The Chilling, Unsolved Murder of the Grimes Sisters
On December 27, 1956, Barbara and Patricia Grimes left to see a movie. It was the last night anyone saw them alive.By Gary Sweeney
In the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley was all the rage. Scores of teenage girls played his records and saw his films at every opportunity. Barbara Grimes, 15, and her sister Patricia, 13, were no exception. The Grimes sisters had seen Love Me Tender, Elvis’ latest mega-hit, an impressive 14 times, and still hadn’t gotten their fill. So, on December 27, 1956, they left their home for a 15th viewing at Chicago’s Brighton Theater.
It was the last night anyone saw them alive.
That wintry evening in late December had been quiet. The girls left the house at about 7:30 p.m. with a total of $2.50 between them. After seeing the film, they planned to return directly home. Assuming the girls might stay for the double feature, Loretta Grimes expected to see her daughters no later than 11:45 p.m. But when the time came, the girls never arrived, and Loretta grew worried. Two of the older Grimes siblings went to the nearby bus stop to wait for their sisters. When three busses passed with no sign of the girls, the older siblings returned, at around 2:00 a.m., and broke the news to their mother.
A search was quickly assembled. Dorothy Weinert, a friend of Patricia’s, had also been in the theater and sat behind the sisters. Though Dorothy left after the first film, she mentioned having seen Barbara and Patricia at the concession stand, seemingly in good spirits.
One of the largest city-wide hunts in Chicago history followed. Police officers and regular civilians combed the streets looking for the sisters. Adjacent towns and counties got involved and offered their resources to the cause. But as the days passed, the search stalled and law enforcement grew desperate to solve the case.
Then, random sightings of the missing sisters flooded media outlets. People from all walks of life claimed to have seen the girls in one state or another, from as far away as Nashville, Tennessee. This led some to believe that Barbara and Patricia had orchestrated their own disappearance and gone to Nashville to meet Elvis. This theory picked up more steam than expected, and Elvis himself took to the radio to publicly address the girls, pleading with them to return home.
Police had no other leads and could only surmise that the sisters had run away. Loretta Grimes vehemently rejected the idea, maintaining that her girls would never do such a thing, and that they certainly would not have left behind the brand new AM radio they received for Christmas.
After an exhausting month of loose threads and dead ends, the search stalled out.
Then, on January 22, 1957, a man named Leonard Prescott spotted what he thought were two mannequins on German Church Road in Willow Springs, Illinois. He did not approach them, but instead ran home to get his wife. Together, the Prescotts inched closer and found the naked bodies of Barbara and Patricia Grimes, positioned awkwardly, with Barbara lying face down and Patricia lying face up on top of her sister. Their faces had been damaged by neighborhood animals.
At 1:30pm, the Willow Springs Police Department learned of the discovery. They immediately deduced that the sisters had probably been on the side of the road since the snowfall two weeks prior.
Flurries of suspects were apprehended, the most publicized of which was Edward Lee Bedwell. He confessed to the murders, though there was never any evidence supporting his claim, and he later recanted it. An autopsy on the girls, which could not be performed until they were thawed, revealed that the last meal they’d eaten was their dinner before leaving for the movie theater. Such findings proved that the Grimes sisters were killed within hours of going missing. Though the official cause of death was listed as “murder,” the only explanation offered was “secondary shock due to exposure to the elements.”
The funeral was held on January 28, 1957 at St. Maurice Church. Loretta Grimes was inconsolable. The girls were in white closed caskets, each topped with their respective photograph. They were laid to rest at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery.
Later in life, Loretta volunteered at a nearby prison and secured a promise from the police that they would never stop looking for her daughters’ killer. In 1989 at the age of 83, Loretta died without ever getting an answer.
Though the disappearance and murder of the Grimes sisters went cold many years ago, author and former criminal investigator Ray Johnson may have cracked it open. Johnson claims that a similar incident—the murder of Bonnie Leigh Scott—took place in Addison, Illinois about a year after the Grimes case. Bonnie Leigh Scott was killed at the age of 15 and eventually discovered naked.
The man responsible for that crime supposedly made a phone call to Loretta Grimes and bragged about getting away with the murders of both Scott and the Grimes sisters. Johnson asserts that information about this phone call went unpublished by the media back in the 1950s, and also that non-lethal marks on the Grimes sisters’ bodies (around the abdomen) were very similar to marks found on the body of Scott. Lastly, Johnson claims to have spoken to a third girl who was abducted with the Grimes sisters but escaped. She was 14 years old at the time and did not come forward out of fear.
Charles Leroy Melquist was convicted for the murder of Bonnie Leigh Scott and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He served 11 years of his sentence before his release, and later married and had two children. Melquist was never officially implicated in the Grimes killings.
The case of the Grimes sisters remains unsolved. However, a Facebook group administrated by Johnson, called “Help Solve Chicago’s Grimes Sisters’ Murder” today has around 1,380 members.
Feature Photo: Wikimedia Commons