The Tragic Story Of The Bobby Greenlease Kidnapping And Murder

There is rarely a story more tragic than one in which the victim is a child. Those that walk among us and willingly harm our most defenseless are the worst kind of human monsters. While some cases of child murder get lifted into the national spotlight, there are countless others that are mere blips in the news cycle, if they are even publicized at all.

But some examples are so multilayered and complex that they involve more than just the murder itself. In the case of 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease, the perpetrators were involved in a high stakes ransom, which became complicated by alleged crooked law enforcement officers and the Saint Louis mafia.

The child murderers, Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Heady, hatched a plan to kidnap Greenlease and get a ransom payout from his wealthy family. Greenlease's father was the largest Cadillac dealer in the Midwest, owning dealerships from Texas to South Dakota (via FBI). With a seemingly foolproof plan in place, Hall and Heady sprung into action, with greed driving them to an unspeakable murder. 

Greenlease was abducted during school

Hall had been plotting a get-rich-quick scheme since he was incarcerated two years earlier for robbing a taxi cab driver (via FBI). He had gone to a military reform academy with Greenlease's older, adopted brother years before, and knew the family was worth a fortune. A kidnapping would surely lead to a big ransom payout, but first he would have to figure out a way to abduct the child. This is where Heady came into the picture.

Hall had met Heady in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1953. A part-time prostitute with an alcohol problem, Heady had inherited a small farm outside of Saint Joseph from her father's will, as well as a house in town from a recent divorce settlement (via Zero at the Bone). The pair became acquainted a month after Hall's release from prison, during a chance meeting at the bar in the Hotel Robidoux. In the next several months, Hall unveiled his kidnapping scheme to Heady, who agreed to participate.

Greenlease attended the posh Notre Dame de Sion private school in Kansas City, Missouri. Heady entered the school on September 28, 1953, posing as Greenlease's aunt. She told the nun on duty that Greenlease's mother had been rushed to the hospital for a heart issue, and she was there to retrieve her "nephew." Greenlease was summoned and left with Heady, departing in a taxi. The cab drove the woman and child to a drugstore nearby, where the fares were let off and entered into a blue Ford sedan with Kansas plates. The cab driver was the last person aside from his killers to see young Greenlease alive.

Ransom, flight, and the mafia

Hall and Heady took Greenlease across state lines into a secluded spot in rural Kansas. Hall shot Greenlease to death, using two rounds from his .38 handgun (via FBI). Hall and his partner then drove the body back to Heady's home in Saint Joseph, where they placed it inside a grave they had dug the night before. The grave, which was next to Heady's back door, was filled in quickly and covered with freshly planted flowers.

Ransom demands for $600,000 were sent to the senior Greenlease. Arrangements were made, the drop was organized, and Hall picked up the money. He convinced Heady to flee to Saint Louis with him, just in case someone could identify him from the ransom pickup. It was in Saint Louis that things went downhill for the couple.

Hall abandoned Heady in a motel room, leaving her with only $2,500 cash. He rented an apartment and caught the attention of a cab driver he was using to escort him around town. The money Hall was flashing and the favors he was offering to pay for led the cabbie to notify police. The officers who responded were purportedly on the payroll of the Costello family, a notorious crime syndicate in town. Lt. Louis Shoulders and patrolman Elmer Dolan arrested Hall on suspicion of several crimes after searching his apartment and discovering nearly $600,000 in small bills in a trunk. 

In spite of Hall being arrested, less than half of the ransom money was turned over to authorities. It is speculated that the two police officers were ordered to turn a large sum of it over to the Costello family (via Zero at the Bone).

End of the line for Heady and Hall

Quickly after his arrest, investigators put the pieces together. With the sum of money that was in Hall's possession, they suspected he was involved in the Greenlease kidnapping across the state. After a bit of adamant denial, he relented and admitted his role. He also told police of Heady's whereabouts, who was then immediately arrested. The pair were indicted for capital murder and kidnapping charges.

Justice worked very swiftly in the early 1950s. Hall and Heady were in a federal courtroom for their trial in November 1953, less than two months after Greenlease had been kidnapped and murdered. On November 19, 1953, each were found guilty on all charges by the jury, after only an hour and eight minutes of deliberation (via FBI). A mere 15 minutes after the guilty verdicts had been delivered to the court, federal judge Albert L. Reeves handed the defendants the death sentence. "I think the verdict fits the evidence," Judge Reeves remarked. "It is the most coldblooded, brutal murder I have ever tried."

Less than one month later, Hall and Heady were executed side by side in Jefferson City. In the early morning hours of December 18, 1953, the pair of child murderers were escorted into the gas chamber, where they took their final breaths.