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Grimes Girls Murder Still Solvable after 59 years

On the evening of December 28, 1956, sisters Barbara (15) and Patricia “Petey” (13) Grimes left their home at 3634 S. Damen Avenue to see the Elvis Presley movie “Love Me Tender” at the Brighton Theater in Chicago. They never returned home. Their older sister Theresa and younger brother Joey walked to the bus stop at Archer Ave and 35th Street at about 10:30pm to await their return but they never showed up.

Loretta, their mother, knew right away that something was wrong and contacted neighbors, friends, and the police and nobody had any idea where the girls were. The police tried to assure Mrs. Grimes that her daughters were probably out with boyfriends or had run away. Mrs. Grimes didn’t believe it for a moment. The girls had no boyfriends that she knew of and were not in the habit of being late coming home. Besides they had not taken any extra money with them, were not upset or had ever threatened to run away and had left their prized Christmas presents at home.

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Loretta Grimes reads missing poster after two of her daughters disappeared on December 28, 1956

It was approximately a week before the authorities took the case as more than a teenage runaway case and what followed stands today as the largest expenditure of police resources on a single missing persons case in Cook County history.

Leads poured in from everywhere. It seemed that everyone had claimed to have seen the girls at some point. It started to gain national attention and Elvis Presley himself made a radio plea to the girls to return to their mother if they were “good Elvis fans”.

Mrs. Grimes received terrible phone calls and letters. Some callers told her that her girls deserved what they got for being out so late. Some letters were sent to her by individuals claiming to have the girls and wanting a ransom. The FBI was called in and all of the would-be kidnappers turned out to be hoaxes or crackpots.

All hope for the Grimes family was lost when on the morning of January 22, 1957 a man named Leonard Prescott was driving east on German Church Road in unincorporated Burr Ridge. He spotted what he thought were mannequins laying on the north side of the roadway behind a guard rail. He reported it to the Willow Springs Police Department who contacted the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

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A large crowd gathered near the scene where the girls’ bodies were discovered on a lonely stretch of German Church Road in unincorporated Burr Ridge, IL

The girls’ father, Joseph Grimes, divorced from their mother for eleven years, made the initial identification and a family member made an additional identification at the Cook County Morgue.

The murder investigation was on and what followed could read like a murder mystery novel. There were a number of suspects with the most notable being Edward Lee “Bennie” Bedwell. Bedwell was a local drifter who could barely read or write and whose confession by all accounts was contrived by the authorities. He was the closest thing to a suspect that the case would ever have but was exonerated by the Coroner’s Inquest and autopsies that completely invalidated his confession.

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Edward Lee “Bennie” Bedwell points out the area where he said he placed the girls’ bodies.  His confession would later be discredited by the coroner’s inquest and autopsy reports.

Egos, local politics, gangs of neighborhood boys, corrupt investigators who were later tried and convicted for mob related activities and a murderer who was caught for a similar crime one year later all figure into an ever evolving and still open cold case.

I had always known of the case being a former cop myself but never really knew much about it until I was researching it back in 2009. I came across information that I believed could help with the investigation and had suggested an article for the Chicago Tribune’s Flashback column. The author of the column, Stephan Benzkofer, had included my email in the tagline of the article for suggesting it and then the information started coming in.

I started a group on Facebook called “Help Solve the Chicago Grimes Sister’s Murder”. I thought that it would help for individuals interested in the case to share opinions, thoughts, theories and remembrances of the girls and would help to keep the case in the public’s memory.

Currently the group has over 800 members and includes former and current law enforcement as well as friends, neighbors, classmates and relatives of the girls.

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Leonard Prescott in the back of a police car after having discovered the bodies of Barbara and Patricia Grimes.

I had the opportunity to meet a number of times with a brother and sister to the girls and they realize that probably the only chance that they have at closure is if someone from the public who still has information on the case comes forward.

I personally believe through the years of research and conversation with others interested in the case that there are at least three people who are still alive who have first-hand knowledge of what happened that cold night in December almost 60 years ago. I have forwarded those names to the authorities and will never mention them publicly because this is still very much an open case.

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A copy of the missing poster that was circulated by investigators shortly after the girls disappeared.

Any credible information that the group receives is forwarded to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. I have personally spoken with a member of the Cold Case Squad and he told me that he and his team actually think about the case on almost a daily basis and still continue to follow up on leads as well as the many other cold cases that they have on their plate. I was told by another investigator that the letter that Mrs. Grimes wrote to the department many years ago asking them to never give up is still hanging on the wall.

I have spoken to the family about possibly having fund-raisers or even publishing a book on the case in order that the proceeds could go to a reward fund.

Chances are that if there are persons alive today that have info or were involved in the abduction or murder itself then they know people and have talked to someone over the past 60 years and maybe a reward could help bring them forward.

In any event, I do know that it warms the hearts of the family to know that the public and authorities have not given up on the girls and are still dedicated to bringing the case to closure.

You can find the facebook group here and you can always provide information on the case to the Cook County Sheriff’s Cold Case Page here.

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