At just 21-years-old Valerie Percy was taken from the world on September 18, 1966. Valerie was bludgeoned and stabbed to death in the home as her family slept. Over 50 years later her murder remains unsolved. Here Unsolved Casebook looks over the case.
A Good Student
In June 1965, Valerie Percy had earned a bachelor’s degree from the Ivy League Cornell University situated in Ithaca, New York. After receiving a major in French Literature she went to spend her junior year in Paris. Valerie planned to return in the summer. She would help her father in his election campaign before starting her masters of art in teaching at John Hopkins University.
Just as planned Valerie Percy arrived home from Paris in the summer of 1966. Almost immediately she began to help her father Charles Harting Percy. Charles, a Republican, had previously made a run to become governor of Illinois in 1964 but was defeated. In 1966 he was campaigning to be the senator of Illinois.
The Eve Of The Murder
On September 17, 1966, Valerie Percy, along with her stepmother Loraine, spent the evening entertaining Calvin Fentress and Tully Friedman. Fentress and Friedman were key members of the campaign team for the Senate bid. Over the course of dinner, the four of them discussed how they could win over more young voters.
At around 10 pm the meeting was concluded. Fentress and Friedman said their goodbyes and left the Percy family home. Valerie went upstairs to change into her PJ’s before settling into bed watching TV. At around 11 30 pm Valerie’s twin sister Sharon returned home from a date. She briefly called into her sister’s room (to return a coat I believe) then went into her own room.
Charles returned to the Percy family home, a massive three-storey 17-room Tudor-like mansion situated in Kenilworth, near Lake Michigan. It was now around midnight, only Loraine was up waiting for him. His youngest son Mark, who was 11, was away at a sleepover. Charles three daughters Gail, Sharon and Valerie were all in there rooms (Gail was the youngest daughter, she was 12). Another son, 19-year-old Roger was away at university. Charles and Loraine stayed up and watched TV for an hour or so. By around 1 30 am everyone was asleep.
At around 5 am that morning Loraine was awoken by the sound of breaking glass. Loraine then heard a clicking sound, which she thought was possibly footsteps. For whatever reason Loraine chose not to investigate the noises and returned to her slumber. Her sleep wouldn’t last long as Loraine was again awoken, this time by a moaning sound.
Loraine decided to investigate further. She made her way into the hallway and approached Valerie’s bedroom door. Upon opening the door she got a brief glimpse of a man standing over the bed. He swiftly turned around, dazzling Loraine with the bright beam of his torch. Loraine ran out of the room and set off the burglar alarm. Whilst doing this the intruder seized his opportunity to hastily escape the premises.
The sound of Loraine’s cries and the alarm woke up the other occupant’s of the house. Charles Percy hurriedly went to his daughter Valeries’s room. He turned on the light and was faced with a horrific scene. His 21-year-old daughter was covered in blood and battling for her life.
The Murder Of Valerie Percy
Charles quickly called a neighbour, Robert Hohf, who was also a doctor. Hohf arrived at the Percy family home at around 5 10 am and went to examine Valerie. Moments later he made his way downstairs to the living room. Hohf relayed the tragic news. There was nothing he could do to save Valerie and she had passed away.
Closer examination showed that Valerie Percy had been bludgeoned over the head with two vicious blows. The exact weapon used couldn’t be identified but it had left four cone-shaped indents on the victim’s skull.
Valerie had also been stabbed repeatedly. There were a total of eleven stab wounds. Six stab wounds on Valerie’s face, two on her stomach, two on her chest and a final wound on her throat.
Law enforcement quickly found how the intruder had entered the Percy residence. He had entered through the patio. The intruder then used a pair of glass cutters to remove a pane of glass from a french door. He then unlocked the door and entered the house through the music room.
Partial fingerprints were found on the french door and the pane of glass which had been removed from it. Five bloody palm prints leading down the staircase bannister by the fleeing killer were also collected.
Bare-footed footprints were also located between the home and the family’s private beach on Lake Michigan. This caused detectives to believe the killer made his escape this way.
