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Joseph Alexander PEEL

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Murder for hire - The bodies were never found
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: June 15, 1955
Date of arrest: October 4, 1960
Date of birth: ???
Victims profile: Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth, 66, and his wife Marjorie Chillingworth
Method of murder: Thrown overboard with lead weights strapped to their legs
Location: Palm Beach, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to two life terms in prison on March 30, 1961. Paroled in 1982 while in seriously ill health, and died just nine days later
 
 

 
 
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Judge Joe Peel and the Chillingworth Murders

Florida, 1961. A judge disappears, leaving only footprints in the sand, blood on a step and an empty beach house.

Biography

Joseph Alexander Peel was born in West Palm Beach and was married with two children. He became a lawyer in 1949 and three years later was named the city’s only municipal judge.

But he was a crooked official. Peel granted warrants to investigating officers so they could raid a gambling den, but as soon as the police had left he would call the crooks and tip them off. Each operator gave Peel $500 in protection money.

He continued practicing law as well as being a judge. When he represented both the husband and the wife in a divorce in 1953 his superior, Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth, publicly reprimanded him, warning that any further misconduct would result in disbarment.

Judge Chillingworth was widely regarded as an outstanding legal mind from a respected family and had married the daughter of his father’s closest friend, Marjorie. At 26 he was the youngest circuit judge in Florida history and had served in both World Wars.

In 1955, Peel told a client that her divorce was finalised when in fact it wasn’t. When the woman remarried and had a baby she then learned that she was a bigamist because Peel had never finished her case. Scared of being struck off Peel recruited two ex-criminals and moonshiners, Floyd “Lucky” Holzapfel and George “Bobby” Lincoln, to dispose of Chillingworth.

Lincoln was a poolroom operator who paired up with the contradictory Holzapfel. Holzapfel had earned a Purple Heart as a paratrooper in the Battle of the Bulge and after the war had became a fingerprint technician for Oklahoma City police and an organiser of a West Palm Beach Young Republican Club. He’d also served time for bookmaking and armed robbery and had been arrested for attempted rape.

The Crimes

On 14th June 1955, the Judge Chillingworth and his wife had dinner with friends and returned to their Manalapan beach cottage at roughly 10pm. Around 1am Holzapfel and Lincoln sailed to Manalapan in a skiff and landed on the beach behind the house. Lincoln crouched in the bushes as Holzapfel woke the Judge saying he was a stranded boater.

The two men overpowered the Judge and his wife and marched them out of the cottage at gunpoint, fastened nooses around their necks, bound their arms behind them and gagged them with adhesive tape. Forced aboard the boat, the couple were taken out to sea and weighted with chains.

Saying “Ladies first” Holzapfel threw Marjorie into the sea, but when the two men went for Chillingworth he jumped overboard. Despite bound wrists, weights and an anchor tied around his neck, the Judge managed to stay afloat until Lincoln hit him over the head with a shotgun so hard the barrel broke.

Criminals

Joseph Alexander Peel - accessory to murder
Floyd “Lucky” Holzapfel - pleaded guilty to the murders
George “Bobby” Lincoln - offered immunity in return for testifying against Holzapfel and Peel.

Victims

Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth
Marjorie Chillingworth

The Arrest

When the usually punctual Judge failed to turn up for work the next day the alarm was raised by noon. The house seemed in order, but the porch light had been smashed and officers found two rolls of adhesive tape, as well as bloodstains on and around the wooden stairs leading to the beach.

Boats and a helicopter scanned the water and divers combed the ocean floor, but the Chillingworth’s bodies were never recovered.

The police heard that Holzapfel had been bragging that he knew who killed the Chillingworths. For three days in a Titusville motel room, two undercover policemen got Holzapfel so drunk he confessed to the murders. In an adjacent room an officer was taping everything and on 1st October 1960 Holzapfel was arrested.

The very thing Peel had been trying to avoid when he ordered the judge killed happened when he was suspended for 90 days over the non-divorce case. Peel quit as a judge soon after and resigned from the Bar in 1959. After Holzapfel’s “confession” Peel went into hiding, but a friend set him up and he was arrested in Chattanooga a month after Holzapfel’s arrest.

