The Murder of the Grimes Sisters: Chicago's Notorious Unsolved Murders
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The Murder of the Grimes Sisters: Chicago's Notorious Unsolved Murders

Chicago : IL : USA | Jun 20, 2010 at 8:26 AM PDT
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The mid-50s were a time when the city of Chicago lost whatever innocence it might still have had by that time. Although the city was notorious for its violence going back to its very early days as a fort. It was the home of notorious gangster such as Al Capone. However, in the 1950s, it was still a time when parents did not think twice about letting their young children head downtown via public transportation to see a movie. That began to change in the mid-50s.

First, in 1955, the city was rocked by the brutal deaths of three young boys. Known as the Schuessler-Peterson murders, it was a crime that stunned and shocked the city. Three young boys had spent the day downtown seeing a Disney movie and never returned. Days later their nude and brutally beaten bodies were found dumped near a forest preserve. It would take decades for that crime to be solved.

Less than a year later, in 1956, another murder would stun the city yet again. Whatever remnants of innocence the city might still have had disappeared when two girl, two sisters, were found naked and dead beside the road. The similarities between the two cases would cause many to wonder if they were connected. Was someone out to kill the youth of Chicago? It would take time to tell and when it was told, the answer would bring relief to some and leave nothing but frustration for others.

It was December 28 in 1956 when Barbara and Patricia Grimes decided they would head off to a local theater to see a movie. The two girls were huge fans of Elvis Presley and his latest movie Love Me Tender was out and showing at the Brighton Theater. Barbara was thirteen years old and Patricia was fifteen. Both were of the age that their parents felt no compunction about letting them travel into the city to see the movie.

The the Brighton Theater was not very far from their home. Of course, their parents must have reasoned, what could happen. It wasn't the same thing as the Schuessler-Peterson boys who had traveled so far from home just the year before. That kind of distance could only lead to trouble. The Grimes sisters would almost be in their own backyard. So, with a whole $2.15 between them the two sisters set off to see the movie.

It was a late evening showing that they planned on attending. Exactly how they got to the theater is unknown to this day. Neither of their parents gave them a ride. Employees at the theater concession stand reported, later, that they saw the two in line to buy popcorn at 9:30 p.m. That was right as the movie was starting and the movie was over with by 11. Since the theater was so close to their home, it was expected that they would be home by 11:45 p.m. or midnight at the latest and if the girls took their time.

In addition to employees at the movie theater, several of the girl's friends were also there. They too would report seeing the two girls in line to buy popcorn. They reported that the girls waved and were laughing and appeared to be having a good time. Noting unusual was spotted and no one unusual was seen around the sisters or talking to them.

Once the movie was over, more witnesses would claim to have seen the two girls. Numerous witnesses would later tell police that they saw the two girls getting on the Archer bus heading toward the city. The witnesses on the bus would also claim that the two girls got off the bus at Western Avenue which was actually about halfway to their own home and the usual bus stop. Exactly why the sisters would get off at this location is unclear.

Their parents stayed awake, awaiting their return. 11:45 came and went. Then the clock in their house struck midnight. The sister's mother sent their two other siblings, Theresa and Joey, to go to the bus stop and wait for the two girls. After three buses came and went and Patricia and Barbara were not on it, the two came home and reported that their sisters were still nowhere to be found. Their worry began to grow, but maybe they had run into friends and had decided to hang out at the theater a bit longer. When one o'clock came and went, the panic began to set in. Their mother waited until 2:15 in the morning to finally call police and report her daughters as missing.

Despite their parents not finding or seeing the two girls, there were others who claimed to have seen them. One of their classmates would later tell police that he had seen the girls at a restaurant called Angelo's Restaurant on December 29. This, he would claim, was more that 24 hours after they had been reported as missing to the police. At the same time a railroad conductor would tell police that he had seen them on his train while it was near the Great Lakes Naval Training Center which was in a northern suburb called Glenview. This was a very long way from where the two lived and no one could be sure why they were up there.

What was launched now was the largest manhunt in the history of Chicago at that time. It was theorized that the girls had runaway. Despite objections by their mother, who refused to believe that they would do so, the police were convinced that this was what it was. So, they were not panicked or too worried. They sent out descriptions as far as they could and hoped that they would turn up. In fact, their disappearance spread across the country. Even Elvis Presley, upon hearing what huge fans of his the sisters were, released a statement urging the two girls to head back home or contact their parents.

There would be strange reports from witnesses that would plague police for years afterwards. For example a security guard would claim to have seen the girls when they stopped and asked him for directions on December 29. He claimed that this happened in the early morning.

