Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clarence Gideon Story

Life Goes On

In Gideons Trumpet, Anthony Lewis portrayed Gideon as a heroic, albeit flawed, figure. He was cast even more heroically in the 1980 film version of the book, with Henry Fonda starring as Gideon.

Video Cover: Gideon's Trumpet
Video Cover: Gideon's Trumpet
But neither the book nor the movie gave the full story of Clarence Gideons life.

After his acquittal, he resumed his place in a well-worn rut. He married yet again and drifted from one Florida beer joint to the next. He died in Fort Lauderdale on January 18, 1972, at age 61. His kin back in Missouri reluctantly accepted Gideons body and laid him to rest in an unmarked grave.

Clarence Earl Gideon gravemarker
Clarence Earl Gideon gravemarker

Donors later added a simple granite headstone with this engraved script: Each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind.

The year Gideon died, the Supreme Court expanded its ruling in his case to include free counsel for anyone arrested who might spend even one day in jail if convicted, including those charged with misdemeanor crimes.

Abe Fortas
Abe Fortas
For his part, Abe Fortas saw his career flourish then flame out.

President Johnson appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965. When Chief Justice Warren announced his retirement three years later, Johnson nominated Fortas to lead the court.

But his Senate appointment hearings became a fiasco when questions were raised about the propriety of Fortas accepting lecture fees while on the court. Republicans filibustered his confirmation vote, and Fortas asked that his nomination to chief justice be withdrawn.

A year later, Fortas resigned from the court in scandal amid new revelations that he had accepted a $20,000 payment from a convicted felon while a member of the court. He lived in disgrace, a legal pariah in Washington, until 1982.