Nydia Hohf vividly remembers the night 50 years ago, when a blaring siren began blowing on the roof of her neighbor.
“The Percy house was straight across that way,” the 96-year-old Hohf said, standing in her back yard and motioning to an adjoining lot off Sheridan road in the leafy North Shore suburb of Kenilworth. “The siren was blaring, I looked over, it was perfectly clear to see it.”
That alarm was coming from the home of the millionaire senate candidate that morning in September of 1966 because according to Percy’s wife Lorraine, she had just surprised an intruder as he was brutally stabbing and beating Percy’s 21-year-old daughter Valerie as she slept in a second floor bedroom. The young woman died from her wounds, and the killer was never caught.
“This hung very much over our lives as time went on,” Hohf remembers. “Not being solved at all.”
It hit especially close to home. Not only was Hohf the first neighbor to survey what would become a brutal crime scene in the predawn hours on September 18, 1966. Her husband Robert, a renowned North Shore surgeon, was summoned to the house just 5 minutes later by Percy himself.
“A slow deliberate voice said, ‘Bob, this is Chuck Percy---will you please come right over? Valerie’s been injured,’” Robert Hohf recalled in a handwritten account of that evening, describing how a police officer arrived at the door minutes later to escort him to the Percy house.
“I saw immediately the figure of a badly battered girl,” Hohf wrote. “Oh no, she’s dead!”
Nydia Hohf said her late husband wrote that account three days after the crime, and locked it in a filing cabinet where she found it just a few years ago.
“He told me she had been killed, and he called it a crime of passion,” she recalled. “She was stabbed many times, I think.”
In the written statement, Dr. Hohf recalled Loraine Percy’s chilling account of the crime---which she said she discovered when she heard moaning coming from Valerie’s bedroom.
“She stepped to the right into this room, and saw a figure leaning over Valerie,” he wrote. “A flash-light beam immediately was thrown into her eyes, 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.”
“Lon thought she heard the person bounding down the stairs,” Hohf recalled. “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 in a few seconds.”
Despite the fact that he was the first to examine Valerie Percy, and the first to pronounce her dead, Hohf said he was never questioned by police.
“Shall I say I think it is very strange, and should be looked at,” Mrs. Hohf said. “Why not?”
Despite the pursuit of over a thousand leads, the Percy investigation went cold. There were a few clues: broken glass on a French door; a few scattered fingerprints; a military bayonet which may or may not have been the murder weapon, recovered from Lake Michigan near the Percy home. But no definite suspects. And no arrests.
Percy, the president of the audiovisual giant Bell & Howell, would go on to win that campaign for the U.S. Senate, serving three terms from 1966 to 1985. He died in 2011.
In the written account Dr. Hohf stated, “I had a feeling that much had happened before I arrived.” His wife recalled that her husband told her certain things appeared odd.
“He felt as though time had elapsed when he was escorted into the home,” she said. “Everything was calm, which is good---but I suppose you call it--- the crime scene had been cleaned up.”
But she quickly added that Dr. Hohf never had any theories about the crime.
“I don’t think he had a clue,” she said.
The anniversary of the crime arrives in the midst of a contentious lawsuit, where Kenilworth authorities are fighting requests to release their case files from 50 years ago. New York attorney John Kelly took the village to court, demanding release of the files, which the police chief insists must remain secret to avoid compromising an ongoing investigation.
“Various pieces of information and evidence may seem unconnected but later take on unanticipated significance,” chief David Miller wrote in a memorandum to the court. “This is one of the reasons standard police investigations try to keep as much information confidential as possible.”
But Kelly’s Chicago attorney Matt Topic has expressed doubt that any real investigation exists. “Taken to its logical conclusion,” Topic said, “Kenilworth’s argument would apply in every unsolved case.”
Kenilworth police said in their statement that over the decades multiple individuals have attempted to confess to the killing, but each of those claims has been debunked.
If she had lived, Valerie Percy would be 71 years old today.