THE MURDER OF BONNIE LEIGH SCOTT
The story of Bonnie Leigh Scott is a forgotten Chicago tragedy. In my book THE TWO LOST GIRLS, I explored the possible links between Bonnie’s murder and those of the Grimes sisters, Barbara and Patricia, who were found dead along a suburban roadway in January 1957. But Bonnie’s story deserves its notoriety and serves as another tale of lost innocence in the region.
Bonnie vanished on September 22, 1956. That evening, around 6:30 p.m., she left the home where she lived in Addison, Illinois, and told her grandmother that she was going out to look for a blouse. Bonnie lived with her aunt and uncle, Mrs. Robert Schwolow; their daughter, Sue, 15; and Bonnie's maternal grandmother, Mrs. Doris Hitchins. Her parents were separated and in the midst of a divorce. Bonnie was an ordinary girl, a sophomore at York Community High School and a babysitter for many of the young children who lived in the quiet suburban community. The five-room, newly built ranch house where she lived was virtually identical to all the others on the street. Before the night of September 22, Bonnie never caused a problem, never drew much attention, and seemed like every other girl her age. But that night, she became a mystery.
As the police began tracing her steps, assuming that she was a runaway, they managed to find four teenagers who saw her at a diner in Addison around 7:30 p.m. that night. She was also seen at a surplus store, located next door to the town's police station.
After that, she had apparently vanished into thin air.
It turned out that Bonnie was not exactly the ordinary high school girl that everyone assumed she was. Her family troubles had made her restless and the police initially assumed she was a runaway because she had done it before. One weekend she disappeared with another of her friends and spent the weekend in the city. She also occasionally skipped school. Once, after she was caught in the company of another truant, her friend told her that they had better "knuckle down and take their schooling seriously so they wouldn't end up like the Grimes sisters."
On September 23, a man named Charles Melquist telephoned Bonnie's home. The 23-year-old stone worker from Villa Park told Jean Schwolow that he had received two telephone calls concerning a man with whom Bonnie Leigh had quarreled. Jean called the police and reported the information.
Melquist, repeating his story for William Devaney, an Addison police detective, said that Bonnie had called him at 8:15 on the evening of her disappearance and said that she had misgivings about the man she was with. She hung up on him abruptly after Melquist told her that it was her own problem. Melquist told police that he and Bonnie were friends and that she often consulted him as a sort of "big brother," and that he regretted not being more patient with her call. He also told Detective Devaney about the second telephone call, which came that night around 11:00 p.m. from a young man that he didn't know. The caller said that Bonnie had gotten out of his car near Mannheim Road and U.S. Route 66 after an argument and wanted Melquist to bring her home. Melquist said that he went to the spot, but found no trace of the girl.
Police detectives continued the search for the girl, but what few clues they had led nowhere. They searched for the young man that Bonnie was allegedly out with that night, trying to trace the names that were in a small white address book found in Bonnie's room. They questioned thirty-eight young men (two of them were later given lie detector tests) but the trail soon petered out and went cold.
Then, on November 15, 1958, a group of Boy Scouts on a nature hike in the Argonne Woods forest preserve made a gruesome discovery in a gulley off La Grange Road -- the nude, decapitated body of a young girl. The dump site was just a few miles from where the nude, frozen bodies of the Grimes sisters had been discovered less than two years before.
The body turned out to be that of Bonnie Leigh Scott. She had been killed with a large knife – stabbed several times and then her head had been removed. There was no sign of her clothing.
The investigation geared up once again. On top of the interview list for the police was Charles Melquist, the “helpful” witness who claimed Bonnie had called him for help on the night she disappeared. Detectives spent Sunday afternoon, November 16, trying to track down his whereabouts. When he heard that the police were looking for him, he walked into the station voluntarily around 11:30 p.m. to answer questions. He sat down with detectives and he went over his statements. When he left, they told him that he was merely helping with the case. He was not s suspect, they told him – but they lied. While he was kept busy at the station, the police were impounding his 1958 silver Chevrolet.
It was later discovered to be the car that he killed Bonnie in.
Melquist was brought back to the station on Monday morning. He told the same story over again and detectives were now convinced that he had memorized it. Chicago detectives offered to send for a polygraph machine and it arrived at the station later that day. Melquist was given the first of two lie detector tests. He failed miserably the first time and so detectives agreed to a second examination at the offices of John Reid, a polygraph expert and police consultant. On the way to Reid’s office, Melquist and the detectives stopped for a meal and while he ate, he made the comment to one detective that the “jog was up.” He failed another lie detector test and decided to confess to Bonnie’s murder. He wrote a seven-page confession and by 10:00 p.m. that night had been officially booked for murder.
