The Grimes Sisters Murders and the Ghost Car of German Church Road
Chicago is no stranger to murder. In fact, the last word you might use to describe Chicago is "innocent". However, anyone who remembers December 28, 1956 will probably tell you that it is when Chicago lost its innocence, at least when it came to the safety of our children.
Fifteen year old Barbara Jeanne Grimes and her thirteen year old sister, Patricia Kathleen Grimes, were two of the six children of Joseph and Loretta Grimes of 3634 S. Damen Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago. Loretta worked as a clerk for the Parke Davis Co. and Joseph was a union truck driver. The couple had been divorced for about 11 years at this point and Joseph was remarried.
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 being 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.
At one point the F.B.I. became involved because Loretta had received up to two known ransom notes but both of those leads went nowhere.
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.
Following the discovery, a number of suspects were interviewed and cleared. The most publicized suspect was Edward Lee (Bennie) Bedwell who had gone so far as confessing to the murders however it was later shown that "Bennie" was borderline mentally retarded and that his confession had been coerced by the Cook County Sheriff's Police. He was later cleared by then Cook County State's Attorney Benjamin Adamowski.
The autopsy later revealed that the girls had died within four hours of going missing because the meals that they had eaten that night at home were still in the girls' stomachs. The official finding by the coroner's jury was that they were murdered and the only cause of death they could come up with was "exposure to the elements". Then coroner, Walter McCarron was criticized because there were reports that the autopsies had been flubbed.
The funeral took place on January 28, 1957 and was donated by the Wollschlager Funeral Home. The mass was held at St. Maurice Church where Patricia went to grade school. The funeral was attended by many including Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Newspaper accounts say that Loretta collapsed several times and was heard sobbing that she was finally with her girls again. Two white closed caskets were each topped with a picture of each girl. The girls were laid to rest at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery only 10 feet from a sister, Leona Freck, who had died two years earlier.
The case remained unsolved and Loretta Grimes, for many years, volunteered her time at the Bridewell prison not far from where her girls' bodies were discovered. The authorities told her that they would never give up on the case. Loretta passed away in 1989 at the age of 83 without ever knowing how or why her girls died and who had killed them.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the Chicago and Cook County State's Attorney's Cold Case Units to share some information that I had come across while researching my book, "Chicago's Haunt Detective". I couldn't divulge the details of that conversation in the book or here because the Grimes case is still open and in my opinion, as well as other investigators, very solvable. In fact, I started a facebook group called "Help Solve Chicago's Grimes Sisters' Murder". It is somewhere where people can learn about the facts of the case, share memories and add to the discussion and theories.
There are at least two instances of legend or paranormal activity associated with the Grimes Sisters. One concerns what is sometimes referred to as a residual haunting and is nicknamed, "The Ghost Car of German Church Road" The other concerns a house that existed for a time near the site where the girls bodies were found but burned down sometime in the 1980's I believe. The house, according to persons I have interviewed, was a bi-level ranch style building with a sunken garage. The building used to exist in the northeast corner of what is now considered the Bridle Path Subdivision along Greystone Court in Burr Ridge. Shortly after the girls' bodies were discovered, whoever lived in the house quickly deserted it. According to reports, a brand new vehicle was abandoned in the garage and toys, food, clothes and tools were left in the house. In fact I have been told that dishes were still left on the kitchen table. Whoever was living there left in a hurry and didn't care about leaving anything behind. One theory is that the house was haunted by the spirits of the Grimes girls because their murderer has never been brought to justice. Another story is that a couple lived there and the wife went crazy soon after the murders and they had to have her committed. It is also possible that there were "squatters" living on the property and when the police activity picked up in the area they didn't want to stick around and talk to them. Still one more theory is that the killer himself, or herself, lived there and left to avoid detection by the police. Whatever the reason, the house was abandoned and became a rite of passage for teenagers to venture down the long dark path that led to the house at night. A good friend of mine who is a former police sergeant from Willow Springs told me that he had ventured to the property as a youth with a buddy and when they got close to the house he could see a pale face with dark eyes peering out of window at him. He said that he had never run so fast and so far in his entire life.
I had another individual contact me who stated that he had gone to the house after it was in a very sad state of disrepair and found a live goat tied up in the basement.
Visitors to the house, and also those who have merely been walking along the dark lonely stretch of German Church Road, have also claimed to hear what many call the "Ghost Car of German Church Road" This is more of an audio apparition than a visual one. You hear a car driving along German Church Road and when it sounds like it arrives near the area where the girls' bodies were found, the car slows down and stops. You hear what sounds like a trunk open and a loud thud as though something is being unloaded from the car quickly. You then hear the vehicle drive away quickly from the scene but you never actually see lights or a vehicle itself. The assumption is that what people are hearing is the remnants of the memory of the killer or killers as they were dumping the bodies of the young girls.
Although I had never visited the abandoned house when it still existed or heard any "Ghost Cars" along German Church Road, I have had my own unexplained experiences so I try to keep an open mind about the claims of others. Whether or not any paranormal traces of the murdered Grimes girls exist, I always become hopeful on the anniversary of their disappearance that we may someday be able to solve this horrific crime and help the girls and their memory to rest in peace.