Today is the 56th Anniversary of the disappearance and subsequent murder of Barbara and Patricia Grimes. I have written about the case many times because being a retired police investigator the case struck a chord with me many years ago. I am not old enough to remember the crime itself but many of the people I talk to are and they almost without fail mention that Chicago teenagers and for that matter the City itself lost its innocence. When I had originally written about the case I couldn’t reveal much of the information that I had unearthed when doing research because it was still a Chicago cold case and I had met with the Chicago and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to share information that had surfaced and still keep them very much in the loop.
Fifteen year old Barbara Jeanne Grimes and her thirteen year old sister, Patricia Kathleen Grimes, were two of the six children of Joseph and Loretta Grimes of 3634 S. Damen Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago. Loretta worked as a clerk for the Parke Davis Co. and Joseph was a union truck driver. The couple had been divorced for about 11 years at this point and Joseph was remarried.
At about 7:30pm on the night of December 28, 1956, the girls left their home with $2.50 between them. Their plan was to see the newly released Elvis Presley movie, “Love Me Tender” for the 15th time at the now demolished Brighton Theater on Archer Avenue. They never came home.
What followed was one of the most labor intensive missing persons cases in Chicago and Cook County history. Thousands of man-hours and hundreds of police officers were utilized from Chicago as well as neighboring towns such as La Grange, Justice, Bridgeview, Summit, Bedford Park, Willow Springs and the Cook County Forest Preserve Police.
Reports of sightings of the girls started pouring in from as far away as Nashville, Tennessee and Elvis Presley himself was on the radio pleading with the girls to return home. The police initially were of the opinion that the girls had run away but their mother never wavered from her belief that the girls would never do such a thing and that she feared the worst. Their mother could not believe that they would leave home with virtually no money, no change of clothes and leaving all of their Christmas presents behind including a treasured A.M. radio.
All hope was lost on January 22, 1957 when a man by the name of Leonard Prescott was driving east along German Church Road on his way to the grocery store when he noticed what he thought were two mannequins on the north side of the road just east of County Line Road. He went back to get his wife and returned to the scene to find what turned out to be the bodies of Patricia and her sister Barbara. They reported their findings to the Willow Springs Police Department at 1:30pm that day.
The bodies were unclothed with Barbara, the older but smaller girl, lying face down and Patricia lying face up on top of Barbara and perpendicular. There was no obvious cause of death although it appeared as though their faces had been damaged. The damage was later found to be destruction by animals. It was thought that the girls were probably there since the heavy snows of January 9th and 10th and that the recent thaw had revealed them.
Following the discovery, a number of suspects were interviewed and cleared. The most publicized suspect was Edward Lee (Bennie) Bedwell who had gone so far as confessing to the murders however it was later shown that “Bennie” was borderline mentally retarded and that his confession had been coerced by the Cook County Sheriff’s Police. He was later cleared by then Cook County State’s Attorney Benjamin Adamowski.
The autopsy later revealed that the girls had died within four hours of going missing because the meals that they had eaten that night at home were still in the girls’ stomachs. The official finding by the coroner’s jury was that they were murdered and the only cause of death they could come up with was “exposure to the elements”. Then coroner, Walter McCarron was criticized because there were reports that the autopsies had been flubbed.
The funeral took place on January 28, 1957 and was donated by the Wollschlager Funeral Home. The mass was held at St. Maurice Church where Patricia went to grade school. The funeral was attended by many including Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Newspaper accounts say that Loretta collapsed several times and was heard sobbing that she was finally with her girls again. Two white closed caskets were each topped with a picture of each girl. The girls were laid to rest at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery only 10 feet from a sister, Leona Freck, who had died two years earlier.
The case remained unsolved and Loretta Grimes, for many years, volunteered her time at the Bridewell prison not far from where her girls’ bodies were discovered. The authorities told her that they would never give up on the case. Loretta passed away in 1989 at the age of 83 without ever knowing how or why her girls died and who had killed them.
Shortly after I had conducted the research for the book “Chicago’s Haunt Detective” (I had included the Grimes case in the book because of some ghost stories associated with where the girls’ bodies were found) I came across a similar crime that took place in Addison, IL about one year after the Grimes case. It involved the murder of Bonnie Leigh Scott who was murdered at the age of 15 and whose nude body was found by a group of cub scouts from Cicero on a nature hike just over a guard rail at 95th and LaGrange Road near Palos Hills. The man who was responsible for the crime had made a phone call to Loretta Grimes shortly after Scott’s body was discovered boasting about killing the Grimes girls and Scott and getting away with both crimes. Mrs. Grimes claimed that the voice of that person was the same as the voice of the person who called her after her girls’ bodies were discovered and boasted about undressing them and shared with Loretta personal information about one of the girls that was not previously published. Loretta was quoted as saying “I will never forget that voice”.
I am withholding the name of the person who was charged and convicted in the Grimes case because I was told by a prior neighbor of the person that his daughters may not be aware of his history and should find out in a way other than a newspaper or blog post and I agree.
That person was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 99 years in prison by a DuPage County Court but was released after only roughly 11 years. He later got married and had two children. He was originally going to be questioned by the Chicago police but his attorney had blocked all attempts at an interview.
Aside from the phone call to Loretta Grimes there was other physical evidence on the Grimes girls’ bodies that match the M.O. of the Scott case and would help to explain some of the then unexplained and “non lethal” marks on the Grimes bodies.
On top of this new information I was contacted about a year ago by a woman who claimed to be with the Grimes girls on the night they went missing and was actually abducted with them! I had lunch with her and the details in her story were amazing. She had not come forward back in 1956 because she was only 14 years old at the time and was terrified! She did agree to talk to authorities and I cannot share her information for obvious reasons but she did say something to me that raised the hairs on my neck and that was that she mentioned that the person who abducted the Grimes girls had a very distinctive voice!
I truly believe that this case is still solvable and unfortunately the person responsible for the Scott case cannot be interviewed because he passed away in 2010 shortly after I had shared this info with the authorities. I feel very strongly about this case because while I was doing the research I read an interview with a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy who worked with Loretta Grimes and in that interview Loretta (thought publicly had said she would just rather leave her girls’ killer to God) had pleaded with this deputy to never give up looking for her girls’ killer. I have created a Facebook group called “Help Solve the Grimes Sisters Murder” and it has been active for about a year now and I have made some great contacts with people who are familiar with the case and we share information that may help solve the case someday. You can also find links to my other history related Facebook groups at my website www.hauntdetective.com .
I know that Lorretta is no longer with us but I do know the Grimes girls have living siblings and I think we as Chicagoans owe them some closure if it is at all possible.