On December 30 the owner of a restaurant called the D & L Restaurant would claim to see the sisters. He stated to police that it appeared as if Patricia were either drunk or sick and was in the company of a strange man.

On January 1, as the new year dawned, the sisters were reported to be seen on a bus traveling on Damen Avenue. Where the sisters were going or where they got off was not reported.

The week following that supposed sighting a hotel owner would deny two girls a room. When the news of the Grimes sister's disappearance hit the news that hotel owner would claim he was certain the two girls were the missing sisters. He claimed he denied them the room because of their age.

On January 3, 1957, at least three employees of a record store would claim they saw the sisters enter the store. They claimed that the two girls, that they swore matched the descriptions of the Grimes sisters, spent time listening to Elvis Presley records before leaving.

Things were going to get stranger, however, before anything would be found. A bunch of random letters were suddenly received by the Grimes sister's parents. The letters claimed to have the two girls and that he would release them into the custody of their parents if Mrs. Grimes would come to Milwaukee on January 12. She went where instructed, accompanied by the FBI , and sat in a Catholic church with a bundle of money totaling $1,000 sitting next to her. The letter had promised that Barbara would enter the church and retrieve the money and then bring it to the kidnapper. Of course, no one showed, and the letters were eventually traced back to a mental patient.

Even stranger events were in store. In one of the oddest developments, on January 14, the phone rang at the home of Wallace and Ann Tollstan. Their daughter, Sandra, was in the same class as Patricia Grimes, and a friend. It was near midnight when the phone rang, which is always a suspicious time when the phone rings. The ringing phone startled awake Mr. Tollstan. He fumbled for the phone and picked up the receiver and asked who it was. No one on the other end responded and silence greeted him for several seconds before the caller hung up. Puzzled, still half-asleep and a bit frightened, Mr. Tollstan hung up the phone. The phone rang again and this time Ann Tollstand answered the phone. Once again, for several seconds, there was silence as she spoke over and over into the phone. Then, suddenly, a female and very hushed voice asked, "Is that you, Sandra? Is Sandra there?" As Mrs. Tollstan ran to get her daughter, the caller hung up and Mrs. Tollstan stood in her house convinced that the voice on the other end of the phone was Patricia Grimes.

Then, on January 15 a woman operating a police switchboard picked up a call from a man who would not give his name or anything to indicate his identity. He stated that the bodies of the two Grimes sisters were located in a park near the intersection of 81st and Wolf. To make things even stranger, he told the operator that this had come to him in a dream. He then hung up the phone and when the police attempted to trace it they traced it back to Green's Liquor Market which was located on South Halsted. When the police began questioning witnesses they traced the call to a Water Kranz. He was taken into custody and questioned by police when, several days later, the bodies of the two girls was found in a park less than a mile from where he said he had envisioned them being found.

The revelation that the girls were dead came about on January 22, 1957. A construction worker named Leonard Prescott was headed south on a road called German Church. As he was driving past he saw something out of the corner of his eye that he thought were two store mannequins that had been tossed beside the road. They were lying just beside the road, near the guardrail. Not far from where he thought the mannequins were lying was a sharp drop-off that lead into Devil's Creek. Prescott was shaken and curious.

He drove home and told his wife that he thought he had seen what he was hoping were store mannequins beside the road. Both of them were curious and they got back into his car and drove back to the spot. She confirmed that it looked like there was something there and they continued past the spot and drove to a local police station. Prescott's wife was so upset over what she thought she had seen that she fainted and had to be carried back to her car. The police swarmed the place.

What the found were two nude bodies lying not far from the road. Both of the bodies were female. Barbara was laying on her left side with her legs drawn toward her body as if to keep warm. Her head, however, was covered by the body of her sister. Patricia had been tossed on top of Barbara and she lay there with her head back at an odd angle.

The Cook County Sheriff's Police took charge of the investigation. When the police and the detectives arrived at the scene the first investigators were certain that the bodies had been there for some time. Their initial guess was that they had been there possibly as far back as January 9. That date was the last time the city had received any significant snowfall and the bodies were not covered with snow, but the cold had obviously preserved the bodies and many thought they had been preserved in the exact state in which they had met death.

From this point forward, things would continue to get stranger. A dispute would develop between the Medical Examiner's office and the police. The bodies were taken to the morgue where an autopsy was performed. Of course, when the bodies first arrived they were literally frozen solid. So, the bodies had to be stored in the morgue until the bodies thawed and the autopsy performed.

When the police first took control of the investigation the similarities between the Grimes sisters and the murders of three young boys several years before, known as the Schuessler-Peterson murders, were obvious. Both had involved the disappearance and brutal murders of young victims. In both cases the bodies, nude, were dumped beside the road. However, the investigation into the death of the three boys had been botched by arguing law enforcement divisions and other problems. The police vowed it would not happen again during the investigation into the Grimes sisters.

