by Jared Keever
Author’s Note: The name Tony Harris, as mentioned in the following story, is fictitious. In the interest of privacy, and because I have not personally spoken to some of them for many years, I have also changed the names of my own friends mentioned in the story.
It seems strange now, after all that happened, but what I remember most about Herb Baumeister was the absurd, white Land Rover — complete with cargo rack — that he drove around my hometown of Westfield, Indiana. In the flatlands of the Midwest, it was unnecessary. As an ostentatious vehicle, I guess it served its purpose, but it was over the top for affluent, but understated, Hamilton County.
I remember seeing it parked in front of Marlow’s Cafe most Saturday mornings during the mid 1990s, back when I was in high school. Occasionally I would glimpse Herb, wearing an equally absurd Panama hat, walk to the truck with his wife Julie and drive off.
Marlow’s was just around the corner from my father’s hardware store, where I worked on Saturdays during the school year and most weekdays during the summer. The Baumeisters seemed, for a time, to have made Saturday morning breakfasts at the little cafe a regular thing — driving there each week from their 18-acre estate on the southern edge of town.
There wasn’t much strange about that, other than Land Rover. Had the truck not looked so silly parked on the suburban street, I probably would never have known Herb ever ventured into town. But one day the Land Rover stopped showing up. I don’t remember when, exactly, and I don’t recall ever noting its absence.
I certainly wouldn’t remember it today if Herb Baumeister hadn’t turned out to be a serial killer who preyed on the gay men of Indianapolis.
Police now attribute at least 11 murders to his name and suspect he may well have been the serial killer known as the “I-70 Killer” who took nine other male victims on the interstate highway between Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis.
I knew who Herb Baumeister was before all of that though. That’s because Westfield was a small town.
I graduated from the town’s high school in 1997 with just over 100 students in my class.
Baumeister’s kids attended Westfield schools until high school when, like many students from the wealthier families, they were sent to one of the private schools in Indianapolis, just a 20-minute drive south on U.S. 31.
His oldest daughter was a year younger than me. My sister knew her. His younger son was good friends with my friend Brad’s younger brother.
The Baumeister family was only on my periphery. But I still remember what happened. Most who lived in Westfield at the time do too.
I don’t know exactly how I first found out. I have tried to remember, and can’t. But at some point during the summer of 1996, people in town learned that police, while conducting a ground search at the Baumeister estate, had found human remains scattered on the property behind the house.
The news travelled fast. It made the newspapers and the nightly news shows. News trucks parked along both sides of 156th Street, just outside the entrance to the property known as Fox Hollow Farm.
That area, south and west of downtown Westfield, borders the larger and more affluent city of Carmel. Fox Hollow Farm was one of the area’s many horse farms — large, wooded properties usually surrounded by a low, brown wooden fence. Baumeister’s estate was no exception. The Tudor style home sat back off the road and boasted an indoor swimming pool. There were riding stables on the property.
For summer work, many of my friends worked on some of the larger horse farms. They had what I thought was the dream summer job, working outside every day bailing hay, mowing grass, and cleaning fence rows.
Two of my good friends John and Phillip, worked on a farm adjacent to Fox Hollow Farm.
After the initial discovery of bones by the police, authorities swarmed the property, conducting an archaeological-style survey, searching for more remains.
While that was going on, John and Phillip found a few bones in a swale that ran between Fox Hollow Farm and the farm where they worked. They pointed police in the direction of their discovery. They would later tell a group of our friends that their grisly find kept the investigation going and led to the discovery of additional victims.
At the time, though, Baumeister wasn’t being investigated for murder. Police maintained, as they continued their gruesome discoveries, that they were merely investigating the disposal of human remains on the property.
But people, including John and Phillip, were convinced Herb Baumeister had murdered the men whose bones now littered the back acres of Fox Hollow Farm.
Herb gave them both the creeps. He had hired my two friends in the summer of 1995 to do some mowing on the property. Phillip said in a recent email he remembered Herb just stood behind the house, watching them the whole time while they worked.
Herb approached the two in 1996, before police found the bones, and asked them to repeat their summer work. Remembering their uneasy feeling from the previous summer, they declined the offer.
Summer meant I spent most days in town, working for my father. As more and more bones were discovered, the police called in off-duty officers and fire fighters to help with the digging. I remember seeing them in town during lunchtime, eating at Marlow’s or the cafeteria next to my dad’s store. They didn’t say much about the ongoing investigation as they walked to and from their cars, just that they were working on “that property south of town.” I seem to recall selling them a few shovels.
