Herbert Richard Baumeister, Serial Killer

The Indiana businessman had a history of mental illness

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Herbert "Herb" Baumeister was suspected of being the "I-70 Strangler," a serial killer who plagued Indiana and Ohio, leaving bodies along Interstate 70. Authorities believe that from 1980 to 1996, Baumeister, of Westfield, Indiana, murdered up to 27 men.

Whatever knowledge Baumeister had of the missing men will never be known. On July 3, 1996, 10 days after investigators uncovered skeletal remains of at least 11 victims buried on his property, Baumeister, a husband and father of three, fled to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, where he pulled into a park and shot himself dead.

Youth

Herbert Richard Baumeister was born April 7, 1947, to Dr. Herbert E. and Elizabeth Baumeister of Indianapolis, the oldest of four children. His father was an anesthesiologist. Soon after their last child was born, the family moved to the affluent area of Indianapolis called Washington Township. By all accounts, Herbert had a normal childhood, but when he reached adolescence, he changed.

Herbert began to obsess over vile, disgusting things. He developed a macabre sense of humor and appeared to lose his ability to judge right from wrong. Rumors circulated about him urinating on his teacher's desk. Once he put a dead crow that he had found on the road on his teacher's desk. His peers began distancing themselves, leery of association with his morbid behavior. In class, Baumeister was often disruptive and volatile. His teachers reached out to his parents for help.

The Baumeisters had also noticed changes in their eldest son. Baumeister sent him for a medical evaluation, which revealed that Herbert was schizophrenic and suffered from multiple personality disorder. What was done to help the boy is unclear, but it appears that the Baumeisters did not seek treatment.

A doctor with attendants preparing a patient for electroconvulsive therapy.
Carl Purcell / Getty Images

During the 1960s electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was the most common treatment for schizophrenia. Those with the disease were often institutionalized. It was accepted practice to shock unruly patients several times a day, not with hopes of curing them but of making them more manageable for hospital staff. In the mid-1970s, drug therapy replaced ECT because it was more humane and productive. Many patients on drug therapy could lead fairly normal lives. Whether Herb Baumeister received drug therapy is not known.

He continued in public high school, maintaining his grades but failing socially. The school's extracurricular energy was focused on sports, and members of the football team and their friends were the most popular clique. Baumeister, in awe of this tight group, continually tried to gain their acceptance but was rejected. For him, it was all or nothing: Either he would be accepted into the group or be alone. He finished his final high school year in solitude.

College and Marriage

In 1965 Baumeister attended Indiana University. Again he dealt with being an outcast because of his strange behavior and dropped out in his first semester. Pressured by his father, he returned in 1967 to study anatomy but dropped out again before the semester ended. This time, however, being at IU was not a total loss: He had met Juliana Saiter, a high school journalism teacher and part-time IU student. They began dating and found that they had a lot in common. Besides being extremely conservative politically, they shared an entrepreneurial spirit and dreamed of owning their own business.

In 1971 they married, but six months into the marriage, for unknown reasons, Baumeister's father had Herbert committed to a mental institution, where he stayed for two months. Whatever happened did not ruin his marriage. Juliana was in love with her husband despite his odd behavior.

Striving for Recognition

Baumeister's father pulled strings and got Herbert a job as a copy boy at the Indianapolis Star, running reporters' stories between desks and performing other errands. It was a low-level position, but Baumeister dove into it, eager to start a new career. Unfortunately, his constant efforts to gain positive feedback from the brass became irritating. He obsessed over ways to fit in with his co-workers but never succeeded. Soured and unable to handle his "nobody" status, he eventually left for a job at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

Baumeister began his entry-level job there with a different attitude. At the newspaper he was childlike and overeager, displaying hurt feelings when he did not find recognition. At the BMV, he came off bossy and aggressive toward his co-workers, lashing out at them for no reason as if he was playing a role, emulating what he perceived as good supervisory behavior.

Again, Baumeister was labeled an oddball. His behavior was erratic and his sense of propriety was at times way off. One year he sent a Christmas card to everyone at work that pictured him with another man, both dressed in holiday drag. In the early '70s, few saw humor in that. Talk around the water cooler was that Baumeister was a closet homosexual and a nutcase.

After 10 years, despite Baumeister's poor relationship with his coworkers, he was recognized as an intelligent go-getter who produced results and was promoted to program director. But in 1985, within a year of the promotion he had yearned for, he was terminated after he urinated on a letter addressed to then-Indiana Gov. Robert D. Orr. The act substantiated rumors about who was responsible for urine found months earlier on his manager's desk.

Caring Father

Nine years into marriage, he and Juliana started a family. Marie was born in 1979, Erich in 1981, and Emily in 1984. Before Herbert lost his BMV job, things seemed to be going well, so Juliana quit her job to become a full-time mother but returned to work when Baumeister could not find steady work.

As a temporary stay-at-home dad, Herbert was a caring, loving father to his children. But being jobless left too much time on his hands and, unknown to Juliana, he began drinking a lot and hanging out at gay bars.