The Trial

State Attorney Phil O’Connell Sr. had no bodies, so he needed an eyewitness and offered Lincoln immunity if he would agree to testify against Holzapfel and Peel, which he did. Lincoln was already serving time on a 1958 moonshine-related conviction.

Knowing this, Holzapfel agreed to plead guilty to the murders and Peel realising he would soon be caught twice plotted to have another inmate kill him.

On 30th March 1961, jurors took five hours and 24 minutes to find Peel guilty of accessory to murder. The prosecutor wanted the death penalty, but the jury recommended mercy and Peel was sentenced to two life terms.

He spent 18 years at Florida State Prison in Raiford and the state paroled him in 1979 so he could start serving an 18-year federal sentence for mail fraud related to a phony investment company. Three years later he was paroled for good after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He planned to marry his ex-wife’s niece who’d been the flower girl at his wedding, but nine days after his release he died.

Despite his cooperation, Holzapfel was sent to Death Row. His sentence was eventually commuted to life and he died behind bars in 1996.

Lincoln served out the rest of his federal sentence and in 1962 moved to Chicago. He converted to Islam and changed his name to David Karrim. In May 2004 he died aged 80.

Timeline

1949: Joseph Alexander Peel becomes a lawyer.

1953: Peel publicly reprimanded by Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth.

1955: Peel misinforms a client that her divorce was finalized.

June 14, 1955: murder of Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie.

1959: Peel quits as a judge and resigns from the Bar.

October 1, 1960: Holzapfel arrested after secret recording.

November 1960: Peel arrested.

March 30, 1961: Peel found guilty of accessory to murder.

1962: Lincoln released and converts to Islam.

1979: Peel paroled.

1982: Peel dies from cancer.

1996: Holzapfel dies in prison.

May 2004: Lincoln dies.

Rachel Scout - The Crime & Investigation Network


The Scoutmaster & the Judge

Time.com

Monday, Nov. 14, 1960

On the night of June 15, 1955, Circuit Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth and his wife spent the evening at the home of friends. At 10 p.m. they drove to their oceanfront home south of Palm Beach and disappeared. On the night of Nov. 3, 1958, a smalltime bootlegger, Lew Gene Harvey, 21, left his home with a mysterious companion. He, too, vanished in the night. Harvey's body, weighted with chains and with a bullet hole in the head, was fished out of a canal near Palm Beach a few days later, but the Chillingworths were never found. Last week, after years of painstaking detective work, Florida police marked both cases as solved: the Chillingworths and young Harvey, announced Sheriff John Kirk, had all been killed by the same hired assassin.

Lethal Rendezvous.

The first break in the case came when Harvey's widow recalled that the name of her husband's companion on the night of his death was "John Lynch." The name was also an alias frequently used by Floyd Albert Holzapfel, 36, a man with a curiously black-and-white background. A handsome, intelligent man, Holzapfel had been a wartime paratrooper who was wounded at Bastogne, a member of the Oklahoma City police department, a house detective at Miami's lush Deauville Hotel, an organizer of a West Palm Beach Young Republican Club and an assistant scoutmaster. He had also served time for bookmaking and armed robbery, had been arrested for attempted rape.

In December 1956, Holzapfel and Joseph A. Peel Jr., a West Palm Beach lawyer and a former judge, were arrested for attempted murder. Peel had driven his law partner, Harold Gray, to a tavern, where Holzapfel was waiting. The partner was given a brutal beating but survived. The motive, police charged, was a $100,000 insurance policy on Gray's life. After years of trials, the case was dropped when Peel agreed to resign from the bar.

Deep-Sea Grave.

Backtracking diligently, the cops discovered that Judge Chillingworth had once rebuked Lawyer Peel for representing both sides in a divorce case, after which Peel's promising political fortunes had slumped. Had Peel hired Holzapfel to wreak his revenge for the courtroom embarrassment? Were the Chillingworths murdered in the same fashion as the young bootlegger? With the evidence gradually falling into place, the police lured Holzapfel into a trap last October. In a Titusville motel room, two of his friends met the ex-convict, poured him several drinks and told him that Peel had hired one of them to kill him. Shaken and drunk, Holzapfel spilled out a gruesome story, which the "friends"—both undercover agents for the police—were careful to record on tape.