But as the body count grew, police decided they wanted to question Herb. He had been out of town, visiting family in northern Indiana. Before they were able to get to him, though, he slipped over the border into Canada. He was later found dead, in an Ontario park, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It was about the same time news of his death reached Westfield, that people in town learned police had discovered at least eight bodies on Fox Hollow Farm. That number would later grow to 11.
The suicide meant there wouldn’t be a trial. And for some time, it seemed the story of what happened out at the farm might never get told. But as in most small towns, it didn’t take long for the rumors to start circulating
Officials from the sheriff’s office and members of the investigation team said Baumeister had staged a sort of sexual playground around his indoor swimming pool. There were stories that the pool area was surrounded by mannequins, posed in sexual positions. Most believed that the pool was where the murders took place. They said Herb was picking up gay men in Indianapolis and bringing them back to his home, while his family was away, and getting those men drunk, having sex with them and ultimately strangling them.
Rumors spread that the bodies had been dismembered, burned and buried in shallow graves in the woods behind the house.
Brad, my friend whose brother knew Herb’s son and played in those very woods, told us that Baumeister’s son had found a skull a few years prior to police showing up on the property. The son, it was said, took the skull to his mom who confronted Herb with it. Herb told her the skull came from old research skeleton that had belonged to his father, who was a doctor.
I remember the night Phillip and John told us about the bones they found. A group of about six of us were gathered in Phillip’s backyard. It was late, and we were probably planning an early morning fishing trip. When the conversation turned to Baumeister, it took on a hushed tone like we were telling a ghost story.
We speculated that night about what Brad’s brother must be feeling, knowing he had played in and around Baumeister’s makeshift graveyard.
Our proximity to the horror made it all the more exciting. We didn’t question if the stories were true. For a while it was as if the stories my friends and I were telling each other had their own energy, compelling that they be told. Truth was irrelevant. The retelling of each tale made those few weeks seem all the more interesting and haunted.
But I had grown up working in a small-town hardware store listening to small-town liars tell small-town lies. I knew how simple stories could get blown out of proportion. There was always, through that whole summer, a very small voice in the back of my head telling me it couldn’t be as bad as they said it was.
The summer ended, school started and eventually my friends and I graduated and went separate ways. I never forgot Baumeister. Occasionally I would tell the stories to some new acquaintance or a crowd gathered at a college party, but I always wondered, at least for a few years, if I was repeating lies.
Now we all know what happened. The story has been told by reporters and those who worked on television documentaries and even by two authors — Fannie Weinstein and Melinda Wilson — who wrote a book about the Baumeister case titled Where the Bodies are Buried.
Numerous online sources, relying on Bodies and a lengthy interview with Indianapolis private investigator Virgil Vandagriff, retell the Baumeister story. All of the details match, almost exactly, to those I learned that summer before my senior year of high school.
That police ever wound up at Baumeister’s door can be attributed, mostly, to the bravery or foolishness of one gay man who is identified in those stories by the name “Tony Harris” — a name that was created to protect his identity.
Harris contacted Vandagriff in 1994 because he knew the investigator was looking into the disappearances of at least three men who had vanished from the Indianapolis gay bar scene. One of those men was Harris’ friend, Roger Goodlet. Harris told Vandagriff that he believed a slightly built man who went by the name “Brian Smart” had abducted and possibly murdered Goodlet.
His proof was a fantastic story about allowing himself to be picked up from a bar by Smart and taken to a secluded home north of Indianapolis.
Harris told Vandagriff that Smart had taken him to a home, on a large piece or property, where they had “partied” around an indoor pool surrounded by mannequins. Harris said he refused a drink made by Smart, but believed Smart had used cocaine while at the home.
The two engaged in erotic asphyxiation as Harris danced dangerously close to his own murder. Harris did it all, he said, because he was trying to find out more about this man who he believed had given him a fake name. He said Smart had given him the creeps and talked about his sexual fantasies. Harris allowed Smart to choke him during sex. That might have been his end had he not feigned unconsciousness causing Smart to loosen his grip.
Eventually, Harris said, Smart passed out and he searched the home, which was obviously inhabited by a family.
He left the home convinced he had spent the evening in the company of a man capable of murder. His only problem was, he didn’t know where he had been.
