Herbert Richard "Herb" Baumeister (April 7, 1947
- July 3, 1996) was the founder of the thrift store chain Sav-a-Lot
and an alleged serial killer from suburban Westfield, Indiana.
Baumeister's childhood was unremarkable, but when
he entered his teens he began showing antisocial behavior which was
later diagnosed as schizophrenia. Left untreated, he had a difficult
time keeping a job yet managed to marry and father three children.
In 1988 Baumeister founded the Sav-a-lot chain.
The chain was a success and Baumeister became very rich. He also
began spending a lot of time in homosexual bars in Indianapolis.
Allegedly he would bring men he picked up back to his mansion where
he would strangle them and dispose of their bones in the woods
behind his home.
Investigators eventually ended up at Baumeister's
estate after receiving a tip from a man who accused Baumeister of
trying to kill him.
Baumeister fled to Toronto and killed himself.
A Backyard Burial Ground
A search of his property uncovered the bones of
11 men. Baumeister was also suspected of killing nine more men and
disposing of the bodies in rural areas between Indianapolis and
Baumeister: Skeletons Beyond the Closet
by Joe Geringer
The Dark Side
"Alas, poor Yorick,
I knew him, Horatio..."
During the first
several years of the 1990s, the citizens in and around Indianapolis,
Indiana might have stumbled on a very brief article in the local
newspapers about how certain young men were disappearing from the
streets of their town never to be seen again. In each case, the
episodes mirrored each other; only the names changed. But, the
articles grew no larger nor attracted much attention. All the
prodigal sons were gay or were suspected of leaning in that sexual
direction. Being gay, they were a coming and yet steadily outcast
breed of citizens in a very conservative "Bible Belt". Even the
officials remained lethargic; common belief was that the "victims"
might simply have gone on to other, larger, more glitzy towns like
San Francisco or New York where homosexuality was not considered
wayward at all. The only victims here, thought the police, were the
families these young men abandoned without a goodbye.
But, as the number
of disappearances tolled up, a few members of the community began to
realize that there might be something wrong in the Bible Belt. The
first to suspect foul play was a private detective named Virgil
Vandagriff -- the first, in fact, to start putting two and two
together to actually add up to four. However, even he and the
believers he eventually recruited from among the law enforcement
agencies in the two surrounding counties who took up the search for
a killer were not prepared to find a monster.
Their trail ended in
the wooded back yard of a huge private estate where the skeletons of
the reported missing persons -- and others -- were uncovered. Then
the media took notice, then the camera trucks rolled in, then the
killings took headline.
However, who can
condemn the media circus that followed? For perhaps it was not the
blood and gore and spittle of the usual sensationalism that often
follows a murder. Here, there was more. The graveyard, being dug up
by the shovels-full, was unearthing more than bone. With each stab
of a shovel into the dirt humankind itself was feeling the eerie
pain of reality: that there exists in a dark corner of Man a
skeleton that may come out of the closet at any moment, shouting.
The killer, the
psycho, the demon, whatever you want to call Herb Baumeister, was a
man with a surface so normal that, when his deeper psyche was
discovered, made those who knew him wince. He was a family man, an
entrepreneur who supported local charities. He looked normal and
talked normal...until you really got to know him.
"He fit all the
components of a serial killer," Vandagriff says in a not-at-all-
surprised tone, "among them the ability to keep his crimes in
control and silent under an everyday nonchalance. He was a business
owner whose store many townspeople frequented. My own office was
only a mile and a half away from his place. I never met him, but
from what I understand he wasn't the type of guy you'd at first
suspect of being a sexual psychopath."
and thinks about what he just said. In addition, his voice that
reeks of experience in dealing with the darkest side of humanity,
grows more assertive as he adds, "The danger signals are always
there in people of Baumeister's caliber. Trouble is the public
ignores them. In Baumeister's case, even his wife ignored them.
Lethargy - it's the serial killers' greatest strength."
The following story
is based on a couple of existing sources, but is very largely a
product of an interview with Vandagriff who shared his reminiscences
and insight with Dark Horse Multimedia. His input helped to, you
pardon the expression, flesh out the skeleton of a truly macabre but
remarkable story in the annals of America's serial killings.
"An improper mind is
a perpetual feast."
-- Logan Pearsall
Baumeister was born April 7, 1947, to Dr. Herbert E. and Elizabeth
Baumeister in the Currier & Ives Butler-Tarkington area of Indiana.
A sister, Barbara, was born in 1948 and two brothers followed after,
Brad in 1954 and Richard in 1956. As the father's medical practice
progressed -- he was an anesthesiologist -- the family eventually
moved to affluent Washington Township.
seemed normal, according to the book, Where the Bodies are Buried,
by Fannie Weinstein and Melinda Wilson. However, they continue, "by
the time he reached his adolescence, it became apparent that
something about him wasn't quite right." A close school pal named
Bill Donovan recalled that Herb would fall into strange reveries,
often pondering repulsive things like what it would be like to taste
human urine. And doing strange things. One morning on the way to
school, he picked up a dead crow that had been hit by a car, shoved
it in his pocket, then while the teacher wasn't looking dropped it
on her desk.
often combustive, Herb's behavior soon caught the attention of his
father, who secreted his son off to mental examinations. A lengthy
series of tests eventually diagnosed the boy as schizophrenic,
having a two-or-more-sided personality base. However, there is no
record of further treatment.
Because his high
school, North Central, focused on sports activities, pedantic
bookish Herb could not become part of the "in" crowd. He tried to be
one of the bunch, but, "he just didn't blend in," recalls Donovan.
He withdrew to himself and spent many hours alone. As for his
interest in dating, friend Donovan answers, "Zero, I never saw him
In his college
years, he remained as ever directionless. He dropped out in his
freshman year, returned for a semester here and there throughout the
next four years, but never graduated. Nevertheless, through his
father's persistence -- his father was a respected man in town --
the Indianapolis Star, the major newspaper, hired teenage Herb on as
a copyboy. Garry Donna, an advertising executive who worked for the
paper, remembers that Herb was "sensitive" as to the way he was
viewed and treated by the higher ups. He obsessively wanted to be
somebody. He dressed well and was eager -- but, again, did not fit
One odd incident
occurred when Herb offered to drive Donna and his friends to the IU
football game in hopes that he might become one of the gang. When
the day came, he showed up in a hearse, probably acquired through
connections with the hospital where his father worked, and, with
lights flashing, raced to the game, laughing all the way. "People
started pulling off the road," recalls Donna. "He even wore a
chauffeur's cap. He thought it was kind of funny." Donna, however,
his friends and their dates, wondered what kind of oddball was at
the steering wheel.