He and a Negro companion had been hired by Peel, Holzapfel said, to kill Judge Chillingworth for $2,000. Mrs. Chillingworth was an accidental victim because she witnessed the assault on her husband. The two were taken from their home to a waiting boat on the beach and taken four miles offshore. There, trussed in chains and 30-lb. weights, they were quietly dropped over the side. Mrs. Chillingworth was the first to die: "Ladies first," said Holzapfel politely, as he pushed her overboard. The judge, a strong swimmer, struggled in the water and nearly managed to escape, but a blow from a shotgun butt sent him to the bottom.

Arrested and jailed, Holzapfel slashed his wrists, nearly died in his, cell. Peel was also arrested on the charge of conspiring to kill his hired killer, but jumped bail and disappeared. The police trapped him in a Chattanooga hotel last week. Said Peel: "I was shocked and surprised." Said Sheriff Kirk: "The case has now been broken." But there was some doubt that it would ever be brought to trial. Holzapfel's taped account of the murders is inadmissible in court, and the bodies of the Chillingworths have never been found.


Curtis Eugene Chillingworth (October 24, 1896 to presumably June 15, 1955) was a Florida attorney and state judge who disappeared from his Manalapan, Florida home, and was later murdered along with his wife, Marjorie Chillingworth.

Background

Chillingworth graduated from the University of Florida in 1917, and that same year he was admitted to the Florida Bar. After graduating he served at the naval base in Key West, Fla., then attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he received a commission to serve on the cruiser Annapolis. During World War I he served as an ensign for the U.S.S. Minneapolis.

After the war, he returned to West Palm Beach to practice law with his father. He married Marjorie M. McKinley, a Cornell University student and daughter of old friends of the Chillingworth family.

He remained in the U.S. Naval Reserves and was recalled to active duty in 1942. During World War II, he was stationed in London and Plymouth, England, where he participated in planning the occupation and recovery of Germany. He was released from active duty in 1945 as a full Commander.

In 1921, at the age of 24, Chillingworth began his career as county judge. In 1923, he became the newly elected circuit judge, a position he held for 32 years until his death in 1955.

Judge Chillingworth was widely regarded as an outstanding legal mind and as the conscience of the Palm Beach courts and legal community.

The City of West Palm Beach opened a 4.1-acre (17,000 m2) park to honor Judge Chillingworth. Chillingworth Park is a neighborhood park with street side parking has a playground, basketball court, tennis court, gazebo, walkways and benches. Chillingworth Park is located at Ware Drive & Erie Place between Okeechobee Boulevard & Palm Beach Lakes Blvd.

The disappearance - Leaving a dinner party

Chillingworth and his wife were last seen at a dinner in West Palm Beach, Florida, on the evening of June 14, 1955. They left the dinner about 10 p.m. for their Manalapan home. They went to bed expecting a carpenter to arrive in the morning of June 15 to build a playground for their grandchildren.

The carpenter arrived at 8 a.m. (which was the appropriate time), but when he got to the Chillingworth's home, he noticed that the door had been left open and that their home appeared to be empty. Later that same day, Judge Chillingworth failed to appear at a previously scheduled 10 a.m. hearing at the courthouse in West Palm Beach.

The police investigation

When the police began their investigation, they arrived at the Chillingworth's home and found a shattered porch light, drops of blood on the walkway to the beach, and two used spools of adhesive tape (one in the sand and one in the living room).

An accidental drowning during a morning swim was quickly ruled out, and $40 found to be in Marjorie's pocketbook ruled out robbery. The keys were still in the ignition of Chillingworth's Plymouth. No further clues were obtained and (at that point) the case went cold. Later, in 1957, Curtis and Marjorie Chillingworth were declared legally dead.

The Peel Murder-for-hire theory - Former associate Joseph Peel

While no bodies were ever recovered (and so definitive proof of the couple's death was never found), the most dominant theory about what happened to the Chillingworths begins with Judge Chillingworth's known previous association with a Florida municipal court judge named Joseph Peel. Peel, the theory proceeds, was protecting bolita operators and moonshiners.

