It was a terrible crime with a tragic outcome.
In 1953, the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy in a get-rich-quick scheme led to a massive investigation that captured the pair of culprits, but not before they did the unthinkable.
At approximately 10:55 a.m. on September 28, 1953, Sister Morand of the French Institute of Notre Dame De Sion, a school for small children in Kansas City, Missouri, answered the door and was confronted by a woman who said she was the aunt of Bobby Greenlease.
Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Jr., known as Bobby, was six years old and the son of Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Sr., a wealthy automobile dealer who resided in Mission Hills, Kansas City, Missouri. The woman informed Sister Morand that Bobby’s mother had just suffered a heart attack and had been taken to St. Mary’s Hospital. The woman appeared visibly upset and apologized to Sister Morand for her condition. Upon getting Bobby, Sister Morand told him that an aunt had called at the school for him, but she did not tell Bobby that his mother had suffered a heart attack.
Sister Morand recalled that Bobby walked directly to the woman without hesitation, and there was nothing in his action or behavior to indicate doubt on his part that this woman was his aunt. As the woman left the school, she had an arm around Bobby’s shoulder and was holding his hand. Sister Morand last saw them as they entered a taxicab.
At approximately 11:30 a.m. that day, Sister Marthanna of the school called the Greenlease home to inquire about Mrs. Greenlease’s condition, spoke to Mrs. Greenlease and at that time learned that the story told by the woman who called for Bobby was false. Mrs. Greenlease immediately called her husband who rushed home and, after hearing the story of what happened, notified the chief of police in Kansas City, who in turn reported the matter to the FBI.
Willard Pearson Creech, cab driver for the Toedman Cab Company in Kansas City, told authorities that shortly before 11:00 a.m. on September 28, 1953, a woman, whose description fit that of the woman who had called at the school, entered the cab and requested him to drive her to the school of Notre Dame De Sion. Upon arriving at the school she told Creech to wait for her because she desired to be driven to the Katz Drug Store at Westport and Main Streets in Kansas City. In approximately six minutes, the woman reentered the cab accompanied by a small boy fitting the description of Bobby Greenlease. When Creech last saw them, they had stopped behind a blue 1952 or 1953 Ford Sedan bearing Kansas license plates.
A few hours after the kidnapping, the Greenleases received the first ransom letter concerning the return of their son.
The first letter, mailed special delivery and postmarked 6:00 p.m.on September 28, 1953, demanded $600,000 in $20 and $10 bills be placed in a duffle bag. The kidnappers promised Bobby’s safe return in 24 hours and as long as there were no tricks in delivering the money.
The second ransom letter was postmarked 9:30 p.m. on September 29, 1953. Inside the envelope in which this letter was mailed was the Jerusalem medal which had been worn by Bobby Greenlease. The letter again contained demands for $600,000 and stated that Bobby was okay but homesick. Overall, the Greenleases received over a half dozen ransom notes and 15 telephone calls.
The final communication between the Greenleases and the kidnappers was a telephone call received at 1:00 a.m. on October 5, 1953 at the Greenlease residence. The kidnappers stated that they had received the $600,000 ransom money and assured the Greenleases that their son was alive and that he would be returned in 24 hours.
Unknown to the family, the kidnappers, Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady, had killed the boy soon after the abduction and buried the body near Heady’s house in St. Joseph, Missouri. Then the two murderers took the ransom money and traveled approximately 380 miles to St. Louis, Missouri.
On October 5, 1953, Hall purchased two metal suitcases and transferred the ransom money from the duffle bag to these suitcases, leaving the duffle bag in an ash pit in south St. Louis. Carl Hall took Bonnie Heady, who was drunk, to an apartment he rented on Arsenal Street, also in St. Louis. Heady immediately went to sleep, and Hall deserted her there, leaving only $2,000 of the $600,000 ransom money in her purse.
On October 6, 1953, Hall purchased two large garbage cans and a shovel, placed them in a rented car and drove to Meramec River in St. Louis County, where he intended to bury the ransom money; however, he could not find a suitable place. He left the cans in a deserted club house and drove back to the Coral Courts Motel where he was staying. Hall became suspicious of persons in the vicinity of the motel during the afternoon of October 6, 1953 and moved to an apartment at the Townhouse Hotel in St. Louis.
