I’ve always been fond of going for long walks. When I was a kid, I was always that annoying friend that said we could walk five miles to do something. Walking always gave me time to think, to sort out whichever one of life’s annoying little problems was bothering me at the moment. While I was at it, I got my exercise in for the day, too.
When I read about Frank Loomis taking an evening walk, I could relate.
I always liked to walk at night. Don’t get me wrong, the daytime walks were great, but there was always something neat about strolling after dark.
There are different smells and sounds. Everything is so much the same, and yet so utterly different. It’s almost like you walked through a mirror into a flip-side of the world that you’re used to dealing with.
Frank Loomis was a doctor by profession, with a practice in Detroit, Michigan. He and his wife, Grace, had a modest home in the suburbs, where they lived with their two children, Frank and Janet.
The couple had met when he was an intern at a New York City hospital. They began to see each other, and soon enough fell in love.
On October 1, 1915, Frank and Grace were married at The Church of the Transfiguration in New York City, more commonly known as the Little Church Around the Corner.
They eventually moved back to Detroit in Frank’s home state of Michigan. While they weren’t wealthy, the couple never seemed to want for anything.
On the night of February 22, 1927, the family ate dinner together at about 6 o’clock. The couple talked for a while, and then Loomis went back to his office for a bit. When he returned at 8 p.m., the children had been put to bed and Grace was reading a book.
Frank gave her $100 to buy a fur coat the next day, and then, at about 9 p.m., he told her that he was going for a walk.
Loomis went for regular walks, telling people that he liked to exercise and take care of himself. Maybe, like me, he liked to let the night air relieve him of all the stress that had built up during the course of the day.
After about 45 minutes, he went back home. He quietly went through the house, looking for Grace. When he came into the sun room, he found her on the floor, unmoving. Blood covered her head.
Frank rushed to her side. In his heart, his experience as a doctor told him that she was dead. Still, he took her into his arms for a moment before lying her back down. He checked for a pulse, but couldn’t find one.
Loomis ran to the door and called to one of his neighbors, Mrs. Albert Twork, to call someone for help. She had just been getting ready for bed, but came to the door to find out what was going on.
Frank Loomis told her that Grace had been murdered, and asked her to call the police for him. She did, then got dressed and went to the Loomis home. By that time, the police had arrived and had started their investigation.
Grace Loomis was dead. She had apparently been bludgeoned to death. There were several cuts on her hands, indicating that she had tried to defend herself by warding off her attacker’s blows.
The crime scene was almost immaculate, with only a few things being disturbed.
A cushion had been torn open and its contents thrown out onto the floor. A rug had been moved to cover up a large pool of blood on the floor. One of the eastern-facing windows had been broken outward, the glass found outside on the grass.
By contrast, it was evident that Grace Loomis had not gone down without a fight. Blood was splattered and smeared all over the walls, indicating that she had been attempting to evade her attacker, moving around the room while she was being attacked. Gray and brown hairs were also found on the carpet, covered in blood.
Detectives took Dr. Loomis to the police station for further questioning about the murder, while Grace’s body was taken to the morgue to undergo an autopsy.
When police had arrived at the house, they noticed that Loomis’ clothes were splattered with blood. To them, it appeared as if he had beaten his wife to death, getting sprayed with blood in the process.
Loomis claimed that when he had seen Grace’s body, he had immediately run over and taken her in his arms. Even though he believed that she was dead, he still hoped that he would be able to revive her. It was during this time that he had gotten the bloodstains on his suit.
For the next twenty hours, they questioned him about the events of the evening. Loomis, however, stayed calm and collected, and the details of his story never changed from his initial statement.
Detectives theorized that Loomis had been having an affair. That night, he had reached the point where he couldn’t stand being with his wife anymore, and had killed her. Loomis denied this, countering with his own theory.
He believed that someone had come into the house and robbed Grace. The Loomis house was situated on a corner, and it was very easy for someone in the street to see what was going on in the house. He theorized that someone had seen him hand the $100 to Grace, and then had broken in after he left.
The theory did make sense. However, the police noted that although the fur coat money was missing, Grace Loomis was still wearing three diamond rings. They questioned that if the killer was motivated by money, why did they only grab the cash and then leave the rings untouched? While it was entirely likely that the killer just hadn’t taken the rings, it also left enough room to wonder if the robbery had been staged.
