A Murderer Trapped by Truth Serum

I recently wrote a post in the Wonders & Marvels blog about the history of truth serum. I didn’t have space in that post to mention an interesting article from the February 1960 issue of Popular Science that gave some accounts of various truth serum drugs in use.

William Heirens in 2004
William Heirens in 2004

I especially liked the magazine’s anecdote of Chicago criminal William Heirens, who police incapacitated with dropped flower pots during his arrest for burglary in 1946. While he lay in a presumed coma, investigators matched his fingerprints to those found at the scene of a pair of unsolved murders.William Heirens in 2004

Curious whether Heirens’ coma was genuine, the police gave him a shot of sodium pentothal, a truth serum drug. Heirens immediately began talking and soon confessed to the murders, plus a killing that the police had not known about. They could not use the drug-generated confession in court, but when they later repeated to Heirens what he had said, he confirmed all of it, and he was convicted of the murders.

A postscript: Heirens became known as “The Lipstick Killer” because of messages he wrote in lipstick at the scenes of the murders. Still incarcerated, he lived until March 2012 and had possibly been the world’s longest serving prisoner. Fritz Lang’s 1956 film While the City Sleeps is loosely based on Heirens’ crimes.

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