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Warren Lincoln’s double murder insanity defense fell apart

In the weeks leading up to a sensational murder trial in 1925, Dr. HS Hulbert that he received threats as he prepared to refute the prosecution’s argument that Warren Lincoln was not mentally retarded when he murdered his wife and her brother.

Lincoln, a lawyer and florist in Aurora, had confessed to the crime but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The Tribune had predicted the trial would be “a battle between aliens,” using a period term for psychiatrists. The case stirred passions that embroiled even the scientists brought in to figure out a particularly enigmatic defendant.

Prosecutors had summoned analysts from Elgin State Hospital for the Insane to the Aurora jail cell where Lincoln was being held.

Lina Lincoln, who was assassinated by her husband Warren Lincoln in 1923.  (Chicago Herald and Examiner)
Lina Lincoln, who was assassinated by her husband Warren Lincoln in 1923. (Chicago Herald and Examiner)

“Yesterday, three experts on insanity spoke to Warren Lincoln in an attempt to determine whether the man who murdered his wife and brother-in-law, chopped off their heads and then forgot whether he burned or buried their bodies, be a candidate for the asylum or for the gallows,” the Tribune reported in January 1924, a year before the trial began.

Ultimately, the state decided that Lincoln was sane and that the heinousness of the crime was simply an attempt to get away with it.

“It was not delirium,” said one prosecutor, “that led this man to dismember the bodies of his victims, to encase their heads in cement, it was to get rid of the evidence,” but instead “ it was part of a perfect alibi plot.”

He noted that Lincoln sued his wife for divorce months after killing her.

“He wanted to seize the property of his wife and brother-in-law,” the prosecutor said. “He also owed his brother-in-law $1,600.”

Dr. However, Hulbert was among those who supported Lincoln’s case for insanity. Another expert called by the defense was asked if he had any doubts about his diagnosis.

“Absolutely not,” replied Dr. ABT Heym. ‘He was insane. The cold-blooded atrocity left no doubt.”

Aliens Raymond E. Dowell, from left, of Chicago, Ralph T. Hinton, of the Elgin Asylum, and Dr.  HJ Gahagan, of Mercyville Sanitarium, examined noted murderer Warren Lincoln of Aurora to determine whether he was insane or not in 1924. The trio found Lincoln sane.  (Chicago Herald and Examiner)
Aliens Raymond E. Dowell, from left, of Chicago, Ralph T. Hinton, of the Elgin Asylum, and Dr. HJ Gahagan, of Mercyville Sanitarium, examined noted murderer Warren Lincoln of Aurora to determine whether he was insane or not in 1924. The trio found Lincoln sane. (Chicago Herald and Examiner)

During the trial, Lincoln was visibly upset by witnesses who said he was insane, and decided to take control of his defense. He dropped the insanity plea and invoked the so-called unwritten law of defending a family’s honor. As a lawyer, he should have known that there is no such thing: a husband has no legal right to kill a flirting wife.

Lincoln, his wife Lina and his brother-in-law Byron Shoup went missing in April 2024. Warren Lincoln emerged in June claiming he had been kidnapped by his wife and Shoup, drugged and forced to join a drug habit. ring. He disappeared again in October before being arrested in Chicago in January.

He gave different versions of events, and at one point warned reporters: “It doesn’t matter what my story will be,” he said. “It hasn’t been told yet, and if I tell it, it will be all over the front page of the newspapers.”

Warren Lincoln in his greenhouse in Aurora, circa 1924. (Chicago Herald and Examiner)
Warren Lincoln in his greenhouse in Aurora, circa 1924. (Chicago Herald and Examiner)

Lincoln had fallen in love with the sound of his voice and didn’t keep news junkies waiting. He told story after story. Some were absurd, others were mutually contradictory.

Among the undeniably fake ones, as reported by the Tribune:

— “My brother-in-law told me that my wife had committed suicide. He said she did this because we suspected her of being unfaithful.”

— “Byron Shoup is alive and so is my wife. … She often visited me long after the state said I killed her.”

— He did put two heads in concrete blocks, but they were not the heads of his wife and brother-in-law. He came across them in the basement of his house.”

But the prosecutor’s stories, backed by a confession that provided the most credible version of events: rang true. Lincoln shot his wife and brother-in-law and beheaded them with a handsaw. He put their bodies in a greenhouse oven. As he watched them burn, he played solitaire on a nearby table. He then encased their heads in cement blocks.

The trial began on January 15, 1925 in a courtroom in the western suburbs of Geneva.

“On the eve of the trial, Lincoln, who insists he was sane at the time of the murders, appeared in his cell smiling,” the Tribune reported. “He arrived in prison and his complexion is rosy. ‘I was cruelly betrayed. That’s why I killed them. ”

Aurora Police Chief Frank Michels, from left to right: Murderer Warren J. Lincoln and jailer Peter Fatten in Aurora in 1924. While in jail awaiting trial, Lincoln told numerous conflicting stories, sometimes saying that he woman and other times when Lina was still in custody.  empathize.  (historical photo Chicago Tribune)
Aurora Police Chief Frank Michels, from left, confessed to murderer Warren Lincoln and jailer Peter Fatten in Aurora in 1924. While in jail awaiting trial, Lincoln told numerous conflicting stories, sometimes saying that he was his wife had killed and other times when Lina was alive. . (historical photo Chicago Tribune)

The trial was still a blockbuster. “Hundreds who packed the courtroom and the corridors of the courthouse milled about restlessly,” the Alton Evening Telegraph reported. “Some of the more philosophical ones came long distances, opened lunches and fell, much to the dismay of the bailiffs.”

Lincoln’s lawyers had announced “that the eccentric lawyer would not address the jury on his own behalf if they could avoid it. They said they had in mind the bizarre story he told from the witness stand.”

The lawyers still thought an insanity defense could save him from the gallows. And at one point, a family member came to his defense, when Lincoln’s son told jurors that his father couldn’t have been the killer.

“I was in the greenhouse playing cards and my father slept there with me.” John Lincoln testified. “And my father never burned any bodies in the greenhouse.”

Warren Lincoln, of Aurora, circa 1924. Lincoln, a lawyer and florist, burned the decapitated bodies of his wife Lina Lincoln and her brother Byron Shoup in his greenhouse oven next to his home in Aurora.  (Chicago Herald and Examiner)
Warren Lincoln, of Aurora, circa 1924. Lincoln, a lawyer and florist, burned the decapitated bodies of his wife Lina Lincoln and her brother Byron Shoup in his greenhouse oven next to his home in Aurora. (Chicago Herald and Examiner)

The prosecutor responded by putting Lina Lincoln’s family members on the witness stand. He underscored their pain with details of Warren Lincoln’s cover-up of his wife’s murder.

“He buried her head and that of her brother, Byron Shoup, in cement,” the prosecutor said. “He discovered he didn’t have enough cement to cover them. He tried to push them down so that they would remain covered and hidden forever. This is how the skulls are broken. He pounded and pounded until they were both covered.”

One Tribune story during the proceedings was headlined, “Lincoln jury looks at block, tomb of heads.”

As jurors’ deliberations began, the courthouse consensus anticipated a guilty verdict and the death penalty.

When it turned out to be a life sentence, John Lincoln threw his arms around his father’s neck. Both shed tears of relief.

Warren Lincoln died in 1941 in the Stateville prison hospital.

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