Authorities Break the Case
A telephone call was received at the 11th District, St. Louis Police Department, about 3:30 p.m. on October 6, 1953 from John Oliver Hager, a driver for the Ace Cab Company in St. Louis.
His information led to the arrest of Carl Austin Hall (who identified himself as John James Byrne) by officers of the St. Louis Police Department at the Townhouse Hotel in St. Louis during the evening of October 6, 1953. Later that night, he led the officers to an apartment on Arsenal Street in St. Louis where Hall’s girlfriend, Bonnie Emily Heady, was taken into custody.
Hall was interrogated by FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies several times after his arrest and emphatically insisted that practically all of the $600,000 ransom money was in his possession at the time he was arrested by the St. Louis Police Department.
Hall admitted to FBI agents the planning of the kidnapping, the actual abduction of the victim, and to burying the body in the yard of Mrs. Heady’s residence. He also admitted picking up the ransom money, but denied that he killed the victim.
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 boy’s safe return.
At this time he implicated Tom Marsh, stating he had turned the victim over to Marsh. Hall later admitted Marsh was a fictitious individual and the only persons involved in the kidnapping were Bonnie Heady and himself. It was not until October 11, 1953 that Hall admitted he and Bonnie Heady transported the victim from Kansas City, Missouri to a point just outside of Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas where Hall shot the victim to death. He then transported the body approximately 45 miles back to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he buried it in Bonnie Heady’s yard and planted flowers on the grave.
Bonnie Heady admitted assisting Hall in the preparation of the ransom letters and notes of instructions to the Greenlease family concerning the pay-off of the ransom as well as going to the school and obtaining custody of the victim using the ruse that his mother was ill.
The boy’s body was found by FBI agents at 8:40 a.m., October 7, 1953, buried near the porch of the Heady residence at 1201 South 38th Street in St. Joseph, Missouri. The body had been wrapped in a plastic bag, and a large quantity of lime had been poured over this bag. The Greenlease family dentist identified the body as that of Bobby Greenlease at 1:05 p.m. on October 7, 1953.
Blood stains were found on the basement floor and steps in the Heady residence, and on a nylon blouse and fiber rug. Some .38 caliber shell casings were also found in the house. These shell casings were examined by the FBI Laboratory and it was found that they had been fired from a .38 caliber snub nose Smith & Wesson revolver in Hall’s possession at the time of his arrest. The FBI Laboratory also ascertained that a lead bullet recovered from a rubber floor mat in the Plymouth station wagon owned by Bonnie Heady was also fired from Hall’s .38 caliber revolver.
Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady
On October 30, 1953, Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady appeared before Judge Albert L. Reeves in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, at which time they entered pleas of guilty to the indictment.
On November 19, 1953, after hearing the evidence, a jury in the federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, recommended the death penalty after only an hour and eight minutes of deliberations. Fifteen minutes after the verdict was announced, Judge Reeves sentenced both of them to be executed on December 18, 1953.
Judge Reeves said, “I think the verdict fits the evidence. It is the most coldblooded, brutal murder I have ever tried.”
Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Emily Heady were executed together in Missouri’s lethal gas chamber at the State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri, on December 18, 1953. Hall was pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m., and Bonnie Heady was pronounced dead 20 seconds later.
Over half of the $600,000 was never found. FBI investigation established that the two suitcases which reportedly contained the ransom money, and which were in Hall’s possession at the time of his arrest, were not brought to the 11th District Precinct Station as testified by the arresting officers, Lieutenant Louis Ira Shoulders and Patrolman Elmer Dolan.
Both officers were subsequently federally indicted for perjury. Lieutenant Shoulders was convicted on April 15, 1954 and sentenced to three years in prison, and patrolman Dolan was convicted on March 31, 1954 and sentenced to two years. After they were released from prison, both returned to the St. Louis area. Shoulders died on May 12, 1962. Dolan received a full pardon from President Johnson on July 21, 1965.