And the weirdness
continued. Say Weinstein and Wilson, "It wasn't long after he
started working at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles -- another job his
father is rumored to have secured for him -- that Herb
began...ranting and raving at fellow employees for no apparent
reason...His tenure over the years (marked) odd behavior, according
to former co-workers and others." One Christmas he "raised eyebrows"
by sending co-workers a card with a photo of him and another guy
dressed in drag.
Despite his in-house
personality conflicts and erratic deployment, the bureau nonetheless
noticed an apparent go-get-'em attitude mixed with a high degree of
intelligence; it wasn't long after that he earned the title of
program director. Where others might have at this point taken the
challenge with an exerted professionalism, Herb's antics increased
and flourished. "Herb had displayed what those who knew him
characterized as a bizarre sense of humor," Weinstein and Wilson
attest. "While at the BMV, it took the form of urinating on his
boss's desk...It was no secret around the office who the culprit
was: Still, Herb somehow managed to avoid being fired (until) he
urinated on a letter addressed to the Governor of Indiana."
In November, 1971,
Herb had married Juliana (Julie) Saiter in the United Methodist
Church in Indianapolis. Julie was a college graduate and was
introduced to him by a mutual friend. She was attracted to the tall,
light haired, boy-faced Baumeister and, in their initial chat, they
discovered they shared many things in common. Both were Young
Republicans and both yearned to have their own business one day.
Julie quit her job
as a high school journalism instructor in the latter half of the
1970s to concentrate on having a family. Besides, Herb was earning
decent wages at the BMV. Three children followed: Marie in 1979,
Erich in 1981 and Emily three years later.
When Herb was asked
to leave the BMV, the ever-faithful Julie returned to teaching to
supplement her husband's income through an assortment of odd jobs.
He eventually wound up working for a thrift shop and, although he
felt menial at first, soon realized the potential available in a
place like that. He and Julie talked it over and, based on Herb's
acquired knowledge of running such an outlet over the three years he
worked there, decided to invest what money they had into their own
store. They borrowed $4,000 from Herb's now-widowed mother and in
1988 opened Sav-a-Lot Thrift in conjunction with the highly
respected Children's Bureau of Indianapolis, a centenarian charity
benefiting the area's families.
The shop, located on
46th Street, sold used clothing, household goods and a number of
second-hand items. The inventory technically belonged to the
charity, which in turn received a contracted percentage of the
proceeds. Shoppers found the Sav-A-Lot tidy and offering only
quality merchandise; it became a popular place to shop for families
on a budget. In no time, Herb and Julie Baumeister received high
praise from the Children's Bureau, whose human cause greatly
benefited from the couple's obvious management skills. The store
earned $50,000 its first year. Soon, they opened a second store.
people now, in 1991 the Baumeisters moved from their middle-class
home into the fashionable Westfield district, nearly 20 miles from
Indianapolis, in Hamilton County. Here they bought, on contract, an
elegant Tudor-style home called Fox Hollow Farms, complete with four
bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool and a riding stable. Its
eighteen-and-a-half acres provided the country tranquility in which
Julie always hoped to be able to raise her children.
The couple was
living "the American dream."
On the surface.
"(Herb) called the
shots and Julie always went along for the ride," explains John
Egloff, the Baumeister's one-time lawyer, who felt Julie was forced
to live in Herb's shadow. In Where the Bodies are Buried, he
discusses his perception of the couple. "Whenever they disagreed
about what should be done with respect to a particular matter, Herb
would basically take over the conversation. He'd say, 'Julie, that's
not what we're going to do...'. Julie deferred to Herb, but she
wasn't very happy about it."
More than once, the
couple split, albeit briefly.
The house itself
seemed to adopt the tension within its walls. Neighbors and business
associates who entered the Fox Hollow estate later recalled the
rooms as being cluttered and unkempt. The Baumeisters, they said,
lacked order. Or, more appropriate, ignored it. The once groomed
grounds of the manor house became overgrown.
Julie would often
take the children to visit Grandma Baumeister weeks on end at her
condominium on Lake Wawasee. The couple would tell their friends
that Herb didn't go along because of business pressures.
Behind the bedroom
door, there was little pacificity to their marital problems. "Julie
later admitted that she and Herb had engaged in sex only six times
in the 25 years they were married," detective Vandagriff explains.
And, according to authors Weinstein and Wilson, Julie never saw her
husband nude. "Herb dressed in the bathroom (and) when it came time
to go to bed he would always put on pajamas (slipping) between the
sheets." He was ashamed of his skinny body.
"That should have
been a tip-off to Julie that something was wrong," Vandagriff adds,
reflecting again on those "danger signals" of bad, bad things to
come. "But, she was an over-trusting woman who, despite their
problems, put complete stock in her husband's actions."
Julie, probably in
trying so hard to reconcile their differences, threw her mental
state into a complete dependency on Herb. "I think deep inside she
chose not to see the signals," Vandagriff continues.
And that may have
been the reason why she believed a preposterous alibi in 1994. Son
Erich had been playing in the family's wooded back yard when he
found, half buried, a complete human skeleton. Showing the gruesome
discovery to his mother, Julie anxiously awaited her husband's
arrival that day home from the shop. When she showed him the
curiosity, he explained (in quite a monotone) that it had been one
of his doctor father's dissecting skeletons; he had had it stored in
their garage and buried it in the yard only after he decided to
clean out the garage.
said he. Subject closed.
trusting in hopes he has, is courage in a man."
has been in the law enforcement arena -- and has seen and heard
enough drama in his life as a Marion County sheriff -- to
immediately spot trouble lurking in the shadows around the corner.
