Herbert Richard 'Herb' Baumeister

Founder of Sav-a-Lot and Serial Killer

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Montaldo, Charles. "Herbert Richard 'Herb' Baumeister." ThoughtCo, Apr. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/herbert-richard-baumeister-973121. Montaldo, Charles. (2017, April 1). Herbert Richard 'Herb' Baumeister. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/herbert-richard-baumeister-973121 Montaldo, Charles. "Herbert Richard 'Herb' Baumeister." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/herbert-richard-baumeister-973121 (accessed October 24, 2017).
Herbert Baumeister mug shot
Herbert Baumeister. Mug Shot

Herbert "Herb" Baumeister (a.k.a. "The I-70 Strangler") was an alleged serial killer from Westfield, Indiana. Authorities believe that from 1980 - 1996, Baumeister murdered up to 27 men in Indiana and Ohio. 

Whatever knowledge Baumeister had about the missing men, no one will ever know. On July 3, 1996, 10 days after investigators uncovered the skeletal remains of at least 11 victims that were buried on his property, Herb Baumeister, husband and father of three, fled to Sarnia, Ontario, where he pulled over into a park and shot himself dead.

Herbert Baumeister's Younger Years

Herbert Richard Baumeister was born April 7, 1947, to Dr. Herbert E. and Elizabeth Baumeister in Butler-Tarkington, Indianapolis. Baumeister was the oldest of four children. Dr. Baumeister was a successful anesthesiologist, and soon after the last child was born, the family moved to the affluent area of northern Indianapolis called Washington Township. By all accounts, young Herbert had a normal childhood. When he reached adolescence, he changed.

Herbert began to obsess on things that were vile and disgusting. 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. One time he pocketed a dead crow that he found on the road, and placed it on his teacher's desk. His peers began distancing themselves from him, leery of being associated with his strange, morbid behavior.

In class, Baumeister was often disruptive and volatile. His teachers reached out to his parents for help.

The Baumeister's had also noticed the unusual changes in their eldest son. Dr.Baumeister sent him for a series of tests and medical evaluation. The final diagnosis was that Herbert was schizophrenic and suffered from multiple personality disorder.

What was done to help the boy is unclear, but it appears that the Baumeister's decided not to seek treatment, probably for a good reason considering the options?

During the 1960s electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was the most common treatment for schizophrenia. Those inflicted with the disease were often institutionalized. It was also an accepted practice to shock unruly patients several times a day, not with any hope of curing them, but to make them more manageable for hospital staff. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that drug therapy replaced ECTs because it was more humane and produced better results. A lot of patients taking the drug therapy could leave the hospital environment and lead fairly normal lives. Whether or not Baumeister ever received drug therapy is not known. 

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

He finished his final year in high school in solitude.

College and Marriage

In 1965 Baumeister attended Indiana University. Again he dealt with being an outcast because of his strange behavior. He dropped out in his first semester.  Pressured by his father, he returned in 1967 to study anatomy, but then dropped out again before the semester was over, but this time being at IU was not a total loss. Before dropping out, he met Juliana Saiter, who was a high school journalism teacher and part-time IU student. Herbert and Juliana began dating and found that they had a lot in common. Besides being politically aligned with their extremely conservative ideology, they also shared an entrepreneurial spirit and dreamed of one day 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 would stay for two months.

Whatever happened did not ruin his marriage. Juliana was in love with her husband, his odd behavior notwithstanding.

