Judge Joe Peel and the Chillingworth Murders

Florida, 1961. A judge disappears, leaving only footprints in the sand, blood on a step and an empty beach house.

Joseph Alexander Peel was born in West Palm Beach and was married with two children. He became a lawyer in 1949 and three years later was named the city’s only municipal judge.

But he was a crooked official. Peel granted warrants to investigating officers so they could raid a gambling den, but as soon as the police had left he would call the crooks and tip them off. Each operator gave Peel $500 in protection money.

“Scared of being struck off Peel recruited two ex-criminals and moonshiners, Floyd ‘Lucky’ Holzapfel and George ‘Bobby’ Lincoln, to dispose of Chillingworth.”

He continued practicing law as well as being a judge. When he represented both the husband and the wife in a divorce in 1953 his superior, Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth, publicly reprimanded him, warning that any further misconduct would result in disbarment.

Judge Chillingworth was widely regarded as an outstanding legal mind from a respected family and had married the daughter of his father’s closest friend, Marjorie. At 26 he was the youngest circuit judge in Florida history and had served in both World Wars.

In 1955, Peel told a client that her divorce was finalised when in fact it wasn’t. When the woman remarried and had a baby she then learned that she was a bigamist because Peel had never finished her case. Scared of being struck off Peel recruited two ex-criminals and moonshiners, Floyd ‘Lucky’ Holzapfel and George ‘Bobby’ Lincoln, to dispose of Chillingworth.

Lincoln was a poolroom operator who paired up with the contradictory Holzapfel. Holzapfel had earned a Purple Heart as a paratrooper in the Battle of the Bulge and after the war had became a fingerprint technician for Oklahoma City police and an organiser of a West Palm Beach Young Republican Club. He’d also served time for bookmaking and armed robbery and had been arrested for attempted rape

The Crimes
On 14th June 1955, the Judge Chillingworth and his wife had dinner with friends and returned to their Manalapan beach cottage at roughly 10pm. Around 1am Holzapfel and Lincoln sailed to Manalapan in a skiff and landed on the beach behind the house. Lincoln crouched in the bushes as Holzapfel woke the Judge saying he was a stranded boater.

The two men overpowered the Judge and his wife and marched them out of the cottage at gunpoint, fastened nooses around their necks, bound their arms behind them and gagged them with adhesive tape. Forced aboard the boat, the couple were taken out to sea and weighted with chains.

Saying “Ladies first” Holzapfel threw Marjorie into the sea, but when the two men went for Chillingworth he jumped overboard. Despite bound wrists, weights and an anchor tied around his neck, the Judge managed to stay afloat until Lincoln hit him over the head with a shotgun so hard the barrel broke.