Arrested

In September 1985 Baumeister received a slap on the hand after being charged in a hit-and-run accident while driving drunk. Six months later he was charged with stealing a friend's car and conspiracy to commit theft but beat those charges as well.

Meanwhile, he bounced between jobs until he began working at a thrift shop. At first, he considered the job beneath him, but then he saw it as a potential money-maker. Over the next three years, he focused on learning the business.

During this time his father died. The impact that had on Herbert is unknown.

Thrift Stores

Outside view of Save a Lot store on a sunny day.
Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

In 1988, borrowing $4,000 from his mother, Baumeister and his wife opened a thrift store, which they named Sav-a-Lot. They stocked it with gently used quality clothing, furniture, and other used items. A percentage of the store's profit went to the Children's Bureau of Indianapolis. Business boomed.

The profit was so strong in the first year that the Baumeisters opened a second store. Within three years, after having lived paycheck to paycheck, they were rich.

Fox Hollow Farms

In 1991 the Baumeisters moved to their dream home, an 18-acre horse ranch called Fox Hollow Farms in the upscale Westfield area, just outside Indianapolis in Hamilton County. The large, beautiful, million-dollar semi-mansion had all the bells and whistles, including a stable and an indoor pool. Remarkably, Baumeister had become a well-respected, successful family man who gave to charities.

Unfortunately, stress from working so closely together soon followed. From the start of the business, Herbert had treated Juliana as an employee, often yelling at her for no reason. To keep the peace, she took a backseat on business decisions, but it took a toll on the marriage. The couple argued and separated on and off over the next several years.

The Sav-a-Lot stores had a reputation for being clean and organized, but the opposite could be said about the Baumeisters' new home. The once meticulously maintained grounds became overgrown with weeds. Inside, the rooms were a mess. Housekeeping was a low priority.

The only area that Baumeister seemed to care about was the pool house. He kept the wet bar stocked and filled the area with extravagant decor including mannequins that he dressed and positioned to give the appearance of a lavish pool party. To escape the turmoil, Juliana and the children often stayed with Herbert's mother at her Lake Wawasee condominium. Baumeister usually remained behind to run the stores, or so he told his wife.

Skeleton

In 1994, the Baumeisters' 13-year-old son, Erich, was playing in a wooded area behind their home when he found a partially buried human skeleton. He showed the grisly find to his mother, who showed it to Herbert. He told her that his father had used skeletons in his research and that, after finding one while cleaning the garage, he had buried it. Surprisingly, Juliana believed him.

Not long after the second store opened, the business began to lose money. Baumeister started drinking during the day and acting belligerently to customers and employees. The stores soon looked like dumps.

At night, unknown to Juliana, Baumeister cruised gay bars and then retreated to his pool house, where he spent hours crying like a child about the dying business. Juliana was exhausted from worry. Bills were piling up, and her husband acted stranger every day.

Missing Persons

While the Baumeisters were trying to fix their failing business and marriage, a major murder investigation was underway in Indianapolis.

In 1977 Virgil Vandagriff, a highly respected retired Marion County Sheriff, opened Vandagriff & Associates Inc., a private investigation firm in Indianapolis specializing in missing person cases.

In June 1994, Vandagriff was contacted by the mother of 28-year-old Alan Broussard, who she said was missing. When she last saw him, he was headed to meet his partner at a popular gay bar called Brothers. He never returned home.

Almost a week later, Vandagriff received a call from another distraught mother about her missing son. In July, Roger Goodlet, 32, had left his parents' home to go to a gay bar in downtown Indianapolis but never arrived. Broussard and Goodlet shared a lifestyle, looked alike, and were near the same age. They had vanished en route to a gay bar.

Vandagriff distributed missing-persons posters at gay bars around the city. Family members and friends of the young men and customers at gay bars were interviewed. Vandagriff learned that Goodlet was last seen willingly entering a blue car with Ohio plates.

Vandagriff also received a call from a gay magazine publisher who told Vandagriff that several gay men had disappeared in Indianapolis over the previous few years. 

Convinced that they were dealing with a serial killer, Vandagriff took his suspicions to the Indianapolis Police Department. Unfortunately, missing gay men were apparently a low priority. Possibly the men had left the area without telling their families to freely practice their gay lifestyles.

I-70 Murders

Vandagriff also learned about an ongoing investigation into multiple murders of gay men in Ohio that began in 1989 and ended in mid-1990. Bodies had been dumped along Interstate 70 and were dubbed the "I-70 Murders" in the media. Four victims were from Indianapolis.

Weeks after Vandagriff distributed the posters, he was contacted by Tony (a pseudonym per his request), who said he was certain that he had spent time with the person responsible for Goodlet's disappearance. Tony said he went to the police and the FBI, but they disregarded his information. Vandagriff set up a series of interviews and a bizarre story unfolded.

Brian Smart

Tony said he was at a gay club when he noticed another man who seemed overly captivated by the missing person's poster of his friend, Roger Goodlet. As he continued to watch the man, something in his eyes convinced Tony that the man had information about Goodlet's disappearance. To try to learn more, Tony introduced himself. The man said his name was Brian Smart and he was a landscaper from Ohio. When Tony tried to bring up Goodlet, Smart became evasive.