In 1953, Peel represented both sides in a divorce (something that was unethical by conventional legal standards of conduct). His superior at that time (Judge Curtis Eugene Chillingworth), gave him only a reprimand, with the warning that this was his last chance. This so angered Peel that he arranged for the Chillingworths to be killed.

Hired murderers

By early June 1955, Peel was in a panic. He believed that his ethical lapses were about to be exposed by Judge Chillingworth (which would probably result in ending Peel's legal career). Peel then hired "Lucky" Holzapfel (a known criminal and a carpenter's apprentice) to murder the Chillingworths.

On the night of June 14, Holzapfel (and an accomplice named Bobby Lincoln) went to Manalapan and landed on the beach behind the Chillingworth's house around 1 a.m. Bobby Lincoln crouched in the bushes as Lucky knocked on the door. The judge answered in his pajamas. Lucky pulled a pistol from under his shirt and forced the Judge and his wife into the boat. After the boat drifted for about an hour, the couple were thrown overboard with lead weights strapped to their legs.

Pleading guilty to a double murder

In 1959, Holzapfel had bragged to a friend, James Yenzer, that he knew who had killed the Chillingworths, and in September 1960, Yenzer and a friend, ex-West Beach police officer Jim Wilber, lured Holzapfel to a hotel in Melbourne, Florida. Yenzer and Wilber managed to get Holzapfel drunk and discuss what he knew of the murders. Unbeknownst to Holzapfel, a member of the Florida Sheriff's Bureau, tipped off by Yenzer and Wilber, was in an adjacent room in the hotel capturing his comments on tape.

Holzapfel was arrested on October 1, 1960, and on December 12, 1960, he pleaded guilty to both murders. He was sent to Death Row, but his death sentence was commuted in 1966, and he died in prison thirty years later. On March 30, 1961, Peel was found guilty of accessory to murder. He received two life sentences, but was paroled in 1982 while in seriously ill health, and died just nine days later. The accomplice to the murder, Bobby Lincoln, finished his federal prison term in Michigan in 1962.

Wikipedia.org


The Chillingworth murders

Fifty years ago today, a municipal judge, a World War II veteran and a moonshiner conspired to commit Palm Beach County's most infamous crime

By Eliot Kleinberg - Palm Beach Post

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

'The motor is fixed."

Lucky Holzapfel said the four code words and hung up. At the other end, Judge Joe Peel understood.

Palm Beach County's crime of the century had come to its brutal end.

After 50 years, the tale of the murders of senior Circuit Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife, Marjorie, is still riveting. It had everything: Political assassination. Murder at sea. A case with no bodies. An unlikely villain. A dubious deathbed confession.

The offense was horrific in itself. What made it sensational was the prominence of its victims.

"It was not just a man's life that was taken," a judge said as he sentenced Lucky. "It was Judge Chillingworth."

June 15, 1955

To understand the magnitude of the slayings, it's important to understand how small West Palm Beach was at the time, and how big Curtis Chillingworth was.

The city had about 50,000 residents, half what it has now, and the entire county had perhaps 150,000 residents, compared with 1.2 million today. Manalapan, now an enclave of mansions, was a sparsely populated stretch of beach. The 15th Judicial Circuit, now limited to Palm Beach County, then included Broward. It had two judges in West Palm Beach. The senior judge was Curtis Chillingworth.

His grandfather, Richard Jolley Chillingworth, was a mayor of West Palm Beach and a justice of the peace and was sheriff of Dade County, which then included present day Palm Beach County. Richard's son, Charles Chillingworth, was the first city attorney for West Palm Beach and Lantana, and developed Palm City, near Stuart.

Curtis Chillingworth spent two years in the U.S. Navy before joining his father's law firm and served in both World Wars. He married the daughter of his father's closest friend. He was a county judge for two years before becoming the youngest circuit judge in Florida history, at age 26, in 1923. He would serve for three decades. Sometime in 1955, in a note scribbled in pencil to then-governor LeRoy Collins, Chillingworth had said he planned to retire.

The most Chillingworth ever earned as a judge was $18,000, but he built a small fortune in land, including an undeveloped beach parcel in Manalapan, which at the time had all of 27 registered voters.

