The Murder Trial of Judge Peel Author:Jim Bishop To most people, tourist and cracker alike, Fort Pierce is just another red light on that long, lonely, flat stretch of Route 1 between Jacksonville and Miami. It is sedate and sleepy, a remnant of old Florida where people still sit on wooden front porches in the evening, and the local courthouse is a comfortable whitewashed rococo, rather than a... more »n austere pristine cube easily mistaken for the local A&P.
Then, on March 7, 1961, Joseph A. Peel went on trial for his life, accused o complicity in a murder so vicious and bizarre that it suddenly catapulted Fort Pierce onto the front pages of newspapers all over the country. Five years earlier, Judge C. E. Chillingworth, of the Circuit Court in Palm Beach, along with his wife, Marjorie, had disappeared under most mysterious circumstances. Neither had been seen since, nor had their bodies ever been recovered. Now the state of Florida, in the person of aggressive, tough, burly State Attorney Phil O'Connell, was prepared to prove, even in the absence of a "corpus delicti," that both had been done in on orders of the defendant to protect his interests in the bolita and moonshine rackets, in which he was heavily involved with two unsavory accomplices, already behind bars. To many, Joe Peel just didn't look the part. In his early thirties, he was handsome and winning in his ways, given to white linen suits, heavy horn-rimmed sunglasses and an air-conditioned Cadillac. Until recently he had been a municipal judge in West Palm Beach, then had given up the law to go into business --a gyp, dummy corporation, the state claimed, set up to bilk senior citizens out of their retirement capital. On the first day of the trial, public opinion was pretty evenly divided. When Joe Peel announced that it was all part of a dastardly plot, a political frame to ruin an innocent, there were, in local parlance, as many "fer him as agin him." But come and attend, with America's favorite reporter and best-seller author, Jim Bishop, as he vividly re-creates, in nuances that range all the way from comic irony to a serious consideration of distilled evil, a trial that is likely to become an American classic.« less