But the era had its own set of problems (Great Depression, anyone?) and the 1940s saw one of Chicago's most notorious serial killers perform his deeds in Uptown (Edgewater had yet to secede, so it all took place in what was then Uptown). You may have seen in the paper today that William Heirens passed away yesterday at age 83, and was Illinois's longest-serving inmate.
Why do we care? Because back in 1945 and 1946, he was as notorious and scary as Richard Speck or John Wayne Gacy became years later. And Uptown was his turf.
- On June 5, 1945, at 4108 North Kenmore (since demolished and replaced), Heirens, a 17-year-old serial burglar, panicked when Josephine Ross awoke while he was robbing her home (Apartment 510). He killed Ms. Ross with a knife.
- On December 10, 1945, Frances Brown was found stabbed and shot in her room at the Pinecrest Apartments, located at 3941 North Pine Grove. The building still exists today, just south of Park Place Tower. On the wall was written in lipstick: "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself." The murderer had apparently gotten in by using the fire escape.
- Then on January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was abducted from her bedroom at 5943 N Kenmore (originally built as a mansion for William Murphy, inventor of the Murphy Bed). You can see a great image of the mansion at the Uptown Chicago History blog. Although a ransom note was left, the kidnapper had immediately taken Suzanne to a basement laundry room at 5901 N Winthrop and killed her there. He left her body parts in various catch basins and sewers in the Kenmore, Winthrop, Ardmore, Thorndale area.
He pleaded guilty in exchange for life in prison, as opposed to the death penalty. Later, he recanted his confession and said it was made under duress. He never wavered from his claim of innocence and had loyal supporters and detractors; among those who didn't believe him was the parole board, who denied him freedom over 25 times. He was so feared and infamous that his family changed their last name to "Hill" to avoid being linked with him.
With Heirens' death yesterday morning, we'll never know the truth, but someone killed those women and dismembered that child. So remember, when you see the pretty sepia and black-and-white photos, life wasn't perfect in any era.