To the editors:
Concerning William Heirens, his crime and punishment [August 25]: first, a little piece of historical detail. I was coming home with my mother and father from Farwell beach when my Dad heard shouts for help from, we learned later, a janitor and another man pursuing William Heirens. I recall my mother asking my Dad if he didn't want to get his gun--he was barefoot, in swimming trunks--but he was gone, up the street. Shots were heard, then nothing. What we couldn't see happening on a second floor rear porch was that young Heirens had overpowered a detective, Tiffin Constance, and was banging his head on the floor. Coming up the stairs my Dad grabbed the first thing in reach, a stack of flowerpots, and beaned young Heirens with it. By the way, Mr. McClory, my father was proud of the fact he never before or after had to use a club, gun, or anything else in his 29 year career as a policeman. He was also a lawyer and firmly believed the evidence was more than sufficient to establish Heirens as the murderer of Susan Degnan and the other women.
In your eagerness to satisfy the public stereotype of violent cops and misunderstood young felons, you've distorted the reality that this was a peculiarly violent and very powerful young killer who quite likely would have killed again and again as he promised in his famous message on the mirror of a victim. Possibly Hartigan's description is not too far off. Next to Heirens, John Gacy's a chubby wimp!
Heirens has lived 43 years apart from women and children, and since I have the same name as my dad and two daughters approximately Susan's age at the time of her death, and live in the neighborhood of his crimes and his capture, I'm not eager to participate in some misguided experiment.
Sure, as a social worker, I believe in rehabilitation, which I agree is the point--not guilt or innocence. Neither do I dispute the intelligence of this particular University of Chicago student, although I think there should be even-handed punishment of the dumb and the bright alike. However, though I never attended that institution famous for its existentialist murderers as well as its fascist economists, I think I recall that, in Dostoyevsky's famous novel on crime and punishment, we are engaged in the hope for a new life for a rehabilitated murderer precisely because of his grappling with his guilt. Mr. Heirens has never admitted his crime and thus has not taken the very crucial first step of rehabilitation in any program for personal change.
I just don't know what to do. I'm always wishing that the liberals would turn their attention to issues close at home in this city where my father and mother and I put our efforts, and then when they do the results are just beneath contempt. Please, Mr. McClory, Ms. Kennedy, and friends, find some offshore cause and spare us!