Skip to main content

Chessman, Caryl (1921-1960)

Chessman, Caryl (1921-1960)

In 1948, a career criminal named Caryl Chessman was charged with being a "red light bandit" who raped and robbed couples in lovers' lanes near Los Angeles. Chessman was sentenced to death for kidnapping two of the victims. His 12-year effort to save himself from California's gas chamber intensified the debate over capital punishment. Chessman was successful in persuading various judges to postpone his execution. This gave him time to make legal arguments against his conviction and death sentence and to write Cell 2455 Death Row, an eloquent, bestselling book which purportedly described the author's life and criminal career.

The courts ultimately ruled against Chessman's legal claims. Many celebrities opposed his execution, including the Pope and Eleanor Roosevelt. In February 1960, Chessman was granted a stay of execution while the state legislature considered California Governor Edmund Brown's plea to abolish the death penalty. The Governor's effort, however, failed and Chessman was executed on May 2, 1960.

—Eric Longley

Further Reading:

Brown, Edmund G., and Dick Adler. Public Justice, Private Mercy: A Governor's Education on Death Row. New York, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Chessman, Caryl. Cell 2455 Death Row. New York, Prentice-Hall, 1954.

Kunstler, William M. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt? The Original Trial of Caryl Chessman. New York, William Morrow and Company, 1961.

Largo, Andrew O. Caryl Whittier Chessman, 1921-1960: Essay and Critical Bibliography. San Jose, California, Bibliographic Information Center for the Study of Political Science, 1971.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chessman, Caryl (1921-1960)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . 20 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Chessman, Caryl (1921-1960)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . (April 20, 2019).

"Chessman, Caryl (1921-1960)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . Retrieved April 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.