The Hangin’ Judge…

THE NOTORIOUS HANGING JUDGE

Charles W. Fricke

1953

I was an apprentice cameraman, new to the news business, even newer to the court system and the strange people who populated the dreary legal buildings deep in the bowels of Los Angeles. This particular day I was assisting on a story about The Death Penalty and Caryl Chessman, an 11 year resident of death row. Judge Fricke put him there. We went to his chambers at the close of court and tried to persuade the reticent Judge to do an interview, telling him his integrity would not be compromised, convincing him of the importance of the piece.

As a rapport developed I eased out and down to the parking lot to get our gear. In passing through the dark deserted courtroom on my way back I was drawn to the bench by something shiny. I walked closer and was dumbfounded to see a gruesome ceramic skull prominently placed above Judge Fricke’s nameplate. After depositing our equipment in the Judge’s chamber I went back for more, and my Rollei. When I returned I paused long enough to take a picture of the bench and the skull accented by a lone shaft of late afternoon light.

In the interview, Fricke totally justified his condemning people to death. I was able to grab this shot of Fricke as he continued to expound on the righteousness of killing people by law.

When we were ready to leave I asked, “The skull that’s on your bench, Judge. Has that been there long?”

“As long as I have , I guess.”

“My dad had one like that sent to him from a crime reader’s book of the month club.”

“I belonged to that club.”

“Back in the thirties?”

“Right.”

“Was the skull on your bench when you sentenced Caryl Chessman, your Honor?”

“Why, yes. I suppose so.”

“And Santos and Perkins with Barbara Graham?”

“Yes.”

“All of those people stood before you looking up at the skull while you sentenced them to death?”

He smiled wryly from his heavily wrinkled face, “What’s your interest?”

“I just took a picture of it.”

Judge Fricke’s smile froze. There wasn’t a kindly line in his grotesque face. He indulged in lesser conversation while I took the first load of equipment to the car. When I returned, the skull was gone. It never appeared on the bench again.

After examining the portrait of judge Fricke more closely years later, I discovered still another skull in the clutter on his desk. Seems the old man had a penchant for death.

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2 thoughts on “The Hangin’ Judge…

    • I know! So many of his stories are like that, we have changed so much since the 50’s, those little things like what you could put on your desk or hang on your wall that people never gave a second thought to.

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