Loomis was the best suspect that the police had. He had been the first person at the scene of the crime and had discovered the body. The only actual eyewitness to the murder had been a caged canary. The children had slept through the entire event.
As investigators made their inquiries, friends, neighbors, and colleagues alike stated that he was an amazing husband. By all appearances, he seemed to be utterly and completely devoted to his wife. Even the Loomis children said that they hadn’t ever seen their parents fight.
Mrs. Twork, the next-door neighbor, also confirmed this. When asked about the night of the murder, her story backed up Loomis’ claims. In addition, she also mentioned that she had arrived home at about 9:30 p.m.
As she went into the house, Twork noticed that the kitchen window shades had been drawn down. She thought that this was unusual because they were never drawn.
When asked about it, Loomis was able to give an explanation.
Earlier that evening, when the couple was about to make dinner, Frank Loomis had started to slice cuts of bread. He said that Grace had gone over and drawn the window shade to the kitchen. At that time, it was a matter of immense pride to some women to be the one who cooked for the family.
Grace told her husband that she didn’t want people seeing him helping to prepare dinner because she didn’t want them to think that she wasn’t performing her proper wifely duties.
According to a young couple, Ethel Bell and Thomas Blockson, who had also been out for a walk that night, they had heard a woman screaming at the Loomis residence at about 9:10 p.m. George Berg, a deputy coroner who had done the initial examination of the body, put the time of death at between 9 o’clock and 9:10 p.m.
Florence Nellis, a neighbor who lived right across the street from the Loomis’, said that she heard the scream and the sound of breaking glass at roughly the same time.
Gordon Lawton was on his way home with his brother when they heard what sounded like a crying baby in the Loomis house. Police later believed that the sound they heard was Grace Loomis’ last moans as she lay dying in her sun room.
So far, all of the evidence police had fit with Frank Loomis’ story.
Dora Loomis, Frank’s mother, told police that Grace had confided to her that she was afraid to be alone in the house. She was terrified of patients calling on Loomis at home.
This led police to theorize that Grace had known her attacker. As she carefully answered the door, she would have let her guard down if she saw that it was someone that she knew. All of the fear of a stranger at the door would vanish, and Grace would immediately start feeling comfortable, leaving her vulnerable.
If it had been a stranger, then they believed that he must have snuck quietly through the home until he could take Grace completely by surprise and overwhelm her with their attack. The issue with that was that all of the doors and windows in the house had been closed and locked. With this being the case, police theorized that either Grace had let them in, or they must have had a key.
The Assistant Prosecutor assigned to the case, Paul O. Buckley, ordered Loomis to be held in police custody. Frank Loomis was still their best suspect – their only suspect at this point – and he didn’t want to give the man a chance to disappear if he was guilty.
But time was short. Loomis had apparently adored his wife, so if they were going to prove that he committed the crime, they needed evidence of something. By all accounts, he was a dedicated family man, and there was no evidence of him even looking at another woman, let alone having a full-blown affair.
When investigators went through Frank Loomis’ financial records, they discovered another possible motive. Frank Loomis’ practice wasn’t doing well, and the family was doing worse financially than outward appearances would indicate.
However, Grace had no life insurance policy, meaning that there wouldn’t be any financial payout for her death. With no monetary gain, it ruled this out as a motive.
During Loomis’ interrogation, he told police that he had found the telephone receiver off the hook and had replaced it. After speaking with the telephone company, investigators were told that the phone had been taken out of commission at about 9:10 p.m., and then returned to service at about 9:50 p.m. Once again, this coincided with Loomis’ story.
Police also discovered that, even though the house had been locked up tight by Grace Loomis, there may have been another entrance that she wouldn’t have thought of. Frank Loomis said that he couldn’t remember if he had locked the cellar door that morning after putting a shovel in the basement. If this were the case, then the killer might have had an unbarred way to enter and exit the home.
During the initial investigation of the house, police had found two shirt buttons mixed in with the normal soot and debris from the house furnace. At first, they seemed unimportant. However, they had learned that Grace regularly saved all the buttons that she could. Was it possible that she had simply missed these two, or had the killer burned some of their clothing in the furnace?