The Chillingworths had had dinner with friends in Palm Beach the evening of June 14 and had left about 10 p.m. for their two-story Manapalan cottage. They had hired a Boynton Beach carpenter to come the morning of June 15 to build a playground for the grandchildren. The carpenter arrived promptly at 8 a.m. The door was open. The home was empty.

At the courthouse in West Palm Beach, a 10 a.m. hearing on Chillingworth's calendar came and went. By noon the Manalapan property was crawling with police.

They found a shattered porch light, drops of blood on the walkway to the beach, and two used spools of adhesive tape, one in the sand and one in the living room. Also found: dry swim suits, discounting the idea of accidental drowning during a morning swim. Money still in the judge's billfold and $40 still in Marjorie's pocketbook all but ruled out robbery. The keys were still in the ignition of Chillingworth's Plymouth.

Missing: a pair of men's pajamas, a nightgown and two pairs of slippers.

Boats and even a helicopter from Palm Beach Air Force Base — now PBIA — scanned the waves without result. Divers combed the ocean floor. Gov. Collins sent down the state's top two investigators. The family, Chillingworth's colleagues and even the legislature set up rewards.

The bodies were never recovered. The family installed an empty double grave with a twin headstone in West Palm Beach's Oak Lawn Cemetery. In 1957, Curtis and Marjorie Chillingworth were declared dead. Named to replace the judge on the bench: James P. Knott, who would serve for two decades and become a luminary of the county's historical society.

The Chillingworth family eventually sold their parents' home at 211 Dyer Road, near Belvedere and Dixie, and maintained its $25,000 reward offer. In 1959, the legislature voted to keep the $100,000 reward it had approved on the books ''for eternity'' or until the case was solved.

It didn't take long.

"There's a hole in the ocean"

Joseph Peel, born in West Palm Beach to a motel owner, was married with two children. He became a lawyer in 1949 and three years later was named the city's only municipal judge.

Peel was protecting bolita operators and moonshiners. Police would take warrants for him to sign so they could raid gambling dens. As soon as they'd left, Peel would call the crooks and tip them off. Each operator gave $500 in protection money.

But it was Peel's law work, which he was allowed to continue even while a judge, that threatened his career. In 1953, he represented both sides in a divorce. His superior, Chillingworth, gave him only a reprimand, with the warning that this was his last chance. But in 1955, Peel told a client she was divorced, although he'd never finished her case. She remarried and had a baby, then learned Peel's misconduct made her a bigamist.

Lucky Holzapfel, a Kansas native, had moved from Oklahoma City to California as a teen and worked with his father, a bookmaker. After serving as a paratrooper in the Battle of the Bulge, and earning a Purple Heart, he became a fingerprint technician for Oklahoma City police and later enrolled in college but was then arrested for armed robbery. He served 18 months, then was paroled after promising to enter law school. He went to college for a year, getting high grades and serving on the debate team.

Lucky then moved to West Palm Beach, where he held odd jobs, selling beer, tires and pots and pans. He was a carpenter's apprentice, a service station attendant and a bartender. He went through three marriages; one ex-wife said a beating sent her to the hospital for five days. He was a Young Republican and a Jaycee and a Cub Scout leader.

The Chillingworth case began dribbling from Lucky's lips in 1959. Lucky had told his friend, a local insurance agent named James Yenzer, he knew who had killed the Chillingworths.

"Man, there's a hole out there in that ocean nobody's found the bottom of," Lucky said.

Yenzer was also a pal of Peel and told the now ex-judge that Lucky might be preparing to squeal to the cops. Peel gave Yenzer more than $8,000 and told him to kill Lucky.

But the insurance agent had a better idea. He made a deal with an officer of the Florida Sheriff's Bureau, forerunner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In September 1960, he and a friend lured Lucky to a Holiday Inn in Melbourne.

The friend was bondsman and former West Palm Beach cop Jim Wilber. In 1962, when he put in a claim for a $100,000 reward — he later received $66,000 — Wilber would say he'd known six weeks after the couple disappeared that Peel had arranged the slaying and had confronted Peel, who'd said, "It was either that S.O.B. or me."

