Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Jr.
February 3, 1947
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
|Died|| (aged 6)|
Lenexa, Kansas, U.S.
|Cause of death||Homicide by handgun|
|Resting place||Forest Hill Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.|
|Known for||Murder victim|
Bobby was the victim of a kidnapping on September 28, 1953 that led to the largest ransom payment in American history (at the time). His kidnappers, however, had no intention of returning him to his family. Before the ransom demand was even issued, he had been murdered by Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Emily Brown Heady.
Multi-millionaire Robert Greenlease made his fortune by introducing General Motors vehicles to the Great Plains in the early 20th century. He owned dealerships from Texas to South Dakota. He was 65 years old when Bobby was born in 1947, 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 is an account of the case, kidnapper Bonnie Heady said that from the moment she appeared at his school posing as his aunt to take him to his sick mother, Bobby just took her hand and did anything he was told to do.
Abduction and murder
The kidnappers were drug-addicted alcoholics then living together in nearby St. Joseph, Missouri. In the early 1930s, Hall had attended Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, with Paul Robert Greenlease, Bobby's adopted older brother. Hall had planned for years to victimize his former classmate's wealthy family.
Heady went to Bobby's school, persuading a nun that she was his aunt, and told her that his mother had suffered a heart attack. She then took him away, and was gone by the time the Greenleases discovered the lie.
Hall and Heady then took him across the state line to Johnson County, Kansas, where Hall shot him dead with a revolver. They then took his body to St. Joseph, MO and buried him in the backyard of Heady's house at 1201 South 38th Street.
After the murder, Hall and Heady sent Bobby's father a message demanding a ransom of $600,000 ($5.6 million today). Greenlease, desperately trying to save his son, held off the police and the FBI, paying the money. Hall and Heady collected the ransom and fled. At that time it was the largest ransom ever paid in American history, and remained so until the 1972 kidnapping of Virginia Piper.
Hall became convinced that police would trace them to St. Joseph, so he randomly decided to drive to St. Louis.
Once in St. Louis, Hall left Heady in the middle of the night in a rented room. He contacted criminal associates to enlist their help in diverting police attention. 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. It was thought that this would divert police attention from St. Louis. However, O'Day caught a glimpse of the ransom money and decided to do some diverting of her own. St. Louis police soon learned that Hall was flaunting a large sum of money, and they brought him in for questioning.
Hall eventually implicated Heady. The police found Heady at an apartment at 4504 Arsenal Street and discovered Bobby's body in a shallow grave in her backyard. Bobby Greenlease was later interred in a mausoleum at Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
The kidnapping and murder scandalized the nation and soon led to federal indictments for Hall and Heady. Both pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder, and were executed together in the Missouri gas chamber on December 18, 1953.
Heady was one of only two women since 1865 to be executed by federal authorities. The other one was Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg. Since the federal government did not have any execution facilities, it used Missouri's state facilities to carry out the execution.
Only $288,000 of the ransom money was recovered. The missing $312,000 remained a subject of wide speculation. Some of the theories accounting for this were:
- A cab driver who took Hall to the Coral Court Motel had tipped off mob boss Joe Costello.
- Hall tried unsuccessfully to bury the cash near the Meramec River, though the FBI would later search that area in vain.
- Suitcases in Hall's possession upon his arrest were not brought to the 11th District Precinct Station (the arresting officers, Lieutenant Louis Ira Shoulders and Patrolman Elmer Dolan, were subsequently federally indicted for perjury).
- The cash fell into the hands of mobsters or was hidden in the walls of the motel, though the 1995 demolition of the Coral Court Motel turned up nothing.
- Cole, Suzanne P.; Engle, Tim; Winkler, Eric (April 23, 2012). "50 things every Kansas Citian should know". The Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 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.
- "The Greenlease Kidnapping". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on January 22, 2016.
- "The 18 Largest Ransoms Ever Paid". Business Insider. Retrieved 2017-09-21.
- 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.
- James Hirsch (July 23, 1988). "St. Louis' Little Sin". NY Times News Service.