Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Valerie Percy

Fatal Operation

Percy married Jeanne Dickerson in 1941, and then put his career on hold to enlist in the Navy in 1943. His wife followed him to a posting in Alameda, CA, and in 1944 she gave birth in Oakland to twin daughters Sharon and Valerie. Percy was discharged as a lieutenant in 1945 and returned to Chicago, where Jeanne gave birth to their son, Roger, the following year.

Charles Percy
Charles Percy

Chuck Percy was raised in his mother's faith, First Church of Christ, Scientist, and he became an avid adherent.

Christian Scientists are known for eschewing medicine. Instead, they believe that healing comes from "God's infinite goodness, realized in prayer and action." The faith provides nurses to provide "spiritual reassurance and skillful, nonmedical physical care," including bathing, feeding and wound-dressing—but no "medical treatment."

After the births of her children, Jeanne Dickerson Percy developed an irritated bowel that was eventually diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. In 1947, Mrs. Percy, who was not a Christian Scientist, was urged by her doctor to undergo an operation to repair her damaged colon.

She apparently suffered a toxic reaction to drugs administered during the operation, and she died, leaving her husband with three toddlers.

Two years later, Percy met Loraine Guyer while on a ski vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho. They married in 1950. The couple would have two more children, Gail, born in 1953, and Mark, born in 1955.

Fresh out of the Navy, Percy was promoted to corporate secretary at Bell & Howell. And in 1947, the year that Jeanne died, he was named president and chief executive officer at age 29—in a gray-flannel era when experience, not youth, was prized. 

Donald Bell and Albert Howell had founded the motion picture camera firm in 1907 in Chicago, then the nation's film capital. It had branched out into various optical and electronic equipment by the time Percy took charge, but within five years, he had transformed the 1,600-employee firm into a national corporate powerhouse with 10,000 employees and annual gross earnings of more than $160 million.

Employees and stockholders loved him, and many began to see political potential in the handsome Republican. His admirers came to include President Dwight Eisenhower, who became Percy's mentor and helped to guide him into politics.

Percy was appointed as Eisenhower's special ambassador to presidential inaugurations in Peru and Bolivia in 1956. With the president's encouragement, he served as chairman of the Republican Platform Committee in 1960.

He made his first run at office in 1964, challenging Democratic incumbent Otto Kerner for Illinois governor in 1964. He lost, but mounted a successful campaign for the Senate two years later -- the campaign during which his daughter was murdered.

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