Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Baumeister

The Dark Side

"Measure not the work until the days out and the labor done."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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 Baumeisters homemade graveyard might contain the remains of those many young homosexuals who, over several years, had vanished from the streets of Indianapolis.

Forensic anthronpologist Stephen Nawrocki (middle) and his team
Forensic anthronpologist Stephen
Nawrocki (middle) and his team

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 disaster scene."

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 fathers presence.

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 sheriffs 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 Herbs 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 familys 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.

Meanwhile, the 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.

Richard Hamilton, victim
Richard Hamilton,

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, theyre 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 (Herbs 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.

Steven Hale, victim
Steven Hale, victim

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, Herbs 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 authorities immediately.

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 worth trying.

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 Bend, Ontario."

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 sleep".

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 moments rest. At that time, she noted some luggage and what looked like a pile of videotapes in his backseat.

"Were these 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."


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