Fifty-nine years ago on the 28th of December sisters Barbara (15) and Patricia “Petey” (13) left their home at 3634 S. Damen Avenue to see the Elvis Presley movie “Love Me Tender” at the Brighton Theater on Archer Avenue. They never returned home.
That night their older sister Theresa and younger brother Joey went to the bus stop at Archer and 35th Street to meet them and walk them home. They never got off the bus. Loretta Grimes, their mother, knew something was wrong immediately. She contacted friends, neighbors and the police but nobody knew where her girls were. Initially the police suggested that the girls were probably out with boyfriends or had run away. Loretta knew her girls and they had never run away and did not have a reason to run away. They did not take a change of clothes or any extra money and had left their favorite Christmas presents at home which included a new A.M. radio.
Almost a week passed before the authorities started treating it as a missing person case. Once they did, the leads starting pouring in from everywhere. It seemed that every bus driver and cab driver in the city of Chicago had seen them. Reports were actually coming in from as far away as Memphis, Tennessee. People claimed to have seen the girls at a bus station in Elvis’s home town and were probably there to visit their idol.
The case quickly gained national attention and Elvis Presley even made a radio plea for the girls to go home to their mother. The case still holds the record for the most amount of resources expended by Cook County in a missing person case. Surrounding suburbs assisted and a special task force was set up.
Mrs. Grimes went through hell for almost a month with letters and phone calls coming in daily. While some were supportive there were many phone calls that were extremely cruel. Callers said that it served her right for letting her girls go out that late or that they got what they deserved. She had received three letters from different sources all claiming to have abducted the girls and asking for ransom money. The FBI was called in and determined that all three were hoaxes or crackpots.
All hope for the Grimes family was lost on January 22, 1957 when a man named Leonard Prescott discovered the nude bodies of two girls on the north side of German Church Road a few hundred feet east of County Line Road in unincorporated Burr Ridge. Their father, Joseph Grimes, who had been divorced from their mother for 11 years, made the initial identification of the girls at the scene and another family member made an additional identification at the Cook County Morgue.
The bodies were unclothed and frozen. Suspects were interviewed, tips came in and finally the only person facing charges was a local drifter named Edward Lee “Bennie” Bedwell who worked as a part-time dishwasher at the D&L Restaurant on Madison Street. The owners of the restaurant contacted police because they remembered Bennie and a male friend with two young women who resembled the sisters.
Bennie was arrested and interrogated for three days in a motel room owned by a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy. At the end of the third day he had written and signed a multi-page confession even though he didn’t know how to read or write.
Eventually the Coroner’s Inquest and autopsy reports would clear Bedwell and the fictional account portrayed in the confession. There would never be another arrest made in the case that amounted to anything.
The funeral for the girls was held at the Wollschlager Funeral Home at 3604 S. Hoyne with Holy Mass at St. Maurice Church. The girls were buried side by side at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on 111th Street in Alsip.
The only cause of death determined by autopsy and coroner’s inquest was “Secondary Shock due to Low Temperatures-Cold” In other words they froze to death.
There have been all types of theories and believe me I think I have heard them all. Theories such as; “It was a mob hit because the mother or father may have owed them money” or “The girls’ father did it because he got one of them pregnant”
I started researching the case back in 2009 after I had left law enforcement and have spoken with many individuals who have forwarded info which in turn was forwarded to the authorities.
I started a facebook page called “Help Solve Chicago’s Grimes Sisters’ Murder” as a way for those interested in the case to share remembrances, thoughts, theories and any other stories related to the case. As of the writing of this article there are over 800 members that consist of former and current law enforcement, friends, neighbors and even relatives of the girls. The group has generated info that has been passed on to authorities and there have been initial talks about fund-raisers to help generate reward money to help others to come forward as well.
I had the distinct honor of meeting with a brother and sister of the girls a number of times and both I and the family believe that the case is still solvable but only with the help of the public.
For years after the murders, Loretta Grimes worked as a matron for the Cook County Jail at 26th and California. One deputy that worked with her remembered her as a very quiet woman who one day took him aside and asked him to never give up looking for her girls’ murderers.
Mrs. Grimes died on December 8, 1989 without ever knowing who was responsible for the deaths of her girls. She was buried at Holy Sepulchre not far from her daughters.
If you are interested in joining the facebook group “Help Solve Chicago’s Grimes Sisters’ Murder” you can click the link and request to join.
People with information can also send info about the crime directly to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department Cold Case Website here.
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