Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Valerie Percy

"Freshness and Sweetness"

The family dutifully returned to tell the coroner's jury of six men what they knew.

Sharon Percy repeated the story of returning the raincoat.

Stifling sobs, Loraine Percy, the only eyewitness, whispered that she "froze" when she found the man standing over Valerie's mortally wounded body. She also repeated the details she had given police earlier, including the vague description.

Chuck Percy testified that he arrived home just after midnight, following a campaign appearance. He said he and his wife watched TV for perhaps an hour, then retired.

Richard Speck
Richard Speck

He was awakened by his wife's "scream of terror." He said his first impulse was to think of Richard Speck, the drifter who just two months before had slain eight nurses in a Chicago townhouse. Percy thought that perhaps the killer was still in the house, and he was concerned about the well-being of his other children, which is why he called the police emergency number. He said he also called Chicago Police Superintendent Orlando Wilson.

Orlando Wilson, Chicago police official
Orlando Wilson, Chicago police official

Percy said he was at a loss to explain a motive for Valerie's murder.

"She was the embodiment of freshness and sweetness," Percy said. "I don't know of any enemy that she had."

The six men deliberated for half an hour before reaching the obvious conclusion: the death was a homicide. They urged authorities to "continue their diligent search until the person is apprehended."

Police tracked leads down any number of blind alleys—crank calls threatening Percy, rumors about the syndicate, false confessions and sundry publicity hounds and sickos.

But the leads gradually began to dry up, and cops assigned to the Percy task force were pulled off for more pressing matters.

As the 18-month anniversary of the homicide approached and no solid suspect had turned up, Ill. Gov. Otto Kerner called a press conference to announce that jurisdiction for the investigation was being taken from Kenilworth police and given to the state police.

Governor Otto Kerner
Governor Otto Kerner

At the same time, Sen. Percy announced that he was putting up a personal reward of $50,000. And Kenilworth Police Chief Edward Eggert, perhaps feeling pressure to explain why there had been no resolution of the murder, gave a numerical accounting of the failed probe.

"We have checked out 1,153 leads," he said. "In all, we have personally talked to about 8,000 persons in 48 states and five foreign countries—France, India, England, Africa and Canada. We have taken 439 finger- and palmprints and given voluntary polygraph tests to 41 subjects. As long as leads continue to come in, we're going to check them. We haven't solved the case yet, but we're sure going to keep trying."

Over time, though, the state police Percy Homicide Detail, as it was called, was assigned lower and lower priority as fresh crimes cropped up. The squad dwindled to four men, then two, then one. The last full-time investigator, Robert Lamb from the Illinois State Police, eventually was asked to spend most of his time on other cases.

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