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The grisly saga of Pixie Grismore

Editor’s note: This story is excerpted from the November issue of Dispatches magazine, the monthly sister publication of WorldNetDaily. Annual subscriptions to Dispatches are $36 and individual copies of the November issue are available for $3 at WorldNetDaily’s secure online storefront.

Two years ago, on a Windy City evening in the month of August 1996, Indiana’s then-Governor Evan Bayh appeared before the delegates gathered in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention to deliver the keynote speech that would finalize the nomination and re-election of William Jefferson Clinton to the presidency of the United States. It was a high point in Bayh’s political career, a steppingstone, perhaps, to greater things, and it was surely an event in his life which would have brought special pride to his mother — had she lived to her son’s special evening.

His father, former Sen. Birch Bayh, had survived to share that moment in history with his son, and he must have carried enough parents’ real pride to make up for his late wife’s absence.

Evan Bayh was elected yesterday to the U.S. Senate. He’s been talked about as a possible vice presidential candidate for Al Gore in 2000. And since the kind of scandal that has plagued the White House in recent years has never touched the Bayh family, he might make a logical choice.

But perhaps not if the people of Indiana — and the rest of the United States — begin asking questions about Pixie Grismore.

Mary Beth Grismore was strangled and found in a car trunk in Ohio, May 3, 1978. Most of the people who knew Mary Beth while she was still alive called her Pixie.

Born and raised in Iowa, Pixie was talented and beautiful, once a runner-up in the Miss Iowa contest and a gifted musician. She left her home town to find employment, married a co-worker and moved to her husband’s Indiana home. She brought life to a pair of sons, tried to fit into the rural setting of her new life, grew older and wiser, and finally divorced her Hoosier husband. She fell in love again, and just after Christmas of 1977, she remarried, to an Iowa farmer who lived just a few miles from her old hometown. For a too-short while, she was happy again.

By February of 1978 she was packing her belongings and memories for the move from her Indiana residence to her new home in Iowa and began to say her farewells to the friends and neighbors she’d known and lived among for a decade. On Feb. 21, 1978, she drove her new husband’s Ford Thunderbird from her home near Marshall, Indiana, to the nearby city of Terre Haute for a going-away party with two of her friends — nothing fancy, just a meal at the local lobster joint, a movie and a few hours dancing at some of Terre Haute’s nightspots. The trio returned to Marshall just a little before 1:30 a.m., and that was the last time that anyone will admit that Pixie Grismore was ever seen alive.

Later that day her friends came by to help her finish packing for the move to Iowa but found that she wasn’t at the rural farmhouse. Neither was the car, though the clothes that she’d worn the previous night and her purse were. Her worried family notified the local sheriff’s department and the search for Pixie began. It ended in Whitehall, Ohio — near the Columbus, Ohio, airport — on May 3, 1978, when the Whitehall police opened the trunk of a Ford Thunderbird with no license plates that had been left in the parking lot of a local Holiday Inn near the airport that serves Columbus. For almost two months the car sat there until finally, suspicious police opened the trunk. They found a murdered body with a rope around its neck, but 10 weeks of decay and decomposition had so ruined the remains of the former beauty pageant contestant that investigators could not initially even determine if the remains were male or female. Dental records were consulted, and they proved that the body in the car was that of Pixie Grismore. She was 26 years old.

Investigators were eventually led to question Pixie’s supervisor at Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park, where she had worked as a lifeguard in the summer of 1977. On June 16, they interviewed him again, in Indianapolis — and this time they read him his rights. Under questioning he admitted to evasion and falsehood in his first meeting with the FBI agents, and this time he told them a new story.

Patrick Ralston admitted that he began a romantic affair with the pretty lifeguard in July of 1977. His wife had just given birth to their baby on June 2 and then underwent surgery in early July, and she had been recovering while staying with her family in Terre Haute. His home was so empty and he was so alone, and he began to spend more time supervising things around the swimming pool where the cute young lifeguard worked. Ralston explained to the investigators that he and his wife drifted farther apart and by November of 1977 he filed for divorce.

On Jan. 15, 1978, Ralston was seriously injured when a frozen water heater exploded at the park. He spent seven days in a Terre Haute hospital and another week recuperating at home. By mid-February he was feeling better but things had changed: His relations with his wife had improved and Pixie surprised almost everyone who thought they knew her by marrying a farmer
from the area in Iowa she had once called her home.

