Details of Disappearance
Curtis was last seen with his wife, Marjorie
, at a dinner in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 14, 1955. They left the dinner at approximately 10:00 p.m. to return to their home in the 200 block of Dyer Road in Manalapan, Florida. Neither of the Chillingworths have been heard from again.
Curtis and Marjorie had hired a carpenter to build a playground for their grandchildren at their home. The carpenter arrived as scheduled at 8:00 a.m. on June 15 and found the house deserted and the door open. Curtis was scheduled to preside over a hearing in West Palm Beach at 10:00 a.m., but never arrived.
Authorities went to search the Chillingworth residence at noon. The porch light was shattered and there were blood drops on the walkway to the beach. Two used spools of adhesive tape were located, one on the beach and one in the living room.
The Chillingworths' swimming suits were left behind, as was some cash. Curtis's Plymouth was located at the residence with the keys still it in the ignition.
An extensive search turned up no sign of either Curtis or Marjorie. They were declared legally dead in 1957 and were given a headstone in Oak Lawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach.
In 1960, Joseph Alexander Peel Jr. was charged with murdering the Chillingworths. He was the municipal judge for West Palm Beach in 1955, and noted for his corruption and incompetence.
Curtis was the senior circuit judge of Palm Beach County and Peel's superior; he had gotten the job at age 26, the youngest person in Florida history to do so. Curtis had warned Peel several times about his judicial misconduct.
In 1953, after Peel represented both sides in a divorce case, Curtis told him it was his last chance and he would face disciplinary action next time. In retaliation, Peel ordered Floyd Albert "Lucky" Holzapfel to kill the Chillingworths. Photographs of Peel and Holzapfel are posted with this case summary.
Holzapfel confessed to the Chillingworths' murders in 1960. He stated he and a friend, George David "Bobby" Lincoln, had killed Curtis and Marjorie together. A photograph of Lincoln is posted with this case summary. Holzapfel and Peel were both arrested after the confession.
Lincoln was already incarcerated in a federal prison on unrelated charges by 1960. He was granted immunity from prosecution for the murders in return for agreeing to testify as a witness. Holzapfel pleaded guilty to both murders and agreed to testify against Peel. He was sentenced to death.
At Peel's trial, Lincoln and Holzapfel stated they had taken Curtis and Marjorie out into the ocean on a boat, taped their hands, strapped lead weights to their bodies and threw them overboard, still alive.
Curtis was still able to swim in spite of his taped hands and the weights. Lincoln and Holzapfel hit him with a shotgun, but he continued to float. They had to pull him back onto the board and put an additional weight on him before he sank. Lincoln and Holzapfel stated they had not received payment from Peel for committing the murders.
Peel was convicted of being an accessory to Curtis's murder and pleaded no contest to his role in Marjorie's death. He served eighteen years in a Florida state prison, then was released in 1979 to serve a federal sentence in Missouri for an unrelated mail fraud conviction. He was paroled in 1981.
Peel was suffering from cancer by this time and died only nine days after his release from prison. Days before his death, he gave a newspaper interview wherein he stated he had not ordered the Chillingworths' murders, but he had been aware of them and had done nothing to stop them.
Holzapfel's death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1966. He was a model prisoner and died in 1996, still incarcerated. Lincoln finished his federal prison term in 1962. He died in 2004.
Curtis was considering retirement by the time of his disappearance. He had made a small fortune in land investments on top of his $18,000 annual judge's salary. He and Marjorie had three children together.
Although their bodies were never recovered, foul play is suspected in their cases due to the circumstances involved.