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 Ordeal, The Face of Justice, The 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.
Strange adventures on other worlds.
Above and below are ten covers of Planet Stories that appeared between 1948 and 1952, with beautiful, lurid, pulp art from Allen Anderson. The magazine published only interplanetary adventures, and its mix of rocket ships, swashbuckling heroes, space princesses, and hideous aliens proved extremely popular. Some of the many writers whose work graced its pages include Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett, John D. McDonald, Philip K. Dick, and Clifford D. Simak. Planet Stories ran seventy-one glorious issues, from 1939 to 1955. How could you not be excited to read when this is what awaited you on the newsstands?
Forrest J. Ackerman helped bring science fiction into the mainstream.
Forrest J. Ackerman, who was instrumental in the spread of science fiction and coined the term “sci-fi”, died yesterday at his home in Los Feliz, California. Ackerman is best remembered as the editor/writer of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine that helped establish the literary value of science fiction, and has been cited as an inspiration by some of Hollywood’s most famous actors and directors, including George Lucas. Ackerman was also instrumental in the discovery of Ray Bradbury, who borrowed money to launch his magazine Literary Fantasia.
Ackerman published fifty stories, either alone or in collaboration with other sci-fi writers, penned pulp lesbian novels under the name Laurajean Ermayne, and wrote the origin story of Vampirella and gave the character her unforgettable name. He helped found the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, and the National Fantasy Fan Federation, and generally assumed the role of No. 1 Booster for sci-fi/horror/fantasy. But of all his accomplishments, perhaps nothing symbolized his love of—and value to—science fiction more than his 18-room home the “Ackermansion”, a veritable museum that contained more than 300,000 books and pieces of sci-fi memorabilia. Ackerman had been in failing health, which prompted several premature reports of his death. Sadly, this time the news is true.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Wilson Suffers Stroke
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. He is confined to bed for weeks, but eventually resumes his duties, though his participation is little more than perfunctory. Wilson remains disabled throughout the remainder of his term in office, and the rest of his life.
1968—Massacre in Mexico
Ten days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics
in Mexico City, a peaceful student demonstration ends in the Tlatelolco Massacre. 200 to 300 students are gunned down, and to this day there is no consensus about how or why the shooting began.
1910—Los Angeles Times Bombed
A massive dynamite bomb destroys the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, California, killing 21 people. Police arrest James B. McNamara and his brother John J. McNamara. Though the brothers are represented by the era's most famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, they eventually plead guilty. James is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. His brother John is convicted of a separate bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works and also sent to prison.
1975—Ali Defeats Frazier in Manila
In the Philippines, an epic heavyweight boxing match known as the Thrilla in Manila takes place between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is the third, final and most brutal match between the two, and Ali wins by TKO in the fourteenth round.
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant
, East of Eden
, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause
, dies in an auto accident
at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
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