He began his successful private investigations firm in Indianapolis
in 1982, conducting that business part time until he retired from
the county in 1989. Since retirement, his firm, located on the west
side of town, operates virtually around the clock. He is one of the
most respected people in town; hi-tech and astute, the graying and
dignified Vandagriff has a reputation for getting the job done.
One of his more
popular cases is the locating of missing persons. "The way it works
here in Indianapolis is that persons are not classified as 'missing'
until they are gone 24 hours," he explains. "The case then goes to a
district detective and if they don't find them in 30 days it travels
to the Missing Persons Bureau for them to investigate. Now, to the
general public, this seems like a lot of red tape and highly absurd.
Parents don't want to wait to find out what happened to their kid,
and wives don't want to wait to see what happened to their husband.
They come to me."
When the mother of
28-year-old Alan Broussard approached him in early June of 1994 to
tell him her son was missing, Vandagriff didn't alarm. Many cases,
he states, usually turn out to be mere runaways with little or no
foul play involved. He nevertheless began to investigate the case.
Alan Broussard, he learned, had had his share of troubles. A heavy
drinker, he was also gay in a community that pretty much shunned
that lifestyle. He was last seen, in fact, leaving a gay bar called
Brothers. Virgil issued posters throughout Indianapolis and
elsewhere that ran Alan's photo and asked for information from any
citizen who might have seen him.
If Vandagriff at
first perceived no ill intent behind Alan's disappearance, his
perception of what most likely did happen to the man changed
quickly. Before the end of July, he became convinced that, as he
puts it, "Indianapolis had a serial killer on its hands." Three
incidences occurred, tumbling on top of each other.
learned that an Indianapolis police detective named Mary Wilson was
working on the disappearance of other gay men throughout the area,
all similar to the Broussard mystery. Even their physical
appearances and ages paralleled.
Second, he came
across a small article in a magazine called Indiana Word about a man
named Jeff Jones who had disappeared mid-1993, a year earlier. This
gay lifestyle publication, which Vandagriff's investigators picked
up while scouting the gay bars for information on Broussard,
reported that Jones, 31, had evaporated into thin air from the
streets of Indianapolis. Vandagriff, in researching Jones,
discovered that the prodigal shared a background of like social
indifference and wayward habits as the others.
But, what convinced
Vandagriff to regard these vanishings as more than circumstantial
was the event of yet another disappearance. The latest took place in
July. This time, Roger Allen Goodlet, 34 years old, left his
mother's place, where he lived, to visit a gay bar on 16th Street.
As with the other two men, roughly the same age and with the same
casual approach to life, Roger was swallowed into oblivion.
As with Mrs.
Broussard, Goodlet's mother came to Vandagriff because she didn't
want to wait the obligatory legal period. She "wept as she told
Virgil about Roger, his childhood demeanor, his trusting nature, his
tendency to drink too much -- the whole litany of factors that made
Roger vulnerable alone out on the streets," to quote the book Where
the Bodies Are Buried. To Vandagriff, listening to her recite "felt
like a repeat... of (those) sessions with Alan Broussards's mother."
"The fates of these
three men were too close to ignore," he notes.
Vandagriff and his
investigator, Bill Hilzley, scoured the gay bars in town, but didn't
come up with much. Owners and frequenters of the establishments
seemed too frightened to talk. They did learn,. however, that
Goodlet had left Our Place with another man (whose description
remained vague) in a light blue car with an Ohio license plate.
Vandagriff found the police "disinterested" in the information he
supplied. But, the private detective was not to be discouraged; he
knew he was on to something important and had enough experience
under his belt to comprehend the logic in a case like this.
Sometimes breakthroughs come from the strangest places and in the
most unexpected fashions -- and, as he surmised, one indeed
presented itself in August, only weeks after he entered the case..
A fellow named Tony
Harris (real name withheld per his request) had known Roger Goodlet
from the gay bar scene. He had seen Vandagriff's posters and
believed he had stumbled onto some information that might solve the
puzzle over Roger's whereabouts. His story was incredible, but he
swore it was true: He had been with a man whom he was sure was a
serial killer. When he tried to tell the local police, they treated
him like he was crazy; the FBI suggested he had been on a drug trip.
Phoning Roger's mother, she put him in touch with detective
unspectacular and always human
And shares our bed
and eats at out our own table."
-- Herman Melville
Tony Harris had seen
and talked to the killer. In fact, in retrospect, he seems to have
miraculously escaped with his life. Over the next several weeks,
Tony made several visits to Vandagriff's office, each subsequent one
yielding a little more information as he recalled it -- or chose to
tell it. Simply, Tony feared for his life. But, as he came to know
and trust Vandagriff and his secretary Connie Pierce, he opened up
more and more each time. His interviews were recorded with his
According to Tony,
he had chanced upon his suspect in a local gay bar in town; the 501
Club; actually, he had seen him before in Indianapolis' gay night
scene, but couldn't place him -- tall, lanky and silent -- but they
had never spoken. On this particular August evening, what had drawn
Tony's attention to the man was the extreme way he seemed to
scrutinize the Roger Goodlet/Missing Persons poster that hung behind
the bar counter.
"I just had a
feeling by the way he was captivated by that poster that he was the
man who killed my friend Roger," Tony told Vandagriff. "Something in
unfolded. Suspecting this stranger of Roger's disappearance, he
introduced himself to the man in hopes to find out what he might
know. The man, who called himself Brian Smart, evaded Tony's subtle
inquiries about Roger, but, smiling, invited Tony out for the night.
He explained he was a landscape artist from Ohio, currently living
in an empty house outside of town that he was preparing for the new
owners yet to move in. "Let's go back there for a cocktail and a
swim," he asked Tony. Tony reluctantly agreed. And then a night of
abstract weirdness began.
