Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Greenlease Kidnapping

The Victims

Virginia Greenlease learned that her son had been snatched from school at about the time the killers were enjoying their nerve-settling whiskey at Lynns Tavern. A supervising nun from Bobbys school had phoned the Greenlease home to check on the womans condition. A maid passed the phone to Mrs. Greenlease, and both nun and mother understood immediately what had happened. The mother called her husband at work, and he rushed home.

Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Sr.
Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Sr.

Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Sr., was a self-made man. Born in 1882 on a Missouri farm, he moved to Kansas City at age 12 and was smitten by the horseless carriages that were just then beginning to frighten draft teams and pedestrians on the streets of American cities.

Before he was 21 the ambitious Greenlease and a partner had designed an automobile they called the Kansas City Hummer. They manufactured four of them before the enterprise went belly up. Greenlease next opened an auto repair shop, then parlayed that into a car dealership. He hung up his overalls, donned a suit and began selling the Thomas Flyer.

Fortune came knocking the next year when he won a franchise to sell Cadillacs. That company merged with General Motors, and Greenlease soon owned a string of Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealerships in Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Omaha and Topeka.

As an early Cadillac franchisee, he was able to win wholesale distribution rights for a vast swath of the country. His bank account grew every time a Caddy rolled out of dealerships from El Paso, Texas, to Fargo, North Dakota, and St. Louis to Denver. He invested heavily in General Motors stock, and over time Greenlease became one of GMs largest shareholders and one of Kansas Citys most prosperous citizens.

But as he reached his moneymaking prime, Robert Greenlease felt a niggling dissatisfaction with his personal life. He had married young, but he and his wife had failed to conceive a child. After years of trying, they adopted a son they named Paul in 1917, when Robert was 35.

He gave his adopted son everything he could, including a private education at Kemper Military Academy, a boarding school in Booneville, Mo., 100 miles east of Kansas City. Yet Greenlease yearned for a child of his own blood. When his marriage ended in divorce, the auto magnate began an April-September romance with a young woman named Virginia Pollock. They married in 1939, when he was 58 and she 29exactly twice her age.

The couple had a daughter, Virginia Sue, three years later. Bobby followed in 1947, when his father was 65. They raised their children in a Tudor-style mansion on Verona Road in the country clubby Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills, Ks.

Greenlease spared no expense on his family. A staff of maids, nannies, gardeners and chauffeurs reported for duty each day. He treated his wife and kids to extravagant vacations, and he enrolled his children in two of Kansas Citys most reputable schools.

From the moment he learned of his sons disappearance and presumed kidnapping, Robert Greenlease decided that no price would be too much to pay for his namesakes safe return.

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