As word reached the newspapers that Melquist had confessed to the murder, neighbors began to speak out about the man -- and disturbing information came to light about Melquist's contact with Bonnie and scores of other young girls, whose names and telephone numbers were later found in his possession. His history soon revealed a troubled past, dating back to high school, and scores of inappropriate contacts with young women. There were obscene telephone calls, stalking incidents, and worse. A young woman named Arlene Rullo told police that Melquist tried to choke her while she sat in a parked car with him. Two other young woman also came forward to allege that Melquist had also tried to choke them while on dates. Both attacks had taken place within the last eighteen months.
But nothing that the police learned was as chilling as the words that came directly from the mouth of Charles Melquist. On Tuesday, the lanky young man re-enacted the gruesome crime, telling the police that he had killed her in the driveway of his Villa Park home. They had been on a date and stopped by his house. When they returned to the car, they were “goofing around” and “wrestling.” Melquist put a pillow over Bonnie’s face and “accidentally” smothered her with it. He had then taken off her clothing, stuffed it under the car seat, and set out to find a place where her body could be hidden where there was little chance it would be found. Driving south and east, he followed to LaGrange Road, about a mile south of 95th Street, where he dumped her body in a gulley where the Argonne forest preserve bordered the highway. He dumped her body over the guardrail, hoping it would be hidden by the brush.
But Melquist couldn’t stop thinking about it. He came back on the Friday after the murder “just to make sure she was there,” and then returned three weeks later with a knife and a pitchfork. He said that he planned to dig a grave. Instead, he cut off Bonnie’s head and kicked it a few feet away. Then, he had “an urge to cut” and mutilated the corpse. He said that he threw the knife and the clothing into the woods, but they were never found.
Melquist signed a 45-page, second confession about Bonnie’s murder, but then, as soon as he had an attorney, immediately denied it, claiming that he had been “hypnotized” into confessing by John Reid. The case went to trial in April 1959 and the defense rested its case after Melquist took the stand and testified to being under a hypnotic spell during the confessions.
The jury was not impressed with his story. On May 2, they found him guilty of Bonnie's murder and on June 12, Melquist was formally sentenced to 99 years in prison. Judge Mel Abrahamson of DuPage County Circuit Court imposed the sentenced after denying a motion for a new trial for Melquist. The former construction worker gulped nervously several times as Judge Abrahamson ordered him incarcerated at Joliet Penitentiary. When asked if he had anything to say for himself, he whispered, "No." Of his 99-year sentence, Melquist only served just over 11 years. He was paroled and later got married and had two children. He died in 2010, 50 years later than he deserved for the heinous crime for which he was convicted.
Melquist was convicted of Bonnie's murder, but did he get away with other murders that he was never even questioned about -- including those of Barbara and Patricia Grimes? As far back as 1958, Melquist was being linked to the Grimes murders. There is no question that there were some eerie similarities in the cases and some disturbing connections between Melquist and the Grimes case. Coincidences? Perhaps, but these links cause many to believe that Melquist was also the Grimes killer.
In addition to the basic facts in the case -- young girls gone missing, found stripped naked, possibly smothered to death, dumped in a wooded area on Chicago's Southwest Side -- the police also discovered another link -- Melquist had the telephone numbers of two girls who were neighbors of the Grimes’ sisters. It’s a tenuous link, but it’s there.
Like Bonnie, the Grimes sisters were found naked and their clothing was never found. Bonnie's body was too decomposed when it was found for pathologists to determine a cause of death. In the Grimes case, because no cause of death could be found, the autopsy reports were altered to say that they froze to death. According to Melquist, Bonnie had been smothered. It's been suggested that this could have happened to the Grimes sisters, too. The site where Bonnie's body was found is in the same general area on the Southwest Side as the place where Barbara and Patricia were found. Not far from both sites is Santa Fe Park, which was searched thoroughly for clues in the Grimes case. Melquist told investigators that he frequently went to the races in that park.
Was Charles Leroy Melquist, convicted killer of Bonnie Scott, also the man who killed the Grimes sisters? Some historians believe that he was and there ARE similarities. In my book, I take a closer look at the links between the cases and delve into whether or not Melquist was also the killer of Barbara and Patricia Grimes. If you’re interested, take a look at THE TWO LOST GIRLS.
Whatever else Melquist was, he was a disturbed individual and a coward. He stalked women with anonymous telephone calls, he choked them into unconsciousness so that he could have sex with them, and when the police caught up with him, he fell apart. Investigators weren’t fooled by his obviously rehearsed story and before long, he had confessed to everything. Even though he later repudiated the confession, it was the truth, or at least as close to the truth as Melquist could manage. Melquist may – or may not have – also killed the Grimes sisters but who knows what other horrific crimes that he would have committed had he not been sent to prison (for a laughably short number of years) for the murder of Bonnie Leigh Scott.
It’s too bad that it took the tragic death of one young girl to save the lives of possibly many others.