shortly after Chessman's arrest in January of 1948. Chessman had robbed several victims in the Los Angeles area, two of whom were women that he sexually assaulted. He forced one woman to perform oral sex on him, and did the same to the other in addition to anally raping her. Chessman was convicted under California's Little Lindbergh Law, named after Charles Lindbergh's infamously kidnapped and murdered son. The law specifically covered intrastate acts of abduction in which victims were physically harmed, two conditions that made the crime a potentially capital offense.

The law was intended to prevent deliberate acts of kidnapping and ransom, as had occurred in the Lindbergh case, but Chessman's prosecutors—demonstrating typical prosecutorial zeal—argued that Chessman had abducted one victim by dragging her approximately twenty-two feet, and had abducted the other woman when he placed her in his car, then drove in pursuit of the victim's boyfriend, who had fled the scene in his own vehicle. Chessman was indeed sentenced to death. The Little Lindbergh Law was revised while he was in prison so that it no longer applied to his crimes, but his execution was not stayed.

During his nearly twelve years on death row he authored four bestselling books—Trial by OrdealThe Face of JusticeThe Kid Was a Killer, and Cell 2455: Death Row, the latter of which was made into a 1955 movie. The books, many interviews, and a steady stream of articles fueled public debate about his looming execution. Among those who appealed for clemency were Aldous Huxley, the Rev. Billy Graham, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Frost. Their interest was not wholly about Chessman so much as it was about the issue of the cruelty of the death penalty, which had already been abandoned in other advanced nations.
 
In the end the campaigning was ineffective, and Chessman was finally gassed in San Quentin Prison. But even dying, he further catalyzed the death penalty debate. The question of whether a capital punishment is cruel and unusual hinges on whether it causes pain. Gas was held by its proponents to be painless. Chessman had been asked by reporters who would be observing his execution to nod his head if he was in pain. As he was gassed, he nodded his head vigorously and kept at it for several minutes. It took him nine minutes to die. That happened today in 1960.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 29 2010
JUST GAUZE
Well, yes sir, I can tend to your member too, I suppose, but you don’t look wounded.

Above is a True Detective cover from August 1960, with a story about convicted rapist Caryl Chessman. Chessman had been executed in the California gas chamber several months earlier, but not before the U.S. Supreme Court heard his appeal. The case was complicated. Chessman was the Red Light Bandit, a rapist who preyed on motorists parked in secluded areas. Using what looked like a dome light to make them think he was a policeman, he would approach them, rob them at gunpoint and sometimes violate the women. At trial prosecutors used the Little Lindberg Law to argue for the death penalty. That law was written to punish criminals who kidnapped their victims. Chessman hadn’t done that, but he had dragged one girl a short distance away from her car. Prosecutors argued that this constituted kidnapping, and in so doing promptly gave anti-death penalty advocates a textbook example of death penalty abuse. The case became national news, but after ten years of various legal battles, Chessman finally met the executioner on May 2, 1960. Three months later, True Detective waded into the continuing uproar over abuse of the Little Lindberg Law to remind people that there were actual victims involved. Their article claimed that the end justified the means. We bet how you feel about that depends on how you feel about the legal system in general. But as far as how you feel about True Detective's cover art, we'll go out on a limb and assume you think it's as brilliant as we do.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 28
1945—Plane Hits Empire State Building
A B-25 bomber crashes into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine plows entirely through the structure, lands on a nearby apartment building, and sparks a fire that destroys a penthouse. The other engine falls down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people are killed in the incident.
1965—Vietnam War Heats Up
U.S. president Lyndon Johnson commits a further 50,000 US troops to the conflict in Vietnam, increasing the military presence there to 125,000. Johnson says about the increase, "I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth... into battle."
July 27
2003—Hope Dies
Film legend Bob Hope dies of pneumonia two months after celebrating his 100th birthday.
July 26
1945—Churchill Given the Sack
In spite of admiring Winston Churchill as a great wartime leader, Britons elect Clement Attlee the nation's new prime minister in a sweeping victory for the Labour Party over the Conservatives.
1952—Evita Peron Dies
Eva Duarte de Peron, aka Evita, wife of the president of the Argentine Republic, dies from cancer at age 33. Evita had brought the working classes into a position of political power never witnessed before, but was hated by the nation's powerful military class. She is lain to rest in Milan, Italy in a secret grave under a nun's name, but is eventually returned to Argentina for reburial beside her husband in 1974.
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