Zero in the Brain

Once upon a time, the kidnapping of young Bobby Greenlease was second only to the Lindbergh case in terms of publicity and general outrage. The boy was murdered, as planned, before the first ransom demand was sent. The kidnappers, unlike Leopold and Loeb, got their ransom and left town, seemingly on their way to escaping without a trace. Instead epic inebriates Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady go off the deep end, lose the ransom and end up in an electric chair built for two.

This is dark material. John Heidenry does a good job of depicting the crime and the abysmal human beings who committed it. For my taste, he over does the details on the stealing of the ransom money. Certainly it takes a rare specimen to steal the proceeds from a child murder but other than being a proof point for utter corruption of the St Louis police I couldn’t bring myself to care who had the money. It’s return wouldn’t bring the Greenleases’ any comfort nor would it make Hall and Heady any less guilty.

There’s something vaguely Coen Brothers about this case. From the French-speaking nuns in the Midwest to the motel with a national reputation for shady business to the moronic drunks to the “Who’s Got the Ransom?” antics, the whole thing plays like a grimmer, entirely laugh-free version of Fargo at times. Hall and Heady are not criminal masterminds. They are not sympathetic. They aren’t even interesting.

That may be the biggest obstacle for this book – other than telling the story, there isn’t a whole lot to be gained from this exercise. Unlike the Lindbergh case the Greenlease case is not a microcosm of the times. It’s the venal, depraved act of a couple of drunks. The end. Society’s reaction to the crime and the criminals isn’t especially illuminating either. Even as a tale of the dangers of demon alcohol it isn’t much. If you’re interested in the case then you likely won’t be disappointed by this book. Otherwise this isn’t a must-read.

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