Women and Race: An Examination of the Death Penalty Throughout American History

The Greenlease Kidnapping and Murder

Bobby Greenlease was just seven years old when he was abducted from his Kansas City school (Lear, 2013).

Entry #2: Bonnie Heady and the Greenlease Case

On September 28, 1953, Robert (Bobby) Greenlease sat focused at his desk at a private school in Kansas City, Mo., when he was informed his aunt had arrived to pick him up. Upon arrival at Notre Dame De Sion, a school for young boys, Bonnie Heady appeared distraught as she explained to a school administrator that Bobbie’s mother had suffered an unexpected heart attack. Without hesitation, Sister Morand led Bobby to the front door and watched as Bonnie placed her arm around the six-year-old boy and together, they got into a taxicab and drove away. In Bonnie Heady’s final interview and confession to the FBI, she described Bobby as “a happy bright little boy who just thought he was going for a ride and raised no objection to doing so” (FBI records). As the two sat in the back of the car, Bonnie struck up a conversation with Bobby about his pets including the two dogs she already knew he had from previously casing his parent’s home, and the boy’s parrot which was his favorite. Bobby seemed to know no stranger and rode along with Ms. Heady as if she were a family friend. It wasn’t until Sister Morand decided to

Bobby and his father shortly before his kidnapping (Post-Dispatch Photographers, 2009).

call and check on Mrs. Greenlease at the hospital and then at the Greenlease residence, that anyone realized the gravity of the situation; Bobby had been kidnapped (Greenlease Kidnapping).

It was 6 pm that night when the Greenlease family received the first ransom note. The note promised the safe return of their son within 24 hours in exchange for a $600,000 transaction. Over the course of a week, Mr. and Mrs. Greenlease received six ransom notes and fifteen phone calls regarding Bobby and his capture’s demand for money. Finally, the Greenlease family paid out the $600,000, (the largest paid ransom in the history of the United States at the time) and awaited the return of their son. Sadly, Bobby had only survived a few hours after his abduction (FBI Records). His final resting place was a patch of ground next to the porch of Bonnie Heady’s home; chrysanthemums planted on his grave. The arrest of Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady would come on October 6, 1953, just two months before they would be executed sitting side by side in the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) gas chamber; the second gas chamber seat built especially for their execution. This comes as no surprise after the judge on the case called it “the most cold-blooded brutal murder (he) had ever tried” (FBI Records). After their apprehension, over half of the ransom money was never found and the two arresting officers were later tried and convicted of perjury for the theft of the ransom. The officers were sentenced to

Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady both eventually confessed to the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Greenlease (MSP).

two and three years in prison, one later being pardoned by President Lyndon Johnson.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case was the original interviews between the FBI and Bonnie Heady. In the official FBI records, Bonnie claimed she had been in a drunken stupor for months on end. In fact, this is one reason why she has left at Carl’s St. Louis apartment when he fled leaving her only $2,000 of the ransom, and later leading police to her doorstep. Not only did she claim she had no knowledge of Carl’s plan to abduct Bobby Greenlease, but she denied even knowing that the boy was dead. She told investigators that Carl told her the young boy was his son from another marriage and a stipulation in Carl’s divorce stated he was not to see Bobby. Bonnie claimed that after she picked the boy up, Carl dropped her off at a local shopping plaza suggesting she go shopping for a few hours while Carl and Bobby spent quality time together. When

gun money
Depicted is the back porch of Bonnie Heady’s St. Joseph home where Bobby’s body was found next to, the car used to abduct Bobby, Carl’s 38 caliber pistol, and what was left of the 600,000 ransom money paid out by the Greenlease family (FBI,).

Carl came back to get her, Bobby was gone. Bonnie claimed she questioned him about this but stated that Carl claimed the boy had been taken back to school to finish out his day. A few days later Bonnie noticed a large patch of disturbed ground near her back porch. When questioned Carl had told her he tilled the ground so they could plant flowers. The same day both Bonnie and Carl went to town to purchase flowers to plant on the newly tilled flower bed. Bonnie had even claimed that she found the $600,000 ransom money by accident among Carl’s possessions, and denied writing any ransom letters to the Greenlease family. She also explained away the multiple phone calls made to the Greenlease home citing Carl’s habit of disappearing for small periods of time and explaining she had no reason to question him about this. For a moment Bonnie Heady appeared to be an innocent bystander, manipulated by her boyfriend, Carl Hall.