Outside, they got
into Brian's gray Buick with an Ohio license plate. They headed
north on Meridian Street where "it turned into U.S. I-31...the
downtown expanses disappearing behind them as the greener suburbs
emerged," writes Fannie Weinstein and Melinda Wilson in Where the
Bodies are Buried. "Tony didn't often venture this far north of
Indianapolis, but he knew they were heading into 'rich people'
territory." They finally drew off the highway "somewhere past 121st
Street," made several more turns, then entered a quiet locale
"dotted with expensive new homes and horse farms, set off by
split-rail fences. At an asphalt driveway marked by a sign atop a
landscaped stone embankment, Brian slowed. Something 'Farm' was all
Tony could make out on the sign."
The Buick paused
before what was a large Tudor country mansion, unlit. They alighted
from the auto and entered the dark house through a side entrance,
passing through the garage where Tony spotted several cars parked,
among them an antique car. Entering the house, Tony thought it
seemed haphazardly furnished; even in the moonlit dimness, he could
see that there were items of furniture and boxes everywhere. He
followed Brian through a succession of rooms until they came to a
descending stairwell. "C'mon," Brian motioned down, "there's
electricity in the basement," and led him to a large recreation room
at the bottom of the steps. Like the upper quarters, this room with
its wet bar and connecting indoor pool might have been pleasant were
it not for an array of clutter. The site of mannequins around the
room, staged in various poses, shot a chill through Tony.
"I get lonely down
here," Brian noticed Tony's interest in the grotesque forms. "They
give me company."
Refusing to take a
drink as offered, Brian noticed his host's countenance darken.
Nevertheless, Brian insisted that they party, but first excused
himself briefly. Upon his return, he seemed looser, less timid;
gabbier. "Tony thought for certain that he must have done some drug
in his absence -- cocaine, he speculated.," Weinstein and Wilson
add. "He'd seen the same buoyancy in other people who were coked
Brian convinced Tony
to go for a swim in what, he discovered, was a lap pool with equal
depths at both ends. While the guest swan naked, Brian talked about
a number of subjects. Eventually, however, his expression changed.
"I just learned this really neat trick," he whispered, gathering up
the hose that lay serpentined on the edge of the pool. "If you choke
someone while you're having sex it feels really great. You really
get a great rush...
"You just want to
pinch these two veins," he continued indicating the cartoid arteries
in his own neck. "And it's such a great buzz. You should see how
someone looks when you're doing it to them. Their lips change color
-- that's how you can tell it's working."
Listening to this
Brian, if that was his real name, carry on about his asphyxiatic/
sexual delights now convinced Tony that Brian had murdered Roger --
and God knows who else!
"Do it to me!" Brian
said. He stripped and lay down on a foldout couch in the corner of
the room and directed Tony to slip the hose about his throat. As he
did so, he masturbated.
"By then, Tony was
so horrified, so numb, he felt compelled to do whatever Brian wanted
. Too, it was clear...that Brian had been through this routine many
times," Weinstein and Wilson resume. "The only way to find out how
these particular sex games ended, Tony reasoned, was to take it all
the way with this guy."
Tony placed Brian's
hands on his neck now and lay down, awaiting the next step with
horror. Brian instinctively took the bait. Bending over his new
playmate, Brian tied the choker tight around his throat, his face
flushed with anticipation. As the garroting became intense, as the
blood pressure mounted in his head, Tony didn't wait for further
results. He feigned unconsciousness.
Eyes closed, he felt
Brian ease up. A silent pause. Brian whispered his name. Another
pause before he began shaking him violently. When Tony opened his
eyes and grinned, Brian raged. "You scared the shit out of me! You
know you can die doing this! There have been accidents!"
With that, Tony
decided to be frank:" Is that what happened to Roger Goodlet? Was he
one of your accidents? Were there others?"
If Tony hoped,
however, to raise a confession, he was disappointed. Brian only
stared at him, not comprehending, lost in a daze of whatever
substance he had ingested. His only response was a fool's grin.
"Brian acted as if the whole thing...were an amusing little game
that he controlled completely," continue the two authors of Where
the Bodies Are Buried.
speech slurred and he was overcome with sleep. This gave Tony a
chance to scout the upper quarters of the house, for he didn't
believe Brian's story that he was only the landscaper here nor that
the estate's owners had not yet moved in. His doubts were confirmed,
for in the dark house above he encountered children's toys and
women's clothing in all the rooms; the place was obviously lived in
for some time. Now, if only he could find out Brian Smart's real
name. This one sounded phony and, he figured, the police would love
to have this dude's real identity.
downstairs, he began fingering through Brian's tossed-off trousers
for a wallet. But, when the other snorted and shook, as if
awakening, Tony dropped the trousers. Unfortunately, before he had
another opportunity to spy, Brian awoke.
It took some
convincing, but Tony finally made Brian drive him back to town.
Dressing, searching for his car keys, he then led Tony back to the
Buick, which he nosed back toward the direction of Indianapolis.
"Hey, you're a good
sport," Brian congratulated his partner. "You really know how to
play!" As the car rolled into town, he made Tony promise to meet him
at the 501 Club the following Wednesday.
* * * * *
Tony wasn't very
clear where Brian's house was actually located, but it seemed to be
in either Westfield or Carmel, both very exclusive suburbs in
Hamilton County. By the directions given, Vandagriff knew the place
was outside Marion County, in which Indianapolis sits. The trouble
was that the vague description of the house as stated by Tony could
fit almost any one of a hundred estates in that area. All he had to
go on was that a sign posted near the driveway read something about
But, Vandagriff drew
anxious as the appointed Wednesday neared for Tony's and Brian's
rendezvous. He posted one of his men, Steve Rivers, outside the bar
while Tony loitered inside. Because Tony had spotted several cars in
the deviant's garage, Rivers'
studied the faces of anyone in any automobile that seemed to cruise
by. No one fit Brian's description: brown-haired, long-faced, pale.
By the time the bar
closed that evening it became apparent, much to Vandagriff's
disappointment, that Tony Harris had been stood up.
"You're not free
until you've been made captive by supreme belief."
