Candy Heiress’s Murder Probe Exposes Brutality in Horse World : Chicago: Helen Brach’s disappearance triggered investigation that led to triple murder, animal cruelty and insurance fraud charges.
It is portrayed as a conspiracy of the rich and infamous--a network of riders, trainers, owners and veterinarians who concocted a vicious plot to kill horses to collect insurance.
The same people who pampered horses, picking up silver cups and blue ribbons along the exclusive riding circuit here and abroad, now stand accused of playing a role in the cruelest crimes: electrocuting, starving, even allowing animals to be burned alive.
But federal investigators say there was something even worse under the genteel veneer of crisp, velvet riding hats and sleek steeds galloping over fences.
There was murder.
Prosecutors say they exposed the seamy underside in this most unlikely of worlds on their way to something else: cracking the 17-year-old murder mystery of one wealthy animal lover.
They’ve arrested and charged one man with arranging the 1977 murder of Helen Vorhees Brach, lonely widow of the Brach candy fortune who vanished after an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Their investigation into Brach’s disappearance also has led to the arrest of a 61-year-old horseman in another of Chicago’s most baffling mysteries: the 1955 murders of three young boys.
Two whodunits 22 years apart. One unlikely connection: horses.
Even more tantalizing is the hint that more crimes may be solved.
“Not only is this unusual, but it’s not over yet,” says Jerry Singer, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office in Chicago.
The break in the Brach case was made public in July when federal authorities indicted 23 people prosecutors call a “virtual who’s who of the nation’s equestrian industry.”
The arrest in the 39-year-old murders followed soon after.
“It’s not unusual to investigate one crime and uncover evidence of another,” Singer said. “It’s interesting the way it all comes out.”
“It’s very fortunate because these cases are rather old,” he added. “But we never give up and we never forget.”
Police in north suburban Glenview never forgot about the mystery of the missing candy heiress.
Over the years, there were lurid Hitchcock-like hints about Brach’s disappearance: her houseman’s purchase of a meat grinder, a convict’s drawing of maps and his claim that he buried the widow’s body in Minnesota under cover of night, an exhumation of a mutilated corpse from a pauper’s grave in Illinois.
One man who came under suspicion early was Richard Bailey, a perpetually tan horse trader from Kentucky with an eighth-grade education and a knack for sweet-talking women. He had wined, dined and become an eager escort of Brach, who had her own modest origins: She met candy company founder Frank Brach when she was a coat-check girl at a Florida country club.
In 1979, two years after her disappearance, a spray-painted message was scrawled on the road near Brach’s seven-acre estate reading, “Richard Bailey Knows Where Brach’s Body Is,” according to Glenview Police Commander John O’Connell.
O’Connell said that when Bailey was questioned, he said the same words had been painted on a sign at his stables in a nearby suburb. O’Connell declined to elaborate on what else Bailey said.
John Menk, a court-appointed attorney for Brach’s estate, worth about $30 million when she disappeared, also tried to question Bailey about his relationship with the candy heiress. “He took the Fifth Amendment, except for his name and address,” the lawyer said.
Last month, after a five-year investigation of the equestrian industry, Bailey was charged with fleecing Brach and 12 other women of large sums of money.
Prosecutors claim that since 1989, Bailey placed at least 26 lonely hearts ads--"family oriented, loves dancing, exercising, long walks"--conning affluent widows or divorcees into shoddy horse investments.
Bailey, 65, is accused of wooing an alcoholic divorcee, getting her drunk and persuading her to shell out about $90,000 on horses--her virtual life savings--in 10 days.
The indictment charges that after Brach threatened to report Bailey for talking her into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on virtually worthless horses, he and a second unidentified person conspired with others to arrange her murder. No one is charged with actually committing the murder.
Bailey has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Patrick Tuite, suggests his client is a “very charming man” who was merely involved in relationships that soured.
As for Brach, Tuite said his client “emphatically denies” any involvement.
But others say the charges confirmed their worst suspicions about a woman who loved animals but was painfully naive.
“It was so blatant the way he flaunted Helen,” Donna Ewing, president of the National Hooved Animal Humane Society, said of Bailey. “Anybody in the know who saw a neophyte get involved with someone of that caliber said, ‘Oh, my God. There’s one born every minute. Here’s one who’s going to be taken advantage of.’ ”
“She was very lonely, a shy, quiet person,” Ewing added. “She probably thought this would fill her loneliness and her hours.”
The Brach probe, in turn, led authorities to a ring of riders, trainers and others in the equestrian industry who now are charged in an insurance-fraud scheme.
Of 23 people charged, 19 were accused of crimes relating to the killing of horses to collect insurance; four, including Bailey, are charged with enticing people into bogus or inflated horse deals.
Ten of those charged have pleaded guilty, including one former trainer who recounted in court last week how he killed two horses with a sledgehammer and crowbar, electrocuted a third and killed three more by tossing a lit cigarette in a trailer, igniting hay that had been soaked with accelerant.