For three days in the hotel, Lucky and the two friends emptied three bottles of Scotch, one whiskey, and one vodka. Unknown to Lucky, the other two dumped their booze down the drain. But Lucky drank. And Lucky talked. In an adjacent room, the officer was getting it all down on 30 reels of tape.

On Saturday morning, Oct. 1, 1960, a Brevard County investigator broke in and cuffed Lucky. Told his ramblings were on tape, Lucky later slashed his left wrist in jail with a razor blade. Guards found him in time.

The news that the area's biggest riddle had been solved after five years, and the added horror that a fellow judge had ordered the murders, rocked Palm Beach County.

It took only two months to put together the case against Lucky — and Joe Peel.

The very thing Peel had been trying to avoid when he ordered the judge killed had ended up happening anyway: A Broward County judge suspended Peel for 90 days over the non-divorce case. Peel quit as judge soon after that and resigned from the Bar in 1959. For a while, he was a partner in a construction business. After Lucky's hotel room "confession," Peel took off, but a friend set him up and he was nabbed in Chattanooga a month after Lucky's arrest.

"I'm innocent," Peel said from Tennessee. "I want to go back to Florida as quickly as possibly so I can have a speedy trial and clear myself."

Lucky told a reporter he wouldn't know Chillingworth if he saw him, saying, "It'll be a damn dirty shame if they execute me for the Chillingworths. They might come home in the next week."

Bobby Lincoln was already in prison on a 1958 moonshine-related conviction when State Attorney Phil O'Connell Sr. came to him with a deal. Because he had no bodies, O'Connell needed an eyewitness.

Granted immunity for the murders, Bobby Lincoln agreed to testify.

Faced with that, Lucky decided not to fight. At a Nov. 7, 1960, hearing, as spectators crowded the courtroom, a sobbing Lucky told all.

Lucky's story

In June 1955, with Judge Chillingworth possibly about to end Peel's career over the non-divorce fiasco, Peel had been in a panic. Lucky and Bobby Lincoln had a stake as well. With their cohort off the bench, where he could protect them from raids, their bolita partnership was out of business.

The three met in a car on a dirt road on Singer Island. Peel said, "Bobby, a man is trying to ruin us and I have got to kill him."

Twice Peel drove Lucky around town and pointed out Chillingworth. It was Peel who came up with the murder plan. He figured: no body, no conviction. He drove Lucky and Bobby Lincoln to the beach house so they could case it.

Lucky had bought a skiff, and a second anchor, with a sack of $1 bills from his bolita stash. On the night of June 14, they pushed off from the Blue Heron Docks in Riviera Beach and made their way south along the coast at a slow 5 knots, passing a bottle of whiskey.

Around 1 a.m., they got to Manalapan and landed on the beach behind the house. The porch light was on. Bobby Lincoln crouched in the bushes as Lucky knocked on the door. A man answered in his pajamas.

"Aren't you Judge Chillingworth?"

"Yes, I am."

Lucky started a rehearsed story, that he was the captain of a yacht that was sinking and needed to call for help. But he swiftly abandoned that and pulled a pistol from under his shirt.

"This is a holdup."

Lucky asked if anyone else was in the house. The judge said yes. "Then call them out."

The judge shouted, "Margie." His wife stumbled out, pulling a robe over her nightgown.

Bobby Lincoln stepped out of the dark and smashed the porch light with his gun, He helped Lucky tape the couple's hands. On the way to the boat, Marjorie screamed. Lucky hit her with his gun, opening a gash.

The boat shoved off.

The engine, clogged with sand from the boat's beaching, stalled. The two killers got it started, but it soon overheated and Lucky stopped it. The boat drifted for about an hour.

The judge offered $200,000, telling the black moonshiner, "Boy, if you take care of us, you will never have to work again."

Finally, Chillingworth, for some reason, told the men how to restart the engine. The boat moved out several miles into the Gulf Stream.

The henchmen pulled out two surplus Army belts they'd bought and strapped lead weights onto the judge and his wife.

"Ladies first," Lucky said, pushing Marjorie overboard.

"Honey, remember, I love you," the judge told his wife.

"I love you too."

Marjorie went over and down "with a few bubbles," Lucky would testify.

