She disappeared off the face of the earth in February 1977.
Her body was never found, nor was a murder weapon, much less her killer. But the spirit of Helen Brach lives on at Glen Grove Stables near Chicago.
My fellow nonfiction writers may know what I mean when I admit to wishing for interesting things to write about. All I can say is be careful what you wish for.
I came across a cloth-covered journal I kept in 2003. My bright idea at that time was to take the journal with me to my 14-year-old’s riding lesson at Glen Grove Equestrian Center next to the forest preserve in Morton Grove. The stables had a waiting area with an old fireplace, two beat-up picnic tables, and a window into the arena where Emily had her lesson with her trainer, Paula. My plan was to sit on the wooden bench of the picnic table and write while also watching Emily jump with her horse. I was always looking for more time to write.
Seemed like a plan. My only worry was what to write about. Would I observe the secret life of the equestrian set? The personal connections riders made with the horses?
One thing I knew about Glen Grove is that it had a colorful past, associated with several tragedies. The stables were once owned and run by Richard Bailey, a con man who swindled wealthy widows by selling them defective horses for huge amounts of money. One of those widows was the Brach candy heiress, Helen Brach. She was too sharp for him and just as she was figuring out his dastardly game, she disappeared. Her body was never found.
The girls who rode horses at Glen Grove liked to stay late some nights and have a little séance with the spirit of Helen Brach, just to spook the heck out of themselves. Several nine-year-old girls told me, with solemn conviction, “Helen Brach is buried in the fireplace.”
So there was that mystery (since solved, if you believe the confession of a man who said that Brach’s body was smelted into oblivion at a steel mill). There was also a sad story of three boys murdered at the stables back in the 1940s. Horses as well were killed as one way for Bailey to collect insurance money on his overpriced steeds. The thug he hired used electrocution. Bailey was eventually tried for conspiracy to murder and sent to prison for life. The actual killer has never been named.
But now Glen Grove is a peaceful, pastoral equestrian center run by the park district. I wondered what I would write about as I sat there for two hours. At least, I figured, I would save on gas by not driving there twice, and I could watch Emily’s progress. So Emily and I set out on July 24, she with her riding gear and me with my cloth-covered journal.
We drove west past Old Orchard Mall and turned on Harms Road, but there we stopped. We couldn’t get in the Glen Grove gate because the police were there stooped over a man on the ground. A man with blood on him. The police put the poor fellow in a body bag and waved us through. Emily and I looked at each other as I parked the car. What is going on here?
It turned out that Paula, Emily’s trainer, spotted the corpse at the edge of the forest preserve, next to the entrance of Glen Grove, and called the police. (Strangely, when WGN News showed up, Paula disappeared. I guess she didn’t want to be on TV.) The man died from a gunshot wound, apparently self-inflicted. It was a sad story.
I did write at Glen Grove Stables for a few months, but I never again worried about–or wished for–something interesting to write about.
I hate to leave a comment on a three year old post, but Richard Bailey never owned Glen Grove. He owned what is now Freedom Woods, over on Austin.
Frank Jayne owned it and it was called Northwestern. My dad’s cousin worked there at the time.
I think part of the reason people get the two confused, other than the fact that they’re so close to one another, both in Morton Grove, was that when Danny Jayne ran the barn at Glen Grove for awhile he also called it Northwestern.
The original Northwestern, on Austin, later became Country Club, owned by Richard Bailey. I believe Frank was forced to sell it by the feds after being caught selling drugs out of the barn, so he sold it to his “friend” Bailey.
Bailey’s wife Eunice owned it after she and Richard divorced and it was renamed Willowbrook Acres. I started riding there in the early 90s. Eunice was an, um, “interesting” person to say the least. Later the Lee’s bought it and it was renamed Morton Grove Equestrian Center. After Jeff and Kathy divorced, Jeff renamed the place to Freedom Woods.
I know less about the history of Glen Grove. Danny Jayne was training at Willowbrook when I first rode there. Sometime in the early 90s he got the lease for what is now Glen Grove and opened the new Northwestern. I think it was only there a few years before the lease changed and it became Glen Grove.
Thank you for the information! Our daughter rode at both Freedom Woods and Glen Grove, but I did not know all this history. I hope you are still enjoying horses.
I am up late and I was talking to my mother last evening about showing horses in the 80s…the first time I ever rode a horse was at northwestern stables and I showed on ahsa circuit for years..all over the country. Will Simpson was one of the first people I met at that place.i was 10 years old. I had no idea what was going on around me. DR HUGI became our vet for all our horses..btw..they all were fine.i can’t believe what I am learning about that place and how I loved it as a child.
Just some corrections to your writings, and the gentlemen’s comments. Glen Grove stables was originally Richard Bailey’s barn on Harms rd, so she is correct. Frank Jayne’s Northwestern Stables was on Austin, and Danny’s Northwestern Equestrian Center was on Harms Rd.
In the 70-80s on Harms Rd, the stables were Peebles, Harmswood, then Bailey’s.
As for the three boys that were murdered, it did not take place at Bailey’s stables.
I rode at the stable on Harms rd at this location in the fifties. I am trying to remember what the name of the stable was at this time. Can anybody remember the name at this time span? I am thinking it was just called Harmswoods Stable but not sure.
I can only go back as far as the late 60s, but at that time, the 3 stables on Harms Road were (starting from the corner of Golf) Peebles, Holdorf’s, and Matthews. Holdorf’s became Harmswood around 1970. Matthews became Bailey’s some time in the 70s. In the mid-70s, Peebles was acquired by and became part of Harmswood. I wasn’t around much after 1980, so someone else would have to fill in the rest of the history after (or before) that time period.
I rode with Jan at Peebles stables, and then switched over to Northwestern Stables and trained with John when Frank owned it. Thankfully we were too young and naive to know what was taking place at the time. I do my best to cherish my good memories, and push out the bad. In the 70’s at that time Will, Danny, Rose, Mrs Thompson and her boys, John, CJ, Jenny, Doug, Renee, Scarlet, Jan, Sue, Billy, Mrs King, a very handsome police officer which later became the suspected real killer of Helen Brach. I am sure I am forgetting several others at this time.