Donald Lang

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Donald Lang (born c. 1945) was charged with having killed two prostitutes in Chicago, in 1965 and 1971. The cases achieved national attention because Lang could not be convicted as he was deaf, unable to read or write, and did not know lip-reading or sign language.

Lang, an African-American, was 6 years old when his parents divorced; subsequently his mother could no longer afford tuition for his special training. Lang had worked at Chicago truck loading docks when he was charged with murder in 1965, shortly after the death of his mother.[1] He had picked up a prostitute who was found stabbed to death the next day. Police found blood stained clothes in Lang's home.[1] When the case could not go to trial, he was ordered confined to a mental hospital in order to learn sign language so that he could stand trial. When this failed, his lawyer pressed for a trial; a key witness had died, the case was dismissed and Lang was freed in February 1971.[2]

Five months after his release, another prostitute was killed in Chicago. Blood stains were found on Lang's clothes and he was arrested again. The case went to trial. As one piece of evidence, prosecutors introduced a drawing Lang had made during his interrogation, showing a woman with an "X" drawn over her.[2] He was convicted in 1972 by a jury and sentenced to 14–25 years in prison.[1] In both cases he was represented by the deaf attorney Lowell J. Myers.[3] The verdict was overturned in 1975 by an appellate court, ruling that Lang had not been able to adequately defend himself.

Lang was then confined to mental institutions and jails and periodically retested for his ability to stand trial.[4] The Illinois Department of Mental Health refused to train him in sign language since he did not suffer from a mental disease.[2] As of 2005 he remained confined at the Chicago-Read Mental Health facility.[5]

According to one of his lawyers, tests have shown that Lang has an IQ of 128.[2] His former boss called him an honest young man who took pride in his work.[1] One of his language teachers described him as "warm and gentle" until he becomes agitated.[2]

Lang's story was related in the 1974 book Dummy by Ernest Tidyman and in the 1979 TV movie Dummy starring LeVar Burton.

Much of the investigation was conducted by Chicago Police Department homicide detective Jim Padar, who's now a writer and multi-time Moth StorySLAM champion.


  1. ^ a b c d "The Silent One". Newsweek. 7 November 1977. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "A Prisoner in Legal Limbo". The Washington Post. 18 February 1980. 
  3. ^ "Guilty Verdict Invades Silent World of Deaf Slayer". The Pittsburgh Press. 30 January 1972. 
  4. ^ "High Court Orders Review of Deaf Mute Donald Lang". Jet. 3 November 1986. 
  5. ^ "The Unspeakable". The Washington Post. 2 August 2005.