Questions about Valerie Percy murder outlive her father
If you believe in heaven, then Chuck Percy, the former Illinois senator who died over the weekend, finally can answer the questions he never could in life: who murdered his daughter, Valerie, and why?
In a surreal quirk of timing, it was 45 years almost to the day since the murder that ex-Sen. Percy, 91, died in Washington.
The former senator and one-time presidential hopeful passed away on Saturday, Sept. 17, after a battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Valerie, one of Percy's 21-year-old twin daughters, was killed on Sept. 18, 1966, as she slept in the Percy family's Kenilworth home.
The murder occurred as Percy's first U.S. Senate campaign was hitting stride, and to this day remains unsolved. It is one of Chicago's saddest and most enduring murder mysteries. It has been the subject of decades of speculation and professional and amateur sleuthing.
Mr. Percy, a business mogul who morphed into the personification of a moderate Republican, went on to serve with reason and dignity in the Senate for almost 20 years.
But behind his calm and evenhandedness, there was a man who had to be in pieces by one of two realities: either he had no idea why his daughter was savagely bludgeoned and stabbed by an intruder as the entire family was home, or he had suspicions of who was responsible that he took to the grave.
Either way, for a father, that must have been terrible torment for 45 years. I know it was for Valerie's surviving twin, Sharon. She went on to a life of success, marrying West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller and becoming president and CEO of the public broadcasting station in Washington.
A few years ago I did the only interview with her about the murder of her twin sister. Especially as a twin, the guilt she carried was tremendous, because she survived while Valerie was attacked in a nearby bedroom.
There are numerous theories about what happened: that it was a bizarre, politically motivated attack intended to derail Percy's campaign; a jilted campaign worker/lover went berserk; she was the victim of a serial killer; or it was a mob hit.
Original speculation that it was a professional cat burglar was dismissed because, while the entry to the home appeared to have been a pro job, nothing was taken.
It is clear 45 years later that the investigation left much to be desired. Kenilworth, the wealthiest North Shore suburb, was not known for hosting homicides, much less solving them. Plus, in 1966 crime scenes weren't handled and processed the way they are today.
One witness, a doctor named Robert Hohf who lived next door, was summoned to the Percy home before sunrise by a phone call from Mr. Percy himself.
"A slow deliberate voice said 'Bob, this is Chuck Percy. Will you, please, come right over, Valerie's been injured'," Hoff recalled in a narrative he wrote a few days later.
Dr. Hohf, a surgeon by trade, died in 1993, but his written, dated recollections of what happened were kept by his wife. A copy was provided to me.
Hohf wrote that a police officer came to his home shortly after Percy hung up.
"The officer waited a few sec for me, and as we rushed onto the driveway, I turned toward the garage, suggesting that I get my bag from the car. He said he didn't think it was necessary and the thought passed through my mind that the situation must be desperate," Hohf wrote.
"As we ran thru the bushes...toward Percy's property I wondered what I would have to do stop hemorrhage etc? I asked the officer what had happened. He said he didn't know but the girl had been stabbed."
When Dr. Hohf got into the Percy home, he was led to Valerie's bedroom. His observations were recorded with the precision you would expect from a doctor. "The left side of the face had multiple lacerations & the eye was closed. The rt. eye was partly open. There was a pool of clotted blood in back of the right side of the neck, possibly 200-300 cl. There were no respirations, no l. radial pulse and no right corneal or lid reflexes. She was dead and badly disfigured about the head and neck so that I did not recognize her."
Hohf's report provides details of comments and conversations he overheard as he was in the home, as well of unidentified people, apparently non-police, who floated in and out of the house in that first hour after the break-in and discovery of the body.
The most outrageous element of Dr. Hohf's dissertation is this: not only was it never read by investigators, for some reason Hohf was never questioned by police even though he was the first doctor to examine the body.
After 45 years though, all of this is nothing more than interesting fodder in one of Chicago's most incredible crimes. Whatever happened in the darkness of Sept. 18, 1966, thankfully a father now has the answers that have escaped us.
• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at twitter.com/@ChuckGoudie.