The Historic 1918 Kansas City “Greenlease Cadillac Building” and the 1953 Greenlease Family Tragedy | CJ Combes


1921 Cadillac Suburb.Joanne Pistorius, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Greenlease Cadillac Building was located at 2900 Gillham Road in Kansas City, Missouri. It served as a specialty store and warehouse. The building’s architect was Lewis W. Haverkamp, ​​and the architectural design is Commercial style.

In the early 1910s, Haverkamp was a draftsman in the offices of architects Louis Curtiss and Herman J. Stroeh. Haverkamp likely learned the use of structural concrete from Curtiss. Haverkamp qualified as an architect in 1915 and worked in the offices of Curtiss. While working from home, he designed the Greenlease Cadillac Building. Haverkamp died in 1918 aged 34-35 which would explain why there are no other buildings attributed to it.

Although the building is rectangular, it narrows where Gillam and McGee Trafficway meet, where the Cadillac dealership was also located. The service and storage areas were at the other end of the building facing north. The building now houses the Union Hill Athletic Club.
The location that belonged to Greenlease Cadillac Building.Google Maps.

Inside, the most distinctive space is the first-floor auto showroom that occupies the triangular south end of the building. With a 20-foot ceiling and enough floor space to display twelve cars, this space retains its original finishes, including tiled flooring, marble paneling, plaster ceiling, walls and columns. (Source.)


The building was constructed in 1918. The design of the building was intended to meet a few needs – one for the car dealer and one for the distributor. In the early 1900s, reinforced concrete became a technique used in construction and was ideal for automotive-related buildings. This building was also the headquarters of the Robert C. Greenlease automobile company.

Greenlease Motor Car Company

This automobile company was founded in 1908. The company was a Cadillac dealership and distributor. Robert Greenlease seized opportunities to grow his business. In 1929, of the 17 Cadillac dealerships in the country, he controlled five. Its territory extended over five states.

In 1967, General Motors celebrated the Greenlease Motor Car Company as the oldest of its 14,000 dealerships operating in the United States. (Source.)

When the automotive industry was booming, Greelease was at the forefront of setting the standards for marketing and distribution. Part of his main goal was to be service oriented.

Greenlease was born in 1882 and grew up on a farm in Saline County, Missouri. His family raised horses, and due to economic difficulties his family moved to Kansas City in 1894. He and his father found jobs at the Weber Engine Company, which was also owned by Greenlease’s uncle.

When Greenlease was in sixth grade, he left school and worked as an office boy and mail clerk at the Swift meatpacking plant. Later, Greenlease attended Spalding’s Commercial College at night. He also worked for his uncle where he met one of the factory superintendents, Paul Karshner, and they designed an automobile.

In 1902 they were making custom automobiles and they made three Kansas City Hummers. Three years later they closed. The profit was low considering the time and money it cost to build them. After Karshner left their partnership, Greenlease opened a car repair and delivery service (a livery service is a passenger vehicle for hire that provides transportation services). The company name was The Central Automobile and Livery Company.

Greenlease’s first vehicle was a 1905 single-cylinder Cadillac he purchased from Fred Patee, who was the first Cadillac dealership in Kansas City. In 1907, Greenlease opened its first dealership. Having your own franchise has become profitable. In 1909, Cadillac was purchased by General Motors for $5.5 million.. By then, the Cadillac had already made a name for itself as a manufacturer of luxury cars.

In 1911 Cadillac became the first to include the electric starter as standard equipment and as a result was again awarded the Dewar Trophy for the most significant contribution to the automobile industry that year. (Source.)

Greenlease, as a Cadillac dealer and distributor, began with a nine-county sales territory and has grown through partnerships with six other states as well as western Missouri. By 1950 Greenlease had already spent 42 years as a dealer and distributor. It was honored by General Motors as the dealership with the longest association with an automobile company in the American company. When further dealerships were discontinued in 1965, Greenlease was GM’s chief agent. In 1967, he was honored by Cadillac as he entered his 60th year. Greenlease died in September 1969.

The name Cadillac comes from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (born 1658, died 1730) who was the founder of Detroit, Michigan. Cadillac’s crest is based on its coat of arms.

The family tragedy

Greenlease’s son, Robert Cosgrove Greenlease, Jr., was kidnapped and murdered on September 28, 1953, when he was six years old.

The kidnappers were drug-addicted alcoholics, Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady. The young boy was murdered before there was even a ransom demand. The convicted kidnappers were sentenced to death in December 1953.

Young Bobby was born to his parents, Robert Greenlease Sr. and Virginia Pollock Greenlease on February 3, 1947. (Virginia was Robert Sr.’s second wife) By this time, Greenlease was a multi-millionaire with his dealership. He was 65 when Bobby was born.

Bonnie Heady had shown up at Bobby’s school, Notre Dame de Sion, posing as an aunt who was supposed to take her to her mother. Heady convinced a school nun that Bobby’s mother was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. The FBI was contacted once it was discovered the boy had been abducted. The boy was shot in Johnson County, Kansas and buried in Heady’s backyard in St. Joseph, Missouri.

After the murder, Greenlease received a $600,000 ransom demand which he paid. The kidnappers took the money and left for Saint-Louis. Hall finally pointed the finger at Heady. Because the kidnappers took Bobby across the state line, it made it a federal case. Hall and Heady pleaded guilty to kidnapping.

Only eleven weeks and four days elapsed between the time the crime was committed and the executions. (Source.)

The full ransom amount has not been recovered. $312,000 was missing, leading to theories and speculation.

As the Investigation Discovery network covers many detective series, this story has been covered in two of its series, A Crime to Remember and Deadly Women.

Bobby was later buried at Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City in the family mausoleum.

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