Curtis and Marjorie Chillingworth: West Palm Beach’s Crime of the Century

Lori Johnston
12 min readAug 3, 2020
Source: Florida Archives

In Palm Beach County, Florida in 1955, there was perhaps no greater admired person than Judge Curtis Chillingworth. His family had transplanted from New York with his father serving as the first city attorney. With law and justice running in the family, Curtis graduated from the University of Florida, was quickly admitted to the Florida bar and, in 1921, became the youngest person (at 24) to hold the circuit judge position. It was a title he would hold until his death.

Curtis also joined the United States Naval Academy and served in both World War I and World War II. Between the two wars, he married and had three daughters. He was considered local royalty and rightfully so.

He had a solid reputation as a fair and honest judge. He was also a stickler for punctuality and was known to stand outside the courtroom, watching the hand on the clock, to enter at precisely the exact time. He was reliable and dependable.

Source: The Coastal Star

So when he didn’t show up for an 8 a.m. appointment at his beachfront cottage in Manalapan on June 15, 1955, nor in his courtroom, there was immediate concern. The two carpenters that had been hired to build a playground for the Chillingworths’ grandchildren, and who had arrived at the Chillingworth residence at the agreed-upon time and date, found the door open and the house vacant. They waited for a period and then decided to have a swim in the ocean, taking the footpath that wound around the home and to the beach, where they spotted what they believed to be blood. Upon closer inspection, they also noted that the home’s floodlight was shattered. They immediately contacted the authorities.

At the courthouse in West Palm Beach, Judge Chillingworth’s 10 a.m. calendar came and went with no appearance or word from him.

Police responded quickly, given the missing man’s notoriety in the area. There wasn’t a lot to go on. They had the glass shards from the broken floodlight, two empty spools of tape — one in the living room and one in the sand —…

Lori Johnston

Writer, reader, margarita drinker. Currently looking for a “dare to be great” situation.