-- Marianne Moore
Realizing that he
had uncovered a much larger case than that of a missing person,
Vandagriff notified the Indianapolis Police Department. While the
police had earlier sent Tony and his incredulous story packing,
Virgil took Tony Harris and his information to the one person in the
department whom he believed would see the value in the tale. She was
the no-nonsense detective Mary Wilson who, Vandagriff knew, was
already working on a number of other missing persons cases. He found
in her a ready ear.
dark-haired, pretty and in her mid-forties, had steadfastly worked
her way up through the ranks of the Indianapolis Police Department,
from "beat cop" to detective. She had served in the sex crimes
division, where she quickly learned the pathology of sexual
criminals and the abberations connected with their acts. By the time
she transferred to Missing Persons, she realized that people aren't
always as they seem on the surface.
"Mary liked almost
everything about missing persons cases," says authors Fannie
Weinstein and Melinda Wilson in Where the Bodies Are Buried. "The
sense of closure that came with finding people. Talking to family
members and friends. Retracing someone's steps. Following every lead
to its logical end, like unraveling all the threads in a piece of
cloth. It was the purest kind of police work there was, as far as
she was concerned."
In fact, she had
been the principle investigator in the Jeff Jones disappearance, the
case that Vandagriff had read about in the Indiana Word and whose
details matched so closely with those of the missing persons reports
for Roger Goodlet and Alan Broussard. Mary, as it turned out, was
investigating disappearances of other Indianapolis men, too. Those
of 20-year-old Richard Hamilton, 21-year-old Johnny Bayer,
28-year-old Allan Livingstone, and others dating back to the early
'90s. All homosexuals.
Mary recognized Tony
Harris as perhaps the long-lost "connection" that might help tie
these many disappearances into one nutshell. He had actually
survived a night with the possible killer and was willing to talk
about his experience, in all its sordid and mind-bending details.
Repeating his story to Mary, he then accompanied her on the prowl
through the northern suburbs to find the scene of his "nightmare".
Pulling into one gateway after another, none of the private manors
struck a familiar chord. And in the meantime, Mary designated
plainclothesmen to field the gay bars in town -- the 501 Club, the
Varsity and Our Place -- where they talked to the bar owners and
their frequenters for information that might identify the elusive
kidnapper and throttler.
"Get me this guy's
license plate number," she told Tony, "and we'll take it from
there." Quote Fannie Weinstein and Melinda Wilson, "(Mary) wasn't
sure Tony could come up with the number. But he and his friends had
a better shot at it than she did. They were in the bars, and there
was the chance that Brian might show up again there."
Tony still continued
to drop in at Vandagriff's office to speak randomly to Connie
Pierce, with whom he felt a bond. Open-minded and sympathetic,
Connie also matched her boss' perception of crime fighting in that
all pursuits are fair game. While Vandagriff utilized all the
high-technology components of law enforcement, Connie knew that he
wasn't beyond using such means as hypnosis, for instance, to help
solve some 300 crimes.
It was Connie's idea
to call a friend of hers, a psychic named Wanda, who lived in Ohio.
She related the facts derived from the tape recordings that
Vandagriff had made of Tony's interviews in hopes that Wanda might
shed some light on the whereabouts of the house with the mannequins.
While she couldn't pinpoint a location, Wanda's words made Connie
"I see a man tied to
a bed, handcuffed, spread-eagled. I see pictures being taken while
he is being strangled. The tongue is swollen, quite long coming out
of his mouth. And the eyes -- oh! That's a hell house! Tell Tony
never to go there again!"
Impressed with the
woman's dramatic warning, Vandagriff continued to check on the
house's identity through more routine means.
"My clients had paid
me what they could afford to investigate the disappearances of their
sons, and even though the Indianapolis police had taken up the case
I felt like I just couldn't drop it in their laps and walk away," he
explains. "The money I was paid had long been used up on equipment
and man-salary, but that didn't matter; when I feel I'm onto
something...well, that's my nature. Hey, I knew we were talking
murder here," he deliberates, "the existence of a what I smelled as
a serial killer."
He dispatched one of
his investigators, Bill Hilzley, who had been a state trooper for
many years and knew the highways and byways of the Indianapolis
area, to search the country suburbs. .His quest brought him to a
property sign at the end of a long driveway in Westfield marked,
"Fox Hollow Farms." He was aware of Tony Harris' statement about
seeing a sign outside Brian's house that read "Farms something," and
thought he would investigate.
The estate Hilzley
came upon greatly resembled Tony's description, large, run down and
morbid. Nobody seemed to be home, so he parked his Isuzu and peered
through several windows hoping to catch sight of an indoor pool or
to smell the sharp odor of chlorine. Knowing that he was stretching
the legalities of his job, he didn't tarry, but felt sure that this
might be the place that Tony had visited. It belonged, he found out,
to a family named Baumeister. Vandagriff ordered aerial shots made
of the property. When he showed the photos to Tony, however, the
latter digested them a moment before replying, "No, I don't think
so...the driveway is too short from what I remember it to be."
but feeling's the truth."
-- Thomas Fuller
continued to live his facade. His marriage to Julie continued on its
on-the-surface normalcy and their two Sav-A-Lot stores continued to
occupy much of their daylight time. The cracks that had, up until
the mid 1990s, been invisible to others were now beginning to manifest. The
strains of a sexless, loveless marriage were appearing in the
mannerisms and on the expressions of especially Julie. People at
home and in the neighborhood were talking. Professionally, their
business began suffering. By the end of 1994, the Sav-A-Lots had
taken a plunge. Shoppers declined; bills soared. Julie, tired of the
bickering, the financial dilemmas and of a fairy tale life that
never quite matched Cinderella, threatened divorce. As another new
year opened, however, she did not act. Instead, she sat by and
watched her business decline, her marriage sour and her husband grow
At the work place,
Herb's ever-darkening moods were venting on his employees. He
demanded grueling work and unfair attention from them, acting as if
he were some sort of king who deserved the peons' praise; he fired
those who wouldn't comply to unjust treatment. Yet, his own workaday
behavior was a farce - he would, say his employees, disappear for
hours, then return reeking of alcohol and barking orders through
whiskied breath. The once-tidy stores had become, under the lack of
Baumeister attention, sloven. "Everything was so dirty," remembers
one of Herb's clerks, "Everywhere you looked there were mountains of
garbage bags. It was like working in a garbage heap."
* * * * *
Almost a year had
passed since Virgil Vandagriff and Mary Wilson had begun their
search for a man named "Brian Smart". His real identity and his
house of mannequins remained a mystery.
