Robert Cosgrove "Bobby" Greenlease Jr. (1947-1953) was the son of multi-millionaire automobile dealer Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Sr., of Kansas City, Missouri. He was the victim of a kidnapping in September 1953 that led to the largest ransom payout in U.S. history at the time; however, Bobby Greenlease's abductors had no intention of returning him to his family. Before the ransom demand was even issued, the young boy was murdered by his abductors, Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Emily Brown Heady.
Multi-millionaire Robert Greenlease made his fortune introducing General Motors vehicles to the Great Plains in the early 20th century. He owned dealerships from Texas to South Dakota. Greenlease was quite elderly when Bobby was born, and the Greenleases doted upon him. Bobby was said to be a trusting boy. According to author John Heidenry, whose book Zero at the Bone: The Playboy, the Prostitute, and the Murder of Bobby Greenlease tells the story of the abduction and the criminals who abducted him, kidnapper Bonnie Heady said that from the moment she showed up at his school claiming to be a relative taking him to his sick mother, that he just took her hand and went along with anything he was told to do.
Abduction and murder
In September 1953, Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Emily Brown Heady kidnapped six-year-old Bobby Greenlease from Notre Dame de Sion, an exclusive Kansas City Catholic school located in Kansas City, Missouri. The kidnappers were drug-addicted alcoholics then living together in Saint Joseph, Missouri. In the early 1930s, Hall had attended Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri with Paul Robert Greenlease, Bobby's adopted older brother, and Hall had planned for some time to victimize his old classmate's wealthy family.
Heady went to the school, persuaded a nun that she was Bobby's aunt (and told the false story that Bobby's mother had suffered a heart attack), and took him away. Hall and Heady then took Bobby across the state line to Johnson County, Kansas, where Hall shot him to death with a .38 Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver.
After the murder, Hall and Heady then sent Bobby's father a message demanding a ransom of $600,000. Greenlease, desperately hoping to save his son, held off the police and FBI, and paid up. Hall and Heady collected the ransom and got away. It was the largest ransom paid up to that point in U.S. history.
However, Hall then became convinced that police would trace them to St. Joseph, and impulsively decided to drive to St. Louis instead.
Arrest and execution
Once in St. Louis, Hall left Heady in the middle of the night in a rented room, then contacted old criminal associates in an attempt to divert police attention from them. One of the associates, a former prostitute named Sandra O'Day, was supposed to fly to Los Angeles and mail a letter Hall had written from there in order to divert police attention from St. Louis; however, O'Day caught a glimpse of the ransom money and decided to do some redirection of her own. St. Louis police soon learned that Hall was flaunting a large sum of money, and they soon brought him in for questioning. Hall eventually implicated Heady; the police found Heady back at her own home outside Kansas City, and found a shallow grave in the backyard.
The Lindbergh kidnapping-type case so scandalized the nation that it led to federal indictments, trials, and subsequent executions for both Hall and Heady, who died together in the Missouri gas chamber on December 18, 1953. Kansas City painter Thomas Hart Benton served as the courtroom artist for United Press International during the trial. Heady was one of only two women since 1865 to be executed by federal authorities, the other being Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, who was executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York State, oddly enough also in 1953. Since the Federal government did not have any execution facilities, it chose a state which had the death penalty to carry out the execution.
Only about half the ransom money was recovered. The fate of the missing money remained a subject of wide speculation. A few of the theories are that a cab driver who took Hall to the Coral Court Motel had tipped off mob boss Joe Costello, that Hall tried unsuccessfully to bury the cash near the Meramec River (the FBI searched the area in vain), that suitcases in Hall's possession upon his arrest were not brought to the 11th District Precinct Station (with two arresting officers, Lieutenant Louis Ira Shoulders and Patrolman Elmer Dolan, subsequently federally indicted for perjury), that the cash fell into the hands of mobsters, or the money was hidden in the walls of the motel itself (the 1995 demolition of the Coral Court turned up nothing).
- Cole, Suzanne P.; Engle, Tim; Winkler, Eric (April 23, 2012). "50 things every Kansas Citian should know". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
- As described in an episode of Deadly Women entitled "Under His Control", originally aired in the United States on 2010-10-21 on Investigation Discovery cable channel.
- Heidenry, John (2009). Zero at the Bone: The Playboy, the Prostitute, and the Murder of Bobby Greenlease. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-37679-0.
- John Heidenry (2009). Zero at the Bone: The Playboy, the Prostitute, and the Murder of Bobby Greenlease. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312376796.
- FBI — The Greenlease kidnapping,
- James Hirsch (July 23, 1988). "St. Louis' Little Sin". NY Times News Service.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation's case on Greenlease kidnapping
- Blood Money and the Death of a Child — The United States v. Hall and Heady
- Crime Library Article on Greenlease
- Biography on Greenlease family by a close friend of the family
- Greenlease kidnapping
- Bobby Greenlease at Find a Grave