The two then went for Chillingworth. But he dived overboard. Even with his bound hands, the Naval Academy veteran was holding his own in the waves as his killers watched. Lucky restarted the boat. It caught up to Chillingworth. One of the men brought a shotgun down on the judge, breaking the barrel. Chillingworth was dazed but stayed afloat.

Finally the two pulled him back on the boat, tied a 25-pound anchor around his neck, and let go. The two shined their flashlights and watched the judge vanish into the water.

The boat returned to Riviera Beach. Peel was home, where he'd been waiting, watching The $64,000 Question on television, to establish an alibi. Lucky stopped at a pay phone and dialed Peel.

"The motor is fixed."

"... not fit to live with decent people."

As courtroom observers reeled from the horrific tale, Lucky had one more piece of information for prosecutor O'Connell.

"It didn't stop there. The fact is, just a short time after judge Chillingworth was murdered, Joe Peel drove me to another house in West Palm: your house. He wanted you killed."

Lucky said he never was paid by Peel, "not even expenses."

But he told the judge he blamed only himself for his troubles.

"People like us," he said, "should be stamped out like cockroaches because they aren't fit to live with decent people."

On Dec. 12, Lucky pleaded guilty to both murders. The judge withheld the sentencing for the time being.

Two down. One more to go: Joe Peel.

Peel, meanwhile, had stayed busy. Twice he had plotted to have another inmate kill Lucky, once with cyanide-laced cigarettes and once with a gun. He'd also planned an escape from jail, but that also had failed.

In trial, Peel had a defense. He said the two henchmen had acted alone and had fingered Peel because Lucky thought the judge had slept with his wife.

Trying a judge in West Palm Beach for ordering the murder of another was out of the question. The case was moved to Fort Pierce. All 100 seats in the courtroom were filled.

"Judge Chillingworth would be on a bench like this tonight it if weren't for Joseph Peel," prosecutor O'Connell said in his summation. "But the judge is here tonight. And Joe Peel knows it,"

The next day, March 30, 1961, jurors took just five hours and 24 minutes to pronounce Peel guilty of accessory to murder. Two jurors had said they would vote to convict only if Peel were spared the electric chair.

Despite his cooperation, Lucky was sent to Death Row.

Now Peel had to be tried for killing Marjorie Chillingworth. That trial was moved to Bartow, east of Tampa. But Peel pleaded no contest. He got another life sentence.

Peel spent 18 years at Florida State Prison in Raiford. He was a model prisoner who attended church regularly and worked on the prison newspaper. In 1979, the state paroled him so he could start serving an 18-year federal sentence for mail fraud related to a phony investment company. Three years later, ill with cancer, he was paroled for good. He left his Missouri prison and moved into the Jacksonville home of the woman who'd been the flower girl at his wedding. The two planned to marry. Peel's wife had divorced him while he was locked up.

Former prosecutor O'Connell said, "I see no reason to show any mercy toward Mr. Peel, for he has never shown any in any act of his adult life."

A dying Peel granted a newspaper interview. He said he didn't plan the murders, but knew about them and was guilty only of not stopping them. Few believed the "confession." It soon became moot. After only nine days of freedom, Peel was dead.

Lucky would later tell friends he drank a bottle of bourbon every night so he could cope with the murder of Marjorie Chillingworth. That didn't stop him from appealing, saying his alcohol-fueled testimony was designed "to impress two-bit punks."

In 35 years of custody, Lucky had only one disciplinary report. In 1966, the state commuted his death sentence. His parole date: May 3, 2009. He wouldn't make it. In 1992, Lucky suffered a stroke that partially paralyzed his right side. He died in October 1996.

Bobby Lincoln finished his federal prison term in Michigan in 1962 and went to Chicago. He converted to Islam and changed his name to David Karrim. He later moved to Riviera Beach. In 1996, he declined an interview, saying he feared for the jobs and reputations of his children. In May 2004, after living in obscurity for four decades, the last surviving player in Palm Beach County's most sensational crime died at 80.

This story was compiled from Palm Beach Post archives, Historical Society of Palm Beach County, and The Murder Trial of Judge Peel, by Jim Bishop.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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