Loraine was questioned about the intruder she encountered. She described him as being around 5 foot 8, weighing about 160 pounds and had dark hair. The man was also wearing a check shirt. Unfortunately, due to the darkness and been blinded by his torch this was as good a description as Loraine could give.
Why Was Valerie Percy Murdered?
After a thorough check of the property, detectives found that nothing had seemingly been taken. Everyone they spoke to also seemed to point at Valerie Percy having no enemies. This left the investigation team with a massive unanswered question, what was the motive behind the murder?
Law Enforcement held the belief that the killer would have wanted to get rid of the weapons as quickly as possible. Lake Michigan was nearby and so the decision was made to search the Lake. Neither the glasscutter or the heavy object used to assault Valerie Percy were found. A bayonet was located but there was nothing to suggest it was the murder weapon.
Investigators chose to focus on individuals who knew or had worked for the Percy family. One person of interest was a campaign worker who had been fired during the summer. However, nothing could link him to the murder. Two other campaign workers had previously been banned from visiting the Percy residence (I wasn’t able to find why they were banned). They were also looked into but again nothing linked them to Valerie’s murder.
Calvin Fentress and Tully Friedman, the men who dined with Valerie and Loraine the previous evening, were also questioned. Fentress and Friedman also agreed to take a polygraph test. Interestingly Calvin Fentress test came back inconclusive due to him being so nervous during the polygraph. Despite this police didn’t consider either of them as possible suspects.
Charles H Percy Campaign
It was announced that Charles Percy’s campaign for Senate would be suspended until further notice. As a mark of respect his opponent Senator Douglas announced he too would halt his campaign too. Charles Percy restarted his election campaign on October 4, 1966, just over 2 weeks after his daughter’s murder.
Just a few weeks later in November Charles Percy was elected to the U.S Senate. The win was considered an upset with many believing the sympathy vote was responsible for his victory.
During that same period, detectives had followed up on over 500 leads and questioned nearly 400 individuals. Unfortunately, they were no nearer identifying the man responsible for the murder of Valerie Percy.
Over the following months the number of officers working on the case slowly decreased. In March 1968 the investigation was officially no longer under full-time investigation. Despite this, over the following two years, the part-time investigation would yield over 1000 suspects. Sadly none seemed to be the elusive killer of Valerie Percy.
Suspect: Frederick J Malchow
Harold James Evans
Four years after the murder of Valerie Percy in 1970 a prisoner named Harold James Evans named a former cellmate as the killer. The man he named was Frederick J Malchow.
Evans said his fellow inmate told him that Valerie had awoken during a robbery and so he killed her. Unfortunately, there was a problem with getting Frederick Malchow’s response to this claim… he was dead.
The Death Of Frederick Malchow
Whilst awaiting trial for rape and burglary in 1967 Frederick Malchow escaped. Upon the attempt to recapture Malchow he fell to his death. Malchow died plunging from a railway bridge over the Schuylkill River.
There are many that believe the account made by Evans to be true. No hard evidence was ever found to connect Malchow to the murder. Perhaps most importantly, his palm prints were not a match for those found at the murder scene.
Several years later Frederick Malchow’s name would again pop up in the investigation into the murder of Valerie Percy.
Suspect: Francis Leroy Hohimer
Finger Pointed At Francis Hohimer
A woman named her ex-boyfriend as the killer. His name was Francis Leroy Hohimer.
It wasn’t just the ex-partner who pointed the finger at Francis Leroy Hohimer. An acquaintance named Robert Stanfield claimed Hohimer had informed him two weeks before the murder that he had cased the Percy home and intended to rob it.
Hohimer also reportedly told his brother in the days following Valerie Percy’s murder an interesting tale. He told him that a job he had done had gone wrong. This had led to him killing someone.
The most prominent person to point the finger at Francis Leroy Hohimer was Leo Rugendorf. Leo Rugendorf was a member of a crime syndicate in Chicago. He went public to the press with his claims. He stated Hohimer had confessed to him he was responsible for the murder of Valerie Percy.
