Added: May 7, 2016 – Last updated: May 7, 2016


Author: Theodore Hamm

Title: Rebel and a Cause

Subtitle: Caryl Chessman and the Politics of the Death Penalty in Postwar California, 1948-1974

Place: Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London

Publisher: University of California Press

Year: 2001

Pages: 220pp.

ISBN-10: 0520224272 – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-10: 0520224280 (pbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

ISBN-13: 9780520925236 – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-13: 9780520224285 (pbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | American History: U.S. History | Cases: Offenders / Caryl Chessman; Cases: Victims / Regina Johnson, Alice Meza; Offenders: Punishments / Death Penalty



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Author: Theodore Hamm, Department of Journalism and New Media Studies, St. Joseph's CollegeWikipedia


  Acknowledgments (p. ix)
  Introduction (p. 1)
  1. The Antithesis of Reform (p. 11)
  2. The Sex Crimes of the Red Light Bandit (1948-1954) (p. 38)
  3. The Rehabilitation of a Criminal "Genius" (1954-1960) (p. 66)
  4. A Tale of Two Protests (1950-1960) (p. 92)
  5. Chessman's Ghost (1960-1974) (p. 135)
  Conclusion: 1974 and Beyond (p. 162)
  Notes (p. 169)
  Index (p. 205)


»Theodore Hamm uses the 1960 execution of Caryl Chessman as a lens for examining how politics and debates about criminal justice became a volatile mix that ignited postwar California. The effects of those years continue to be felt as the state's three-strikes law and expanding prison-construction program spark heated arguments over rehabilitation and punishment.
Known as the Red Light Bandit, Chessman allegedly stalked lovers' lanes in Los Angeles. Eventually convicted of rape and kidnapping, he was sentenced to death in 1948. In prison he gained significant notoriety as a writer, beginning with his autobiographical Cell 2455 Death Row (1954). In the following years Chessman presented himself not only as an innocent man but also as one rehabilitated from his prior life of crime. He acquired an enthusiastic audience among leading criminologists, liberal intellectuals, and ordinary citizens, many of whom engaged in protests to halt Chessman's execution. Hamm analyzes how Chessman convinced thousands of Californians to support him, and why Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, who opposed the death penalty, allowed the execution to go forward. He also demonstrates the intrinsic limits of the popular commitment to the rehabilitative ideal.
Rebel and a Cause places the Chessman case in a broad cultural and historical context, relating it to histories of prison reform, the anti-death penalty movement, the popularization of psychology, and the successive rise and decline of the New Left and the more enduring rise of the New Right.« (Source: University of California Press)


Banner, Stuart. The American Journal of Legal History 45(3) (July 2001): 327-328. – Full Text: Oxford University Press (Restricted Access)

Burgess, Larry E. Western Historical Quarterly 34(1) (February 2003): 91-92. – Full Text: Oxford University Press (Restricted Access)

Christianson, Scott. The Journal of American History 89(4) (March 2003): 1615-1616. – Full Text: Oxford University Press (Restricted Access)

Dix, Andrew. Journal of American Studies 37(1) (April 2003): 152. – Full Text: Cambridge University Press (Restricted Access)

Holmes, Judith L. Journal of the West 43(2) (April 2004): 92.

Lewis, Randolph. American Studies International 40(2) (June 2002): 106. – Full Text: JSTOR (Restricted Access)

Marquart, James W. The American Historical Review 107(4) (October 2002): 1252. – Full Text: Oxford University Press (Restricted Access)

Wikipedia: History of the Americas: History of the United States | Punishment: Capital punishment | Rape in the United States: Caryl Chessman