Tomorrow is the 57th Anniversary of the disappearance of sisters Barbara and Patricia Grimes (known as Petey to close friends and family). The girls went missing after not returning home from the Elvis Presley movie, “Love Me Tender”, at the Brighton Theater on the evening of December 28, 1956. A month long missing persons hunt ensued which gained national attention including the attention of Elvis Presley himself who broadcasted a radio message asking the girls to prove they were good Elvis fans by returning home to their mother.
Tragically, on the afternoon of January 22, 1957, it became painfully obvious that the girls would not ever return home. A man named Leonard Prescott reported to the Willow Springs Police department that he had seen what he initially thought were two mannequins laying on the north side of German Church road a short distance east of County Line Road in unincorporated Burr Ridge, IL. Their father, Joseph Grimes, confirmed what everyone had feared.
What happened since that day was probably the single largest expenditure of law enforcement energy on a single case in Illinois history. It started as a Chicago Police Department Case and became the jurisdiction of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police once the girls were found in unincorporated Cook County.
The case took an amazing number of twists and turns and suspects were arrested, interviewed, one charged but eventually all released. The case went cold but is still an open and active investigation spearheaded still by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
The case has become somewhat legend in law enforcement circles and being a former criminal investigator I had known of the case but not in any real detail. That was until an unseen turn of events changed my life forever.
On November 17, 2003, I was forced to take the life of a suspect who had attacked me with a knife. Approximately 3 months later I started to show symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress although it felt more like I was having a heart attack or an asthma attack. After trying to fight back for almost two years with therapy and medication it soon became too dangerous to continue doing the job that I loved and in March of 2005 I left police work on a disability pension.
I found myself having to reinvent myself. I had always enjoyed doing historical research and was somewhat of a Chicago history buff. I started doing professional research for family historians, authors, attorneys and television shows. It was very rewarding. I had also been a big fan of Chicago legends and a publisher had loved the idea of looking at Chicago legends and folklore from a former investigator’s viewpoint and one of the those stories was the unsolved murder of the Grimes Sisters.
Fast forward to 2010 and I was deep into the research of the Grimes Sisters case as well as other stories and I came upon some information that I passed along to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Since the book came out I had given talks at local libraries, book clubs and historical societies on the topics in the book. It wasn’t a book dedicated to Grimes case exclusively.
I found that people who were involved in the case in one way or another would stop and talk to me after a presentation or send me emails and messages sharing with me their thoughts on the case. It seemed that there were many people who felt they had information that could help but for one reason or another had not come forward.
I thought that with the power of social media it might give people a sounding board for questions, theories or just personal remembrances of the girls and their family. I had no idea how much of a need there was and I really didn’t expect what followed. I started a group on Facebook dedicated to the sharing of information of those having an interest in the Grimes tragedy.
Since that time I have had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting some of the girls’ immediate family, friends, neighbors, relatives, current and former investigators, authors, researchers, judges, classmates and a large group, almost family if you will, of people who may have never even met the girls or the family but hold a very special place in their heart for Barbara and Petey.
I’m not sure what it is about this particular tragedy that tends to stay with investigators long after they retire. It is not as though they were the only two young girls who have ever lost their lives to needless violence. John “Jack” Roche was an original investigator in the Grimes Case and it stuck with him till the day he died. I had a chance to meet with his daughter and he always wished it could be solved in his lifetime. I met a retired Illinois Department of Corrections official who said the same thing and have talked to numerous retired and current investigators who can’t seem to let the case go.
The history of the case had taken so many twists and turns and the number of theories surrounding what happened to the girls as well as the number of likely and unlikely suspects is staggering. I had heard of people receiving threats based on their interest or involvement in the case but really didn’t take them seriously until I started receiving them myself.
I closed the book on my history in law enforcement and it was very hard to do. What I decided to do was historical research and am not in any way drawn to “cold cases” or “true crime” mysteries. In fact I don’t even like watching police movies or television shows but maybe after meeting the family and friends and hearing stories about their lives it has a way of sticking with you. Maybe in some way it is therapeutic to know that in some small way my writings and interest in the case can help keep the case in the public eye with the hope that there is still someone out there who has that elusive piece of the puzzle and has the courage to bring it forward to the proper authorities. There was one article in a magazine that I had read that was written a number of years after the case had gone cold. Loretta Grimes had taken a position within Cook County government and was speaking with a Sheriff’s Deputy who was interviewed for the article. The deputy had told the journalist that Mrs. Grimes had asked him to please never stop looking for whoever was responsible for the death of her girls.
With as many theories and suspects that have surfaced it may be that in the end only God will ever know who was responsible for the loss of the two young girls from the McKinley Park neighborhood. If anything positive has come out of the last 57 years was the realization by the family that the memory of Barbara and Petey is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of a great number of Chicagoans.
For more information you can request to join the Facebook group here.
To contact the Cook County Sherifff’s office with information that may help investigators you can click here.