Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Helen Brach: Gone But Not Forgotten

The Court Responds

According to affidavits filed with the motion, Helen was either beaten or strangled, and her body was dumped in a white-hot steel furnace outside Gary, Ind. The witness, who was granted immunity, said Brach was picked up at the Mayo Clinic and returned to Chicago by car — a stand-in took her place on the plane — where she was killed because she planned to go to authorities to file a criminal complaint that she had been defrauded by crooked horse traders.

At the time Zellner filed the paperwork with the court the names of the confidential informants were blacked out, but before long the identity of the chief witness, who admitted he was considering writing a book, was no longer a secret.

Joe Plemmons, who testified at Bailey's sentencing hearing that the con man had once tried to hire him to kill Brach, came forward in an interview with the Chicago Tribune and admitted that "by his own account, he fired two gunshots into Brach's already battered body."

Joe Plemmons
Joe Plemmons

Plemmons said he thought Brach was already dead when he was forced at gunpoint to shoot her, because someone else heard her moan as they unloaded her body from the trunk of a Cadillac.

Plemmons claimed Ken Hansen asked him to help his hit-man brother, Curt, take care of Brach, and that when Ken said he heard the woman moan as they transferred her body to a waiting station wagon, Curt — who has since died — ordered Plemmons to shoot her.

The killer "ordered Plemmons to 'put holes in the blanket or there will be two of you in the station wagon,'" the Tribune quoted Plemmons as saying.

Ken Hansen is in prison for several murders that were uncovered by authorities during their investigation of Brach's disappearance. Those killings, which occurred in 1955, were unrelated to her case. Curt was believed to be involved in organized crime in Chicago and was reportedly "one of the most violent hit men associated with organized crime," according to Zellner's brief.

Plemmons said the man who ordered Brach's killing was not Hansen or Bailey, but another horse trader imprisoned as a result of the Brach investigation.

Investigators have accepted Plemmons's account of the case, but the prosecutors acknowledge that it does not give them any more evidence. It simply confirms theories that have been around since Helen disappeared.

"The agents who investigated this case for many years feel confident the information the prosecutors are reviewing clearly shows who is involved in her murder," an ATF spokesman said.

The courts were unimpressed with the bombshell revelations.

On March 21, 2005, in a tersely worded two-paragraph opinion, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Richard Bailey's request for a new sentencing hearing.

The "new evidence does not establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is actually innocent of conspiring to murder Helen Brach and soliciting her murder," the panel wrote.

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