The Need to Be Somebody

Baumeister's father managed to pull strings and got Herbert a job as a copyboy at The Indianapolis Star newspaper. The job entailed running news reporters' copy from one desk to another and other errands. It was a low-level position, but Baumeister dove into it, eager to start a new career. Each day he would come to work immaculately dressed and ready for his assignments. Unfortunately, his efforts to constantly gain positive feedback from the top brass became an irritant. He obsessed on ways to fit in with his co-workers and bosses but never succeeded. Soured and unable to handle his "nobody" status, he eventually left the position for a job at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

The Taste of Recognition

Baumeister began his new entry-level job at the BMV with an entirely different attitude. At the newspaper his demeanor was childlike and over eager, displaying hurt feelings when his expectations for recognition were not met. But that was not the case at the BMV. There he immediately came off bossy and overly aggressive toward his co-workers and would lash out at them for no reason. It was as if he was playing a role, emulating what he perceived as being good supervisory behavior.

Again, Baumeister was labeled as an oddball. Not only was his behavior erratic, but his sense of propriety was at times way off. One year he sent a Christmas card to everyone at work that pictured himself with another man, both dressed in holiday drag. Back in the early 70s, few saw the humor in such a card. Raised eyebrows and talk around the water cooler was that Baumeister was a closet homosexual and a nutcase.

After working at the Bureau for 10 years, despite Baumeister's poor relationship with his coworkers, he was recognized for being an intelligent go-getter that produced results. He was rewarded with a promotion to program director. But in 1985, and within a year of the promotion he had so yearned for, he was terminated after he urinated on a letter addressed to then-governor of Indiana, Robert D.

Orr. The act also put to rest all the rumors as to who was responsible for the urine that was found on his manager's desk months earlier. 

A Caring Father

Nine years into of marriage, he and Juliana started a family; Marie was born in 1979, Erich in 1981, and Emily in 1984. Before Herbert losing his job at the BMV, things seemed to be going well so Juliana quit her job to become a full-time mother, but returned to work when her husband could not find steady work. As a temporary stay-at-home Dad, Herbert proved to be a caring and loving father to his children. But being jobless left him with 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 that hand after being charged with 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 managed to beat those charges as well.

In the meantime, he bounced around at different jobs until he began working at a thrift shop. At first, he disliked the job and considered it beneath him, but then he saw that it was a potential money-maker. Over the next three years, he focused on learning the business. It was during this time that his father died. What impact that event had on Herbert is unknown.

Sav-a-Lot Thrift Stores

In 1988 Baumeister borrowed $4,000 from his mother. He and Juliana 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. It quickly grew in popularity and business was booming. It showed such a strong profit in the first year that the Baumeister's decided to open a second store. Within three years, the couple, who had until then lived paycheck to paycheck, were rich.

Fox Hollow Farms

In 1991 the Baumeister's moved to their dream home. It was an 18-acre horse ranch called Fox Hollow Farms in the upscale Westfield area, located just outside Indianapolis in Hamilton County, Indiana. Their new home was a large, beautiful, million dollar semi-mansion which had all the bells and whistles, including a riding stable and an indoor pool.

Remarkably, Baumeister had turned into a well-respected man. He was seen as a successful businessman, a family man who gave to charities.

What was not so ideal was the stress that came with the couple having to work so closely together each day. From the start of the business, Herbert treated Juliana like an employee and would often yell at her for no reason. To keep the peace, she would take a backseat to whatever business decisions had to made, but it took a toll on the marriage. Unknown to outsiders, the couple would argue and split up on and off over the next several years.

The Pool House

The Sav-a-Lot stores had a reputation for being clean and organized, but the opposite could be said about the way the Baumeister's kept their new home. The grounds that had always been meticulously maintained became overgrown with weeds. The inside of the home was equally neglected. The rooms were a mess, and it was obvious to visitors that housekeeping was a low priority for the couple.

The only area that Baumeister seemed to care about was the pool house. He kept the wet bar stocked, and he filled the area with copious decor including mannequins that he dressed and placed around to give the appearance that a lavish pool party was going on. 

The rest of the house displayed the hidden turmoil of the marriage. To escape, Juliana and the three children would stay with Herbert's mother at her Lake Wawasee condominium. Baumeister would almost always stay behind to run the stores, or so he told his wife.