However, things went wrong almost from the beginning. When word got out about the sisters being found 162 police officers showed up at the site. They walked all over the area where the bodies had been found. The trampled potential evidence. When the word spread further, reporters and photographers arrived there were even more people walking all over potential evidence.

It was hoped that the autopsy would reveal key evidence about how the sisters died and answer questions about how long after they were kidnapped that they were killed. However, it turned out the medical examiner only made things more confusing. Three noted and respected pathologists examined the bodies and none of them could agree on a time of death. They also could not agree on a cause of death. The various investigators had noted bruises and what appeared to be puncture marks on Barbara's body, which looked like it had been caused by an icepick. None of these were explained when the final conclusions were made public.

It was ultimately decided by the medical examiner's office that the two girls died the day they disappeared on December 28. Additionally, they determined that the girls had died from exposure to the cold rather than any trauma or the puncture wounds. However, this could not explain the sightings of the girls that so many witnesses had reported after that date. Also, it was not an explanation for why no one else had seen the bodies if they had been lying beside the road for that long. Also, they were not covered with snow.

The medical examiner admitted that they only reached the conclusion by eliminating every other potential examination. Now investigators were more confused than they were before the bodies had been found. So, they turned to the public and offered a reward for any information that might help them put the pieces together.

The girls were buried on January 28. The city was in shock and they began pouring out help for the Grimes family. The family was completely broke and money was raised to help them. Communities began raising their own rewards for people who came forward with clues. Descriptions of what the girls had been wearing the day they vanished were released to the press and the community in hopes more witnesses might come forward having seen them.

The police ended up questioning an amazing 300,000 people in hopes of finding information about the girl's killer. Of those, 2,000 people were seriously interrogated as people of interest. However, their killer was not charged and despite the reams and reams of paperwork there was not a single suspect charged with their deaths. There were some key suspects, though.

One of the first suspects was a 20-year-old Tennessee man who looked, in some ways, just like the girl's idol, Elvis Presley. His name was Edward "Benny" Bedwell and he sometimes watched dishes at the D & L Restaurant. According to witnesses he was seen with the girls at that restaurant on December 30. After a harsh interrogation, which was the norm in the day, Bedwell had confessed to the crimes. However, he eventually withdrew the confession after he said the investigators had coerced him. It turned out only the Cook County Sheriff actually believed that Bedwell was the murderer. The rest of the investigative team never believed he was involved.

Another suspect was a 17-year-old man named Max Fleig. He took a polygraph test voluntarily and, unfortunately for him, he failed it miserably. According to investigators he confessed to kidnapping the two sisters, but refused to admit any hand in their deaths. Despite this, the law forbid investigators from giving a polygraph to a minor. As such, his confession and any other evidence was ultimately thrown out. There was just no hard evidence that he had kidnapped the girls or killed them and he was let go. However, just a few years later Fleig would end up going to prison for the murder of a young woman.

Walter Kranz, the man who had called in the switchboard and stated a dream told him where the bodies were found, was also considered a prime suspect. He was questioned longer and harder than anyone since the bodies were found so close to where he said he had dreamed they would be. However, he did not confess and no evidence was ever found linking him to the girls in any way and he was released.

Beyond that, and despite one of the largest investigations that had ever been seen in Chicago, there was never anyone charged or sent to prison for the murder of the two teenage girls. To this day, the murders remain unsolved. However, there have been theories put forward about what might have happened and some have indicated that there might be more to the tale than has ever come out. For example, a book by a man named Richard Lindberg put forth the theory that the two girls were abducted into a white slavery ring. When they refused to become prostitutes, he theorizes, they were strangled and left beside the road.

Others have said that the girls would never have gotten involved with people who would run a white slavery ring. In fact, there is controversy over whether the girls were as nice as many who knew them said they were, or if they had dark secrets hidden behind their innocent smiles. Since no one has ever been caught and the evidence has vanished, there are only theories.

Of course, the area where their bodies were found has become famous for being "haunted." Some claim that they see phantom cars or hear the sound of a car screeching to a halt at that spot, a car door opening, and then a car screeching away into the night. Houses that are around that area have been abandoned and torn down.

Whether or not there are ghosts is up to dispute. What is known, however, is that this murder has never been solved. Two young girls were abducted and brutally murdered and then dumped beside the road like garbage. The crime remains open and the city still bears a scar from a time when whatever innocence it still had was torn away with the disappearance of two young girls.

Bryan Alaspa is based in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, and is a Reporter for Allvoices.
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