As the evening progressed, Smart invited Tony to join him for a swim at a house where he was temporarily living, doing landscaping for the new owners, who were away. Tony agreed and got into Smart's Buick, which had Ohio plates. Tony was not familiar with northern Indianapolis, so he could not say where the house was, though he described the area as having horse ranches and large homes. He also described a split-rail fence and a sign that read "Farm" something. The sign was at the front of the driveway that Smart had turned into.

Tony described a large Tudor home, which he and Smart entered through a side door. He described the interior of the home as being packed with furniture and boxes. He followed Smart through the house and down steps to the bar and pool area, which had mannequins set up around the pool. Smart offered Tony a drink, which he turned down. 

Smart excused himself and when he returned he was a lot more talkative. Tony suspected that he had snorted cocaine. At some point, Smart brought up autoerotic asphyxiation (receiving sexual pleasure while choking or being choked) and asked Tony to do it to him. Tony went along and choked Smart with a hose while he masturbated. 

Smart then said it was his turn to do it to Tony. Again, Tony went along, and as Smart began choking him, it became obvious that he was not going to let go. Tony pretended to pass out, and Smart released the hose. When he opened his eyes, Smart became rattled and said he was scared because Tony had passed out. 

Missing Persons Detective

Tony was considerably larger than Smart, which was probably why he survived. He also refused drinks that Smart had prepared earlier in the evening. Smart drove Tony back to Indianapolis, and they agreed to meet again the following week. To learn more about Smart, Vandagriff arranged to have Tony and Smart followed at their second meeting, but Smart never showed up.

Believing Tony's story, Vandagriff turned again to the police, but this time he contacted Mary Wilson, a detective who worked in missing persons whom Vandagriff respected. She drove Tony to the wealthy areas outside Indianapolis hoping that he might recognize the house that Smart took him to, but they came up empty.

Tony met Smart again a year later when they happened to stop at the same bar. Tony got Smart's license plate number, which he gave to Wilson. She found that the plate was registered to Herbert Baumeister. As Wilson discovered more about Baumeister, she agreed with Vandagriff: Tony had narrowly escaped becoming the victim of a serial killer.

Confrontation

Wilson went to the store to confront Baumeister, telling him that he was a suspect in an investigation into several missing men. She asked that he let investigators search his home. He refused and told her that in the future, she should go through his lawyer.

Wilson then went to Juliana, telling her what she had told her husband, hoping to get her to agree to a search. Although shocked by what she heard, Juliana also refused.

Next, Wilson tried to get Hamilton County officials to issue a search warrant, but they refused, saying there was not enough conclusive evidence to warrant it.

Baumeister appeared to suffer an emotional breakdown over the next six months. By June, Juliana had reached her limit. The Children's Bureau canceled the contract with Sav-a-Lot, and she faced bankruptcy. The fairy tale she had been living began to dissipate, as did her loyalty to her husband.

The haunting image of the skeleton that her son had discovered two years earlier had not left her mind since she first spoke to Wilson. She decided to file for divorce and tell Wilson about the skeleton. She would also let detectives search the property. Herbert and Erich were visiting Herbert's mother at Lake Wawasee. Juliana picked up the phone and called her lawyer.

Boneyard

On June 24, 1996, Wilson and three Hamilton County officers walked onto the grassy area next to the Baumeisters' patio. As they looked closely, they could see that the small rocks and pebbles where the Baumeister children had played were bone fragments. Forensics confirmed that they were human bones.

The following day, police and firemen began excavation. Bones were everywhere, even on the neighbor's land. Early searches found 5,500 bone fragments and teeth. It was estimated that the bones were from 11 men, though only four victims could be identified: Goodlet, 34; Steven Hale, 26; Richard Hamilton, 20; and Manuel Resendez, 31.

Juliana began to panic. She feared for the safety of Erich, who was with Baumeister. So did the authorities. Herbert and Juliana were in the beginning stages of divorce. It was decided that before the discoveries at the Baumeisters' hit the news, Herbert would be served with custody papers demanding that Erich be returned to Juliana.

When Baumeister was served, he turned Erich over without incident, figuring that it was just legal maneuvering.

Suicide

Once news of the bones' discovery was broadcast, Baumeister vanished. On July 3, his body was discovered inside his car at Pinery Park, Ontario, Canada. Baumeister apparently had shot himself in the head .

He left a three-page suicide note explaining why he took his life, citing problems with the business and his failing marriage. There was no mention of the murder victims scattered across his backyard.

With Juliana's help, investigators of the Ohio murders of gay men pieced together evidence that linked Baumeister to the I-70 murders. Juliana provided receipts showing that Baumeister had traveled I-70 during the times that the bodies were found along the interstate. 

Bodies had stopped appearing beside the highway about the time that Baumeister moved into Fox Hollow Farms, where there was plenty of land to hide them.