Curtis Chillingworth

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Curtis Chillingworth
Born October 24, 1896 (1896-10-24)
Died June 15, 1955 (1955-06-16) (aged 58)
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Florida
Spouse(s) Marjorie M. (McKinley) Chillingworth

Curtis Eugene Chillingworth (October 24, 1896 to presumably June 15, 1955) was a Florida attorney and state judge who disappeared from his Manalapan, Florida, home, and was later murdered along with his wife, Marjorie Chillingworth.


Chillingworth graduated from the University of Florida in 1917, and later that same year was admitted to the Florida Bar. After graduating, he served at the naval base in Key West, Florida, then attended the United States Naval Academy, where he received a commission to serve on the gunboat Annapolis. During World War I he served as an Ensign aboard the USS Minneapolis (C-13).

After the war, he returned to West Palm Beach to practice law with his father. He married Marjorie M. McKinley, a Cornell University student and daughter of old friends of the Chillingworth family.

He remained in the U.S. Naval Reserves and was recalled to active duty in 1942. During World War II, he was stationed in London and Plymouth, England, where he participated in planning the occupation and recovery of Germany. He was released from active duty in 1945 as a full Commander.

In 1921, at the age of 24, Chillingworth began his career as county judge. In 1923, he became the newly elected circuit judge, a position he held for 32 years until his death in 1955.

Judge Chillingworth was widely regarded as an outstanding legal mind and as the conscience of the Palm Beach courts and legal community.[citation needed]

The City of West Palm Beach opened a 4.1-acre (17,000 m2) park to honor Judge Chillingworth. Chillingworth Park is a neighborhood park with street side parking has a playground, basketball court, tennis court, gazebo, walkways and benches. Chillingworth Park is located at Ware Drive & Erie Place between Okeechobee Boulevard & Palm Beach Lakes Blvd.

The disappearance[edit]

Leaving a dinner party[edit]

Chillingworth and his wife were last seen at a dinner in West Palm Beach, Florida, on the evening of June 14, 1955. They left the dinner about 10 p.m. for their Manalapan home. They went to bed expecting a carpenter to arrive in the morning of June 15 to build a playground for their grandchildren.[citation needed]

The carpenter arrived at 8 a.m. (which was the appropriate time), but when he got to the Chillingworth's home, he noticed that the door had been left open and that their home appeared to be empty. Later that same day, Judge Chillingworth failed to appear at a previously scheduled 10 a.m. hearing at the courthouse in West Palm Beach.[citation needed]

The police investigation[edit]

When the police began their investigation, they arrived at the Chillingworth's home and found a shattered porch light, drops of blood on the walkway to the beach, and two used spools of adhesive tape (one in the sand and one in the living room).[citation needed]

An accidental drowning during a morning swim was quickly ruled out, and $40 found to be in Marjorie's pocketbook ruled out robbery. The keys were still in the ignition of Chillingworth's Plymouth. No further clues were obtained and (at that point) the case went cold. In 1957, Curtis and Marjorie Chillingworth were declared legally dead.[citation needed] Several suspects were considered, including Charles Nelson, brother of Chillingworth's friend Trapper Nelson, whose trial for murder Chillingworth had presided over.[1]

The Trial[edit]

Former associate Joseph Peel[edit]

While no bodies were ever recovered (and so definitive proof of the couple's death was never found), the most dominant theory about what happened to the Chillingworths begins with Judge Chillingworth's known previous association with a Florida municipal court judge named Joseph Peel. Peel was protecting bolita operators and moonshiners. In 1953, Peel represented both sides in a divorce (something that was unethical by conventional legal standards of conduct). His superior at that time (Judge Curtis Eugene Chillingworth), gave him only a reprimand, with the warning that this was his last chance.

Hired murderers[edit]

By early June 1955, Peel was in a panic. He believed that his ethical lapses were about to be exposed by Judge Chillingworth (which would probably result in ending Peel's legal career). Peel then hired "Lucky" Holzapfel (a known criminal and a carpenter's apprentice) to murder the Chillingworths. On the night of June 14, Holzapfel (and an accomplice named Bobby Lincoln) went to Manalapan and landed on the beach behind the Chillingworth's house around 1 a.m. Bobby Lincoln crouched in the bushes as Lucky knocked on the door. The judge answered in his pajamas. Lucky pulled a pistol from under his shirt and forced the Judge and his wife into the boat. After the boat drifted for about an hour, the couple were thrown overboard with lead weights strapped to their legs.[citation needed]

Pleading guilty to a double murder[edit]

In 1959, Holzapfel had bragged to a friend, James Yenzer, that he knew who had killed the Chillingworths, and in September 1960, Yenzer and a friend, ex-West Beach police officer Jim Wilber, lured Holzapfel to a hotel in Melbourne, Florida. Yenzer and Wilber managed to get Holzapfel drunk and discuss what he knew of the murders. Unbeknown to Holzapfel, a member of the Florida Sheriff's Bureau, tipped off by Yenzer and Wilber, was in an adjacent room in the hotel capturing his comments on tape. Holzapfel was arrested on October 1, 1960, and on December 12, 1960, he pleaded guilty to both murders. He was sent to Death Row, but his death sentence was commuted in 1966, and he died in prison thirty years later. On March 30, 1961, Peel was found guilty of accessory to murder. He received two life sentences, but was paroled in 1982 while in seriously ill health, and died just nine days later. The accomplice to the murder, Bobby Lincoln, finished his federal prison term in Michigan in 1962.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McIver, Stuart B. (2001). Touched by the Sun. Pineapple Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-56164-206-9. Retrieved 2011-01-20. 

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