Recap: E32 The Grimes Sisters

Just days before the New Year in 1956, sixteen and thirteen-year-old Barbara and Patricia Grimes go missing from their neighborhood in Brighton Park, Chicago. The community rumor mill paints the girls as careless, rebellious teen runaways with an obsession for Elvis Presley and the Hollywood life. Countless fraudulent sightings across the country lead police on a wild goose chase and the investigation’s focus strays far from home. It’s not until the sisters’ frozen nude bodies are found just miles from the neighborhood where they grew up that murder is even considered.

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie follow the lives of the Grime sisters’ family – a mother and three siblings emotionally torn apart by their disappearances, the directionless police investigation and all the ruthless, unfounded gossip.

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Seventeen-year-old Theresa Grimes finds her mother Loretta sitting all alone in their house. Worried sick for her two missing daughters, Barbara and Patricia, Loretta becomes upset when Theresa tells her the police will be stopping by.  Already riled from groundless community gossip, Loretta bristles at the reminder that investigators believe her girls ran away.

Theresa suggests the theory might not be as farfetched as Loretta thinks but is unable to convince her mother. Emotionally drained and unable to face visitors, Loretta asks Theresa to handle anyone who comes by the house, which she agrees to do.

In a flashback, Loretta makes her three girls and two boys breakfast before leaving for work. During the scene, Barbara and Patricia gush over Elvis Presley and want to listen to his music while they do chores. Loretta is firm but good natured in her instruction for them to do their chores first.

When Loretta returns, she compliments her children on a job well done and grants Barbara and Patricia permission to see tonight’s Elvis Presley double-feature at the Brighton Theater. The girls take a bus to get there. At the movie theater, Barbara and Patricia run into their friend Dorothy Weiner before the showing of the second feature. They ask if she’ll stay, but Dorothy is already on her way out. She is the last confirmed person to have seen them alive.

Normally extremely punctual, even when Elvis is involved, Barbara and Patricia are a half an hour late and counting, which scares Loretta. Around midnight, she sends Theresa and their brother Joey out to look for them. The siblings panic when the third bus passes by without either of their sisters on it and return home to tell their mother. At 2:15 AM, Loretta reports the girls as missing. The police begin to investigate, but they believe Barbara and Patricia either wandered off or ran away from home.

For the next two weeks, purported eyewitnesses across the city claim they saw the girls running away – such as Joe Smok, a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority. He tells police that he dropped them off on a street halfway to their house at 11:00 PM. Two local teenage boys, Ed and Earl Zastro, report seeing the Grimes sisters two blocks away from the Grimes home at 11:30 PM, giggling and acting silly. Police ask if they appeared intoxicated but the boys couldn’t tell.

Without any bodies to prove otherwise, the police and the community believe Barbara and Patricia simply ran away, seduced by the idea of meeting Elvis Presley in person and living the glamorous Hollywood life out west. This is of little comfort to a terrified mother who knows in her heart that her girls would never do that.

During a church sermon, fellow parishioners whisper vicious and untrue gossip about the Grimes sisters right in front of Loretta, but thankfully not everyone in the community is that cruel. In fact, many contribute to the overall effort to find the girls.

Loretta receives a ransom note in the mail from a person claiming to have her daughters. More letters follow with strange instructions and the FBI meets with Loretta secretly to keep the story out of the press. They bid her to follow the instructions, outfit her with a wire and discretely tail her when she makes the money drop. She waits for three hours but the ransomer never comes. The FBI track the letters to a post office just outside of a mental hospital and determine that a patient was sending them for sport. Loretta is, naturally, extremely frustrated and upset.

Pearl Neville, a woman from St. Paul, Minnesota, tells police she thinks she saw the Grimes sisters looking for work during her visit to Nashville and helped them find the local employment office. Authorities think it’s a lead but Loretta, still certain her girls didn’t run away, thinks it’s a waste of time.

On January 19th, in hopes that the girls are listening, Elvis Presley himself gets on the radio and urges Barbara and Patricia to contact their worried mother. Later that night, family friends of the Grimes get two mysterious phone calls. Wallace Tollstan only hears breathing on the line when he answers the first call. On the second call, Ann Tollstan hears a girl who she swears is Patricia Grimes asking for their daughter Sandra. Before Ann can bring her daughter to the phone, the girl hangs up.

The next day, Chicago police switchboard operator Ann Dorrigan receives a call that is traced back to fifty-three-year old Walter Kranz. He claims to have seen the bodies of Barbara and Patricia in Santa Fe Park in a dream-vision. Police search the area but come up with nothing.

A week later, Leonard and Marie Prescott find the frozen nude bodies of Barbara and Patricia dumped less than a mile away from Santa Fe Park along German Church Road. Chief investigator Harry Glos, Cook County Sheriff Joseph Lohman and his under-sheriff Thomas Brennan arrive at the scene, debating whether Walter Kranz was responsible.

Harry suggests it was Edward Lee “Bennie” Bedwell, a twenty-year-old drifter who allegedly was seen with the girls. Bedwell bears an uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley.

On next week’s episode, Unsolved Murders: True Crime stories hosts Carter and Wenndy wade into the murky waters surrounding the Grime sisters’ murders – and the dark history of Chicago violence that served as an ominous forewarning of their fates.