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Curtis Chillingworth
Curtis Chillingworth, c. 1947
Born Curtis Eugene Chillingworth
(1896-10-24)October 24, 1896
West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.
Died June 15, 1955(1955-06-15) (aged 58)
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Florida
Known for Being a judge
Spouse(s) Marjorie M. McKinley

Curtis Eugene Chillingworth (October 24, 1896 to presumably June 15, 1955) was an American attorney and judge who disappeared from his home in Manalapan, Florida and was presumed murdered along with his wife, Marjorie Chillingworth.

Their disappearances and deaths are recounted in the Investigation Discovery series A Crime to Remember (Season 1 Episode 3).


Curtis Chillingworth was born October 24, 1896[1] to a prominent family in West Palm Beach, Florida.[2] He graduated from the University of Florida in 1917, and later that same year was admitted to the Florida Bar. After graduating, Chillingworth served at the naval base in Key West, then attended the United States Naval Academy, where he received a commission to serve on the gunboat USS Annapolis. During World War I he served as an ensign aboard the USS Minneapolis.[1]

After the war, Chillingworth returned to West Palm Beach to practice law with his father. In 1921, he began his career as county judge at age 24. He became the newly elected circuit judge in 1923, holding the position for thirty-two years until his disappearance in 1955. He married Marjorie M. McKinley, a Cornell University student and daughter of old friends of the Chillingworth family.

Chillingworth remained in the U.S. Naval Reserves and was recalled to active duty in 1942. During World War II, he was stationed in London and Plymouth, England, where he participated in planning the occupation and recovery of Germany. He was released from active duty in 1945 as a full Commander.

A 4.1-acre (17,000 m2) neighborhood park in West Palm Beach is named in honor of Chillingworth.[3]


Chillingworth and his wife were last seen at a dinner in West Palm Beach on the evening of June 14, 1955. They left the dinner about 10 p.m. for their Manalapan home. They went to bed expecting a carpenter to arrive in the morning of June 15 to build a playground for their grandchildren.[4]

The carpenter arrived at 8 a.m. and observed that the Chillingworths' door had been left open and that their home appeared to be empty. Later that same day, Chillingworth failed to appear as scheduled at a 10 a.m. hearing at the courthouse in West Palm Beach.[5]

Police investigation

An accidental drowning during a morning swim was quickly ruled out, and $40 found to be in Marjorie's pocketbook ruled out robbery. The keys were still in the ignition of Chillingworth's Plymouth. No further clues were obtained and (at that point) the case went cold. In 1957, Curtis and Marjorie Chillingworth were declared legally dead.[1] Several suspects were considered, including Charles Nelson, brother of Chillingworth's friend Trapper Nelson, whose trial for murder Chillingworth had presided over.[6]

Judge Peel

When in 1953 Joseph Peel represented both sides in a divorce, he was severely reprimanded by Chillingworth. In June 1955, Peel was slated to appear in court to answer charges of unethical conduct in yet another divorce case; disbarment was a possible consequence. At this point, Peel was using his position as an elected municipal judge to protect bolita operators and moonshiners by giving them advance warnings of raids in return for financial consideration. Disbarment would mean the loss of his position and therefore his lucrative illegal racket.[7]

By early June 1955, Peel was in a panic. The top legal officer in the county, Chillingworth, had already stated that Peel would get no second chance. Peel then hired Floyd "Lucky" Holzapfel (a known criminal and a carpenter's apprentice) to murder the Chillingworths. On the night of June 14, Holzapfel and an accomplice named Bobby Lincoln went to Manalapan and landed on the beach behind the Chillingworths' house around 1 a.m. Bobby Lincoln crouched in the bushes as Holzapfel knocked on the door. The judge answered in his pajamas. Holzapfel pulled a pistol from under his shirt and forced the judge and his wife into the boat. After the boat drifted for about an hour, the couple were thrown overboard with lead weights strapped to their legs.[8]

In 1959, Holzapfel bragged to a friend, James Yenzer, that he knew who had killed the Chillingworths, and in September 1960, Yenzer and a friend, ex-West Beach police officer Jim Wilber, lured Holzapfel to a hotel in Melbourne, Florida. Yenzer and Wilber managed to get Holzapfel drunk and discuss what he knew of the murders. Unbeknown to Holzapfel, a member of the Florida Sheriff's Bureau, tipped off by Yenzer and Wilber, was in an adjacent room in the hotel capturing his comments on tape.

Arrests and convictions

Holzapfel was arrested on October 1, 1960, and on December 12, 1960, he pleaded guilty to both murders. He was sent to death row, but his death sentence was commuted in 1966, and he died in prison thirty years later. On March 30, 1961, Peel was found guilty of accessory to murder. He received two life sentences, but was paroled in 1982 while in seriously ill health, and died just nine days later. The accomplice to the murder, Bobby Lincoln, finished his federal prison term in Michigan in 1962.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Newton, Michael (2014). Famous Assassinations in World History: an Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 93–94. ISBN 978-1-61069-286-1. 
  2. Kleinberg, Eliot (2000). "The murder and the law". In Jan Tuckwood. Our Century Featuring the Palm Beach Post 100: The People who Changed the Way We Live. Palm Beach Post. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-9657200-3-8. 
  3. "Chillingworth Park". Retrieved 2016-07-31. 
  4. Wynne, Nick (2014). On This Day in Florida History. The History Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-62585-177-2. 
  5. "#THROWBACK THURSDAY — THE CHILLINGWORTHS & 1955". Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  6. McIver, Stuart B. (2008). Touched by the Sun. Pineapple Press, Inc. p. 203. ISBN 978-1-56164-206-9. 
  7. McIver, Stuart B. (2008). Murder in the Tropics. Pineapple Press Inc. pp. 131–138. ISBN 978-1-56164-441-4. 
  8. Bishop, Jim (1962). The Murder Trial of Judge Peel. New York, NY: Printed at Trident Press for Simon & Schuster. 

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