The Cold Case of Valerie Percy’s Murder

cold case of valerie percy

Fifty-six years later, it remains one of Illinois’ best-known and most mysterious unsolved killings. Valerie Jean Percy, 21, was found beaten and stabbed to death in her bed on 18th September 1966, in her family’s Kenilworth mansion. It was the first homicide in the history of the North Shore suburb.

Cold cases enjoy a timeless appeal. That’s especially true on the North Shore of Chicago, where unsolved murders are incredibly rare. The most infamous one garnered national coverage. Many Chicagoans may not remember the details of the unthinkable crime, but the name is sure to spark some memories.

Incidents of Valerie Percy’s Murder

A dark morning, waves on Lake Michigan an elegant home on the beach, and a senatorial candidate at home with his close knit family in one of Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs. This is the unlikely setting for the most notorious, and baffling cold case murder of the 1960s.

The daughter of Bell & Howell executive Charles Percy, who was running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate, she had worked hard that summer on her father’s campaign. He called her his best precinct captain. But that night, the 21-year-old was both beaten and bludgeoned with a bayonet.

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Valerie Percy’s killer bolted after stabbing the victim 14 times; nothing from the Sheridan Road home was stolen. Residents across the North Shore were stunned while W. Clement Stone ordered bulletproof glass installed in his lakefront mansion. 

The only witness was her stepmother. The killer escaped to a beach and disappeared into thin air. Percy won the seat less than two months later and would go on to serve three terms, but neither his wealth nor his high-profile name could help track down his daughter’s killer.

The Controversial Investigation

From the start of their investigation, police were puzzled over what the motive might be because the intruder took no money or valuables from her room, and the position of the body did not indicate she had awakened and caught someone in the act of ransacking the room. From all appearances, Percy had been beaten on the head as she lay asleep and then stabbed. She was neither assaulted sexually.

In the first few years after the killing, investigators talked to thousands of people and tracked leads across America. One focus of their investigation was a cross-country burglary gang traced to Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas.

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In the years after the Percy slaying, one jailed member of the group, Harold James Evans, told investigators that another member, Frederick J. “Freddie” Malchow, had bragged that he killed Percy. The convicted leader of the gang, Francis Leroy Hohimer, also implicated Malchow as the killer.

FBI agents had interviewed him in a Pennsylvania jail where he was awaiting trial for rape and robbery in a home invasion in that state. Malchow denied any involvement with the Percy killing. 

Charles Percy briefly suspended his campaign for the Senate after his daughter’s death, but he resumed the race and defeated Democratic Sen Paul Douglas in the 1966 election. Percy represented Illinois for nearly 20 years and headed the powerful Foreign Relations Committee. There also exist a theory of sympathy voting among the public. Charles died in September 2011 at 91.

Status quo

In recent years, new details related to the Valerie Percy’s murder have come to light. The Tribune reported in June 2011 that a Percy neighbor who was the first doctor to examine the victim wrote a detailed account that he never showed to police. Dr. Robert Hohf rushed to the house after getting an early-morning phone call from Charles Percy.

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Hohf was never interviewed by police and was not invited to the inquest for the slaying. After his handwritten report became known few years ago, authorities said it is valuable as a witness account but does not differ substantially from the original police reports and timeline of events.

The Percy files – box loads of records, reports and photographs collected by State Police and kept at Kenilworth police headquarters, have been kept secret since 1966. Authorities tried to block a Freedom of Information Act request by lawyers from New York and Chicago who want to make the files public.

Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos has ordered that the 20,000 pages in the Percy police files will not be made public-although some records from the coroner’s office pertaining to Percy’s death will be released along with some, more recent, official e-mails. Meantime, the slaying of Valerie Percy remains a mystery entering its sixth decade.

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