"Whatever leads we
could have taken went nowhere," Vandagriff states. "Personally, I
didn't feel there was a whole lot of cooperation between the city
police and the Hamilton County officials whose attitude I sensed was
one of 'These folks here are rich and therefore above suspicion.'
But, in truth, there weren't many hard leads, so we couldn't push
Indiana's fastest-growing, wealthiest county, its median family
income of $87,168 more than twice that of the rest of the state's,"
to quote the book, Where the Bodies Are Buried, "The average home
went for $106,500 ...Just a swift 25-minute highway commute north of
Indianapolis, (it) was dotted with picture-perfect older
communities...postcards of suburban middle America."
The hard lead that
Vandagriff and Wilson wanted did finally leap forward. Assuming the
situation had cooled enough for his reappearance on the gay scene,
Herb Baumeister decided to stop in at the Varsity Lounge on the
evening of August 29, 1995. Present at the bar was Tony Harris who,
having given up hope of ever seeing "Brian Smart" again, refrained
from jumping out of his shoes with excitement. He chatted with
Baumeister nonchalantly and then, at evening's end, managed to
record the license plate number of the pickup truck in which
Baumeister drove away. The next morning, hearing what Tony had
accomplished, Mary Wilson cheered.
Plate number 75237A
belonged not to anyone named Brian Smart, but to a Herbert R.
Baumeister of Westfield, Indiana. He lived in an estate called Fox
Hollow Farms with a wife and children. The manor house, Mary
learned, boasted a swimming pool in the basement.
Now, the police were
closing in and Herb began to unravel.
Mary and her boss,
Lt. Thomas Greene, approached Baumeister at his Washington Street
store on November 1 after first surveying his actions for a term.
Without pretense, Mary told him straight out why they were there -
they were investigating the disappearance of several young men in
the Indianapolis community; that he was suspect; and they wanted to
search his home. With the snub of a suffering saint, he refused,
telling them that further communication must be channeled through
In the car
afterwards, Greene told Mary that he thought Herb was not only
"nervous beyond belief," but "one of the weirdest guys I ever saw."
Not to be outdone by
Herb's refusal, Mary attempted to out-angle him. She approached
Julie Baumeister who. as co-owner of Fox Hollow, could legally
authorize a ground-search of the connubial property. The detective
found Julie just as stubborn as Herb had been, however. Evidently,
Herb had told Julie that he was being falsely accused of theft and,
if approached, "Do not, under any circumstances, allow the police to
conduct a search." But, when Mary confided in the wife, explaining
the real reason for their quest, "Julie looked at Mary as if she'd
just dropped a nuclear bomb in her lap," declare authors Weinstein
and Wilson. "When she recovered enough to speak again, she informed
Mary...that they could not search her home. She was polite, but
still stunned, almost beyond words. Mary gave Julie her card and
urged her to call if she changed her mind." Julie's refusal, the law
knew, did not indicate her guilt. It was typical of the reaction of
a wife who denies she has wedded someone with such a dark side.
So much that, as
things soured more and more at the Baumeister residence (obviously
brought on by the tensions Herb was feeling by the police
inquiries), Julie even phoned Mary Wilson one morning to blame her
for causing her domestic life to worsen. "The police are not coming
to my house," she screamed, " tearing through things, upsetting my
children, all on the word of a psycho named Tony Harris whom my
husband never even heard of!"
Vandagriff, as a
private detective, denounces the waiting game, played by the county
police at this point. "Mary Wilson, who wanted a search warrant, was
unable to get one issued because Hamilton County was out of her
jurisdiction. Hamilton County, in the meantime, would not cooperate.
Why? Who knows? Whether it was their timidity to confront an
otherwise-law-abiding citizen until they had conclusive proof, or
whether they really didn't believe Baumeister was guilty, I don't
know, but it might have saved a lot of trouble and the six-months
wait it eventually took for Julie to finally open her back yard for
It wasn't until June
of 1996 - six months, as Vandagriff states --that Julie came to her
senses. Over that time, her husband had become a paranoid wreck;
when the Children's Bureau decided to cancel its contract with the
two failing Sav-A-Lot stores in May, he seemed to go off the deep
end. Home life for the woman was now intolerable; both she and Herb
had initiated separate divorce proceedings; and her mind continued,
through it all, to replay the doubts about Herb's sanity that Mary
had force-fed into her consciousness. Suddenly, she realized that
she felt no loyalty to the thing that had been her husband.
On June 23, she
called her lawyer, Bill Wendling, and told him to get in touch with
Mary Wilson. Herb was currently out of town with son Erich visiting
his mother at Lake Wawasee and she wanted to take this opportunity
to tell Mary about the bones she had found in her back yard.
"Facts are stubborn
-- Ebenezer Elliott
The following day
after Julie's lawyer notified her, Mary Wilson drove anxiously to
Fox Hollow Farms.. Accompanying her were two very skeptical Hamilton
County officials, Captain Tom Anderson of the County Sheriff's
Office and a detective, Jeff Marcum. In truth, Anderson was sure
that the "human remains" Wilson hoped to find would turn out to be
animal bones. He was not too shy, even to Mary's face, to directly
apprise the woman's suspicions as "bullshit".
with attorney Wendling at her side, met the law enforcement people
at her front door that afternoon and led them through the house to
the wooded back yard. There, she pointed to the spot where, two
years earlier, her son Erich had found a skeleton. The reason she
had not notified the authorities until now, she claimed, was because
she had believed Herb's story about the bones being no more than a
dissecting skeleton; his recent erratic actions, however, filled her
with new doubts.
The yard, at first
glance, looked normal. But, as the men began to kick through the low
grass and patches of dirt just beyond the back patio, they
encountered a bone about a foot long, charred from having been
burned. They weren't sure if it was human. Then, as their eyes
focused on the area immediately around them, it quickly became
apparent that those many pebbles and rocks strewn across the flat
cover were not pebbles and rocks - but fragments of bone. Lawyer
Bill Wendling, watching the police scoop up one chipped and broken
bone after another, now looked down at his own feet. Like evidence
that followed the old adage, "so obvious, it's unclear," he realized
in a chill that he too was standing on what resembled bone chips -
here where the Baumeister kids played their innocent child games. At
one point, he leaned over to pick up what were obviously human
teeth. Pieces of bone lay everywhere.
