On September 28, 1953, Bobby Greenlease, the 6-year-old son of a multi-millionaire car dealer, was kidnapped in Kansas City, Missouri. His kidnapping led to the largest ransom payment in American history at the time. Unfortunately, the kidnappers never planned to return the boy to his family. He was murdered before the family even submitted the payment.
BACKGROUND AND ABDUCTION
In the early 20th century, Robert Greenlease because a multi-millionaire when he introduced General Motors vehicles to the Great Plains. He owned dealerships from Texas to South Dakota. In 1947, when he was 65 years old, he and his wife welcomed their first, and only, child into the world. They named him Bobby, and doted on the child.
At around 10:55 AM on September 28, 1953, Sister Morand, a teacher at Bobby's school in Kansas City, Missouri, answered the door to a woman who claimed to be Bobby's aunt. She told Sister Morand that Bobby's mother had suffered from a heart attack and had been taken to the hospital. She seemed truly upset, even apologizing for her condition. Sister Morand retrieved the boy and told him that his aunt had called for him.
Bobby was known to be a trusting kid, and he went with the woman without hesitation. According to Sister Morand, there was nothing about his behavior that would indicate that he had never met the woman before. They left, her arm around his shoulders and hand in hand. They entered a taxicab, and Sister Morand went back to her day.
Later that morning, Sister Marthanna, another teacher at the school, called the Greenlease home to ask how Mrs. Greenlease was doing. But when it was a healthy Mrs. Greenlease who answered the phone, they realized that the story spun by Bobby's "aunt" was a lie. Mrs. Greenlease called her husband immediately, and the notified the chief of police in Kansas City, who called the FBI.
They were able to track down Willard Pearson Creech, the cab driver. He told authorities that shortly before 11, a woman had asked him to drive her to Bobby's school. Once she arrived, she asked him to wait because she wanted to be driven to a drug store after. She returned from the school with a young boy. He dropped them at Katz Drug Store behind a blue Ford Sedan with Kansas license plates and left.
A few hours after their child was snatched, the family received a ransom letter about the return of their son. They demanded $600,000 in $20 and $10 bills, placed in a duffle bag. They promised his safe return in 24 hours, so long as there were no issues or tricks while delivering the money. In their follow-up letter, they included a medal that belonged to Bobby, again, demanding $600,000. They said the child was okay, but homesick. The Greenleases ultimately received over half a dozen notes and 15 phone calls.
On October 5, 1953, the Greenleases had their last communication with the kidnapper(s), after they had paid the $600,000. The kidnappers confirmed that they had received the money, and assured them that their son would be returned in 24 hours.
But what they didn't know was that Bobby had been dead since the day of, or after, his abduction. The 2 kidnappers, Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady, killed the child and buried his body near Heady's house in St. Joseph, Missouri. They took the ransom money and skipped town to St. Louis, Missouri. When they got the money, Hall bought 2 metal suitcases to put the money in, burning the duffel bag. Hall deserted his drunk accomplice in a rented apartment in St. Louis. He left $2,000 of his $600,000 fortune in her purse and left.
THE ARREST AND PUNISHMENT
Once he left, he got a personal cab driver, a prostitute, and copious amounts of alcohol. But since he was being a bit too free with his money, the cab driver became a little bit suspicious.
On October 6, the St. Louis Police Department received a call from John Oliver Hager, the cab driver. This call led to the arrest of Carl Hall. Later that night, he led the officers to the apartment he had left Heady at, and she was taken into custody, as well.
The couple had met in a hotel bar in late May 1953. He was 33, a small-time crook who was no stranger to bad business ventures and gambling. She was a 40-year-old divorcee who had just divorced her successful husband, and began prostituting herself out of her home.
During Hall's investigation, he claimed that he had planned the kidnapping and orchestrated the abduction, and burying the child in his girlfriend's yard, and picking up the ransom money. However, he denied killing Bobby. He implicated a man named Tom Marsh, before admitting that he and his girlfriend were the only 2 people involved with the kidnapping.
Then, he ultimately admitted that he had shot Bobby to death and helped in the burial. They planted flowers over his body. Heady admitted that the ransom notes were her idea, as well as kidnapping through the ruse of his mother's illness.
Bobby Greenlease's body was found on 8:40 AM on October 7, 1953, near Heady's porch. He had been wrapped in a plastic bag. Blood stains were found on the basement floor, as well as shell casings from around the house. Another gun that was found was also fired during that time. During the interrogations, they revealed that while Bobby was being driven away, he happily told them about his family and his pets.
They had tried to strangle him with a clothesline, but the child fought back. That was when they decided to shoot the child.
On October 30, the killers appeared in court. They both entered guilty pleas. The death penalty was recommended based on the details of the case after only an hour of deliberations. They were sentenced to death on December 18, 1953. "It is the most coldblooded, brutal murder I have ever tried," Judge Albert L. Reeves said after handing down the verdict.
They were executed together in Missouri's lethal gas chamber on December 18, 1953 (the same day of their sentence? Ah, the 50s...)
Over half of the $600,000 ransom payment was never found. There is a lot of speculation about what happened to the remaining money. A lieutenant and patrolman from the precinct that Hall was arrested at were both convicted of perjury, as it was believed that they knew where the money was. Others believe that Hall tried to bury the money somewhere, or that it had fallen into the hands of mobsters some way or another.
This one makes my heart hurt. I cannot imagine what the parents felt the entire time. Realizing that at school, where their son should be safe, that someone just walked inside and took him. Being asked to fork over more than half a million dollars, and then doing it, and then being told that your child, who was unbeknownst to you, already dead, would be safely returned. They lost trust in those around them, they lost $312,000, and they lost their beloved only child. 2 terrible people who were trying to make a quick buck took a kid, gave his parents false hope, and then murdered him. It is so horrific to think about.
It might be better for the parents to know what happened, though. Maybe. I think I would personally rather know that my child is at peace than holding out hope for my entire life that my child would come home. Or thinking non-stop about what horrors they might be facing wherever they are. Sometimes, closure is better, even though the knowledge that your 6-year-old was shot to death is more horrific than can be imagined.
Robert Greenlease and his wife made donations to Rockhurst University and Rockhurst High School in the name of their son. Robert died in 1969. His wife died in 2001, leaving $1 million to the schools in the name of her husband and her son.