The mysterious murder of Valerie Percy.
John William Tuohy
The murder of Valerie Percy remains one of the nation’s most mysterious and notorious crimes.
Valerie’s murder took place in the summer of 1966 when her father, the wealthy Illinois Republican Charles Percy, was running for the US Senate. Percy, who made his fortune as the head of Bell and Howell Corporation had run unsuccessfully for Illinois governor.
Valerie, only 21 years old, and an identical twin (Her sister Sharon would later marry Jay Rockefeller.) had graduated from Cornell that summer and was two days away from postgraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. She was spending her days that summer campaigning alongside her father.
On the night of September 18, 1966, Valerie was sleeping in her room inside her families sprawling 17 room mansion on Lake Michigan At around 5 AM, a Sunday morning, someone used a glass cutter on the Percy back door and found his way to Valerie's second-floor room. Once there, he beat her and stabbed her 14 times, killing her. From the position of the body, police knew that Valerie had probably been sleeping when she was killed. The killer beat her, badly, about the face before stabbing her. She was not sexually assaulted.
The attack was intense and personal. There were multiple lacerations on the left side of her face and her left eye was closed. Her right eye was partly open. A pool of clotted blood stuck to the right side of the back of her neck. Her skull was fractured on the left side, the actual cause of the death.
Two of the 14 stab wounds were in her abdomen and they had penetrated her liver. One stab wound went through her left breast and penetrated her heart. Another in her right breast reached her lung. Yet another went through her throat hitting her spinal column. The killer probably used a double-edged knife. There were several abrasions, tooth marks perhaps, on two fingers on her right hand. (Three days after Valerie’s murder, police found a bayonet in Lake Michigan. To this day authorities believe the murder weapon was a serrated bayonet)
Valerie’s stepmother, Loraine, "was awakened by the sound of someone moaning, and I got up to see what was the matter." She realized the sound was coming from Valerie’s room, ran there, opened the door and saw a man bending over the blood-soaked bed and shining his flashlight on Valerie’s body.
She told police “When he was bending over the bed, I noticed he had on a light shirt or jacket. It may not have been white, but it was light, with a small sort of a check, very small . . . and it didn't go all the way down to his wrists because I could see his forearms. And he had trousers and a belt that were a darkish color, and then he turned and shined a light in my eyes, and I didn't see his face. I just saw an outline and I saw no distinguishing characteristics. I didn't see eyes or mouth. I just saw a dark outline and I noticed the shape of his head and his hairline. That's all."
Directly afterward, Charles Percy, hoping against hope that his daughter might still be alive, phoned a neighbor, Dr. Robert Hohf, ‘Bob, this is Chuck Percy. Will you, please, come right over, Valerie’s been injured’,” Hohf wrote later. ” ‘We’ve already called someone else but would like you to come right away. A policeman is on his way to get you.’ “
Hohf, who lived two doors away, ran to the Percy mansion and ran up the stairs into Valerie's bedroom, "I saw immediately the figure of a badly battered girl, obviously dead." Hohf was never interviewed by police and was not invited to the inquest for the slaying.
Hohf wrote that Valerie was so disfigured from the beating that he didn’t recognize her. Her nightgown was raised to her ribs. Her two sisters, Sharon and Gail, were “badly frightened,” sitting on their parents’ bed facing the lake. The doctor went downstairs and spoke to, Chuck and Loraine. “I told them, ‘I’m awfully sorry, but she’s gone.’ They looked numb but composed and said nothing that I recall.” He recalled that Loraine was barefoot in a short nightgown, but Chuck was fully dressed in slacks, shirt, a sweater and shoes. The three of them walked into the family room, and Hohf was introduced to a couple of friends who had been called to be with the surviving children. A butler served coffee, and Hohf wrote, “I had a feeling that much had happened before I arrived.”
By then the Kenilworth police, the town police, had arrived. Charles Percy told them that they needed to act quickly, only 20 minutes had passed since Loraine walked in on the killer. Then Percy called Chicago police.
Dr. Hohf was still present when Loraine was interviewed by homicide detectives “A flashlight beam immediate(ly) was thrown into her eyes,” Hohf wrote, “blinding her so that she was conscious of only a vague form and movement. She ran back into her own room and screamed at Chuck that there was an intruder in Val’s room. While she turned on lights and the fire siren, Chuck called the tel. operator and asked her to call the Kenilworth police. … They arrived in five minutes. (Loraine) thought she heard the person bounding down the stairs. When she returned to Val’s (room), Val was still moaning and looked very white. Lon wiped her face with a pillow and felt a pulse which disappeared after a few seconds.”
He added that Loraine told her story “calmly but in somewhat disjointed fashion,” with speculation that household workers might be responsible.
Before he left, Hohf looked over the glass of the French door where the killer had broken his way into the house. Hohf made a note that the door itself was broken, smashed really, different from the initial reports that the killer had cut the glass cleanly. Further investigation showed that the killer had first cut the glass, but the hole was too small to reach through, and the person scored the glass with an “X” and smashed it, not the usual method of a professional burglar. The same method was used to break into a nearby house the summer before the Percy killing.
The family dog didn’t bark, leading police to suspect that the killer was familiar to him. The fact that the killer made his way directly to Valerie’s bedroom probably meant that he was familiar with the house and had a knowledge of who slept where.
