Unsolved Crimes: Richard Griener

Richard Griener Pekin Illinois

Dressed warmly for the winter weather in a gold-colored jacket, green rubber insulated boots, and a brown ski mask, 13 year old Richard William Griener left home for an afternoon of sledding on January 17, 1972. The boy headed toward a local park just four blocks from his house in Pekin, Illinois. He made it, for he joined some friends; however, the last time they saw him was around 5:30pm. Richard Griener was never seen again–alive or dead.

The entire area was searched multiple times, but zero evidence was found of Griener, not even the blue sled that he’d been carrying that day. At this point, experts believe he is dead, but the case is still considered active as they’re always looking for leads.

There was one lead–and only one lead–that was a plausible one. William “Freight Train” Guatney confessed to multiple murders of children during this time, including one that was kidnapped just 200 yards from where Griener was last seen. In the late 70s, fourteen children were found dead near various railroad switches and near towns with an ongoing or just-ended fair. Griener was never found, but he did have to cross a railroad switch to get back and forth from the sledding hill. Guatney, whose nickname came from his ability to mimic a train whistle, traveled by trains around the Midwest to make money helping out at state and county fairs. After his confession, he was found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a mental institution, where he died.

Guatney may have been a lead, and Griener’s age was within Guatney’s preference, but there was one huge difference: the missing and murdered children attributed to Guatney all disappeared in the summer. Griener went missing in the winter.

If you have any information on this case, please contact the Pekin Police Department at 309-478-5300.

 

 

 

Unsolved Crime: Dalton Mesarchik

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Sixteen years ago, Dalton Mesarchik waited on his front porch in Streator, Illinois, for a church van to pick him up for Bible school. The church van never arrived, and seven year old Dalton never came home.

The next day, Dalton’s body was found floating in the Vermilion River, less than three miles from his home.

When Dalton’s sister left that evening, Dalton was still waiting on the porch. When she returned, she asked, “Where’s Dalton?” Their mother contacted church officials, only to discover that the van had not made its usual rounds that night–their normal driver was gone due to an illness in the family. Dalton had not been picked up for Bible school.

K-9 units indicated that someone picked up Dalton that night. But who?

Early the next morning, people went out searching neighborhood after neighborhood. There were no sightings until a fisherman found Dalton’s body in the Vermilion River. He notified police immediately, and upon investigation, they determined it was a homicide. Shortly after the body’s discovery, the murder weapon was found: a Benchtop Pro three-pound hammer.

Dalton’s immediate family members were cleared, as was the fisherman who discovered the body. Church members were cleared, even the 30-some registered sex offenders in the town were cleared.

Local police, state police, and the county sheriff’s office were stymied. The state police even set up a headquarters at Streator’s National Guard Armory. Who would want to kill a seven year old boy–and why?

For a few years, Dalton’s mother said that police were getting closer to making an arrest and that they knew who the killer was. However, no arrests have ever been made nor any pronouncements of who the killer was.

Unsolved Crime: Robert Bee

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When kids run away from home, they often return shortly after: they realize that it’s not as fun on their own. However, when a child has a great deal of freedom, few rules, and a questionable home life, returning may not be a huge deal.
Such was the case with 13 year old Robert Bee.
One warm November day in 2016, Bee ran away from home–allegedly to avoid a truancy officer. Running away was not unusual for him (nor was avoiding the truancy officer), but this time, Bee did not return home.
In fact, he didn’t return home a week later or a month later. Instead, his remains were found eight months later, already decomposed after a long winter, already disturbed by animals in the rural area his bones were found.
So what happened to Robert Bee? We still don’t know.
Bee, from the small town of Pekin in central Illinois, had some behavioral issues. His mom readily admitted that she may have been too lax with him, allowing him too much freedom for his age. Others in the community said that while he was high energy, he was a kind-hearted boy.
When he went missing, multiple stories cropped up. Did he spend the night at a friend’s house? If so, why didn’t he take his bike? Why didn’t he take his cell phone? Both were left at home, and it didn’t appear he took any clothing to run away for an extended amount of time, either.
Of course, the first place the police must look is within the home, and that’s where the case became muddied. Lisa Bee, Robert’s mother, was not exactly mother of the year. Her social media alone made that clear. She was also involved with a man who was violent–and against whom she took out an order of protection a month before Bee’s disappearance. Then, not even a month after her son went missing, she moved out of her home and to a town about an hour south.
While Bee’s extended family was prominent in the search for the boy, his mother was noticeably absent. Multiple state agencies searched for him as well as a missing-persons search group, but no one had any luck.
About eight months after Bee went missing, his remains were found two miles from his home. By remains, I mean just that. The elements had helped decomposition along as well as animals roaming the wooded area where he was found.
The remains elicited no further leads on the case, aside from this: the property on which his remains were found belonged to a woman who lives nearby. She is related to someone “who is involved in the investigation,” according to Pekin police detective Seth Ranney.
Over two years later, the case remains unsolved and no one has been charged with any crime.

