A Byte Out of History: The Bobby Greenlease Kidnapping
Two criminals, a 6-year-old boy, a $600,000 ransom, and a tragic end 60 years ago.
|Bobby Greenlease was shot with a .38 caliber revolver (lower left) in his kidnappers’ vehicle (top right) and buried in a shallow grave beneath a trellis on Bonnie Heady’s property (top left). The boy’s parents had paid Heady and Carl Hall a $600,000 ransom (lower right) for the 6-year-old boy’s safe return.
A Byte Out of History
The Bobby Greenlease Kidnapping
On September 28, 1953—60 years ago this past weekend—a woman knocked on the door of the French Institute of Notre Dame de Sion in Kansas City, Missouri. When a nun answered, the woman explained that she was the aunt of Bobby Greenlease, a 6-year-old student at the school, and that his mother had just suffered a heart attack and she needed to take the boy immediately. Except the woman was not Bobby’s aunt, and his mother had not suffered a heart attack. Instead, Bonnie Emily Heady had just kidnapped the son of a very wealthy Kansas City car dealer.
Carl Austin Hall, a once-wealthy man who had been accustomed to living a lavish lifestyle before squandering away his inheritance, was arrested in 1951 for robbing taxicab drivers of a total of $33. Although sentenced to five years in prison, he served just over two...it was there he began plotting his next get-rich quick scheme—a ransom kidnapping.
After meeting Bonnie Heady in a bar in May 1953 and moving in with the divorcée and sometime prostitute a mere two days later, Hall let her in on his plan. She was a more-than-willing accomplice, which set the stage for an unfortunate ending to the Greenlease story.
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare…but what happened next was even worse. The plan, masterminded by Heady’s paramour, Carl Austin Hall, was to extract a significant ransom from the worried parents—$600,000, to be exact—in exchange for the boy’s safe return. But Hall and Heady never intended to carry out their end of the bargain. After driving Bobby away from the school, all the while chatting with him about his pets and even buying him ice cream, the trio continued on to a secluded farm in Kansas, where Hall, who considered the boy evidence that needed to be destroyed, shot Bobby at point-blank range, killing him.
That didn’t stop Hall and Heady from cashing in. After nearly a week of 15 phone calls and more than a half-dozen ransom notes that sent the Greenlease family on a wild goose chase, the two eventually got their loot. Hall then promised to send instructions on where to pick up Bobby…instructions that, unlike the other notes, were never delivered.
It all seemed to go off without a hitch…until they picked up the ransom money on October 5 with no plans on what to do next. Hall and Heady, both severe alcoholics who couldn’t start the day without a drink, drove nearly 380 miles to St. Louis and rented an apartment. When Heady passed out, Hall put $2,000 in her purse and left.
The FBI and Child Abductions
The Bureau was not given jurisdiction to investigate child abductions until 1932, spurred in part by the tragic kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son by Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
Contrary to popular belief, there does not have to be a ransom demand and the child does not have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours before we go to work. Our Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams are set to respond the moment the FBI becomes involved in a kidnapping case, and the teams, part of our Violent Crimes Against Children Section, do everything possible to facilitate the safe return of a missing child—often in concert with our state and local law enforcement partners.
If it Happens to Your Child
In the event the unthinkable happens, be prepared. Learn more about our Child ID app (for iPhones and Androids)
By enlisting the services of a cab driver, a prostitute, and copious amounts of alcohol, Hall may have been a bit too free with his newly acquired money—leading the cab driver to report his suspicious fare to the St. Louis Police Department. On October 6, officers arrested Hall. The FBI was notified and quickly tied him to the kidnapping. Hall gave up Heady, who was arrested the same night.
The Bureau had been involved in the case from the beginning, and its extensive investigation not only led to the recovery of Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Jr.’s body in a grave on Heady’s property in St. Joseph, Missouri, but also resulted in dozens of pages of confessions and indisputable evidence. Hall and Heady were tried, convicted, and—after just over an hour of deliberation by the jury—sentenced to death for the crime. As Judge Albert L. Reeves said of the case, “I think the verdict fits the evidence. It is the most coldblooded, brutal murder I have ever tried.”
On December 18, 1953—less than three months after Bobby’s kidnapping—Hall and Heady were executed together in Missouri’s gas chamber. The Greenlease family never got their beloved son back. But, thanks to the hard work of the FBI and its partners, justice was served.