The murderer left five bloody palm prints on the banister and a black leather glove outside the mansion. There were also footprints at the Percy home leading to the beach.
The investigation went nowhere until 1973, eight years after the fact when the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper broke a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a ring of mob burglars who probably broke into the Percy home to steal silver and jewels.
One jailed member of the burglary team, 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.
Although Malchow already was dead by the time Evans and Hohimer accused him of the crime, the FBI agents had managed to interview Malchow years before when he was in a Pennsylvania jail where he was awaiting trial for rape and robbery in a home invasion. Malchow denied any involvement with the Percy killing. In 1967 he broke out of jail and fell to his death from a railroad trestle.
Still, some investigators believe that it was Malchow "To this day I am convinced that Freddie Malchow was the killer and that he acted alone," said Robert Lamb, the investigator in the Percy killing said 1991. Lamb noted Malchow was in Chicago at the time of the slaying through an airplane baggage ticket.
The problem was, there was nothing stolen from the home. Joseph Dileonardi, the former Chicago police superintendent was a homicide cop who was at the scene in 1966 "This was not a burglar” he said, “nothing was touched, not a thing was touched in that house," said Joseph Dileonardi. "A burglar would not strike a victim 14 times, a stick-up person does not strike a victim 14 times. the other motive, the last motive, was revenge and that's what I think happened to Valerie Percy…… that's my belief 40 years ago, and that's my belief today, 40 years later"
Of course, dozens of people confessed to the killing which only served to slow down the investigation. Chicago police, Cook County state’s attorney investigators and the FBI interviewed about 10,000 people and investigated 1,226 suspects in the first two years.
The police quietly zeroed in on the Percy’s other neighbor William Thoresen III, the son of William E. Thoresen II, president of the Great Western Steel Co. of Chicago. William Thoreson the third was described in an FBI report as “violent, a mental case… armed and dangerous.” Thoresen grew up in the same neighborhood as Valerie, less than two blocks away from the Percy home. Thoresen was a habitual, violent criminal with arrests for aggravated assault and the possession of illegal weapons including bayonets.Most who knew him, including his wife, called him “angry, a loner, hostile and destructive” Before he was 21 he had gone through a number of boarding schools and mental institutions, and he seemed to be completely uneducated. He regularly smashed up cars, terrorized young women and fought with authority. William stole more than a half a million dollars’ worth of securities in a duffle bag from his parents’ cellar vault because, he claimed, it was his legacy and he had been cheated out of at least another half‐million.In 1957 he was stabbed during a scuffle with a parking lot in Evanston, Illinois. A year later he was charged with shoving a person in Kenilworth, Illinois and was fined $50. He was also charged with stealing posters from a ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine. In 1964 he was accused of touching off a dynamite charge in a vacant lot. The charge was dismissed. In 1969 he was tried for illegal possession of weapons in San Francisco.
In 1965, he was suspected of playing some role in the death of his brother Richard on September 21, 1965. Officially, Richard’s death is listed as "Undetermined". (He had been shot directly behind the ear) Police found his body in a rented car and said that he was shot with a .357 magnum pistol purchased two days earlier by Louise Thoresen, his wife who said she bought the gun for Richard because he had a "thing about guns." Oddly enough, before he died Richard left his brother considerable stock with an estimated, value of $8550,000, or about $5 million today. He also left Louise Thoresen $100,000.
He apparently married Louise to escape commitment by his family to a state mental institution.
Shortly before Richard Thoresen's death, he and William were named in burglary warrants signed by their father who charged the two with breaking into his Kenilworth home.
William Thoresen told his wife several version of the killing, one was that he had hired a professional killer to murder him and that he himself had been the triggerman.
However, in 1966, Thoresen (Who used his brother's name in this instance) was arrested by San Francisco police with a hood named Lewis Dale Stoddard for assaulting the officers.
Five years later at her hearing for shooting her husband, Louise told the court that in mid-1966, that he husband had beat Stoddard to death with a hammer when he showed up at their home demanding more money for killing Richard Thoresen. William told his wife that he dumped Stoddard’s body in the ocean.
It was Thoresen’s probation officer in Los Angeles who alerted the Chicago police to consider Thoresen a suspect in the Percy killing. The FBI tracked him down to New York and questioned him but Thoresen said he “could be of no help in the Valerie Percy case and refused to be interviewed or answer any questions about the Percy case or any other matters.”
On June 10, 1970, four years after Valerie’s murder, Thoresen, then 32, was killed by his wife Louise who was acquitted in November of 1970. The night before the murder, he had beaten her and broke two of her ribs. She used one of the guns in his vast arsenal (A total of 77 of arms, including cannon and machine guns) to shoot him to death in California home. She put five bullets into him as he lay naked on their bed. Although he didn’t have an actual job, Thoresen, who suffered from a slight speech impediment, a stammer, traveled extensively and there were indications his travels may have involved him in illicit drug traffic. An autopsy showed traces of LSD in his blood and the police found 50 pounds of high-grade marijuana in the Thoresen home.
“Despite everything rotten he'd been responsible for in my life,” Louise wrote “I loved him deeply.”
The murder put the Percy campaign on hold, but, after nearly two months when nothing broke in the case, Percy resumed his campaign and won. He remained in the US Senate until 1984. He died in September 2011 at 91 of the effects of Alzheimer’s. At the time he and Loraine lived in an assisted living home in Washington, D.C.
The murder remains unsolved.