Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Helen Brach: Gone But Not Forgotten

Gone But Not Forgotten

The men who wanted a cut of Helen's money had her declared legally dead in 1984 and probated her will. Charles Vorhees was the big winner, coming away with a nice annuity and a great deal of control over the Brach Foundation. Jack Matlick, though actually mentioned in Helen's will (despite his claim otherwise), ended up owning the estate money when it was all said and done because of various loans and leases. Animal protective organizations also benefited nicely from Helen's legal demise.

With no clues, no body, no clear motive, no suspects, no anything, the various law enforcement agencies simply stood by and watched as the benefactors divided up the candy heiress's estate. She had clearly met with foul play — there was no indication she had chosen to disappear — but what was obviously a loser case made prosecutors and police duck for cover.

There were always easier cases to try — homicides where there was actually a body and suspects and motives. From time to time, reporters in search of a story would dig up the old Brach clips from the newspaper morgues and run a "whatever happened to..." story, but besides those half-hearted attempts, little was done to try and find answers to a perplexing case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Miller
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven

The break came in a very roundabout way and took everyone connected with the case by complete surprise.

U.S. Attorneys don't have to go looking for cases very often. As the federal government's "district attorneys," these prosecutors usually have more than enough work to do on any number of criminal fronts. But in 1989, confronted with a number of women who had been the victims of interstate scams conducted with the aid of telephone (wire fraud), the U.S. Attorney with jurisdiction in Chicago began to investigate the apparent rampant fraud in the horse business there. It didn't take long for Richard Bailey's name to come up in connection with the frauds, and soon after, Helen Brach's activities with the horse traders became known to investigators.

The prosecutor who stepped up to take the case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Miller, a tough Chicago lawman who was equally at home with Byzantine white collar frauds and ruthless cold-blooded murder cases. Miller was approached by investigators who wanted the U.S. Attorney to take a look at the Bailey horse-fraud ring.

"A local investigator asked me if I wanted to investigate a $50,000 fraud involving a transaction with a horse," Miller told NBC's Dateline. "I was told that Richard Bailey, who I'd never heard of, was rumored to have defrauded many women over the years in transactions involving horses, and had even dated Helen Brach. And once he said that, really in a flash, the investigative plan came into being."

The plan, Miller said, was "follow the money, solve the murder."

Miller and his team had none of the usual pieces of a murder investigation, but they had a very strong circumstantial case against Richard Bailey. But in the beginning, they still had to find the single thread they could pull to unravel the whole mess.

They found Dr. Ross Hugi.

As a large animal veterinarian, Hugi played a small role in Bailey's scams, but was in deep enough that Miller and his team could use a little muscle to convince him to turn on the rest of the gang. Hugi had helped with the frauds, but he knew enough about Richard Bailey to know he wanted no part of any case involving the con man.

"The last thing I want is to be sitting in a courtroom next to Richard Bailey," Hugi told Miller's team.

When Hugi started talking about the horse scams and insurance frauds, Miller realized he had hit pay dirt.

"(Helen) didn't know who she was dealing with," said former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Jimmy DeLorto. "She figured she was dealing with Richard Bailey. But Richard Bailey was just a front man. The hard guys were all in the back. These guys were killers their whole life."

The world that Helen Brach found into dated back to the 1930s, when the Jayne family began shipping in horses from the West. "The Jayne Gang," as they were then known, ran the Chicago horse business, and the gang became an organized criminal enterprise that looked at murder as a means of doing business. Silas Jayne founded the clan.

"People were deathly afraid of him," Miller said. "The criminals flocked to him as a mentor and as a teacher. Silas Jayne was a cold-blooded killer, and they knew it. He had his own brother killed."

One of the criminals who worked with Jayne was Richard Bailey.

It took Miller and his team five years, but by 1994 they had gathered enough evidence against Richard Bailey and more than two dozen other defendants to take the case to a federal grand jury. In July, the U.S. Attorney announced a 29-count indictment against Richard Bailey who was charged with conspiring to murder, soliciting the murder, and causing the murder of Helen Vorhees Brach.

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