The Human Skeleton

In 1994, the Baumeister's son, 13-year-old Erich, was playing in a wooded area behind their home when he found a human skeleton that was partially buried. He showed the grisly find to Juliana, who in return showed it to Herbert. He told her that his father had used skeletons in his research and that, after finding it while cleaning the garage, he had taken it out to the back yard and buried it. Incredibly, Juliana believed her husband's weird answer.

What Goes Up, Comes Down

Not long after the second store opened, the business began to lose money and never stopped. Baumeister began drinking during the day and would return to the stores, drunk and act belligerently to customers and employees. The stores went from being orderly to looking like a dump.

At night, unknown to Juliana, Baumeister cruised gay bars, and then returned home and retreated to his pool house where he would spend hours whimpering and crying like a child about the dying business.

Juliana was exhausted from worry. Bills were piling up, and her husband was acting stranger every day.

Missing Persons Investigations

While the Baumeister's were busy trying to fix their failing business and marriage, there was a major murder investigation going on in Indianapolis. 

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

In June of 1994, Vandagriff was contacted by the mother of 28-year-old Alan Broussard, who she said was missing. The last time that she saw him, he was headed out to meet his partner at a popular gay bar called Brothers, and 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, left his parents home to go out for the evening. He was going to a gay bar in downtown Indianapolis but never made it there. 

Both Broussard and Goodlet shared similar lifestyles, looked like one another, were near to the same age, and seemed to vanish while in route to a gay bar.

Vandagriff made up missing posters and distributed them at gay bars around the city. In a search for clues, the family and friends of the young men were interviewed as were several customers at gay bars. The only real clue that Vandagriff learned was that Goodlet was last seen willingly getting into a blue car with Ohio plates.

He also received a call from a publisher of a gay magazine who wanted to make Vandagriff aware that there had been multiple cases of gay men disappearing in Indianapolis over the last few years. 

Now convinced that they were dealing with a serial killer, Vandagriff went to the Indianapolis Police Department with his suspicions. Unfortunately, searching for disappearing gay men was apparently a low priority. Most of the investigators believed, more than likely, the men moved out of the area without telling their families, to freely live their gay lifestyles.

The I-70 Murders

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

Brian Smart

Within weeks of Vandagriff posting the missing posters, he was contacted by Tony Harris (fictitious name per his request) who said he was certain that he had spent time with the person responsible for Roger Goodlet's disappearance. He also said that he had gone to the police and the F.B.I, but they disregarded his information. Vandagriff set up a meeting and, in a series of interviews that followed, a bizarre story slowly unfolded.

According to Harris, he was at a gay club when he noticed a man who seemed to be overly captivated by the missing person's poster of his friend, Roger Goodlet. As he continued to watch the man, there was something in his eyes that convinced him that the man knew something about Goodlet's disappearance. To try to learn more, he introduced himself. The man said his name was Brian Smart and that he was a landscaper from Ohio. When Harris tried to bring up Goodlet, Smart would become evasive and change the subject.

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

Harris went on describe a large Tudor home which he and Smart entered from a side door. He described the interior of the home as being congested with a lot of furniture and boxes. He followed Smart through the house and out down some steps to the bar and a pool area that had mannequins set up around the pool. Smart offered Harris a drink, which he turned down. 

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

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

Harris was considerably larger than Smart which was probably the only reason he survived. He also refused drinks earlier in the evening that Smart had prepared. Smart ended up driving Harris back to Indianapolis, and they agreed to meet again the following week. 

To find out more about Brain Smart, Vandagriff arranged to have Harris and Smart followed when they met the second time. But Smart never showed up.

Believing that Harris' story had merit, Vandagriff turned again to the police, but this time he contacted Mary Wilson, who was a detective that worked in Missing Persons, and one that Vandagriff respected and trusted. She drove Harris to the wealthy areas outside Indianapolis on the chance that he might recognize the house that Smart took him to, but they came up empty.

