The Mysterious Murder of the Grimes Sisters

            On December 28, 1956, Barbara and Patricia Grimes, 15 and 12, went missing after going to see a movie, Love Me Tender starring Elvis Presley, in the Brighten Park District of Chicago, IL. The sisters, two of the seven children of Joseph and Loretta Grimes, were known to be avid fans of Presley and had seen the movie attended that night on several more occasions. They left their home at approximately 7:30 PM, promising their mother that they would be home by midnight. They never made it home (Wikipedia).

            A friend of Patricia’s, Dorothy Weinert, reportedly saw the girls at the theater that night. She claimed to have been seated behind them at the first screening that night and as she and her sister left after the first movie, approximately 9:30 PM, she saw the Grimes sisters lining up for popcorn. As far as Weinert and her sister could tell, nothing seemed amiss with the sisters (Wikipedia).

            At 2:15 AM on December 29, 1956, Loretta Grimes filed a missing person’s report. The sisters should have been home no later than 11:45 PM on December 28 if they had stayed for both screenings, but had not arrived home. Loretta attempted to get ahold of them through their friends, hoping they had gone to a friend’s house, and had their older sister, Theresa, 17, and brother, Joey, 14, go wait at the bus stop for them. After three buses had come and gone, the siblings returned home to inform their mother that the sisters had not come off of any of the buses (Wikipedia).

            What followed the missing person’s report was the largest search in Cook County history; hundreds of police officers were assigned to a task force specifically formed to find the missing girls. Police from surrounding counties also joined the task force and the search was bolstered by volunteers as well. Door-to-door canvassing was conducted and local rivers and canals were dredged in an effort to find the missing sisters. 15,000 flyers were printed and handed out to local businesses, members of their church offered a $1,000 reward for any information on the girls, and over 300,000 people were questioned with 2,000 being interrogated and two being arrested and charged. The charges, however, were later dropped and one of the men arrested came out and claimed that he was coerced into confessing to the disappearances. Other teenagers at the theater that night reported to police that they saw the sisters having conversations with a young man who bore a resemblance to Elvis Presley and reported that they thought the sisters got into his car (Wikipedia).

            Despite how out-of-character disappearing as they had was, police did not initially treat the case as seriously as perhaps should have been done. Until they had been missing for a week without any contact, it was assumed that they had either run away or were staying with boyfriends (Lineup). As late as January 9, 1957, police continued to receive reports from people who claimed they had seen the sisters at various establishments after they had disappeared. The reports of sightings supported the investigators’ theories that the sisters had chosen to leave home of their own accord (Wikipedia). Two weeks after the sisters disappeared, a classmate of Patricia’s claimed to have received a phone call around midnight that she believed was Patricia (Brown 2019).

            It was also theorized that the girls had left home in an emulation of Presley’s life or had even possibly decided to go to Nashville, TN to see him perform live. Despite the theories, Loretta Grimes was convinced her daughters had been kidnapped and made public pleas for their safe return. Elvis Presley himself made a plea for the girls to return home and ease their mother’s worries. Unfortunately, Barbara and Patricia were unable to do so (Wikipedia).

            Nearly a month after the Grimes sisters disappeared, on January 22, 1957, Leonard Prescott, a construction worker, was driving along German Church Road near unincorporated Willow Springs when he caught sight of something flesh colored on the side of the road. He returned later with his wife to investigate, though he initially thought he may have seen mannequins. His wife reportedly fainted when they were able to see that he had not seen mannequins, but the frozen and nude bodies of Barbara and Patricia Grimes. This was immediately reported to the Willow Springs police (Wikipedia).

            Barbara was found laying on her left side, legs drawn up towards her torso, with three wounds that appeared to be inflicted by an ice pick on her chest and blunt force drama to her head. Patricia was found with her body laying over her sister’s head, laying on her back with her head turned sharply to the right, covered in what appeared to be bruises. Joseph Grimes, the sisters’ father, was driven to the seen to identify the bodies and a search was launched looking for evidence linked to the crime. No evidence was found that could be connected and the search was later criticized because the organizers allowed untrained people to be involved in the search (Wikipedia).

            Based on the contents of the sisters’ stomachs, the pathologists who performed the autopsies believed the girls likely died within five hours of when they were last seen on December 28. Due to the condition of the bodies, the cause of death and time of death couldn’t be determined without the aid of the stomach contents. The snacks the girls were last seen getting were still present in their stomachs at the time their remains were recovered. Officially, the cause of death for each girl was cited as being murder through shock and exposure, which was reached after all other possibilities had been ruled out as it was determined that the injuries to the girls’ bodies had occurred after death (Wikipedia).

            During the autopsy it was determined that Barbara had engaged in some form of sexual intercourse before her death, but evidence determining whether this was consensual or forced could not be found. The girls’ clothing was never recovered and the bodies were said to have been remarkably clean when recovered. Testing showed that the girls had no drugs or alcohol in their systems, meaning they had not been taken in an altered state of mind. One of the coroners who worked on the case believed that the girls’ bodies had been there for some time before being found, the cold weather and snow fall allowing for the bodies to be preserved for some time (Wikipedia).

