Caryl Chessman – The Ram Lies Down

Capricorn Research has to confess to once being a fan of rock group Genesis, in mitigation it was only during the Peter Gabriel period. One of the favourite albums is The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway which contains a track about a Broadway parade that features a number of American icons of the time like Howard Hughes and Marshall McLuhan. There is an intriguing line which goes  “…The Cheerleader waves her cyanide wand, there’s a smell of peach-blossom and bitter almond. Caryl Chessman sniffs the air and leads the parade. He knows, in a scent, you can bottle all you made.”

Caryl Chessman was an American criminal who was executed with hydrogen cyanide gas after a long spell on death row. His case was covered worldwide and he became a cause célèbre for the movement to ban capital punishment as there was a suggestion that he was innocent of the charge that condemned him to death. The Genesis lyric combines the cyanide with the phrase ” in a scent ” which could be construed as “innocent”.

Chessman was called the “Red Light Bandit” as he would flash a red light on his car to stop people, pretending to be a cop, rape the woman and rob the man. When he was caught he was convicted of robbery, rape and kidnapping which at the time was a capital offence and he was condemned to death.

Caryl Chessman

Chessman’s chart is an interesting one. It contains two district patterns, a T Square with an apex Sun and Mars in Gemini at the top of the chart and an exact Moon / Neptune opposition. These two themes would dominate his life.

Even in his childhood they had a powerful impact. His father was an alcoholic as indicated by the Moon ( a parent ) opposite Neptune ( alcohol ).  His mother was paralyzed from an car accident as shown by the Sun conjunct Mars ( driving ) in Gemini ( movement ) in square to Uranus ( disruption ). Mars square Uranus is the clearest indicator of susceptibility to accidents in a chart.

The accident occurred when Chessman was nine years old. This coincided with the two aspect patterns coming together symbolically as Neptune transited to his T Square in conjunction with the Ascendant and Jupiter opposite Uranus and square to his Sun and Mars.

He was a sickly, asthmatic kid. The Moon in the 6th house of health opposite Neptune would suggest a tendency to delicate health and a Sun conjunct Mars in Gemini with difficult aspects would indicate problems with breathing as the part of the body ruled by the sign are the lungs.

The symbolism is particularly strong for the Red Light Bandit. Gemini is the sign of movement and short distance travel, the colour of Mars is obviously red.

Other points on the T Square also add to the picture. The Ascendant rules the image portrayed and Virgo rising presents an image of purity and control. Jupiter would rule the authorities and Saturn the idea of being stopped. Uranus covers unexpected and sudden incidents.

So we have Chessman pretending to be a policeman ( Jupiter conjunct a Virgo Ascendant ) stopping (  conjunct Saturn ) his targets. When they opened their windows or exited the vehicle he would take them by surprise ( opposite Uranus )  he would rob and, in the case of several young women, rape them ( apex Sun / Mars conjunction ).

In Capricorn Research’s collection of charts of criminals there are interesting pointers. In the charts of 123 people involved in sex crime, Gemini is the joint highest scoring Sun sign along with Leo and Pisces with 136% of the expected figure.

In the collection of 545 Murderers Gemini is by some distance the lowest scoring sign for both Sun and Moon with only 76% of the average in both cases.

Whilst Saturn, Uranus and Neptune figure strongly in Chessman’s chart and all three have difficult aspects, Pluto has relatively little involvement nataly.

So whilst this is clearly the chart of a dangerous criminal, its not a classic one of a murderer and therefore not one for someone who would normally be condemned to death.

Part of the controversy surrounding the Chessman case stems from how the death penalty was applied. Chessman was convicted in 1948 under California’s version of the “Little Lindbergh Law”, any crime that involved kidnapping with bodily harm could be considered a capital offense. It was alleged that Chessman dragged one girl a considerable distance from her car demanding oral sex and separately took another woman from her car to his. Despite the short distances involved the court considered it sufficient to qualify as kidnapping, thus making Chessman eligible for the death penalty.

The law that allowed someone to be executed for kidnapping combined with robbery and bodily harm was amended and totally written off the statute books in 1951. This fact did not alter Chessman’s position, however.

Throughout the trial Chessman asserted his innocence claiming that he was the victim of mistaken identity, but also alleging that statements he made during his initial police interrogation implicating him in the Red Light Bandit crimes were coerced through torture.