On Feb. 16, Ralston telephoned Pixie and suggested they get together one more time for old times’ sake. She agreed and they met at the bar of the Cloverdale, Indiana, Holiday Inn. Pixie rented room 215 on the hotel’s south side, and while there she called her new husband in Iowa from the hotel room phone.

Up to that point nothing that Pat Ralston had told the FBI particularly removed him from consideration as a suspect, but then he played his ace: While he and Pixie were in the bar, Ralston told the FBI, she told him that she had done something the day before — Feb. 15 — that she had always wanted to do. Pixie told Ralston that P.A. Mack, Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh’s chief of staff, had arranged for her to meet with the senator at the bar of an Indianapolis motel and that she partied with the senator and his entourage for a while and that she had then gone to the senator’s hotel room with him and that she had “slept with him.” Pixie said that she had left Bayh’s hotel room early on the morning of the 16th, Ralston told the FBI agents.

So the feds checked it out: A registration card for the night of Feb. 15, 1978, indicated that one B.E. Bayh of 2919 Garfield Street NW, Washington, D.C., had indeed stayed in room 579 of the Indianapolis Airport Holiday Inn while he was representing “USS” — that is, the United States Senate. The room cost $24.

By dragging the senator into the investigation, Ralston virtually guaranteed the end of FBI consideration of his past relationship with the murdered woman. If Ralston had ever been charged with the crime, he would only have had to point out that Sen. Bayh’s brief but intimate relationship with Pixie was at least as strong a motive for murder as Ralston’s own affair with the dead victim. Since Pixie had been a county coordinator for Sen. Bayh and had been seen in public with him, any such revelation could have left the senator’s political future as dead as Pixie Grismore.

It’s been said that the only things that can destroy an Indiana politician are to be found in bed with a live boy, or a dead girl. When Pixie’s body was found, Bayh was in a political fight to place officials loyal to him in certain key state positions. Though Bayh’s own office seemed secure, consolidation of power was a necessary step if Bayh was to reach on for higher glories — and he had been considered as a presidential candidate before.

But if a story, any story, about an illicit affair with a married woman who was murdered a week later had awakened the public’s attention, Bayh’s political future could have ended in a heartbeat. Hoosier humor about his cheatin’ heart and other parts would have been bad enough, but at the time of the senator’s alleged tryst with Pixie Grismore, Bayh’s own wife, Marvella, was dying of cancer. Reports that Sen. Bayh had cheated on his dying wife could have reasonably been expected to have had results similar to those that befell Ohio Rep. Wayne Hays two years earlier. Hays suffered the loss of all the political currency that he had gained for his state in his 28 years as a U.S. representative, and also his politically powerful position as the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, when it was reported that he had placed his mistress, Elizabeth Ray, on the federal payroll as a clerk though she could not take dictation, type, or show up for work.

Since there is no statute of limitation for the crime of murder, the investigation of Pixie’s homicide is still officially open. Even though then-Sen. Bayh headed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and was in charge of the oversight committee that supposedly supervises the CIA, NSA and, oh yeah, the FBI, all their investigation couldn’t catch the killer — or killers. But at least the investigators kept Pat Ralston’s romantic connection to the victim, and especially her association with former Sen. Bayh, as a closely held secret — until now.

The secret’s been kept, all these years, and the Bayh political dynasty continues — Birch’s son Evan, who was until recently Indiana’s governor, and thereby the boss of any Indiana state police agencies still investigating Pixie Grismore’s murder, has even been suggested as a future Democratic presidential contender, just like his Dad once was. And Evan gets to hobnob with President Clinton, who needs some good advice on how to handle embarrassing reports about affairs with former girlfriends. As governor, Bayh the Younger got to appoint men like witness P.A. Mack, his father’s old fixer-upper, to important positions like trustee of Indiana University. And men like Pat Ralston as head of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources in 1989.

Ralston became the Democratic Party chairman of Indiana’s Vigo County — the Bayh family powerbase — in January 1995. Ralston, as county party chairman, was instrumental in fund-raising efforts on behalf of newly-elected Indiana Gov. Frank O’ Bannon, formerly lieutenant governor for Evan Bayh. O’ Bannon, with political considerations involving both his old boss and a key fund-raising party chairman, had been reported to be considering the reappointment of Ralston as DNR director, but that was not to be: On Feb. 21, 1997, 19 years after Pixie Grismore’s final party with her friends in Terre Haute, Ralston was instead announced as the new governor’s choice to be the director of the Indiana State Emergency Management Agency.

H.J. Halterman is a veteran journalist and Dispatches contributing editor.

Order November issue of Dispatches magazine for the complete story.