New Book Recounts Tale of Notorious 1953 Missouri Kidnapping

Categories: History
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St. Martin's Press
John Heidenry is probably one of the few people who remember the Bobby Greenlease case, though in 1953 it was considered the most audacious kidnapping in American crime history since the Lindbergh baby in 1932.

Heidenry, whose resume includes St. Louis magazine and Penthouse Forum and books about the Browns and Cardinals and who is now a contributing editor to The Week, was just a kid back then. But he spent a lot of time hanging around his father's bookstore, listening to reporters and detectives puzzle over the details of not just Greenlease's murder, but whatever became of the $600,000 ransom.

Now he's written a book about it, Zero at the Bone: The Playboy, the Prostitute and the Murder of Bobby Greenlease, due in bookstores on Tuesday, July 21.

Solving the murder was the easy part, owing mostly to the ineptitude of the two kidnappers, Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady, the playboy and the prostitute respectively. He was an alcoholic, she was a shopoholic, and both hated children.

Their victim, Bobby Greenlease, was the six-year-old son of Robert Greenlease, a wealthy Kansas City auto dealer whose adopted older son was a former military school classmate of Hall's.

Posing as a distant aunt, Heady picked up Bobby from his Catholic school one afternoon in September, 1953. Hall was waiting in the getaway car. He shot Bobby in the head and the couple buried the body in the flower garden of their St. Joseph home. Robert Greenlease paid the $600,000 ransom, the largest ever at the time, but police had no trouble tracking down Hall (who was drunk most of the time, even when demanding the cash) and Heady. Both landed in the Missouri State Penitentiary and died in a double execution shortly before Christmas.

Cops and mobsters chased the ransom money all across Missouri to St. Louis. In the end, only half of it would be accounted for. Some suspect it ended up in the pockets of a couple of corrupt St. Louis cops.

Zero at the Bone has already received praise from Kirkus Reviews and The New York Times, where Janet Maslin called it "a tough, gripping chiller of a book, written straightforwardly yet cloaked with the trappings of pulp fiction."

Yes, we're definitely looking forward to this one.

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