Murder of the Grimes sisters
Barbara and Patricia Grimes were teenage sisters who disappeared from the Brighton Park, Chicago, Illinois area on December 28, 1956 and were found dead on January 22, 1957. Despite an official conclusion that they had been murdered on the night of their disappearance, there were numerous sightings of the girls in the interim prior to their discovery. The confessions of the initial prime suspect in the case were found not to line up with the forensic evidence, and he later recanted. What exactly happened to the sisters, and when, remains unsolved to this day.
On December 28, 1956, sisters Barbara (age 15) and Patricia (13), students at Kelly High School and St. Maurice, respectively, went to the Brighton Theater to see the Elvis Presley movie Love Me Tender. The theater was around one-and-a-half miles from their McKinley Park home. They had $2.15 between them, but it is unknown how they arrived at the theater. Patricia's friend Dorothy Weinert reported sitting with both sisters during the first showing of the movie. Other friends subsequently saw them at 9:30 p.m., standing in the popcorn line of the theatre. They seemed in good spirits and no-one noticed anything unusual.
The second show was over by about 11 p.m., and they were expected home around 11:45 p.m. When there was still no sign of them by midnight, their mother Loretta sent their older brother and sister to wait by the nearest bus stop for their arrival. After three buses had gone by with no sign of them, the siblings returned. At 2:15 a.m., their mother reported Barbara and Patricia as missing.
Their disappearance launched one of the biggest missing-person cases in Chicago history, producing many reports of sightings but nothing in the way of hard evidence. It was initially thought that they might have simply run away, possibly to Nashville to see Elvis Presley in concert. On January 19, 1957, a statement attributed to Presley was issued: "If you are good Presley fans, you'll go home and ease your mother's worries."
Between the last confirmed sighting of them at the movie theatre and the subsequent discovery of their bodies on January 22, there were several unconfirmed sightings of the girls both in and outside the city. The most widely reported included:
- Numerous people said that they saw the girls boarding a CTA bus on Archer Avenue heading east into the city after the screening. They subsequently got off the bus at Western Avenue, about halfway to their home, around 11:05 pm. Why they would get off the bus at this station is unknown.
- At approximately 11:30 pm, two teenage boys driving through the neighborhood saw the sisters heading east on 35th Street, "giggling and jumping out of doorways at each other" near Seely and Damen avenues, approximately two blocks from their home.
- A security guard on the northwest side believed he was asked for directions by the Grimes girls near Lawrence and Central Park avenues on the morning of December 29.
- A classmate of Patricia's, eating at Angelo's Restaurant at 3551 South Archer Avenue on the evening of December 29, reported her as walking past with two other unidentified young girls.
- A railroad conductor reported seeing them on a train near the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in north suburban Glenview.
- On December 30 at 5:40 am, the owner of the D&L Restaurant at 1340 West Madison claimed to have seen both girls, with Patricia apparently too drunk or sick to walk without staggering, accompanied by suspect Bennie Bedwell. This location was over five-and-a-half miles from the Brighton Theater. A clerk at the Claremont Hotel, after viewing the bodies at a mortuary, likewise identified the sisters as having checked into the hotel on this date.
- On January 1, 1957, the girls were reported aboard a CTA bus on Damen Avenue.
- The following week a night clerk at the Unity Hotel on West 61st street refused two girls a room because of their age, whom he believed were the Grimes sisters.
- On January 3, three employees at Kresge department store thought they had seen the girls listening to Elvis Presley music at the record counter.
- Adding credence to the theory that both sisters had run away to Nashville, a woman reported having met them at a bus station there, and accompanied them to a state employment agency to search for work. A clerk at the same agency identified the sisters from photographs and recalled them using the name 'Grimes'.
- On January 14, the parents of Patricia Grimes' classmate Sandra Tollstan received two telephone calls around midnight. During the first call, nobody at the other end spoke. Picking up the second phone call 15 minutes later, Sandra's mother Ann heard a "frightened and depressed" voice asking "Is that you, Sandra? Is Sandra there?" Before Ann could bring her daughter to the phone, the caller had hung up. Ann was convinced that the caller's voice belonged to Patricia Grimes.
Discovery of bodies
Following a thaw and rain, on January 22, 1957, a construction worker named Leonard Prescott found the nude bodies of the Grimes sisters in a snowbank behind a guard rail off German Church Road, in unincorporated Willow Springs (later incorporated as part of Willowbrook in 1960). It was thought that they had most likely been dumped there from a passing car. Barbara Grimes lay on her left side with her legs slightly drawn up toward her body. Patricia Grimes lay on her back, covering her sister's head, with her own head turned sharply to the right.
The autopsy, performed by experienced pathologists, concluded that due to their stomach contents containing the approximate proportions of their last known meal, both sisters had in fact died within about five hours of the time they were last seen at the theatre, i.e. on either the evening of December 28 or the early morning of the 29th. However, Harry Glos, at the time chief investigator for the Cook County coroner's office, disagreed with the time of death. He pointed to a thin layer of ice found on the bodies of the girls as indicating that they had been alive until at least January 7, since only after that date would there have been snowfall enough to react with their warm bodies and create the ice layer, let alone hide the bodies until their discovery.
There were no obviously fatal wounds on either girl's body and nothing to indicate that they had been drunk, drugged or poisoned. Despite being "very clean", both corpses had various bruises and rodent bites, including three puncture wounds in Barbara's chest that may have come from an ice pick. It was also later revealed by authorities that Barbara at least had likely had sexual intercourse around the time of her death, but no evidence of forcible molestation was found. Cause of death was finally determined to have been due to secondary shock resulting from exposure.
Edward Lee "Bennie" Bedwell was a 21-year-old illiterate drifter from Tennessee who allegedly bore some resemblance to Elvis Presley. According to Minnie Duros, owner of the D&L Restaurant where Bedwell had worked as a dish washer, he was there with the Grimes sisters on the morning of December 30, 1956. Bedwell was booked on murder charges January 27, 1957 after signing a confession stating that he and another man were with the Grimes sisters January 7 and after seven days of drinking at West Madison Street ("skid row") saloons, they fed the sisters hot dogs and then beat them to death for refusing their further sexual advances before discarding the bodies on January 13. Loretta Grimes, mother of the victims, was quoted upon Bedwell's alleged confession: "It's a lie. My girls wouldn't be on West Madison Street, they didn't even know where it was." He later withdrew the confession on the grounds that it had been coerced by the sheriff's men. The autopsy reports later supported this contention as no alcohol or hot dogs were found in the victims' systems nor had they been beaten to death. Bedwell was also clocked in at Ajax Consolidated Company, his place of employment, from 4:19 pm on December 28, 1956, to 12:30 am on December 29, covering the time period of the girls' likely abduction and murder.
However Harry Glos, who strongly believed Bedwell had in fact committed the murders, later charged that the marks found on the bodies had not been adequately investigated. He further theorised that they were evidence that the sisters had been beaten, and, in tandem with the evidence of sexual activity, were thus in line with Bedwell's claims. Glos claimed that official investigators were covering up these and potentially other more lurid details of the case, possibly out of a desire to protect the girls' reputations and/or spare their mother's feelings. Similar allegations would be repeated in later years by others, some of whom claimed to have seen the original casefiles. The Chicago crime lab, meanwhile, continued to insist that there was no evidence in either girl's case of extreme violence or sexual molestation. After refusing to retract his statements, Glos was fired by Coroner Walter E. McCarron on February 15.
Max Fleig was a 17-year-old suspect in this case. He voluntarily took a polygraph test and failed it. After failing the polygraph, he allegedly confessed to kidnapping the girls. However, because at that time it was illegal to perform the polygraph test on a minor, police had to let Fleig go. He was never charged with the murders because there was no evidence that he killed or kidnapped the girls other than his alleged confession and the polygraph failure. Max Fleig was sent to prison a few years later for the unrelated murder of a young woman.
Walter Kranz, a 53-year-old steamfitter, called police on January 15 to say that he had dreamt that the bodies of the girls were in Santa Fe Park at 81st Street and Wolf Road. The park was around one-and-a-half miles from the true location where they were to be found one week later. Krantz told police that psychic powers ran in his family. After multiple interrogations by the police, he was released.
Silas Jayne was a stable owner who, as the Helen Brach investigation was later to reveal, was connected to the Peterson-Schuessler murders of 1955 through pederast Kenneth Hansen. Hansen owned Bro-Ken H Stables at 8214 Kean Avenue in Willow Springs around the time of the Grimes sisters murder.
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