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

Alan Bisbort, Author
Alan Bisbort, Author . Carroll & Graf $26.95 (414p) ISBN 978-0-78671-627-2
Paperback - 414 pages - 978-0-7867-1940-2
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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 This new biography draws heavily on recently released archives of Chessman's unpublished letters and manuscripts as well as contemporary accounts.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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