Hohimer Points The Finger
Francis Leroy Hohimer, who was serving a 30-year prison sentence pointed the finger elsewhere. Hohimer was a member of a gang of burglars who robbed the wealthy from 1965 to 1967. He pointed the finger initially at a fellow member of the gang, a man called Norman Jackson. Before detectives could interview Norman Jackson about the claim he was dead. Jackson was found dead in mysterious circumstances after seemingly falling to his death from a building in Chicago.
Oddly Francis Leroy Hohimer suddenly changed his story. He again pointed his finger at a fellow gang member. This time it was a man named Frederick Malchow – the same suspect named by Harold James Evans.
Hohimer’s story, however, put a different light on Evans story. Evans claimed Malchow confessed in his cell but Hohimer claimed that Evans was with Malchow when the pair showed up at his apartment along with Jackson on the day of the murder. Malchow was covered in blood and Hohimer claimed he burnt clothes belonging to Malchow (Hohimer’s wife stated that this never happened).
As was the case with Malchow again no physical evidence could be found to link Hohimer to the murder. Hohimer’s palm prints also didn’t match the ones found at the Percy home (I wonder if Harold James Evans prints were checked?).
Suspect: William Thoresen III
Who Was William Thoresen
William Thoresen III was named as a suspect in the book Sympathy Vote. The author Glenn Wall states in his 2013 book on the Valerie Percy murder that Thoreson was first suspected by his probation officer in 1966. He writes that when police attempted to speak with William Thoresen he was uncooperative and unwilling to be interviewed.
William Thoresen’s father was the founder and president of Great Western Steel Co. and was a very wealthy man. The Thoresen family home was located just a block away from the Percy estate.
At the time of the murder, William Thoresen was no longer living at the family home and was, in fact, living in San Fransisco (an interesting side note is that some consider Thoresen as a suspect in the Zodiac Murders). Glenn Wall claims in his book that he would frequently visit his family back in Kenilworth so it’s possible he was in the area at the time of the murder.
Thoresen had a history of erratic behaviour which included violence. In one incident he allegedly tried to throw his mother from a 2nd storey balcony. Another incident saw him break a waiters arm as he felt he was overcharged 75 cents on his bill (despite been more than wealthy enough for it not to be a big deal). He had also committed numerous burglaries. The family at one point tried to have William committed due to his behaviour but were unsuccessful.
The Death Of Richard Thoresen
William Thoresen has also been suspected in the “suicide” of his brother Richard. In 1965, the day before he was due to face trial for burglary charges Richard was found dead in his car (Richard and William had been caught attempting to steal from there own father). He had been shot behind his right ear. Although the scene looked like a suicide the fact that Richard Thoresen was left-handed made this questionable.
One theory is that William paid a hitman named Dale Stoddard to kill his brother so he would inherit stocks worth over $500,000. After Stoddard killed Richard he himself was then murdered by William Thoresen after Stoddard demanded more money.
The Death Of William Thoresen
On June 10, 1970, William Thoresen was shot dead. His killer was his wife Laura. Thoresen had repeatedly attacked his wife with an electric cattle prod and a leather riding whip in the days leading up to his death. He also forced his wife to write several suicide notes and attempted to force her to take an overdose. Louise Thoresen was found not guilty at the trial for the murder of her husband on grounds of self-defence.
William Thoresen is certainly an interesting suspect. However, the link to the murder of Valerie Percy seems small. A weapons haul was found by police belonging to Thoresen a few months after the murder. Among the weapons were some bayonets, similar to the one found in Lake Michigan. The link alone seems a slight stretch but when you add it to the fact that the bayonet found was never able to be officially linked with the murder anyway it makes it almost negligible.
Another question mark against William Thoresen would be motive. What reason would he have for killing Valerie Percy? One theory is the murder was a hit but if it was who was supposed to have ordered it?
Over 53 years have passed since the murder of Valerie Percy. The case remains unsolved.