The back roads just off U.S. 31 are dark and they all look the same, especially at night. Twenty years ago it would have been worse. If Smart had gotten off the highway well south of Fox Hollow Farm it is entirely possible that Harris would not have known which cross street he was on.
The story was compelling for Vandagriff who had already decided the men he was investigating had probably fallen victim to a serial killer. But without knowing Brian Smart’s true identity or where Harris had been that creepy night by the pool, the story was of little use.
It took nearly a year before Harris saw Brian Smart again. But when he did, he got the license number of the car Smart drove away from the bar.
That number gave Vandagriff the name of Herb Baumeister and led him and Indianapolis police investigators to Fox Hollow Farm. By then, it was 1995.
Police first approached Baumeister at one of his Sav-a-Lot thrift stores. That was the chain of children’s clothing stores — unrelated to the supermarkets that go by the same name — that Herb ran with his wife. The police asked Herb if they could search his Westfield property. He refused.
Police then approached Julie asking for permission, but she had been coached by her husband to refuse the request.
It wasn’t until six months later that Julie relented and let police conduct a ground search of the estate. Herb was out of town with his son. The always-fragile marriage was, again, on the rocks and a divorce seemed imminent. Julie said she had grown concerned by Herb’s erratic behavior and was becoming suspicious so she decided to let police conduct their search.
It was June 1996 and police almost immediately discovered the bones.
Now, almost 20 years later, the old news articles and old interviews that I wanted to believe, and went ahead and repeated, have all been proven true.
The stuff about the mannequins and the sexual playground was confirmed by Tony Harris’ chilling experience.
John and Phillip finding those additional bones? Had I added that to make my own retelling of the story more interesting? Had I told the lie so many times that I now believed it? I emailed Phillip recently to check. I just asked him to tell me what he remembered. He confirmed every one of my recollections.
That he and John got the creeps that summer of 1995 certainly doesn’t seem silly in retrospect.
Julie even went on the Oprah Winfrey Show and told her story of living with Herb.
The story that has now emerged, told mostly by Julie herself, is that Herb was always erratic. She said they had sex fewer than 10 times during the course of their decades-long marriage. She said he never allowed her to see him naked because he was embarrassed by his scrawny body. And it was later reported Herb was diagnosed as schizophrenic as a child but never treated.
Julie Baumeister said she and the children spent a good deal of time away from the home. Herb often stayed behind, sometimes to tend to the couple’s business and sometimes because the couple was arguing. She said she accepted the story about the skeleton because she had other things going on in her life. She never gave it another thought.
As his life and marriage began unravel in 1995 and 1996, Herb grew more violent with his store employees and they suspected he was drinking heavily during the day. The business was failing.
After he slipped into Canada, he was questioned by an Ontario Provincial Police officer who approached his car because it was parked under a bridge. Baumeister told the officer he was a tourist and had grown tired and was just catching a quick nap. That officer later said Baumeister had a stack of videotapes in the back of his car.
Harris suspected Smart had a hidden video camera trained on the pool area the night he visited. And some speculate those tapes were recordings of Baumeister’s murders.
They were not in the the car when Canadian police later discovered his body.
Police later said they found the remains of 11 bodies at Fox Hollow Farm. Only eight of those bodies were ever identified. They all belonged to gay men, known to have disappeared from Indianapolis.
When police developed the theory that Baumeister was responsible for the nine men left along I-70, Julie confirmed that Herb had travelled that route, for business, over 100 times during the period of time the murders were thought to have occurred.
Many of my friends from those days, like me, have moved away from Westfield. Many of our parents, who lived there because it had good schools and was a good place to raise children, have also moved on.
My family is still there.
Westfield is more populated than it was in the 1990s. I don’t recognize parts of my hometown these days.
I was there recently for Christmas. As I drove the once empty backroads that are now lined with crowded housing subdivisions I wondered how many zip past Fox Hollow Farm without ever realizing what happened there.
Herb Baumeister’s known victims: Johnny Bayer, 20; Allen Wayne Broussard, 28; Roger A. Goodlet, 33; Richard D. Hamilton, 20; Steven S. Hale, 26; Jeff Allen Jones, 31; Michael Kiern, 46; Manuel Resendez, 31
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About Jared Keever: Jared is a full-time writer and journalist living in southeast Georgia. He has lived in Indiana, Montana, Washington state, and Florida. His interests include history, literature and true crime. When he isn’t reading or writing he is usually on a bike or spending time with his family.
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