While Frank Loomis’ coat had bloodstains and blood splatter, his shirt was completely clean. The police theorized that if Frank Loomis had killed his wife and his shirt had been covered in blood, he could have removed it and burned it in the furnace. Changing his shirt, he could have then also burned the murder weapon.
The theory sounded good, but it contended with the fact that Loomis had made absolutely no effort to conceal the bloodstains on his clothes. He was absolutely adamant that he gotten them when he had picked up his wife’s body.
When fingerprint experts were sent to the scene, they were only able to find those left by the policemen at the house that night and those left by the deputy coroner. They stated that, if there had ever been any other prints there, namely the killers, that the police and the coroner had completely obliterated them as they moved around the scene.
As rumors started to spread and misprints were made in the newspapers, corrections were issued to set the record straight.
According to some policemen, Grace Loomis’ body was cold by the time they arrived at the crime scene around 10 o’ clock. They also found bloodstains in the kitchen sink, thought maybe to be from the killer washing the blood from their hands.
George Berg, the assistant coroner who had been on the scene that night, said clearly that these reports were wrong. When he had arrived, Grace Loomis’ body had been quite warm, and still was when it arrived at the morgue later that evening. He also said that the bloodstains in the sink were from him, after he had washed his hands after examining the body.
While the police finally admitted that they didn’t really have a strong motive for Frank Loomis to have killed his wife, Paul O. Buckley believed in his guilt regardless. A deputy prosecutor assigned to the case, Buckley strongly felt that there were discrepancies in Loomis’ account of events the night of the murder. He believed that there was no way for the killer to have been an intruder who gained entry to the house.
When pressed, however, Buckley also admitted that he didn’t believe that there was any chance of a conviction if the case ever went before a jury.
Regardless of what they thought their chances were, the fact was is that they had held Loomis in custody since the night of the murder, allowing him to see only police officials and the members of the prosecutor’s office. They even refused his own mother to see him. The reason they gave was that they were afraid the meeting would have a negative emotional effect on her son.
For Dr. Keith M. Morse, enough was enough.
A friend of Frank Loomis, Morse didn’t believe for a second that Loomis had murdered Grace. He had known the man for years, and always felt that he was a devoted husband and father. He felt that the police and the prosecutor were overstepping their bounds and abusing their power.
Not wanting to see what he felt was an innocent man go to prison, Morse decided to employ the services of Emil W. Colombo, a 38-year-old criminal trial attorney.
Colombo immediately filed a writ of habeas corpus, which forces a prisoner to be brought before a court to determine if their imprisonment is lawful and valid. This meant that the Detroit police department had to bring Loomis before a judge in circuit court. In this case, the judge in question was circuit court Judge Joseph A. Moynihan, who informed the prosecutor’s office and the police that they at least had to allow Colombo to introduce himself to his client, thus putting a stop to their sequestering of Frank Loomis.
An arrangement was made, and Colombo was escorted to Loomis’ cell. In a rather anti-climatic meeting, the attorney introduced himself, exchanged a few words with his new client, and left.
Police had pinned all of their hopes in solving the case on Frank Loomis. When asked, they admitted that they hadn’t even tried to look into Loomis’ claims that an intruder had broken into the house. They believed that there wasn’t any possibility of that because all of the doors and windows were locked, in spite of the fact that they knew there was a chance the cellar door had been left unlocked and that patients were known to visit the doctor’s house.
The newspapers had been following the case closely, and when they reported that Loomis had been prevented from seeing family and friends, it generated a good amount of negative publicity. To help counteract that, they allowed a few of Loomis’ fellow doctors to come and talk with him through his cell door.
An official hearing regarding the writ of habeas corpus was scheduled to be held the morning of February 25, 1927. The police escorted Loomis to the courthouse, arriving a half hour after the time he was scheduled to appear. When he did arrive, it was to a packed courtroom full of friends, family, press, and curiosity seekers.
The prosecutor, Robert Toms, immediately asked for a postponement of the hearing until that Monday. This was requested on the grounds that the “police have some important information which they have been unable thus far to trace or verify.” He also stated that the evidence that they had thus far gathered was completely inconclusive.
When Emil Colombo objected on the grounds that the prosecution was simply providing excuses as to why they couldn’t continue their case against Frank Loomis, Toms stated that the police just hadn’t had quite enough time to follow up on all of their leads.
