Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (35)

1/23/2010 – Just occasionally, the worlds of chess and murder have intersected: players of our game have become either killers or victims. In addition to links to his detailed coverage of the Wallace Murder Case and the fatal shooting of a Hastings stalwart, the Editor of Chess Notes provides citations regarding such figures as the Lipstick Killer, Moors Murderer and St Albans Poisoner.

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Chess Explorations (35)

By Edward Winter

Our article Chess and the Wallace Murder Case relates a famous, particularly baffling mystery, and occasional Chess Notes items have mentioned other connections between chess and killing. Often, though, the information available is scant.

C.N. 3670 referred to the lethally charming Neville George Clevely Heath (born 1917), quoting a passage from page 189 of Portrait of a Sadist by Paull Hill (London, 1960) which describes the killer’s last days, at Pentonville Prison, London:

‘He spent a lot of time reading, made copious notes for his legal advisers, played a certain amount of chess with the warders, two of whom were in his cell day and night, and wrote a lot of letters to friends and his family.’


Neville George Clevely Heath

Neville Heath was hanged on 16 October 1946, the same day as, in Nuremberg, Hans Frank suffered the identical fate.

William George Heirens (see C.N. 3707) was a 17-year-old student at the University of Chicago when, in 1946, he confessed to three murders. He became known as the ‘Lipstick Killer’ because on a wall in one of the victims’ homes a message was found written in lipstick: ‘For heavens sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.’ Although the evidence against Heirens has been fiercely disputed, he is still in prison.


William Heirens

Page 102 of “Before I Kill More...” by Lucy Freeman (New York, 1955) relates that at university Heirens had taken up chess, and on page 128 he is quoting as telling her:

‘Later I learned the psychiatrists that examined me were of the type which only consider abnormalities that had a physical relationship, like tumors on the brain, epilepsy and related diseases. They probably couldn’t tell a person was possessed with a dual personality unless they examined a Siamese twin.

There wasn’t a thing I could do about it. My counsel were running the show. I was just a pawn to be pushed around the chess board and sacrificed when it suited their whims.’

The case of the chess master Raymond Weinstein will be recalled.


Left to right: Jerry Spann (captain), Raymond Weinstein and
William Lombardy (world student team championship in Leningrad)

As recorded on page 127 of Chess Explorations (C.N. 1311), the late Sidney Bernstein informed us in the 1980s:

‘I have it on most reliable authority (the author John Collins, who was a close friend of Raymond Weinstein) that Weinstein (an extremely strong and promising young player who finished third in the 1960-61 US Championship) had been confined to a mental institution. While on temporary leave, he was rooming with an older man who made derogatory remarks about Weinstein’s mother. Raymond slit the man’s throat with a razor, and was, of course, incarcerated permanently. Raymond’s mother is also in an asylum.’

Collins discussed Weinstein’s chess career on pages 195-235 of his book My Seven Chess Prodigies (New York, 1974).

Another case in the United States has been extensively covered by other writers: Claude Bloodgood.

As regards chessplaying victims, there are numerous accounts of the killing of the French master Gilles Andruet in 1995. Abe Turner was murdered on the premises of Chess Review in 1962. C.N. 6423 gave a photograph of Turner in play against Bobby Fischer in the final round of the 1957-58 US Championship in New York.

C.N. 5441 mentioned that on 5 December 1924 Norman Thorne (1900-1925) of Crowborough, England dismembered his fiancée Elsie Cameron. Earlier that day he had bought ‘a game of chess’ in Tunbridge Wells. Source: page 114 of The Trial of Norman Thorne by Helena Normanton (London, circa 1929). Much has been written about that famous murder case, but we recall no other reference to chess in connection with the life of Thorne, who was hanged on 22 April 1925.


John Norman Holmes Thorne giving evidence at his trial, Lewes, 13 March 1925

A fine account of the case appeared on pages 88-126 of Verdict in Dispute by Edgar Lustgarten (London, 1949). From page 108:

‘Spilsbury [the pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who was the prosecution’s expert witness] had indeed done what few can hope to do; he had become a legend in his own lifetime. To the man in the street he stood for pathology as Hobbs stood for cricket or Dempsey for boxing or Capablanca for chess.’

As mentioned in C.N. 5939, page 27 of The Even More Complete Chess Addict by M. Fox and R. James (London, 1993) stated that John Reginald Halliday Christie (who lived at 10 Rillington Place, London) ‘was a goodish chessplayer’ and that ‘Whilst awaiting the ultimate punishment in Brixton, he passed the time thrashing his warders at chess (Chris the chess champion, they nicknamed him).’ The grounds for these assertions remain to be discovered, since much of the book is a source-free zone.

On a documented basis we added in that C.N. item that two other British serial murderers regularly played chess against each other. On page 132 of The Gates of Janus (Los Angeles, 2001) Ian Brady described playing chess against Graham Young (‘the St Albans Poisoner’) in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight:

‘An inveterate but excitable chessplayer, he rather foolishly favoured the black pieces, likening their potency to the Nazi SS. His daily opponent on the board for years was the author of this book, against whom Young always failed to win a match.’


Graham Young

Finally, attention is drawn to our feature article Chessplayer Shot Dead in Hastings.


Postscript: For a nineteenth-century case, see ‘Death of a Chessman: The Sad, Brutal Murder of Major William Cheever Wilson’ on pages 1-18 of Essays in American Chess History by John Hilbert (Yorklyn, 2002). In recent times, as mentioned to us by Hans Jørgen Lassen (Grenaa, Denmark), there has been the case of Simon Webb (1949-2005).


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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter


Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, over 6,450 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.


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