On the evening of December 28, 1956, 15-year-old Barbara Grimes and her 13-year-old sister, Patricia, went to see a movie at the Brighton Theater in Chicago. When they didn’t return home, their mother reported them missing. A massive search was conducted for the Grimes sisters, but they were not found until January 22, 1957, when their frozen, nude bodies were discovered in a ditch near Willow Springs. Their bodies contained numerous bruises and marks, including three unexplained puncture wounds in Barbara’s chest. There has always been controversy about how and when the Grimes sisters were killed. The initial autopsy report concluded that they died on the same night they went missing, but the chief investigator believed they lived for several more days and were still alive when their bodies were dumped.
At about 7:30pm on the night of December 28, 1956, the girls left their home with $2.50 between them. Their plan was to see the newly released Elvis Presley movie, “Love Me Tender” for the 15th time at the now demolished Brighton Theater on Archer Avenue. They never came home.
What followed was one of the most labor intensive missing persons cases in Chicago and Cook County history. Thousands of man-hours and hundreds of police officers were utilized from Chicago as well as neighboring towns such as La Grange, Justice, Bridgeview, Summit, Bedford Park, Willow Springs and the Cook County Forest Preserve Police.
Reports of sightings of the girls started pouring in from as far away as Nashville, Tennessee and Elvis Presley himself was on the radio pleading with the girls to return home. The police initially were of the opinion that the girls had run away but their mother never wavered from her belief that the girls would never do such a thing and that she feared the worst. Their mother could not believe that they would leave home with virtually no money, no change of clothes and leaving all of their Christmas presents behind including a treasured A.M. radio.
All hope was lost on January 22, 1957 when a man by the name of Leonard Prescott was driving east along German Church Road on his way to the grocery store when he noticed what he thought were two mannequins on the north side of the road just east of County Line Road. He went back to get his wife and returned to the scene to find what turned out to be the bodies of Patricia and her sister Barbara. They reported their findings to the Willow Springs Police Department at 1:30pm that day.
The bodies were unclothed with Barbara, the older but smaller girl, lying face down and Patricia lying face up on top of Barbara and perpendicular. There was no obvious cause of death although it appeared as though their faces had been damaged. The damage was later found to be destruction by animals. It was thought that the girls were probably there since the heavy snows of January 9th and 10th and that the recent thaw had revealed them.
One suspect was a drifter named Bennie Bedwell, who had been seen with two girls resembling Barbara and Patricia on December 30. Bedwell was charged with their murders after making a confession, but he claimed the confession was coerced. The charges were dropped once it was discovered that Bedwell had an alibi during the time the girls went missing.
However, one of the case’s strangest leads came from an unlikely source: Ann Landers, the famous advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Ann received an anonymous letter from a girl who claimed she saw a young man forcing the Grimes sisters into a car. The girl even provided a partial license plate number. Police suspected the letter might have actually been written by the murderer and wanted to question Ann, but she felt obliged to never discuss the letters she received. As a result, that lead went nowhere, and the murder of the Grimes sisters has never been solved.