Still, the county
people on site were unconvinced that what they were gathering and
taking photographs of were human. On this point, they drastically
contended with Mary Wilson. Say Weinstein and Wilson in Where the
Bodies Ate Buried: "Unlike her law enforcement counterparts from
Hamilton County, (Mary) had heard the fear in Tony Harris' voice.
She'd seen first hand how nervous Herb had been and how he had done
everything in his power to keep her off his land, including lying to
Julie about their investigation. Now she knew why."
She delivered the
bags of "evidence" to Forensic Anthropologist Stephen Nawrocki at
the University of Indiana for an examination. His answer was
fast-coming: "They're human. They're recent. And they've been
"Measure not the
work until the day's out and the labor done."
-- Elizabeth Barrett
The next day the
police returned to the scene of what looked like one of the worst
crimes Indiana ever encountered. It began to appear now that Herbert
Baumeister's homemade graveyard might contain the remains of those
many young homosexuals who, over several years, had vanished from
the streets of Indianapolis.
This time, other
officials joined the original search party to conduct a thorough
"dig" of the premises. Among the group was a prosecuting attorney
named Sonia Leerkamp and a half-score of detectives. Nawrocki came
too, with two assistants, Matt Williamson and Christopher Schmidt,
to perform a scientific exhumation of the what was obviously a
secreted cemetery. The anthropological team began the hunt by
placing small orange flags into the ground wherever a bone fragment
appeared. In only a half-hour, they dropped nearly a hundred such
markers. Summing it up, Nawrocki exclaimed, "It looks like a mass
While the dig
continued into the late hours, other policemen checked out the
interior of the Baumeister home. They found the mannequins, the wet
bar, the pool, just as Tony Harris had described them. However, they
uncovered something that Tony had not seen the evening of his
encounter with Baumeister -- a semi-hidden video camera that, the
police immediately suspected, had been used to tape the
strangulations. The case was turning more bizarre hourly.
Julie grew anxious
about the safety of her son Erich who was with Herb at Lake Wawasee.
Reality seeping in, she feared the limits to which Herb might go if
he found out what was happening at home. Prosecutor Leerkamp and a
county judge drew up custody papers to remove the boy from his
Efforts were made by
Baumeister to hold onto his son, but came to no avail. He had no
reason to suspect that his secret had been literally uncovered back
at Fox Hollow, and he figured this custody action was just a ploy by
Julie to counteract his latest divorce movements. When the police
showed up with the proper papers to escort the child home, Herb
released him calmly and without menace.
Back at the estate,
plenty was happening. County interrogators, led by sheriff's
detective Kenneth Whisman, were beginning to put the pieces of the
Baumeister puzzle together. Compost piles yielded heavy degrees of
bones where, it appeared, the killer had burned his corpses under
piles of leaves and garbage. They interviewed Tony Harris who told
them of Herb's obsession with strangling and "sexual asphyxiation."
A big question they had had - "How could Herb have strangled and
burned and buried these men without his family's knowledge?" -- was
answered in an interview with Julie herself. She explained that
sometimes, for several months at a time, especially summers, she and
the children visited Widow Baumeister, leaving Herb alone at home.
Balancing the times of the victims' disappearances with the periods
that she and her brood were away, the incidences matched.
excavations in the back yard went on without pause. The number of
diggers had swelled to about 60 volunteers, mostly off-duty
policemen and firemen. The first couple days' search had produced an
amazing 5,500 bones, teeth and bone fragments, which, according to
Nawrocki, made up about four bodies. After they had combed the
entire 18 acres of the Baumeister property, members of the team were
soon to learn that their search was far from over.
Neighbors from an
adjacent farm crossed into the police cordon to inform them that
they had found evidence of yet more bones next door. They led
investigators to an area cut through with a drainage ditch that
separated the two properties; here in this ditch were so many human
ribs, vertebrae and spines that one of the officials murmured,
"Jesus Christ, they're everywhere!" The bones were so numerous and
more intact than on the Baumeister land that they actually stuck up
visibly from the mud. Shovels drew up not only more bones - but,
with them, cans of Miller Genuine Draft beer (Herb's favorite drink)
and handcuffs that had probably bound the victims in death. By the
time exhumation of this area ended - and by the time that the 140
bones were estimated as those belonging to another seven men - the
mortal count had risen to estimatedly 11 men killed.
It would be
September before the anthropologists were able to identify some of
the bodies; disappointingly only four, and each of these gathered
from dental records.. The four positively identified victims named
were: Roger Allen Goodlet; 34; Steven Hale, 26' Richard Hamilton,
20; and Manuel Resendez, 31. To this day, the remains of others
found at Fox Hollow Farms wait to be identified.
* * * * *
But, where was Herb
Baumeister? He had absconded from Lake Wawasee and, like his
victims, faded into the mist. The only clue the police had came from
Brad Baumeister, Herb's brother, who called Detective Whisman on
June 29, five days after the police found the graveyard behind the
house. Brad told the policeman that his older brother had phoned him
from the little Michigan town of Fennville, saying he was on a
business trip and needed money quickly. After Brad sent the cash, he
became aware of the goings-on at Fox Hollow and notified the
. As best can be
determined, Herb, in his 1989 gray Buick, left Wawasee and headed
north, arriving at Fennville around the 28th of June. The next day,
he reached Port Huron where he again phoned Brad, asking for more
money. By this time, Brad had spoken to Whisman who asked Brad to
tell his brother, should he ring again, to have him call the police
who wanted to talk to him. It was a futile request, he figured, but
At this point, the
fugitive entered Canada. As Weinstein and Wilson report in their
book: "Ontario Provincial Police told the Indianapolis Star they
believed Herb arrived in Sarnia on June 30, spending several days
there before driving east along the Lake Huron shoreline to Grand
There, at Pinery
Park, on the evening of July 3, Herb would take his last life - his
own. He put a .357 Magnum revolver barrel to his forehead and pulled
the trigger. The note he left behind attributed his decision to a
failing business and an irreparable marriage. But, there was no
mention of the skeletons left behind him in Westfield.
