Last week we examined the mysterious disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa’s is one of the more famous disappearing acts but there are many others. This week, we travel to the Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois for the case of Helen Brach. A genuine heiress, Helen vanished into thin air in 1977 following a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Helen was born Helen Marie Voorhees in 1911 in the tiny town of Hopedale, Ohio, not far from Steubenville. She married her high school sweetheart in 1928 when she was 16 or 17. The marriage didn’t last, though; the couple divorced by the time she was 21.
Leaving Ohio, Helen found work in a country club in Palm Beach, Florida. There she met Frank Brach, son of Brach Candy Company founder Emil J. Brach and heir to the candy fortune. They married soon after. It was Helen’s second marriage and Frank’s third.
Soon after their marriage, the couple built a home near Miami in Fisher Island, Florida. They also bought a second home in Glenview, Illinois to be near the Brach candy factory in Chicago. However, the couple spent most of their time in South Florida. Frank died in 1970, leaving Helen a wealthy widow.
In February 1977, Helen checked into the Mayo Clinic for a routine medical checkup. On Friday, February 17, she left the clinic, ostensibly to catch a flight to Chicago. An employ of a gift shop near the clinic was the last independent witness to see Helen Brach. The crew on the commercial flight from Rochester to O’Hare did not recall seeing her on the plane.
In Chicago, however, Brach’s houseman and chauffer, Jack Matlick claimed he picked her up at O’Hare airport and drover her home. Matlick said he spent the next four days doing repairs and odd jobs around the mansion. He then took her back to O’Hare for a flight to Florida.
The problem with Matlick’s story is that nobody else saw or talked to Helen Brach. Although a focus of police investigation, authorities never charged Matlick with a crime.
Helen Brach’ and the Horse Connection
At the same time Helen Brach disappeared, the FBI was investigating a fraud ring involving thoroughbred horses. Two of the people purportedly involved were Richard Bailey and Silas Jayne. The fraud involved insuring (or over-insuring) horses and then causing their deaths. In all, 36 people were arrested and 35 of them convicted.
What did this have to do with Helen Brach? Another part of the fraud was bilking wealthy widows by encouraging them to invest in horses. Invariably, they purchasers paid too much, and the horses failed to perform as expected. If the widows suspected they’d overpaid, the fraud ring would kill the horse and assuage the widow with part of the insurance proceeds.
Helen Brach was a target of the ring. But she eventually figured out what was going on and threatened to report the fraud to the authorities. The conspirators had her killed instead.
Richard Bailey was charged with conspiring to kill Helen. He was acquitted of that charge but convicted of defrauding her and received a 30-year sentence. He was released from prison on July 25, 2019.
The horse fraud ring almost certainly caused Helen Brach’s death. Jack Matlick, her houseman/chauffeur probably had some involvement as well. However, authorities never developed sufficient evidence to charge anyone other than Bailey.
The Helen Brach case has been the subject of several books. One of these is Ken Englade’s Hot Blood. Another take on the case, Who Killed the Candy Lady? is by James Ylisela.
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