Richard Bailey, only man convicted in Helen Brach candy heiress disappearance, dies

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Chicago's greatest modern murder mystery going to the grave
Richard Bailey, the only person ever convicted in the mysterious vanishing of Chicago candy heiress Helen Brach, has died and taken the case's secrets to the grave.

What happened to Helen Brach? The heiress to a Chicago candy company fortune vanished without a trace in 1977 and now the only man ever convicted in the case has died.

Richard Bailey takes to the grave the Holy Grail of Chicago crime mysteries. The 93-year-old spent the first half of his adult life trying to sweet-talk wealthy widows and bedazzled horse investors out of their money. He spent the last half of his life trying to sweet-talk his way out of federal prison for a horse industry conspiracy targeting Mrs. Brach. Neither effort was as quick or easy as Bailey hoped.

READ MORE: Only person ever sentenced in murder of 'Candy Lady' Helen Brach talks to I-Team

Helen Brach was known as "The Candy Lady" after inheriting her late husband's Brach Candy company fortune. She was also a horse lover, and owner, and that made her a prime target for Bailey. Prosecutors say he was a career conman who preyed on well-funded widows.

"I have prosecuted hundreds of people who have committed thousands of evil deeds, but only probably a handful of those people did I regard as truly evil people. Richard Bailey is first in line," former federal prosecutor Ron Safer said. "He preyed upon women when they were at their most vulnerable, after they lost a loved one, or after they had been divorced. "

When Brach vanished in February 1977, she was in a fast courtship by Bailey and his conman history made him suspect number one.

Helen Brach case: Richard Bailey, sentenced in 1977 disappearance of Chicago candy heiress released from prison

Two years later, when the feds cracked an elaborate romance swindle that involved electrocuting horses for insurance money, then-assistant U.S. attorneys Safer and Steve Miller were right there in line to prosecute Bailey and have him locked up for 30-years.

"Richard Bailey knows who killed Helen Brach. He conspired with them. He arranged it along with others," said Safer.

MORE: End of the road for inmate in Helen Brach case

"He was a predatory sociopath who left a decades long trail of vulnerable victims," Miller said in a statement to the I-Team.

Four years ago when Bailey was released from prison he met with the I-Team. We asked him how he should be remembered.

"Just like I am...I definitely didn't kill Helen Brach or involved in any way, shape or form," Bailey said.

Neither Bailey, nor anyone else, was charged by the state with Brach's actual killing.

"Unfortunately, we'll never know what happened," said Safer.

Safer believes Brach was put to death by the horse mob and incinerated in a blast furnace owned by one of the racketeering defendants. That furnace, he said, never passed inspection but was fired up one time only: a few days after Brach disappeared.

Bailey died of pneumonia last week in a Florida hospital. A relative tells the I-Team they are waiting for the U.S. Army to finalize payment for a proper funeral.

Bailey wrote a song about Brach while in prison that he gave to the I-Team. The jailhouse lyrics about her murder take on new relevance since his own death.

This is the chorus:

"I know she's in heaven, smilin' down on me,

Someday we'll be together in eternity.

I'm tryin' to hold on 'til that day,

We'll hold each other, and kiss tears away.

I wish I really knew what happened

I can guess but that's not the same.

Why would anyone want to hurt her,

I pray to God that she felt no pain."