True Crime: Belle Gunness

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Third in a series on serial killers! Did you miss number one on Ed Gein? How about number two on Henry Lee Lucas?

It used to surprise me that serial killers existed in the 1800s. H. H. Holmes, for example, shocked me with his continual insurance fraud. Apparently, it was all the rage. One of his contemporaries in Chicago, Belle Gunness, also discovered the lucrative business of insurance fraud, and used it repeatedly–on her husbands and even her own children. Read on, and you, too, will start thinking that Holmes and Gunness would have made a perfect pair.

In the 1800s, Norwegian immigrant Belle found her way to the Windy City. In 1893 (the year of the World’s Fair in Chicago), she and her husband, Mads Sorenson, opened a candy store. It would seem as though Belle and Mads had a run of bad luck, with a business and their home burning down and two children dying. It was luck, alright, devised by Belle to cash in on insurance policies. Yes, conventional wisdom says she administered strychnine to her own children.

Later on, Mads died. Surely the fact that he died on the day two insurance policies overlapped was mere coincidence. Surely.

Now a woman of some means, Belle took her remaining children to the small town of LaPorte, Indiana. There, she bought a 42 acre farm. Part of it burned down. I don’t need to tell you it was insured…

By 1902, she found a new beau, Peter Gunness. Gunness, who had two children already, sent one to live with relatives after the other mysteriously died in Belle’s care. It wasn’t long before Peter, too, was dead. There was some concern that Peter showed signs of strychnine poisoning, but the doctor ruled it heart failure.

Belle’s life was like that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: her greed overtook her ambition. Rather than being content with the cash she already had, she continued on her murder-for-money spree. Now, however, she unknowingly borrowed from H. H. Holmes’ playbook: set up potential lovers. Belle’s version was to get men to “buy” shares of her farm. Once she had the money, the men disappeared. Rumor has it she burned them, buried them, and fed them to her pigs. Handy, those hog farms.

Belle’s fast-track train came to an end in 1908. A relative of one of her “investors” was suspicious and told Belle he was going to come check things out. Soon, the entire farm burned down. In it, Belle’s remaining three children perished, as did Belle.

Or so it seemed.

The missing man’s relative insisted they do a complete search. Eleven bodies were discovered on the farm property. The adult female body discovered in the fire? It likely wasn’t Belle.

Her farmhand, Ray Lamphere, was a prime suspect for arson and murder–that is, until he confessed that she faked her death. The woman’s body in the fire did not match up to Belle’s size.

Twenty years later, in 1931, a woman named Esther Carlson in California was tried for poisoning a man. In her possessions were photographs of children–children who looked very similar to Belle’s.

We know very little about Belle’s childhood. She grew up in a very poor town in Norway, but as to what trauma may have caused her willingness to kill, we’re left to our own devices to make suppositions. Or, perhaps worse, there was no trauma. Perhaps she, like Holmes, was likely born that way.

True Crime: Ed Gein

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First in a series about serial killers!

Stranger than fiction: there are definitely some true crime stories that are just so outlandish they’re barely believable. Such is the story of Ed Gein.

A student taught me all about Ed Gein after the culmination of American Horror Story. We were talking about H. H. Holmes’ portrayal as Mr. March in the Hotel series, and he said, “kind of like Ed Gein and Psycho.” 

“Like who?” I asked.

“Ed Gein.” He stared at me expectantly.

“Who?” I asked again.

“You don’t know who Ed Gein is?”

Nope. Sure didn’t. (Just one of many examples where my students teach me.)

Ed Gein, born in the early 1900s, lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, and is the basis for Psycho’s Norman Bates. Norman, eerily brought back to life as of late by Freddie Highmore in Bates Motelhad a, shall we say, fixation, on his mother, just like Gein. When she died, Gein began robbing the graves of women who he thought resembled his mother. He created seat covers from their skin and bowls from their skulls–and those are not the most gruesome items he kept or manufactured. (Google if you are so inclined, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.) He committed numerous crimes before he was caught. He was found guilty of murdering Bernice Worden and was sentenced to life in a mental institution. Gein was also the “inspiration” behind Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dr. Thredson from American Horror Story, and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

My morbid fascination with serial killers is not because of the death and destruction, but the why behind it all. I fully acknowledge that some people are just born damaged. For some, no matter what interventions took place, they would be the psycho- or sociopaths they are. However, the psychology of the early years, the imprint caregivers have on an infant, the indelible marks parents leave on children, those have always been of never-ending interest to me.

Ed Gein, well, I believe he falls into the latter category. Raised on a remote farm by an alcoholic father who was a poor provider, and indoctrinated by a mother who taught him all women were evil and prostitutes (and punished him when he tried to make friends), Ed Gein’s upbringing was a perfect storm of isolationism and conditioning with a dash of mommy and daddy issues.

Want to learn more about Ed Gein? Take a look at Harold Schlecter’s book Deviant and Paul Anthony Woods’ Psycho!

Stay tuned for part two in the series: Henry Lee Lucas.

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