Playboy Carl Austin Hall was nothing short of a sleazy character even though he came from a well-to-do upbringing. His father had been a very successful lawyer in Pleasanton, Kan., and when pops died, Carl inherited a cool million dollars. With all of his womanizing, gambling, booze, and drug addition, it didn't take him long to go through that inheritance. Hall met a small time prostitute, Bonnie Heady from St. Joseph one night when they were drinking in a tavern together and moved in with her the next day. She would become his accomplice in a fantastic money making scheme that would put them both in the history books.
In September 1953, the two of them kidnapped 6-year old Bobby Greenlease from an exclusive French Catholic school in Kansas City, which was run by French nuns, and held him for $600,000 ransom.
They figured Bobby's multi-millionaire father, Cadillac dealer Robert Greenlease, would have no problem coughing up that kind of dough. The elder Greenlease made a fortune selling high end GM cars across the Midwest from Texas to South Dakota, and lived in the nearby exclusive Mission Hills, a suburb of Kansas City. Bobby's mother was 38 when he was born in 1947, and his father was 65, so naturally they doted over him tediously.
Hall and Heady had both been drinking heavily that morning when she pulled up in a taxi cab in front of the school. She went in claiming to be a sister of Bobby's mother, who had a heart attack that morning and was asking for Bobby. The nun in charge did not question the lady, and within a few minutes Bonnie walked out to the waiting taxi with the child. The cab delivered them to a downtown parking lot where Hall was waiting in Heady's Plymouth station wagon with her pet boxer.
Hall had no intention of returning Bobby to his family unharmed; because, he might be able to identify them, so he drove into Kansas about five miles and pulled off into a cornfield. Bonnie got out and slipped a leash over the boxer's neck and took the dog for a walk. Hall threw Bobby on the front seat floorboard and pulled out his 38 caliber handgun. The 6-year-old was fighting back as best he could and the first bullet fired at point blank range missed, but the second one in the head ended the child's brief life.
When Bonnie heard the gun shots she returned to the car as Hall was wrapping the body in a blue tarp and laying him in the back floorboard. They took the body to her house in St. Joe where they buried him in a shallow grave in a flower bed underneath some freshly planted mums. He then started mailing a series of ransom notes to Greenlease. When the news hit the newspapers and airwaves it got the attention of every mother and child across the country. Even President Eisenhower was paying attention, because his brother, Arthur, was president of Commerce Bank in Kansas City where Greenlease withdrew the $600,000.
The money was delivered and the kidnappers escaped to St. Louis in hopes of throwing off the police. Hall left Bonnie in a motel and started throwing money around town to the point that he created attention. He was too drunk to resist the police and soon confessed and even implicated Heady during the interrogation.
Police recovered about half of the ransom, but the remaining $300,000 has never been found to this day. The $600,000 in 1953 would be equal to about $4.8 million in today's currency. Kidnapping is a federal offense, so Hall and Heady sat side by side in the gas chamber three months later.
Reference: “Zero at the Bone: The Playboy, the Prostitute, and the Murder of Bobby Greenlease,” by John Heidenry.
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