            On January 28, 1957, the Grimes family laid the sisters to rest in white coffins at Holy Sepulcher Catholic Cemetery. Loretta Grimes was inconsolable, and until she died at age 83 in 1989, she continued the search for her daughters’ murder (Lineup). The Wollschlager Funeral Home donated the services, which were held at St. Maurice Church where Patricia had attended grade school. Many people attended the funeral, including the mayor of Chicago. The sisters were buried near their sister, Leona Frank, who passed two years before (Brown 2019).

            Chief Investigator Harry Glos disagreed with the official reports on the time of death, citing the thin sheet of ice on the girls’ bodies as proof they had been alive longer. According to him, there was no way the girls could have died any earlier than January 7, as that was when the weather would allow for the snow to react with the remaining heat in their bodies and result in the thin layer of ice. Glos also claimed that semen had been found in samples taken from Patricia and used this claim to bolster his claim that the girls had been alive longer and had been subjected to sexual assault regularly during their captivity. He also told the media that milk had been found in Barbara’s stomach, which she had not been seen drinking at all during December 28 (Wikipedia).

            Glos, among others, was staunch in his claims that information had been withheld either to protect the reputations of the sisters or to spare their mother’s feelings and that a suspect who was interrogated in 1975, Edward Bedwell, had given details that matched. He felt that the wounds to their bodies had been dismissed without proper investigation and that the suspect from 1975 was the one guilty of their disappearance and deaths (Wikipedia).

            Between their disappearance and the discovery of their remains, there were many sightings called in to investigators. On the night of their disappearance multiple people said they saw them on a bus heading east after the screening, the bus driver being one of these witnesses. They were seen playing a game of jumping out at each other on their way home from the movie theater that night and a security guard claimed he had given the girls directions on December 29, 12 hours after they had headed home the night before. A train conductor called in a tip that the girls had boarded a train and been searching for two sailors named “Larry” and “Terry.” On December 30, a local restaurant owner said he had seen Patricia apparently intoxicated and being followed by Edward Bedwell, the official suspect according to Glos. Up until the day they were found, there was reports of sightings (Wikipedia).

            The main suspect is Edward Bedwell, who was a 21-year old drifter working at a skidrow restaurant at the time that the sisters went missing. It is noted that at the time, he bore a resemblance to Elvis Presley and the girls were seen talking to a man who also bore such a resemblance on the night they disappeared. Bedwell was first brought in as a suspect after his boss called into the police on January 24 that he had been at the restaurant on December 30 with two girls who matched the descriptions of the Grimes sisters. Bedwell was arrested and interrogated for three days before being formally charged with the murders on January 27 after signing a massive 14-page confession. According to his confession, he and an acquaintance, William Cole Willingham, were in the company of the girls between December 30 and January 7, the date Glos believes the girls died on. Bedwell’s confession stated that they were drinking with the girls on the same street the restaurant owner claimed to have seen Patricia visibly intoxicated on. The confession states that Bedwell and Willingham beat the sisters to death when they rejected their sexual advances, after feeding them hotdogs. Willingham admitted to being with the girls on December 30, but denied any involvement in their murders. Bedwell later recanted his confession, claiming he had only confessed because he believed the police would let him go, after four days of interrogation, if he did (Wikipedia).

            Two other credible suspects were Max Fleig and Walter Kranz. Fleig was 17-years old at the time of the murder, and due to Illinois state law, couldn’t be subjected to an official polygraph test. An unofficial polygraph test was performed and it is claimed that he admitted to the murders during the test, but due to his age and the lack of evidence, he could not be charged. He was later jailed in connection with the murder of another young woman. Kranz was 53-years old at the time of the murder and a proclaimed psychic. On January 15, he called into the police anonymously, though the call was able to be traced to his home, and insisted that he had had a dream that the girls were dead. During the call he described a park that was approximately one mile from where the girls’ remains were found. While initially a prime suspect in the case, Kranz was released after much questioning (Wikipedia).

            In 2013, a retried Chicago police officer, Raymond Johnson, began a personal investigation of the case. He believes that Charles LeRoy Melquist, a self-confessed child serial killer and a suspect at the time of the murders, was the true killer. In 1958, Melquist was convicted of the murder of Bonnie Leigh Scott, 15, who he knew before the murder, just two months after and 10 miles away from where the Grimes sisters were. It is reported that, after Scott’s body was discovered, Loretta Grimes received a call from someone claiming to have committed another perfect crime. This is believed to have been Melquist (Wikipedia). Johnson also believes that marks on the bodies of the Grimes sisters that were not reported to the media bare a resemblance to marks found on Scott’s body, and Scott was also found naked. He also claims to have interviewed a third girl who was kidnapped with the Grimes sisters, but was too scared to come forward. Melquist was sentenced to 99 years for the murder of Bonnie Leigh Scott, but only served 11 before getting out. He has since married and had children, and has never been charged with the Grimes’ sisters murders. Johnson runs a Facebook group with over 1,700 members, called “Help Solve Chicago’s Grimes Sisters’ Murder” (Lineup).

“Murder of the Grimes Sisters.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_the_Grimes_sisters.

“The Chilling, Unsolved Murder of the Grimes Sisters.” The Lineup, 18 July 2016, the-line-up.com/the-grimes-sisters.

Brown, Julianne. “The Grisly Murder of The Grimes Sisters.” The Parrot, 20 Mar. 2019, thecurrentatahs.com/5032/unsolved/the-grisly-murder-of-the-grimes-sisters/.

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