When You Read This They Will Have Killed Me: The Life and Redemption of Caryl Chessman, Whose Execution Shook America-Alan Bisbort

  • Title: When You Read This They Will Have Killed Me: The Life and Redemption of Caryl Chessman, Whose Execution Shook America
  • Author: Alan Bisbort
  • Released: 2006-08-14
  • Language:
  • Pages: 384
  • ISBN: 0786716274
  • ISBN13: 978-0786716272
  • ASIN: 0786716274


From Publishers Weekly Caryl Chessman was sentenced to California's death row in 1948 after being convicted as Los Angeles's notorious "Red Light Bandit," who robbed couples in parked cars, on some occasions raping the women. By the time Chessman was executed in 1960, his memoirs had made him an international symbol of the anti–death penalty movement. (Carroll & Graf is simultaneously republishing the first and most popular of those memoirs, Cell 2455, Death Row.) This new biography draws heavily on recently released archives of Chessman's unpublished letters and manuscripts as well as contemporary accounts. While acknowledging that Chessman was "a confirmed criminal," Bisbort (Sunday Afternoon Looking for the Car) argues that he was not the Red Light Bandit, repeatedly attacking his conviction in "a tainted trial in a hostile court" and the authorities' refusal to revisit the case. At times, the spirited defense engages in hyperbole—for instance comparing Chessman to Alexander Solzhenitsyn—rather than just letting the facts of the case make the powerful argument. Still, Chessman's story loses none of its haunting power, and Bisbort's retelling reaffirms its significance in America's quest for social justice. B&w photos. (Oct. 10)
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From The story of Caryl Chessman in the 1950s is the story of the American criminal justice system and its grossly irrational practice of capital punishment. It is also the story of America's fascination with celebrity and crime. Bisbort draws on Chessman's papers, including unpublished manuscripts and letters to his attorneys, to present a fascinating look at a man who spent 12 years on death row and achieved international celebrity as a writer and vehement opponent of capital punishment. Chessman was a petty criminal; legal experts widely agreed that his crime did not merit the death penalty. His case provoked a storm of debate about capital punishment even as California governor Pat Brown, who had granted clemency to two other death-row inmates who later committed horrendous crimes, offered a reprieve for Chessman too late to stop his execution. Bisbort explores the social and political mind-set of the 1950s and the complex personality of Chessman as he came to grips with his role in American crime and punishment. Vernon Ford
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