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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Richard Honeck (1877?—December 28, 1976), an American murderer, served one of the longest custodial sentences ever to terminate in a prisoner's release in American criminal history. Jailed in November 1899 for the murder of a former school friend, Honeck was paroled from Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois on 20 December 1963, having completed 64 years and one month of his life sentence.[1]


Koeller murder

Honeck, a telegraph operator and son of a wealthy dealer in farm equipment, was 22 years old when he was arrested in Chicago in September 1899 for the killing of Walter F. Koeller. He and another man, Herman Hundhausen, had gone to Koeller's room armed with an eight-inch bowie knife, a sixteen-inch bowie knife, a silver-plated case knife, a .44 caliber revolver, a .38 caliber revolver, a .22 caliber revolver, a club, and two belts of cartridges. They also carried a getaway kit consisting of two satchels filled with dime novels, obscene etchings, and clothes from which the names had been cut.[2 ]

Koeller, who was later found by the police sitting in a chair stabbed in the back, had testified for the prosecution some years earlier when Honeck and Hundhausen were charged with setting a number of fires in their home town of Hermann, Missouri.[2 ] According to a confession made by Hundhausen, the two men had sworn revenge and planned Koeller's murder in considerable detail. Honeck, Hundhausen said, had stabbed the dead man with the eight-inch bowie knife, which was discovered "smeared with coagulated blood".[2 ][3]


Honeck spent the first years of his sentence in Joliet Prison, where in 1912 he stabbed the assistant warden with a hand-crafted knife. He served 20 days in solitary confinement for that infraction, and was shackled with a ball and chain for six months, but had a clean record after moving to Menard Correctional Center, where he worked for 35 years in the prison bakery.

In the decades between his conviction and the time his case came to public notice again in August 1963, Honeck received one letter – a four-line note from his brother in 1904 – and two visitors: a friend in 1904, and a newspaper reporter in 1963 [4].

Media attention

Associated Press reporter Bob Poos brought attention to Honeck's case in 1963 after seeing reference to it in the Menard prison newspaper. In a follow-up report, Poos noted that the aged murderer had subsequently received a mailbag of 2,000 letters, including a proposal of marriage from a woman in Germany, offers of employment, and gifts of money in sums ranging from $5 down to 25 cents. Honeck, who was permitted under prison rules to answer one letter per week, observed: "It'll take a long time to deal with these."[5]

"I guess I'd have to be pretty careful if I got paroled," the 87-year-old prisoner concluded when interviewed by Poos. "There must be an awful lot of traffic now, and people, compared with what I remember."[6]

Later life and death

According to a later newspaper article, Honeck was released upon the intervention of his niece, Clara Orth, and the two eventually settled in Sutherlin, Oregon. Honeck died in 1976 at the reported age of 97.[7]


  1. ^ Irving Wallace et al., The People's Almanac, Doubleday, 1975, p.1341.
  2. ^ a b c New York Times, 4 September, 5 September 1899.
  3. ^ Chicago Tribune 5 September, 22 October, 25 October, 5 November 1899.
  4. ^ Chicago Tribune, 25 August, 27 October 1963.
  5. ^ Chicago Tribune 25 August 1963, 27 October 1963.
  6. ^ Chicago Tribune 25 August 1963.
  7. ^ "Richard Honeck, forgotten man." St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 30, 1976.

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