The Bobby Greenlease Murder

As I went through my list for my next blog and came across this one I was unsure about doing it for a few reasons. First, child murders are often difficult to read and research.  Of course that has not stopped me since I have blogged about several cases involving child murders despite they being the most heart wrenching to do.  Secondly, this case was one of the more notorious cases and a case from the 1950's which means that there is a lot written about it but not all of it is completely consistent.  For example I several times I came across the name Robert Paul Greenlease.  More than one source said that Robert Paul was the older, adopted brother of young Bobby Greenlease.  However a website that was designed by a family member states he is an older brother from an earlier marriage of the father.  This may sound like a petty thing to some, and maybe it really is but it bothers me for two reasons.  First I am also very much into genealogy so relationship titles matter but secondly, I often feel if a small detail like this cannot be accurate, what else could be wrong?

I found this case interesting for several reasons.  For one, it was often compared to the Lindburgh baby kidnapping and  while there were some similarities, it seems that unlike the Lindburgh case this is pretty cut and dry without any conspiracies surrounding it.  One of the things I found most interesting however was seeing how the justice system worked in this case compared to the way it does now.  It was not just the fact that there were a total of 81 days between the time Bobby Greenlease was kidnapped until the time the perpetrators were executed, which even in that time period was extremely fast, but also because the perpetrators apparently pleaded guilty, yet there was still a jury trial.  That is something that you do not see today.  But, as I tend to do I am getting ahead of the story, so it's time to start at the beginning.  

On September 28 1953 six year old Robert C. "Bobby" Greenlease Jr. was sitting in his elite Catholic school in Kansas City Missouri, when just around 11:00 that morning one of the nuns came into his room and retrieved him.  He was told that an aunt was there to pick him up. Bobby readily took the hand of the woman and walked out the door. He would never be seen alive again.

Bobby was the son of Robert C. Greenlease Sr. and his wife Virginia (nee Pollock).  Robert Sr. was a self made multimillionaire and very well known in the area.  In 1953 Robert Sr was an elderly 71 years old.  Aside from Bobby, Robert also had a 12 year old daughter, Virginia Sue with his wife and a son Robert Paul from a previous marriage who in 1953 was in his 30's.  Robert Sr. had made his fortune from owning several Cadillac dealerships across the mid-west.  In fact, in 1908 Robert Sr. became the first owner of a dealership west of the Mississippi.  Both before and after the kidnapping of their son the Greenlease family was known for their generosity and for their donations of monies to anything from the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children to auto manufacturing.  

Not long after Bobby walked out of his school with the woman who had said she was his aunt, a nun at the school called the Greenlease home.  The reason was to check to see how Mrs. Greenlease was doing.  The woman who had come and taken Bobby had said that Virginia Greenlease had collapsed while shopping and had suffered a heart attack.  It was quickly discovered that this was not true as Virginia Greenlease was just fine.  Reports vary on whether the police were contacted immediately or not but I tend to lean towards the fact that they likely were because it seems there was no contact from the kidnappers until a note arrived at the Greenlease home around 6 pm that evening.  The ransom note demanded $600,000,  the largest asked up to that time, and promised the safe return of Bobby within 24 hours of being received.  Over the next several days there would be several phone calls and at least a half a dozen notes delivered to the Greenlease home.  Each one expressed that Bobby was alive and well and would be returned safely.  No one knew how untrue this was.  Bobby was dead long before the first ransom note was even delivered.

So just who took Bobby Greenlease and why?  Bobby was taken by a man named Carl Hall and a woman named Bonnie Brown Heady.  I am not going to tell you that they were necessarily a couple because nothing I read indicated they were anything more than co-conspirators in this plot, especially since Hall would quickly abandon Heady, taking most of the ransom money, and quickly rat her out when he was caught.  Carl Hall had attended military school with Robert Paul Greenlease back in the 1930's and despite his own family being wealthy at some point Carl had run ins with the law and was no longer financially sound.  It was said that he had long planned to in some way blackmail the Greenlease family and obtain monies to sustain him.  It is believed that his original plan was to kidnap Bobby's older sister, Virginia but decided that Bobby would be easier to get and control.... he was correct.  Heady would later be quoted as saying that Bobby never asked any questions when she got him from the school but readily took her hand and simply did as he was told.  It is not like she had a lot of experience with him however to come to this conclusion.  According to Heady after she left the school with Bobby she got into a cab to go nearby and meet up with Hall... they then drove into Missouri where Hall shot Bobby Greenlease and murdered him.  He was dead within 30 minutes of his abduction.

