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Con game

April 18, 2007 |  1:00 pm

April 18, 1957
Los Angeles

By Matt Weinstock

Matt_weinstockd_2  Dist. Atty. William O. Weissich of Marin County has announced that he plans to ask all persons with access to San Quentin's death row to take lie-detector tests to find out how Caryl Chessman smuggled out a book manuscript, his fourth.

Six persons already have taken the test, but one of the four prison chaplains has refused, saying, "If the word of a man of God is not enough, he might as well take off his clerical gowns and bury them."

A man now working in L.A. who served some time in San Q. is irked by the D.A.'s announcement. It is not only a grandstand play, he says, but silly and stupid.

And he told me how a man in condemned row when he was up there got out mail at will, without help from the prison staff. He is certain Chessman, who expertly writes Gregg shorthand, uses the same method.


Men on the row can buy tobacco, candy and cookies from the commissary out of their allowance of about $15 a month ($107.48 USD 2006).

The man in question wrote his letters on the inside of candy bar wrappers. These were swept out each morning with the other trash--cigarette wrappers, newspapers, magazines. A guard escorted it downstairs, where a trash cart worker picked it up and it was hauled to the incinerator and ostensibly burned.

But one of the cons, perhaps the one at the incinerator, would pick out the candy bar wrappers and give them to another con, perhaps a typist clerk. From this point it was no trick at all to smuggle a letter out of prison. Remember, several hundred men work outside the prison--at the hog ranch, doing road work, cleanup jobs. The trick was getting the letter out of condemned row.

To make it easy for his cooperative pals, the man in question always used the same candy bar wrapper--ironically, a Baffle bar.