May 29, 1938
Robert Nixon (18) is arrested after a botched burglary
Nixon and accomplice Earl Hicks (19) were arrested following a burglary gone wrong during which Florence Johnson was beaten to death with a brick. Johnson’s sister, who shared the apartment, awoke to see two assailants leaving the home. Nixon was arrested within hours.
Fingerprints at the scene linked Nixon to the crime, as did bloody clothing and a scratch on the back of his hand. During questioning, both Hicks and Nixon confessed to the burglary but pinned the murder on the other. Eventually, after detectives gave Nixon “cocoanut pie and strawberry pop,” Nixon confessed to the murder of Johnson as well as another woman in Los Angeles. While investigating the Chicago murder, detectives found Nixon’s fingerprints matched those left behind during a string of Los Angeles attacks, and the crimes matched the timeframe Nixon was known to have been located in the area. Each victim had been bludgeoned with a brick.
The press immediately latched on the story, portraying Nixon as slow and “ferocious,” dubbing him “The Brick Moron.”
Nixon was suspected of killing as many as 5 people, though he was only convicted of the murder of Florence Johnson. He was executed by electrocution on June 16, 1939.
Doubt regarding Nixon’s guilt has been cast by some, including the newspaper The Chicago Defender. Nixon did retract his confession, claiming he was beaten until he confessed. Considering the time period, when police were eager to close a case more than finding the true perpetrator, it is possible, though not necessarily plausible, Nixon was not involved.
Photo from the Nevada State Journal (Reno, NV) June 08, 1938