His name was Caryl Whittier Chessman. Born May 27, 1921 in St. Joseph, Michigan, he died May 2, 1960 at San Quentin Prison, San Quentin, California. He was executed by the order of the State of California.
His life, though simple in one respect, that he spent most of it in one prison or another, was enormously complicated in many other respects.
The beginning of the end began in 1948. Caryl had just been paroled from prison when the police arrested him in Los Angeles. Supposedly, he was the “Red Light Bandit.” This person nicknamed the Red Light Bandit, whoever he was, used a red flashing light on his car to impersonate a police car. He would come up behind cars and turn on the red light. Once the cars stopped, he would rob the drivers and passengers or, if they were young and female, rape them.
A few years ago, in 2004 to be exact, Rosalie Asher died. After her funeral, her niece Bonnie Fovinci was sorting through Rosalie’s office, making two piles of stuff. One to save and one to throw out.
She picked up a black vase from the shelf next to Rosalie’s desk. Junk, she thought, preparing to toss it on the ‘throw out’ pile. Instead, she weighed it in her hands. It was heavier than a vase needed to be. Looking closely at it, she discovered it was metal. And not really black, but more of a dark, smokey gray color. There were some scratches on the base. No, they were letters inscribed into the metal. A name and two dates.
Holding the vase up to the sunlight, she angled it so she could read the name. When she read it she stopped breathing for a few seconds. Slowly she sat down in Rosalie’s chair behind the desk.
Setting the black vase on the desk in front of her, she stared at it, lost in thoughts of a past gone by. It wasn’t a vase. It was an urn. The kind of urn that held the cremated remains of dead people. Only this urn was empty.