A second trainer has admitted he paid a man $5,000 to electrocute his horse so he could collect $75,000 in insurance.
Another of the accused, nicknamed “The Sandman,” allegedly had a regular income as a horse hit man--authorities say they witnessed him breaking a show horse’s leg with a crowbar.
Six people have pleaded not guilty, including George Lindemann Jr., a one-time member of the U.S. Equestrian Team and son of cellular phone tycoon George Lindemann, whose wealth Forbes magazine estimated at $575 million. He was accused of paying $25,000 to electrocute his horse when it didn’t perform up to expectations.
None of these charges surprises Bill Graham, a folksy, Columbo-like insurance investigator from South Carolina who probes suspicious horse deaths nationwide.
“Just because they’ve got money doesn’t mean they’re gentlemen or gentlewomen,” Graham said. ‘It’s an incestuous, money-grubbing industry. . . . They don’t look at horses as far as their intrinsic value. There’s no altruism. If they don’t perform, they’re going to the glue factory. That’s it.”
At the periphery of this world was the vulnerable widow, Helen Brach. Though an arrest has been made in her case, the puzzle isn’t entirely solved.
“We’ve still got a lot of unanswered questions,” said O’Connell, of the Glenview police. “As of now, we don’t have enough to indict anybody for murder.”
Brach, who was 65 when she disappeared, was declared dead in 1984. Her husband and a cherished dog, Candy, are buried in Ohio. The elaborate grave next to them remains empty; her body has not been found.
There is one final irony: Mrs. Brach willed a large chunk of her estate to animal rights causes.
By the time an arrest was made in the Brach case, a brutal millionaire horseman named Silas Jayne had been dead for seven years.
In the 1930s, he teamed up with his brothers--they were known as the “Jayne gang"--to ship horses from the West to the northern Illinois area, where some were sold, others slaughtered.
Silas Jayne’s world was filled with violence, beginning with a rape conviction as a teen. His most notorious crime was his 1973 conviction for plotting to murder a rival--his brother, George.
Federal authorities say Richard Bailey, the man accused in the Brach case, was a Jayne associate; published reports also claim that a Jayne nephew introduced Bailey to Brach and other women.
Silas Jayne’s name also has been connected to another sordid crime.
The year was 1955.
It was in the fall of that year that the naked bodies of Robert Peterson, 14, John Schuessler, 13, and his 11-year-old brother, Anton, were found in a forest preserve ditch. They had been strangled.
The probe was exhaustive: Police said 43,740 people were questioned, and 3,270 suspects interrogated. A $100,000 reward was offered.
One of those questioned was Silas Jayne, who had stables nearby. Another was Kenneth Hansen, then a 22-year-old horseman who worked for him and who later became a stable owner.
Nearly 40 years passed. Then, finally, Hansen, a balding, grandfather who reportedly had long been a suspect, was charged this month with the three murders. Once again, accusations of another awful crime in the horse world.
But in this case, there were no squabbles over money, no claims of deception, no country club atmosphere. This, authorities say, was just a tragic example of boys in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Authorities contend Hansen picked up the boys while they were hitchhiking and took them to Silas Jayne’s stables, where he sexually abused at least one of them, then strangled all three after one threatened to report him.
Hansen denies the charges. His son, Mark, born after the murders occurred, recently told reporters: “Whoever would have done a crime like this would have to have been a monster, and that’s not my father.”
Seven months after the murders, Silas Jayne’s stables were destroyed in a fire that investigators suspect may have been set to destroy remaining clues. When the boys’ bodies were exhumed shortly afterward, police reportedly found evidence of hay in their lungs.
Singer, the ATF spokesman, said the information leading to Hansen’s arrest was developed in 1991 during the Brach probe.
At a recent news conference, Cook County State’s Atty Jack O’Malley would say only: “After 40 years, you don’t solve a case by physical evidence.”
Prosecutors allege Hansen admitted to the killings as recently as 1980, and had a habit of picking up young hitchhikers and inviting them to the stables to see horses. Two other people also were involved, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they participated in the murders, authorities say.
O’Malley said there are no allegations now that Silas Jayne was involved in the deaths. But Hansen had another link to him.
In 1971, Hansen was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the death of George Jayne, but the case was dismissed, according to Arthur O’Donnell, Hansen’s attorney. Hansen also was accused this month of arson in a 1970 fire that killed 36 horses at a competitor’s stable.
Hansen was an atrocious horseman, contends Ewing, the activist who dispatched investigators from her agency to check out his stables after receiving complaints.
“His animals were ridden to death and dumped in the forest,” she said, contending horses would be returned to him in weakened condition after a veterinarian took plasma from them to sell.
“They would stumble, fall and die. . . . They would be ridden with huge open sores,” she said. “He didn’t care at all.”
Ewing is hopeful that the investigation will result in some housecleaning in the horse industry.