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Judge Chillingworth Murder

Friendship would seem unlikely between a rebellious swamp trapper and a stern Circuit Court Judge. The two men, however, did have some common ground - land speculation, hunting cabins along the Loxahatchee river, and the love of fishing. Trapper Nelson and Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth would also die violently in unrelated cases in years to come. Nelson, known for his obsession with real estate, often bid against Judge Chillingworth on land deals, but their love of fishing kept them friends. That friendship ended on June 15, 1955, during the dark eTrapper Nelsonarly morning hours when two men went into the judge’s oceanfront home on the beach in Manalapan. The men bound the judge and his wife, Marjorie, and repeatedly struck them as they were dragged to a boat on the beach. Taking the shivering couple far out into the Gulfstream, the two men tied weights on Marjorie Chillingworth and threw her into the rough ocean water. The judge, who was also bound, jumped overboard into the water and tried to swim toward his wife. When he was caught the men attached an anchor to him and then watched as he sank beneath the waves.

The police had few leads and the case seemed to be at a standstill until a second murder exposed the two men. Floyd "Lucky" Holzapfel, a convicted felon and George "Bobby" Lincoln, a pool room operator, who were still undetected in this case, continued their life of crime after the Chillingworth murders including an arrest on Miami Beach. Detectives there found Holzapfel prowling the floors of one of the most luxurious hotel’s in the city, but could have no idea that this apparent jewel thief would soon be charged with murder. Later however, when Holzapfel and Lincoln killed another man, who they thought was an informant, the subsequent investigation put the spotlight on all their activities. During this investigation police learned that Holzapfel had been bragging with drinking cronies that he had "taken care of the judge and his wife." With this information police set up a hotel room where Holzapfel met with two men. As the men began drinking the conversation turned to the Chillingworth case and Holzapfel described the entire incident, including the judge’s last words to his wife,..."Remember, I love you." And his wife’s reply,..."I love you, too," before she was shoved into the ocean.

The police, who were in the next room taping the conversation, shook their heads in disbelief. The case was a sensation in 1960 when it was learned that Joseph Alexander Peel Jr., once West Palm’s only municipal judge, was behind the murders. It appears that Peel had a high-living lifestyle that was funded by the Chillingsworth Family Portraitmoonshiners and bolita rackets in South Florida. When the police came to him for warrants it was the judge who tipped off those who paid him protection money. It was, however, Peel’s private practice of the law that was brought to Chillingworth’s attention. During the trial in 1961 the court learned that Peel had appeared before Chillingworth and was chastised for representing both parties in a divorce. The year was 1953. In 1955, Peel was back in front of Chillingworth again because he mishandled another divorce case. Word was out that Chillingworth felt that Peel was a disgrace to the profession and that he was going to end his career. During the trial it was revealed that Holzapfel and Lincoln were Peel’s associates in other criminal enterprises.

After the second chastisement, and stinging words of condemnation received while standing in front of Judge Chillingworth, Peel met with his two partners and told them,..."We’ll have to get rid of the judge." It was then that Holzapfel and Lincoln acted on Peel’s request. Peel was convicted and sentenced to life as an accessory-before-the fact in April 1961. Paroled because of ill health, he died in 1982, but not before finally confessing to the two murders. Trapper Nelson died in 1968, when friends found his body lying near his hammock with his shotgun nearby. The shotgun death was ruled a suicide, but his friends still question that finding.

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