Leila Adele Welsh was a victim of a brutal crime that occurred during the early morning hours of March 9, 1941, in Kansas City, Missouri. After 80 years, her case remains unsolved.
Leila's unsolved crime remains a mystery
Over a decade ago, I became engrossed in an article written by the late local reporter, Walt Bodine, about an unsolved murder in Kansas City, Missouri. Readers like myself are drawn to stories about unsolved mysteries or cold cases. As I began my research of Leila’s case, it was as though she was hollering from the grave.
Leila was a 24-year-old beautiful woman. A graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City (f/k/a UKC), she was a teacher, a daughter, and a sister. Importantly, she was a victim who was viciously murdered to the point of overkill.
80 years earlier
It was 1941. Worldly news dominated the war in Europe and before the close of the year, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the decision of the United States to remain neutral would change with the declaration of war on Japan. Then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights. The pleas for arms by Winston Churchill of England were delivered and soon Adolph Hitler took complete command over the German Army.
Before the United States declared war, however, life was happening in the states. Under the artful direction of Orson Welles, “Citizen Kane” was released as well as the popular children’s animated presentation of “Dumbo.” Movie drive-ins became popular and music composer, Glenn Miller, recorded “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” The Academy Awards copyrighted the Oscar statuette and NBC Channel 3 started broadcasting out of Philadelphia. From the sports scene, the PGA established the Golf Hall of Fame, Joe DiMaggio was on a hitting streak, tennis player, Bobby Riggs, turned pro, and the Chicago Bears won the NFL Championship.
It was an era when new houses could be purchased for under $5,000 and the cost of gasoline was around 12 cents a gallon. The average annual income was $1,750 and the average cost for a new car was $850. Although television sets were on the market, a lot of them were not sold in 1941.
In Kansas City, the Supreme Court handed down a judgment against Thomas J. Pendergast and his “associates.” Pendergast was described as a political “boss” with dictatorial powers. Other cities also had their experiences with such “bosses,” but a massive clean-up process in Kansas City was undertaken from top to bottom of its corruption.
On positive news, the Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park was presented with a bronze statue by Mrs. Loose in honor of her late husband. The main entrance to this beautiful park is still located at 51st Street and Wornall Road in Kansas City and continues to be a place of beauty to visit.
In March 1941, less than 15 minutes away from Loose Park, a house still stands on Rockhill Road in which a killer horrifically took the life of young Leila Welsh. Everyone who read the newspapers learned of this crime across the country. This story would circulate for two years.
During the 1940s, the area where the Welsh house is still located used to be considered a very affluent neighborhood.
The victim’s personal life
Leila was born in 1917 to George Winston Welsh, Sr., and Marie Fleming Welsh. She came from a prominent family with a strong academic background rooted in Kentucky. She was a beauty contest runner up in 1937 at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC f/k/a UKC).
Leila attended a woman’s college where her grandmother, Leila McKee Welsh, had served as president. Then she attended UMKC. After graduating in 1938, she went to teach in Knoxville, Illinois. She returned to Kansas City in the fall of 1940 at her mother’s request and lived with her mother and brother, George W. Welsh, Jr. Her mother may have requested her to return to Missouri due to the fact her father’s illness was declining — once a practicing attorney, he was stricken with an illness that caused paralysis. Her father resided on property she grew up in near Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Her mother thought it best if she and the children moved closer to the university where Leila would attend.
On the evening before Leila's death, she attended a police circus fundraising event with her date and then stopped to have a drink at Hotel Phillips (which still exists). When she arrived home, she spoke briefly with her mother. During the night, her mother heard a thud, so she got up and looked in the living room where her son was sleeping on the sofa and everything appeared fine, so she returned to bed. Interestingly, there was no mention of her going into Leila’s bedroom to check on her.
During the investigation, a sorority sister from college who had been interviewed stated that Leila had mentioned a man in Knoxville who wanted to marry her which Leila didn’t know how to handle. There was no mention of his name, so it does not appear he was a suspect.
Leila’s paternal grandfather was a successful real estate businessman
Leila’s paternal grandfather, James B. Welsh, moved to Kansas City in 1882 and by 1886, he became involved with real estate. He and E.R. Crutcher formed a partnership that would handle a lot of business transactions in the city. Welsh became the president of the James B. Welsh Realty and Loan Company and from 1897 through 1899, their business grew with additions of other businesses they purchased.
On March 9, 1941, after Leila had returned home from her date at approximately 1:30 a.m., it’s believed the killer entered the bedroom through an open window. It’s also been speculated that the killer was familiar with the house and may have already been in her bedroom. Her bedroom window was close to ground level.
Leila’s body was found the next day late in the morning by her mother who was wanting to wake her up for church or for breakfast (it has been reported both ways). Before the killer had left, a dining room chair had been lodged against the bedroom door so it would not be easy for her mother to quickly get into the room.
The details were very gruesome. She had been struck in the head by a 4.5-pound chisel hammer and her throat was so deeply cut, she was nearly decapitated. A piece of flesh had been removed from her right upper thigh. It was determined she was not sexually assaulted; she was just outright brutally murdered with what appeared to be a hate crime. A hammer was left at the scene at the foot of her bed on a rug. As this was on the floor, this could have made the “thud” sound her mother heard during the night. A knife was also found right outside the window protruding from the ground. About 100 yards from the house, bloodied cotton gloves were found, and her piece of flesh was found in a neighbor’s backyard.
Leila’s brother was ultimately arrested based on circumstantial evidence alone. Since the family was heir to the grandfather’s real estate fortune, the police believed money was the motive. Allegedly, too, an owner of a second-hand store claimed to have sold the knife to George. Nearly four days before the incident, a hardware store owner claimed to have sold the gloves to George.
According to The Kansas City Star published May 22, 1942, the crime was so brutal having occurred at a then elite address stirring Kansas City as well as the indictment against Leila’s brother.
With all the detectives working on Leila’s case, they all had their own perspectives on any trace evidence or facts presented.
The physical evidence that was dramatic and too easily found excluding a piece of flesh invited speculation as to whether the pieces of evidence were involved with the crime. The trace evidence included a footprint and fingerprint, the latter of which may have had nothing to do with the crime. The fingerprint in question belonged to the suspect, George W. Welsh Jr., who was also living in the same household as the victim and their mother. The footprint, however, was determined to belong to someone who had small feet. And there was no technology or DNA capability then.
Shop owners who allegedly sold a hammer and knife which were found at the crime scene seemed to have issues with their memory recall. There is, though, only a short window of opportunity after a crime has been committed to acquiring fresh doubtless information from witnesses that will hold up in a courtroom of criminal law. How could doubt be raised, though, when the evidence was questioned? The trial was conducted at the Jackson County Courthouse in Independence, Missouri.
The main media source at the time was the newspaper and the radio. Justice has yet to be served.
The Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times (1941-1943) Kansas City, MO Public Library, Missouri Valley Room-152 pages of copies of reporting on microfilm (most of the pages do not include reporter's name);
The Missouri Lawyer by John T. Barker, http://archive.org/details/missourilawyer013360mbp;
Tom’s Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend, by William M. Reddig, J.B. Lippincott Company (Philadelphia and New York) c. 1947.