Archive for December 8th, 2011

“Wrong Number? Oh, Never Mind.”

Thursday, December 8th, 2011


"Whaddya mean, 'Can I hold my breath'?"

Caryl Chessman was a hardened criminal who spent most of his adult life behind bars.  He committed numerous armed robberies in California during the 1940’s and was arrested and released over a dozen times. Although he supposedly never killed anyone, he kidnapped a few women, robbed, and then raped them.  This was enough for a California judge to sentence him to death.

Chessman also had a much different side.  He had a near-genius IQ, wrote four best-selling books, and acted as his own attorney through twelve years on death row.  He ignited a worldwide movement to spare his life because of some very questionable California law proceedings and his insistence that he was not guilty.

Amazingly, Chessman filed dozens of appeals and successfully avoided eight execution deadlines, often by only a few hours!

In May of 1960, Chessman lost his ninth and final stay of execution and also had a bit of bad luck. As his execution began and the chamber was filling with gas, the telephone rang. The caller was a judge’s secretary informing the warden of a new stay.  Too late.  The warden could not safely open the death room door and Chessman died.

Ironically, the secretary had initially misdialed the gas chamber’s number and those few seconds probably cost Chessman his life.  For the first time in 12-years, he did not complain.

For another true story of execution with a strange twist, see: