Murder of the Grimes sisters
|Barbara and Patricia Grimes|
Barbara (left) and Patricia Grimes
|Disappeared||December 28, 1956
Brighton Park, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||December 28 or 29, 1956|
|Cause of death||Murder|
|Body discovered||January 22, 1957|
|Occupation||High school students|
|Known for||Murder victims|
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 alleged sightings of the girls in the weeks between that night and the discovery of their bodies.
The confession of the prime suspect, Bennie Bedwell, was not supported by the forensic evidence, and he later recanted it. The case has never been solved.
On December 28, 1956, sisters Barbara (aged 15) and Patricia (aged 13), students at Thomas Kelly High School and St. Maurice respectively, went to the Brighton Theater to see the Elvis Presley movie Love Me Tender.
Patricia's friend, Dorothy Weinert, sat behind the girls with her own younger sister during the movie. Weinert and her sister left the theatre at the intermission of the double feature showing that night, about 9:30, and saw the Grimes girls in the popcorn line. They seemed in good spirits and neither the Weinerts nor anyone else noticed anything unusual.
The sisters stayed for the second film, and were expected home around 11:45 p.m. When there was 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.
The two girls' 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, Tennessee to see Elvis Presley in concert or just to "emulate his lifestyle." On January 19, 1957, a statement was issued from Presley's Graceland estate: "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 on December 28, 1956, and the subsequent discovery of their bodies on January 22, 1957, there were several unconfirmed sightings of the girls both in and outside the city. The most widely reported sightings include the following:
- Numerous people said that they saw the girls boarding a CTA bus on Archer Avenue heading east into the city after the screening. They allegedly got off the bus at Western Avenue, about halfway to their home, around 11:05 pm. Why they would get off the bus at that station is unknown.
- Two teenage boys said that while they were driving through the neighborhood at approximately 11:30 pm, they saw the sisters heading east on 35th Street, "giggling and jumping out of doorways at each other" near Seely and Damen Avenues. At this point they would have been 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 said he had 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 "Grimes" name.
- 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 stated she was convinced that the caller's voice belonged to Patricia Grimes.
Discovery of the bodies
Following a thaw and rain, on January 22, 1957, while driving along German Church Road, about 200 feet east of County Line Road in unincorporated Willow Springs (later, in 1960, incorporated as part of Burr Ridge) a construction worker named Leonard Prescott spotted the nude bodies of the Grimes sisters behind a guard rail. Initially unsure of what he had seen, Prescott later returned to the site with his wife Marie, who fainted on taking a closer look.
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. It was thought that they had most likely been dumped there from a passing car.
The autopsy, performed by experienced pathologists, concluded that due to their stomachs 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. The immediate cause of death was given as "secondary shock" resulting from exposure to low temperatures.
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 dishwasher, 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, chief investigator for the Cook County coroner's office, 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.
The case remains unsolved. The sisters' mother died in 1989.
In 2013, Ray Johnson, a retired West Chicago police officer, began an investigation of the case, on his own accord. Johnson became interested in the Grimes sisters' case in 2010, while he was researching a book he was writing about the city's history. The Grimes sisters' brother, James Grimes, aged 68 in 2013, who was 11 when Patricia and Barbara disappeared, welcomed what he saw as the "reopening of the case." He stated "I just assumed it was never going to be solved. [But] maybe there's hope."
- On the death certificates of both Barbara and Patricia Grimes, their death is labeled as "murder" although the line for "immediate cause" reads "secondary shock - exposure to low temperatures - cold."
- "3634 South Damen Avenue to 4223 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, Illinois". MapQuest.
- Shaffer, Tamara (20 March 1997). "Death and the Maidens". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Nash, Jay Robert. Open Files: A Narrative Encyclopedia of the World's Greatest Unsolved Crimes; Mcgraw-Hill; April 1983; ISBN 978-0070459076
- "4223 South Archer Avenue to 1340 West Madison, Chicago, IL". mapquest.
- UP (26 January 1957). "Suspect In Chicago Murders Admits, Then Denies Crime". Middlesboro Daily News. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- AP (28 January 1957). "Skid Row Drifter Says He and Crony Tossed 2 Sisters Out of Car (page 2)". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- O'Brien, John (25 September 1994). "Window To Past Crimes - Files Of Ex-coroner Aide May Help Solve Murders". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- UP (9 February 1957). "Doctors Say Exposure Killed Grimes Sisters". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- UP (16 February 1957). "Grimes Case Tiff Costs Job - Coroner's Aide Backed by Detective Chief, but Is Fired". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- UP (28 January 1957). "Skid Row Dishwasher Admits Slugging 2 Sisters To Death". The Deseret News. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- AP (28 January 1957). "Skid Row Drifter Says He and Crony Tossed 2 Sisters Out of Car (page 1)". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- Shaffer, Tamara (2006). Murder Gone Cold - The Mystery of the Grimes Sisters. Ghost Research Society Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780976607274.
- Associated Press (28 January 1957). "Bedwell Charged in Sister Slayings". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- Gavzer, Bernard (9 February 1957). "Pathology Report Says Grimes Girls Died Of Exposure". The News and Courier. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- UP (16 February 1957). "Prober Is Fired After Charging Grimes Cover Up". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- Associated Press (23 January 1957). "Wide Hunt Opened For Girls' Slayers". The Miami News. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- "Lorretta Marcela Hayes Grimes (1906 - 1989) - Find A Grave Memorial", 17 May 2009
- "Can a Facebook group Help Solve Grimes Sisters Murder?" by Ray Johnson, ChicagoNow, 22 January 2013
- "Murders of 2 sisters in 1956 getting new look" by Naomi Nix, Chicago Tribune, 30 May 2013