Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Helen Brach: Gone But Not Forgotten

Solve the Murder

Judge Milton Shadur
Judge Milton Shadur

All his life Richard Bailey was a gambler and true to form he opted to gamble before the federal judge. Rather than place his fate in the hands of a jury that he knew would be unsympathetic, he pleaded guilty to all of the fraud charges and bet that the judge would dismiss the murder and conspiracy charges because the evidence was so flimsy.

Essentially what Miller had against Bailey was a RICO case — a charge that Bailey and his co-defendants were running an ongoing criminal enterprise much like the mafia. RICO is a powerful tool for law enforcement, but it is usually used against mobsters and white collar criminals, not murderers.

Bailey opted to take his chances with the judge, who would hear evidence about Bailey's crimes during a sentencing hearing. It was a daring gamble, but clearly a desperate one. Miller and his team were prepared and in early 1995 they went to court to begin the two-week hearing that would determine whether or not Richard Bailey would pay for his crimes against Helen Brach.

Judge Milton Shadur laid down the rules at the outset. He would listen to the evidence and sentence Bailey according to the totality of his crimes — not just the crimes to which he admitted. Almost from the outset, Bailey was in trouble.

Over the course of the two-week hearing, Shadur heard testimony about how Richard Bailey had driven women to the point of death in an effort to get their money and then had thrown them away like soiled linen. Most importantly, Shadur listened to the prosecutor and defense attorneys argue back and forth about Bailey's relationship with Helen Brach.

Pointing out that it was P.J. Bailey — not Richard, who sold Helen her horses, the defense tried to emphasize that Helen Brach had not been conned. The horses were in good shape when she bought them, Bailey's team argued.

The prosecution countered that Brach had fired P.J. and hired another trainer after learning the horses she bought were worthless, but the defense brought up the fact that six weeks before she disappeared, Helen had paid for a trip to New York for herself and Richard Bailey.

Attorney Burnes at Bailey's indictment
Attorney Burnes at Bailey's indictment

Miller put a number of Bailey's former partners and victims on the stand to testify about the man's violent nature. More than one witness talked about Bailey physically assaulting victims and making threats against themselves and their families.

Finally, the U.S. Attorneys got to the heart of their case and addressed Bailey's motive for having Helen Brach killed. Helen found out she was being duped and she was going to the authorities. Bailey had been in this position before, but never with someone as rich and powerful as Helen Brach. While his earlier cons could have been passed off as matters for the civil courts, Brach wanted to go to the district attorney. She wanted Bailey to go to jail and she told him so. In confronting Richard Bailey, Helen Brach forced him to act.

"His motive was damage control, and the only way to protect himself was to silence her," Miller said later.

Bailey's defense team was never able to mount much of a counterattack to the onslaught of evidence the prosecutors presented at the sentencing hearings. It was obvious as Judge Shadur began reading his decision that things were not going to go well for Bailey.

"It is more probable than not that Bailey did commit the offenses of conspiring to murder and soliciting the murder of Helen Brach."

He sentenced Richard Bailey to life in prison plus a fine of $1 million.

In an anticlimactic denouement, Shadur was later forced to revise Bailey's sentence to 30 years in prison — essentially a life term for the 67-year-old con man.

Nineteen people were indicted at the same time as Richard Bailey as a result of the investigation into the disappearance of Helen Brach. Authorities in northern Illinois uncovered a nationwide horse-killing/insurance fraud scheme which resulted in guilty pleas from 16 of the people indicted. The other three — including Bailey — went to trial and were eventually convicted of various fraud charges. But that was just the beginning. In the course of looking for Helen Brach's murderer, authorities solved a string of homicides from 1955 that involved a man who was suspected of playing a role in Helen's murder, and through 2002, the probe into the disappearance of the candy heiress has resulted in a total of 33 convictions on a range of charges including fraud, arson and obstruction of justice.

Helen Brach's body has never been found, but in her hometown in Ohio, resting in the pink marble mausoleum, her husband Frank and her dogs Candy and Sugar lay waiting for her to come home.

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