It was a year later that Harris would meet up with Smart again. They happened to show up at the same bar one night, and Harris was able to get Smart's license plate number. He gave the information to Mary Wilson, and she ran a check. The license plate was matched, not to Brian Smart, but to Herbert Baumeister, the wealthy owner of Sav-a-lot. As she discovered more about Baumeister, she agreed with Vandagriff. Tony Harris had narrowly escaped becoming a victim of a serial killer.

Confronting a Monster

Detective Wilson decided on a direct approach and went to the store to confront Baumeister. She told him that he was a suspect in an investigation into several missing men. She requested that he allow investigators to search his home. He refused and told her that, in the future, she should go through his lawyer.

Wilson then went to Juliana and told her the same thing that she had told her husband, hoping to get her to agree to a search of the property. Juliana, although shocked by what she was hearing, also firmly refused.

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

The Melt Down

Herbert Baumeister appeared to go through an emotional breakdown over the next six months. By June, Julian had reached her limit. The Children's Bureau canceled the contract with the Sav-a-lot stores, and she was facing bankruptcy. The fairytale fog that she had been living in began to lift as did her loyalty to her semi-deranged husband.

What also had not left her mind since she first spoke to Detective Wilson, was the haunting image of the skeleton that her son had discovered two years earlier. She made a decision. She was going to file for divorce and tell Wilson about the skeleton. She was also going to let detectives search the property. Herbert and his son Erich were visiting Herbert's mother at Lake Wawasee. It was the perfect time for her do it. Julian picked up the phone and called her lawyer.

The Boneyard

On June 24, 1996, Wilson and three Hamilton County officers walked out into the grassy area just feet from the patio area of the Baumeister's home. As their eyes began to focus, they could clearly see that what appeared to be small rocks and pebbles, all across the backyard where the Baumeister children had played, were bone fragments. 

Wilson knew that it would turn out to be human bones, but the Hamilton County officers were uncertain. Fortunately, in less than a day, Wilson got a confirmation from forensics. The rocks were fragments of human bones.

The following day, police and firemen swarmed the property and began excavation. Bones were found everywhere, even on the neighbor's land. In a matter of days, 5,500 bones and teeth were found in the backyard. A search of the rest of the property produced more bones. By the time the excavation was complete, it was estimated that the bones were from 11 men. However, only four victims could be identified. They were: Roger Allen Goodlet; 34; Steven Hale, 26' Richard Hamilton, 20; and Manuel Resendez, 31.

Erich Baumeister

When the police discovered the bone fragments in the backyard, Juliana began to panic. She feared for the safety of her son Erich who was with Baumeister. So did the authorities.  Herbert and Juliana were already in the beginning stages of divorce. It was decided that before police discoveries at the Baumeister's hit the news, Herbert would be served with custody papers demanding that Erich return to Juliana.

Fortunately, when Baumeister was served with the papers, he turned Erich over without incident, figuring that it was just legal maneuvering on Juliana's part.

Suicide

Once news of the bones being uncovered was broadcasted, Baumeister vanished. It was not until July 3 that his whereabouts would be known. His body was discovered inside his car. In an apparent suicide, Baumeister had shot himself in the head while parked at Pinery Park, Ontario.

He wrote a three-page suicide note explaining his reasons for taking his life were due to his problems with the business and his failing marriage. There was no mention of the murdered victims scattered in his backyard.

Baumeister Linked to I-70 Murders

With Juliana Baumeister's help, investigators of the Ohio murders were piece together evidence that linked Baumeister to the I-70 murders. Receipts provided by Juliana showed that Baumeister had traveled along I-70 during the times that the bodies were found dumped along the interstate. 

A sketch drawn from a description by an eyewitness, who thought he saw the I-70 murderer, looked like Baumeister. Bodies had also stopped showing up along the interstate at the same time that Baumeister moved into Fox Hollow Farms where he had plenty of land to hide bodies.