Two teenage sisters, Barbara and Patricia Grimes, left their home in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago on the night of December 28, 1956 to see “Love Me Tender”, Elvis Presley’s hit movie, at the Brighton Theater on Archer Avenue. The sisters were Elvis fanatics, and had seen the movie about a dozen times. They stayed at the Brighton to see the movie two more times that night.
The girls were supposed to arrive home by city bus right after the movie, but they never returned. Their mother Loretta called the police at two the next morning after contacting the girl’s friends and sending their siblings out to find them. The police didn’t take Loretta’s concerns seriously at first, reasoning that the girls had run away and would return on their own.
Eventually, the police discarded the runaway theory and one of the most intense searches in the history of the Chicago Police Department. About 2000 people were seriously questioned by the department, and police conducted door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood.
There were hundreds of alleged sightings of the girls, but none of them provided any substantial leads. Some people claimed they saw the girls drinking at local bars. Barbara was 15 and Patricia was 12. Even in the lax days of the 1950s, it seems improbable that bar owners would let young teens hang out in their taverns drinking alcohol with men twice their age. And given the way working class South Side girls were raised in that era, it’s highly unlikely the girls ever drank alcohol or even had “gone all the way” with any boyfriends, if they did indeed have boyfriends.
The sightings of the sisters around the city may have been due to hysteria surrounding the case. Chicago had already seen high-profile child abduction cases throughout the ‘50s, but the Grimes case proved to be the most publicized and bizarre one of all.
Advice columnist Ann Landers received an anonymous letter claiming the girls were forced into a car by a young man. The letter was never authenticated and police weren’t able to find the car. Elvis recorded a plea to the girls, imploring them to call their mother if they had run away.
The autopsy placed the death at no more than five hours after the girls left the theatre. The cause of death was listed as secondary shock. There was some controversy about the cause of death, as Harry Glos, the Cook County Chief Investigator at the Coroner’s Office, believed the girls had been held captive and sexually assaulted, and had not died shortly after returning from the theater.
A few years ago, a local CBS news affiliate reported contacting a man in his 70s who knew the whole story but didn’t want to elaborate because so much time had passed. It would be interesting to hear what he knows.
On January 22nd, 1958, a construction worker named Leonard Prescott saw what he thought were mannequins just off German Church Road. Police were called, and recovered the nude bodies of Patricia and Barbara Grimes. The bodies had been hidden by the snow for several weeks.
Bennie Bedwell, a borderline mentally challenged man, was questioned by the police and arrested. A confession was coerced out of him. It was easier to coerce confessions out of people in the 1950s, as detectives were pressured to find a suspect by the public, and suspects had little knowledge of their rights.
There were several other suspects at the time, but they had tenuous links to the sisters or the murders at best. That is until 1958, when Bonnie Leigh Scott, another teenage girl, was found dead in a suburban Chicago forest preserve.
The Connection Between the Scott Murder and the Grimes Sisters Murders
Loretta received ransom notes, and a phone call from someone bragging about the crime. The caller said he knew that one of the girls crossed her toes when she was nervous. Was this caller Charles Melquist, the convicted murderer of Bonnie Leigh Scott, or some random sicko? I wouldn’t doubt that Melquist was the caller.
The Grimes case is a prime example of a case that suffered from antiquated police procedures and societal attitudes. The police initially dismissed Loretta’s missing person report, and assumed the girls had just run away. Caller ID or call tracing could have identified Melquist as the creepy telephone caller. Even without these modern police techniques, it’s hard to believe that the cops didn’t question Melquist about the Grimes sisters after he was arrested or soon after the Scott killing. However, Melquist’s attorney at the time, didn’t allow him to talk to police. (And probably for good reason.)
Melquist’s modus operandi in the Bonnie Leigh Scott murder was similar to the Grimes murders. Bonnie was a 15 year girl who had been killed and decapitated in September 1958. Her nude body was dumped ten miles from where the Grimes sisters’ bodies were found. A group of Boy Scouts on a hike discovered the body in the Argonne Woods off LaGrange Road.
Bonnie, unlike the Grimes sisters, had run away from home before, and occasionally skipped school, so the police had a legitimate reason for not jumping on the case right away.
Bonnie’s parents were in the midst of a divorce, and she lived with her aunt, uncle and grandmother. The Grimes sisters’ parents were also divorced. In the late 1950s, few people got divorced. Maybe the killer had targeted the Grimes and Scott because he knew they were vulnerable children of divorce.
The few photos of Melquist are pretty creepy. (Like the Grimes sisters and Scott, he looks a lot older in photos than he actually was.)
He dumped the body over the guardrail, and then came back to mutilate and decapitate the body. The knife he had used was never found. He confessed to the murder, but later recanted after he hired an attorney. His excuse for the murders now had to with some sort of psychic manipulation. The jury seated on his trial wasn’t having it, and he was convicted.
Melquist served 11 years of a 99 year sentence. He died in 2010. It’s perplexing that he was released so early (Why? “Good behavior?”), and that researchers never explored the connection between the phone call Mrs. Grimes received from the caller with the chilling voice and Melquist. After all, Melquist had called up Bonnie’s guardians after her murder, albeit not with the same creepy information.
Melquist has always been unofficially linked with the Grimes case. Some researchers believe that he also murdered the Grimes sisters. Even amateur sleuths would agree that Melquist was a likely suspect. He had the phone numbers of neighbors of the Grimes sisters, so it’s possible he found out about Barbara and Patricia through them.
Raymond Johnson, a retired Chicago Heights police detective, has written and v-logged extensively about the case and has a Facebook group dedicated to the Grimes sisters’ murders and strange Chicago crimes. He believes that Melquist committed the crime, but that he had accomplices.
I’m not sure about the accomplice theory. No hard evidence points that way, and (to my knowledge), there were few crimes of this nature that involved more than a lone psycho in that ‘50s. Occasionally, there were cases with an obvious accomplice, but any team effort in this case remains a mystery.
The entire Willow Springs area today looks green and clean today, perfect for biking and jogging, and you’d never guess the entire southwest suburban area is home to several freaky backstories. America’s most haunted cemetery, Bachelor’s Grove, is located in Bremen Township, close to Oak Forest. (I passed by it many times on my recent trip to the Southwest Suburbs, but didn’t get a chance to explore it.)
There have been sightings of a ghost called Resurrection Mary in the area for decades, especially in the 1970s. Resurrection Mary is said to be the ghost of a woman who was first seen in the 1930s. A young man danced with her at a local dance hall (the now demolished Oh Henry, later Willowbrook, Ballroom) and then drove her home – the woman directed him to Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, where she disappeared.
But back to the Grimes sisters. A house close to the spot where the Grimes sisters were found was abandoned shortly after the police recovered the bodies. It’s not known if the inhabitants were involved in the murder or just freaked out that the bodies were discovered nearby.
Maybe public records could show who owned he house at the time and give us some ideas as to why they left so quickly. A house near the site where the bodies were found burned down in the 1980s. (It may or may not have been the abandoned house.)
Loretta Grimes died in 1989 at the age of 83 without ever knowing who killed her daughters.