Whilst on death row he wrote books about his case which focused attention on the politics of the death penalty in the United States at a time when many Western countries had already abandoned it. He filed many appeals and successfully avoided eight execution deadlines, primarily on the grounds that the original trial was improperly conducted. The appeals were successful but a final review meant that Chessman was scheduled to die in February 1960.

The irony is that Chessman was executed for a crime that had ceased to be a capital offence 10 years previously.

Where might we find astrological symbols of innocence ? Virgo is the sign of purity reserve and sexual innocence. Gemini is the light hearted curiosity of youth. It’s a character that wants to play with life and taste lots of different types of experience. It’s not a sign that is weighed down by the past and so it carries it’s own innocence. So a Gemini Sun with Virgo rising suggests innocence.

The problem with the chart is that planets in the 1st house will always affect the expression of the Ascendant in ways that are dependant on their own nature. In some cases, rising planets can completely alter the persons image because they are so different to the rising sign itself.

Caryl Chessman had Jupiter and Saturn in the 1st house. Jupiter rules the law and Saturn is the principle of negation and restraint.

With an apex Sun / Mars conjunction, Caryl Chessman was guilty of rape and robbery, but Virgo rising suggests that he was innocent of charges that caused him to be sentenced to death. However the law ( Jupiter ) condemned him ( Saturn ).

Even so he might have still got a reprieve but for the other end of the T Square opposition. Uranus is the planet of freedom and a sudden last minute reprieve would certainly come under its rulership.

The Chessman affair put California Governor, Pat Brown, an opponent of the death penalty, in a difficult situation. Brown issued a last-minute, 60-day stay of execution on February 19, 1960, just hours before Chessman’s scheduled execution but this ran out in April 1960. Brown was unable to grant Chessman executive clemency and he finally went to the gas chamber on May 2, 1960.

Shortly after the execution had started and Chessman was already reacting to the hydrogen cyanide gas, the telephone rang. The caller was a judge’s secretary informing the warden of a new stay of execution. There was no way to stop the fumes or open the chamber door and remove Chessman without the fumes killing others. Due to her nervousness, the secretary had initially dialed the wrong telephone number and lost valuable seconds in getting the call through.

Uranus rules communications technology and as it’s in Pisces there can be some confusion. Pisces is the most fluid of all signs, it lacks a single clear direction. Good intentions can often be vague and misdirected. Uranus always acts at a rush and in Pisces wrong numbers can be dialled.

If Uranus had been trine the Jupiter / Saturn conjunction there would have been a smooth harmonious connection between the people that wanted to free Chessman and the authorities that had already condemned him. As the aspect between them was an opposition, both parties would be working in different directions so would not come together in time to grant the reprieve and save his life.

When would all this be expected to happen ? During his short life, Pluto would make two transits, one to the Moon / Neptune opposition and the other to the T Square.

Chessman was arrested in 1948 when Pluto was opposite his Moon and conjunct his Neptune. He had to stay on death row for 12 years ( the longest ever in the United States at the time ) because that’s how long it took for Pluto to reach the T Square conjunct his Ascendant and square his Sun which it did in 1960.

Chessman’s case attracted global media coverage and there were appeals for clemency from many famous figures across the political spectrum as diverse as Norman Mailer and Billy Graham. Its hardly surprising that the case gained so much attention since Chessman’s apex Sun and Mars was in the sign of communication, Gemini at the top of his chart.

The main theme of the Genesis album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the loss of innocence in modern life. As a serial robber and rapist no one could think of him as a complete innocent so perhaps the lamb is not an appropriate image.

Maybe a more aggressive and symbol like the Ram would suffice. This is the symbol for Aries and this sign’s ruling planet, Mars is at the apex of his T Square dominating his chart.

From the look of his chart, Caryl Chessman was a sacrificial ram.


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2 thoughts on “Caryl Chessman – The Ram Lies Down

  1. I find the death penalty abhorrent but I think it is dangerous to assume innocence on the basis of the ascending sign. Chessman’s midpoints both in 45° and 22.5° sorts show some very interesting patterns, as does his Mars/Saturn arc transform chart.

    • Thanks Ian. I did not assume Chessman was innocent of the crimes committed. Its just the question of whether those crimes justified the death penalty as they were not murder.
      And if you’re going to use midpoints with 45 and 22.5 degree aspects to identify guilt, the chances are most of us would end up in the electric chair.

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