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In the decades between his conviction and the time his case came to public notice again in August 1963, he received only a single letter – a four-line note from his brother in June 1904 – and two visitors: a friend in 1904, and a newspaper reporter in 1963.
Honeck, a telegraph operator and the son of a wealthy dealer in farm equipment, was 21 years old when he was arrested in Chicago in September 1899 for the killing of Walter F. 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.
He was by then just one month shy of 108 – the oldest prisoner by far of whom I’ve found a record.
Further memories of J-Ward in Bill Wallace’s time are provided by the prison’s former pastor, Gordon Moyes, who visited during the 1960s, and they give some idea of the sort of conditions that the old prisoner experienced as he lived into his second century: On my first day in Ararat I was given a massive iron key to open the thick, heavy, iron and wood doors to the maximum security division to enable me to visit cell to cell the psychotic prisoners…
He served 28 days in solitary confinement for that infraction, but had a clean record after moving to Menard, where he worked for 35 years in the prison bakery.
“I guess I’d have to be pretty careful if I got paroled,” the old lag concluded when interviewed by Poos.
They also carried a getaway kit: two satchels filled with dime novels, obscene etchings, and clothes from which the names had been cut ( 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, Hermann, Missouri (, 5 September 1899).
It was left to a latter-day Associated Press reporter, the memorably-named Bob Poos, to shine a spotlight on Honeck’s case in 1963 after seeing a reference to it in the Menard prison newspaper.Richard Honeck (1879-1976), an American murderer, served what was, at the time, the longest prison sentence ever to end in a prisoner’s release.Jailed in November 1899 for the killing of a former school friend, Honeck was paroled from Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois on 20 December 1963, having served 64 years and one month of his life sentence.Being sent to a secure hospital, rather than a prison, means that a convict is likely to enjoy more comfortable conditions, or at least a considerably laxer regime, than he would do if he was in prison.But it also places him beyond the reach of the parole system, and there’s often a presumption that somebody deranged enough to have committed violent crimes might do the same again if they are ever released – irrespective of their doctors’ judgement.