Then, to investigator’s surprise, on October 11, 1953, Bonnie Heady fully confessed to the kidnapping of Bobby

The Greenlease kidnapping and murder made international news (Historic Newspaper Archive, 1953).

Greenlease stating she knew he was not Carl’s son all along. She claimed Carl and herself had planned the kidnapping for months, causing the boy’s home and looking for opportunities to abduct him. She also claimed they had decided at least two weeks before Bobby was kidnapped that “they’d have to kill (him) to avoid detection” (FBI records). She also described how she calmly walked her dog as Carl took Bobby to a rural area where he first tried to strangle the boy but when that proved unsuccessful, he shot him with his 38 caliber revolver. Bonnie recalled hearing the boy moan and being startled at the sight of all the blood explaining that she “had never seen anyone die before” and that “it was not like what you see in the movies” (FBI records). She also told investigators that she and Carl had talked about disposing of the boy’s body in the Meramec River, but decided against it as there was a chance the body might surface before they could collect the ransom.


In light of the confessions of both Bonnie Heady and Carl Hall, it is no wonder the

Bonnie Heady and Carl Hall were escorted to Missouri State Penitentiary on October 6, 1953 (Post-dispatch Photographers, 2009).

presiding Judge Albert L. Reeves, called the verdict of the one hour and eight-minute jury deliberation, “fit” for the crime. Not only was the murder of Bobby Greenlease especially heinous because of the boy’s age, but the fact that Bobby never fought back, resisted or was unpleasant to his killers in any manner, added an especially troubling aspect to the case. Another aggravating factor was the motive; money. Bonnie Heady and Carl Hall killed an innocent six-year-old boy for ransom knowing shortly after the abduction that the boy was dead. Despite this fact, they continued to send ransom notes and phone

gas chamber
The death house at Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri (MSP).

calls promising for Bobby’s safe return a week after the murder. In addition, Bonnie’s confession showed a complete lack of empathy and her admittance to the premeditation of the murder, months before Bobby’s abduction, paints a clear picture of her intent as she picked him up from school on the morning of September 28, 1953. Her recollection of discussing the method in which Bobby Greenlease was to die and how the couple planned to dispose of the body so that it wouldn’t be found before they collected the ransom, further convinced the jury of the pair’s threatening nature and lack of remorse for their crime. On December 18, 1953, Bonnie Heady and Carl Hall were executed by lethal gas at Missouri State Penitentiary. Bonnie was one of only seven women in the United States executed by lethal gas and the only women by this method in Missouri history.


The Greenlease kidnapping and murder stand as one of the most heinous crimes in United States history, as well as one of Missouri State Penitentiary’s most infamous executions. Reported all over the Country, the Greenlease case was arguably the most famous murder case to ever be tried in Missouri.


inside gc
Missouri State Penitentiary gas chamber where Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady were executed, the second chair added especially for Bonnie so the pair could be executed at the same time (MSP).

***To view actual copies of the FBI files written on the Greenlease case, visit the FBI records link below in the references or click the link below.

Browse the Original FBI Files for the Greenlease Case


Birthday newspaper October 12 1953 Greenlease kidnap confession cdn (1950-1959). In Historic Newspaper Archives. Retrieved from http://www.historicnewspapersandcomics.co.uk/birthday-newspaper-october-12-1953-greenlease-kidnap-confession-cdn-88897-p.asp

Executions (n.d.). Missouri State Penitentiary. Retrieved February 14, 2017.

Greenlease Kidnapping (n.d.). In FBI. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/greenlease-kidnapping

Greenlease Kidnapping (n.d.). In FBI Records: The Vault. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from https://vault.fbi.gov/Greenlease%20Kidnapping/

Lear, M. (2013, September 27). Author recalls Greenlease kidnapping, 60 years ago this week. In MissouriNet. Retrieved from http://www.missourinet.com/2013/09/27/author-recalls-greenlease-kidnapping-60-years-ago-this-week/

Post-Dispatch staff photographers. (2009, September 22). Look Back: Bobby Greenlease kidnapping. In STLToday. Retrieved from http://stltoday.mycapture.com/mycapture/folder.asp?event=842577&CategoryID=23105&ListSubAlbums=0&thisPage=1




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