In the end Hall got himself caught.  Robert Sr. had a lot of connections and secured the ransom fairly quickly. Some reports say that the trading of money took a bit longer because Hall missed the first pick up spot, but at any rate Hall and Heady got the money they had asked for but obviously they could not return the child they had now killed.  At some point over the few days they had taken his body to a home Heady owned in St Joseph County Missouri and buried him next to a porch and then placed a flower bed on top.  They then went and rented a hotel in St Louis Missouri.  It was said that both Hall and Heady were drug addict alcoholics and apparently at some point after Heady passed out on October 5th, Hall left her about $2,000 of the ransom money and took off with the rest that he had secured in two metal suitcases he had bought.  It was reported that the following day Hall bought to garbage cans and a shovel intending to bury some of the money but supposedly could not find an adequate spot.  Later that day a taxi driver, who apparently also had some mob connections called the local police station about this man who was flaunting money around and who may or may not have confessed to him about the crime. The call apparently went to an officer by the name of Louis Shoulders who by all accounts was a detective of some sort, or at least that is what he would be called now.  He was accompanied by patrol officer Elmer Dolan who was considered to be his "driver."  Shoulders and Dolan found Hall and arrested him. It was said that when he was arrested Hall was in possession of the two metal suitcases but that the officers had not taken them to the station at the time of the arrest.  This became important later in the story as well as has led to a few conspiracy theories.  

It seems that once in custody Hall but all readily confessed to the crime and implicated Heady right away who had apparently found her way back to her own home.  On October 7th officers went to her home where not only was she arrested but the body of Bobby Greenlease was uncovered.  He had been wrapped in a plastic bag that had been covered with Lyme. It took several hours before Bobby's dentist was able to officially identify the body through dental records.

On October 30th both Hall and Heady pleaded guilty to the crime.  Because kidnapping across state lines had occurred in the commission of the crime it had become a federal case and because the federal government did not have a facility in which they performed executions it was decided that they would be charged in Missouri where not only was the death penalty an option but would ensure their execution.  I found this rather odd considering the way things are done in today's society.  First, it is not necessarily rare, but unusual for a murder suspect to plead guilty, especially right out of the gate.  Secondly, it is extremely odd today for a suspect to plead guilty for such serious charges without making a deal with the prosecution that would prevent especially the death penalty.  Thirdly, I have rarely heard of a case in which the perpetrators have pleaded guilty and there was still a jury trial held.  But that was the case here it seems.  On November 19, 1953 a jury found Hall and Heady guilty after deliberating for about an hour.  The judge promptly set their sentence at death. On December 18, 1953, a mere 81 days after Bobby Greenlease had been kidnapped Hall and Heady were ushered into the gas chamber together.  They were pronounced dead within 20 seconds of each other.  

Eventually only about half of the ransom money was discovered and so questions began to circulate as to what happened to the rest.  Hall had insisted that all the remaining money was with him when he was arrested.  All my research really said was that Louis Shoulders and Elmer Dolan were eventually indicted for perjury pertaining to the case.  Shoulders received a sentence of 3 years while Dolan received 2 years but in July of 1965 was given a full pardon by President Lyndon Johnson.  It was theorized that throughout all of this a local mobster had also been involved with the hiding of the money and that Shoulders apparently, maybe because he was the superior officer, had been involved more with the mobster and Dolan possibly just drug through it. However, as I mentioned earlier this case was harder to get the facts about exactly what happened due to the time period and the theories that have been presented.  My research mentioned that at the time of this crime the St. Louis police department was considered to be one of the most corrupt so anything is possible.  There seemed to be the evidence obviously that Hall and Heady were guilty but it just seems so odd that he rolled over so fast, but then again adding to the corruption this was also a time in which police officers would often literally beat confessions out of people.  One can say that justice was served quickly in this case, even quicker than was normal at the time, but obviously far faster than in modern times.


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