When Colombo continued to argue the objection, Toms stated that the leads currently under investigation might very well be advantageous to Loomis’ case. He even admitted that most of the evidence gathered already supported his statement.
The judge, after a moment of consideration, stated that if he allowed the postponement, then he wondered if Toms would have any objection to Loomis being released on bail. The prosecutor did not.
Next came the determination of the bail price. Colombo had stated that Loomis’ friends were willing to raise upwards of $25,000. Toms remembered this, and asked that be set as the cost.
Colombo countered that although they could raise that much money, he felt that $10,000 would be more than enough. Toms agreed.
As Loomis left the courtroom, several reporters stepped forward to take his picture. On Colombo’s advice, he stopped and allowed them to. Colombo had told them that if he didn’t do it at the courthouse, then they would just take pictures of him as he walked down the street anyway.
Frank Loomis was released from jail on a $10,000 bond on February 26, 1927. As promised, the funds were provided by his friends, many of whom seemed to have unshakable confidence in his innocence.
He went straight to the home of a nearby neighbor, where his mother and two children were. After a very warm reunion, Loomis walked to his home. The front door was locked, and so he knocked.
Police had been stationed at the Loomis home since the night of the murder. When they saw it was Frank, they allowed him in, but told him not to take too long. Loomis seemed to have no problem with that.
According to one of the policemen there, Loomis went straight upstairs, avoiding the rest of the house completely. He took just long enough to get himself a change of clothes, and then left almost as quickly as he had come.
Later that day, he was visited by many friends and neighbors who came to offer their condolences and reaffirm their belief that he was totally innocent of the murder. Although polite and reserved, he still seemed grateful for their kind words.
Loomis was much less friendly to the reporters who tried to talk to him. He was described as being coldly polite, refusing to answer most of their questions. The only thing that Loomis told them was that no funeral arrangements had been made for his wife at that time.
For a short time at least, Loomis was a free man. Even though he was barred from his own home, he didn’t seem eager to return there. For the first night at least, he planned to stay with one of his neighbors. After that, he would figure things out as he went along.
Loomis and his mother, possibly both lacking the words and wanting to postpone their sadness, still hadn’t told the children about Grace’s death. Instead, they told them that they couldn’t go home because a window had been broken and it was too cold to be there. No one seems to know how they explained the absence of their mother.
For the first time since he had found his wife dead on the sun room floor, Dr. Frank Loomis could relax. He could take some time and enjoy his family, start the grieving process, and make funeral arrangements for Grace’s burial. In this moment, he could find peace.
Still, the hearing was only a short time away. On that Monday, he would once again have to stand in front of Judge Moynihan. The Detroit police seemed determined that he was the killer, no matter what evidence pointed to in the contrary. While he enjoyed a few hours of freedom, they had bought time to dig deeper and make their case.
Frank Loomis couldn’t help but think about the future. Would Monday bring an end to all of this, or would police find something and the entire ordeal continue? Although he couldn’t know either way, he knew that he had his children, and he knew that he had the unwavering support of his friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
All he could do now was take what comfort he could in that, and patiently await the results of the hearing.
Clubber Kills Doctor’s Wife. Lansing State Journal, 2/23/1927
Detroit Physician Held on the Suspicion of Having Slain Wife. Battle Creek Enquirer, 2/24/1927
2 Tell Police They Heard Mrs. Loomis’ Death Screams. Detroit Free Press, 2/24/1927
Loomis Talks with Attorney. Lansing State Journal, 2/25/1927
Dr. Frank R. Loomis is Free on $10,000 Bail. Battle Creek Enquirer, 2/27/1927
Loomis, Freed, Joins Mother and Children. Detroit Free Press, 2/27/1927
Year: 1920; Census Place: Detroit Ward 16, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_815; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 514
Detroit Police Department. Detroit Historical Society.
Ancestry.com. New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu
4 thoughts on “The Perfect Crime: The Murder of Grace Loomis”
Intriguing story, John. I suppose this story will be continued to tell us what happened at the Monday hearing, right??
Thank you. The rest of the story will come out in a few weeks in a second part.
They met in 1927 and married on 1915? Say it ain’t so!
I love your stories and you writing style. Please don’t be offended that I pointed out the date discrepancies.
The error has been corrected.