Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes: The Murder of Samuel T. Baker

Robbery Gone Bad?

Samuel Baker had no history of drunkenness. Nor was he a troublemaker. Rather, he was a respected citizen of Savannah, a professional man who worked long hours to support his family.

Because no one was ever arrested for Samuel's murder, many theories about it have sprung up in the 100-plus years since his death.

Some have speculated that Samuel died as a result of a robbery gone bad. When the Baker family inventoried Samuel's personal belongings after his death, they discovered that although he still had 72 cents of the dollar he had withdrawn from his account at work, Samuel's pocket watch and keys were missing.

Lamp Post
Lamp Post
Police found Samuel's cane in the cemetery. The grip at the top of the cane was covered with blood. Perhaps someone lurking in the dark cemetery spotted Samuel shuffling home, a cane in one hand, a bottle of whiskey in the other. The 62-year-old accountant would seem an easy mark for a young thug, easier still for a pair of young thugs. But looks can be deceiving. Perhaps when the thug or thugs tried to scare or intimidate Samuel into turning over to them his brand new bottle of whiskey, the one-time Confederate soldier once more heard the strains of Dixie echoing through his head. Maybe the Civil War veteran fought back. Armed with a heavy cane, a man with Samuel Baker's experience could have done some damage to a couple of punks.

If that is what happened, the whiskey bottle was likely the first casualty. In 1901 forensic science was decades in the future. No one could determine, and likely the police weren't really that interested in, whose blood covered the handle of Samuel's canehis or his attackers.

Samuel may have landed a solid blow or two before being struck down, or he may have merely raised the cane to fend off his attacker, who then snatched the cane from his hand and used it to rain strikes down on the elderly man's head.

With Samuel down on the ground and the bottle broken, the only booty left to claim was the contents of Samuel's pockets, but the cemetery was dark and it was possible that the sounds of the struggle may have alerted a late night passerby or worse, a patrolman from the nearby police barracks. Samuel's watch was attached by a chain to his waist. Nineteenth century keys were big and clunky. Both were easy to find and easy to snatch. A small amount of loose change may have been harder to find in the folds of Samuel's pockets, so it seems reasonable that in their haste the robbers missed it.

If it was robbery, the thieves likely didn't recognize Samuel or know where he worked, so it's also reasonable that even though they had keys to the office of John Lynes & Company, which, as was customary in the day, probably had a safe full of cash, the thieves didn't realize it. To a couple of bums stumbling around a cemetery at midnight, the most valuable prize was probably the bottle of whiskey.

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