Instead, his final
words on the three-page suicide document explained that he would now
eat a peanut butter sandwich, his favorite snack, then to "go to
The evening before
he died, a Canadian trooper had stopped him to ask why he was
sleeping in his car under a nearby bridge. He told her that he was
merely a tourist passing through and was grabbing a moment's rest.
At that time, she noted some luggage and what looked like a pile of
videotapes in his backseat.
videotapes of the murders he committed in the pool at Fox Hollow
Farms?" asks private detective Virgil Vandagriff. "We will never
know, for after he died there were no signs of the tapes on him nor
in his car. He must have tossed them in a lake before he shot
himself." He muses, then adds, "Perhaps it is for the best."
"The deeds men do
live after them."
Early in his
investigations, Vandagriff had made connections between the
disappearances of gay men in Indianapolis to the strangling murders
of homosexuals whose bodies were found dumped along Interstate 70 in
the state of Ohio. In sharing Tony Harris' testimony with David
Lindloff, a prosecutor from Preble County, Ohio, who was heading the
investigation of what was called "the I-70 Murders," the two men
agreed that there were tight similarities. The last know I-70 murder
had been committed in 1990, not long before the Indianapolis
When the newspapers
began splashing the news of bodies unearthed at Fox Hollow Farms,
Lindloff remembered the conversations he had had with Vandagriff.
Now having a suspect, Lindloff discovered that this Herb Baumeister
had made countless business trips to Ohio during the late 1980s.
Already cold to the fact that her husband was indeed the maniac who
strangled men in her home while she and the children were away, this
new accusation did not surprise Julie. She cooperated with Lindloff,
providing him with all the information he wanted - credit card
receipts, phone call records, even the use of their car that Herb
had driven on those business trips.
matched the police sketch drawn from witnesses who had thought they
had seen the I-70 strangler. One eyewitness, in fact, even came
forward to identify Herb's picture as that of the same man who had
driven his friend home from a bar one evening in 1988; his friend,
Michael Riley, had been found dead the next morning. Not long after,
representatives from combined Ohio and Indiana counties held a press
conference to definitely link Baumeister with the I-70 slayings.
"There were skeptics,"
Vandagriff admits. "We'll never know for sure, of course, if he was
indeed the same man. Everything points to him - even the fact that
the roadside killings ended at the same time he bought his house and
now had a place with plenty of room to dump his bodies with a lot
* * * * *
Vandagriff gives us
something more to ponder. "In my capacity as a private detective, I
do not always have the liberty nor the finances to follow my
suspicions to their limits. Otherwise, I would have taken the
Herbert Baumeister case a lot further than I feel the police did.
While there were many fine moments in the investigation - Mary
Wilson did one hell of a job, for instance - I think there were
certain loose ends that should have been tied up."
For the benefit of
Dark Horse Mutlimedia, he mentions one particular "loose end" not
addressed in the book, Where the Bodies Are Buried, nor in an A&E
home video that examined the case after the fact. "Herb had an older
brother who lived in Texas. Now, I don't know if Herb had visited
him at the time or not, but - and this is real strange - that
particular Baumeister was found dead in a whirlpool. The case was
never solved, but, this incident occurred around the same time Herb
was strangling people in his pool. I ask you, does that ring too
close to home or doesn't it?"
Who is a Serial Killer
"Without guilt what
is a man? An animal, isn't he?"
One thing is
certain: Herbert Baumeister fit the niche of the serial killer. "In
fact," attests Vandagriff, "he was right there".
In a report entitled
Who is a Serial Killer? Vandagriff shares with us his insight into
the brain of this species. Following are excerpts from this
informative work that apply to the persona of Baumeister:
killers) is typically white, male, between the ages of 25 and 35. He
is often married, has children and has full time employment. The
majority of the time he will kill white victims...His intellect
ranges from below average to above average. He does not know his
victims nor have any particular hatred for them.
"Of the four main
types of killers - the psychotic, the missionary motive type, the
thrill killer and the lust killer, Baumeister fits the last
category. The lust killer, the most common type, gets turned on by
the killings. They usually torture their victims. The more heinous
their action the more they become aroused.
experience certain traumas in life. These are many. Among them are
those suffered by Baumeister: poor body image (witnessed by the fact
he didn't want his wife to see his lanky body nude) and phobias
(over-concerned about what his co-workers thought of him at the
Indianapolis Star and at the BMV).
"Herb also had
feelings of what is called disassociation, including separation of
feelings (able to kill and then on go on to live a normal life with
his children) and daydreaming.
disassociation, we find acts of fantasy - control of others and
compulsive masturbation - and violent fantasy - exposure and fantasy
"Often, there is
trauma re-enforcement; in Herb's case this translates as loss of
employment and financial stress brought on by the decline of the Sav-A-Lot
as alcohol and drugs, seem to have served as accessories to Herb's
crimes. Tony Harris saw him use both the evening he spent with him
in the pool at Fox Hollow. Some people say that these give the
serial killer the nerve he needs to commit the crimes. Others say
that these facilitators give him a much-needed excuse; in other
words, something to blame the crimes on.
themselves start with a specific time period between victims that
varies from killer to killer. As the killer becomes more successful,
the time period between the murders shortens. The high from the
murders, and the need to get high, becomes stronger with time. Thus,
the murders become more frequent.
"Serial killers take
pride in not leaving evidence. Many times. They can be a
perfectionist. Baumeister was definitely the latter.
"The method of the
killings many times are associated with their fantasy. They are
likely to keep a souvenir from the victim. Perhaps in Herb's case
the videotapes fulfilled that need.
"Even the manner in
which Herb got caught faithfully follows the mode of all serial
killers' downfalls. He was over-confident in his ability to beat any
investigation; being over-confident, he carelessly left clues; and
one very common trait, as practiced by Herb, was his leaving his
victims' bodies closer and closer to his own home.
"In short, Herbert
Richard Baumeister was the consummate serial killer."