Who was the Red-Light Bandit?

Many people know that an innocent man was murdered
in California's gas chamber
One person can prove it.
Where are you?

 

caryl chessman Caryl Chessman long claimed that he was innocent of the kidnapping and rape charges that sent him to death row.

Chessman was a 27-year-old parolee from Folsom Prison who had spent the better part of his adult life in and out of prison when in January 1948 he was arrested in Los Angeles as the Red-Light Bandit. The Bandit would approach victims parked in lonely spots, flash a red light resembling that used by the police, and rob the victims -- sometimes taking the woman to another area and forcing her to perform sexual acts with him.

His 12-year battle for a new trial and the publication of 4 books from death row transformed the prisoner rights movement by humanizing death row and casting well-deserved doubt on the fairness of the death penalty. His first book, Cell 2455 Death Row, sold more than half a million copies and was translated into 18 languages. Throughout those 12 years, Chessman always maintained his innocence and claimed that he knew the identity of the real red-light bandit. But out of a desire to protect people close to him who were threatened, he refused to release the name.

In The Face of Justice, Chessman claims that he arranged for proof of the identify of the real red-light bandit to be released 50 years to the day after California rejected a moratorium on the death penalty. We estimate that date to be sometime in the middle of 2007. Caryl Chessman was executed on May 2, 1960.

chessman in the gas chamber Given that Chessman was prohibited from writing books and yet was able to do so while under constant surveillance and then smuggle the manuscripts out, it is credible that Chessman could have secured such evidence outside of the prison.

But the passage of time can be a bigger enemy than a series of cell shakedowns. People move or die, files become lost, homes burn.

The 50-year timeframe was probably not designed just for the drama, but to protect other people. It is very possible that Chessman's fear of reprisal is no longer an issue. With the DNA exoneration scandal causing a slow reexamination of the application of the death penalty, now is a strategically significant time to use Chessman's trial to cast further doubt on the death penalty.

If you have this evidence and need help releasing it to the media now or in 2007, please contact the media department at the Prison Policy Initiative (website, )


Learn more about Chessman and his case

Online resources

Links to online information about Chessman and his trial from a more progressive perspective will be added shortly. The struggle to save the life of Caryl Chessman offers many lessons that we hope to make available through this website to a modern audience.

Books Caryl Chessman's Books:

  • Cell 2455, Death Row
  • The Kid Was a Killer (a novel)
  • The Face of Justice
  • Trial by Ordeal

Other books:
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt -- The Original Trial of Caryl Chessman, by William M. Kunstler

A lot of these books are out of print, but are easy to find in used bookstores or at http://www.abebooks.com.


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