Richard Honeck

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Richard Honeck
1899 Drawing of convicts Richard Honeck and Herman Hundhausen.jpg
Sept 5, 1899 Drawing of Richard Honeck and Herman Hundhausen
Born Richard Honeck
(1879-01-05)January 5, 1879
Died December 28, 1976(1976-12-28) (aged 97)
Nationality American
Occupation Telegraph operator; murderer
Known for Longest Prison sentence

Richard Honeck (January 5, 1879 – December 28, 1976), an American murderer, served one of the longest custodial sentences ever to terminate in a prisoner's release in American criminal history. Jailed in November 1899 for the murder of a former school friend, Honeck was paroled from Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois on 20 December 1963, having completed 64 years and one month of his life sentence, and served a total of 23,418 days in jail.[1]

Koeller murder[edit]

Honeck, a telegraph operator and son of a wealthy dealer in farm equipment, was 20 years old when he was arrested in Chicago in September 1899 for the murder of Walter F. Koeller. He and another man, Herman Hundhausen,[2] had gone to Koeller's room armed with an eight-inch Bowie knife, a sixteen-inch Bowie knife, a silver-plated case knife, a .44 caliber revolver, a .38 caliber revolver, a .22 caliber revolver, a club, and two belts of cartridges. They also carried a getaway kit consisting of two satchels filled with dime novels, obscene etchings, and clothes from which the names had been cut.[3]

Koeller, who was later found by the police sitting in a chair stabbed in the back, had testified for the prosecution some years earlier when Honeck and Hundhausen were charged with setting a number of fires in their home town of Hermann, Missouri.[3][4]

According to a confession made by Hundhausen, the two men had sworn revenge and planned Koeller's murder in considerable detail. Honeck, Hundhausen said, had stabbed the dead man with the eight-inch bowie knife, which was discovered "smeared with coagulated blood".[3][5]


Honeck spent the first years of his sentence in Joliet Prison, where in 1912 he stabbed the assistant warden with a hand-crafted knife. He served 20 days in solitary confinement for that infraction, and was shackled with a ball and chain for six months, but had a clean record after moving to Menard Correctional Center, where he worked for 35 years in the prison bakery.

In the decades between his conviction and the time his case came to public notice again in August 1963, Honeck received one letter—a four-line note from his brother in 1904—and two visitors: a friend in 1904, and a newspaper reporter in 1963.[6]

Media attention[edit]

Associated Press reporter Bob Poos brought attention to Honeck's case in 1963 after seeing reference to it in the Menard prison newspaper. In a follow-up report, Poos noted that the aged murderer had subsequently received a mailbag of 2,000 letters, including a proposal of marriage from a woman in Germany, offers of employment, and gifts of money in sums ranging from $5 down to 25 cents. Honeck, who was permitted under prison rules to answer one letter per week, observed: "It'll take a long time to deal with these."[7]

"I guess I'd have to be pretty careful if I got paroled," the 84-year-old prisoner concluded when interviewed by Poos. "There must be an awful lot of traffic now, and people, compared with what I remember."[8]

Later life and death[edit]

According to a later newspaper article, Honeck was released upon the intervention of his niece, Clara Orth, and the two eventually settled in Sutherlin, Oregon. In 1971, he was admitted to a Roseburg nursing home, where he spent the last five years of his life. He died in December 1976 at the age of 97.[9]

Honeck's time served compared[edit]

The time served by Richard Honeck has been exceeded since his release in at least three cases.

Johnson Van Dyke Grigsby (1886–1987) served 66 years and 123 days at Indiana State Prison from 1908 to 1974 after stabbing a man in 1907 during a poker game/bar fight.[10]

Paul Geidel, (1894–1987) who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1911, served 68 years and 245 days in various New York state prisons. He was released on May 7, 1980, at the age of 86. Geidel's case differed from Honeck's in several key respects. First, he was initially sentenced not to life imprisonment but to twenty years to life, but later declared insane and was incarcerated a psychiatric hospital. Secondly, Geidel was offered parole at an earlier date than was Honeck – in 1974, when he had served only 63 years. By this time, Geidel had become institutionalized and declined release, voluntarily choosing to remain confined for an additional six years.

William Heirens, (1928–2012) the "Lipstick Killer," confessed and plead guilty to three murders in Chicago in 1946, sentenced to three life terms, and imprisoned 5 September 1946. He exceeded Honeck's record of time served in August 2010. Heirens died still incarcerated on March 5, 2012.

Sentences served over 50 years[edit]

Robert Stroud (1890–1963) While serving a sentence for a 1909 murder, killed a prison guard in 1916. He served 54 years in prison.

William Griffin (1892–1971) killed two West Virginia lawman in 1915.[11] He served 56 years in prison until his death from natural causes.[12]

Howard Unruh (1921–2009) Killed 13 people and wounded 3 persons in 1949 and served 60 years in a mental hospital until his death in 2009.


  1. ^ Irving Wallace et al., The People's Almanac, Doubleday, 1975, p.1341.
  2. ^ Hundhausen died in 1966
  3. ^ a b c New York Times, 4 September, 5 September 1899.
  4. ^ Kansas City journal. (Kansas City, Mo.), September 03, 1899, p. 7- it was at first suspected Honeck and Hundhausen might have been identical to two men who had objected to Koeller seeing a woman he had met in business college. According to Honeck's confession, a second motive was that Koeller's father had been involved in death of Honeck's brother in 1876 and that Honeck had sworn revenge. The Evening Bulletin September 05, 1899 .p.1
  5. ^ Chicago Tribune 5 September, 22 October, 25 October, 5 November 1899.
  6. ^ Chicago Tribune, 25 August, 27 October 1963.
  7. ^ Chicago Tribune 25 August 1963, 27 October 1963.
  8. ^ Chicago Tribune 25 August 1963.
  9. ^ "Richard Honeck, forgotten man." St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 30, 1976.
  10. ^ Dash, Mike. 'A prison curiosity.' A Blast From The Past, 24 July 2010. Accessed 31 December 2012.
  11. ^ ODMP memorial
  12. ^ Find a grave

External links[edit]