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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth
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
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
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.
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
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.
1949: Joseph Alexander Peel becomes a lawyer.
1953: Peel publicly reprimanded by Judge Curtis E.
1955: Peel misinforms a client that her divorce was finalized.
June 14, 1955: murder of Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth and his
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.
The Crime & Investigation Network
Scoutmaster & the Judge
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Pleading guilty to a
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.
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
June 15, 2005
'The motor is fixed."
Lucky Holzapfel said the
four code words and hung up. At the other end, Judge Joe Peel
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
"It was not just a man's
life that was taken," a judge said as he sentenced Lucky. "It was
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
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
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
It didn't take long.
"There's a hole in the
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
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
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.
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
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
"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."
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
Two down. One more to go:
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
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
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