Herb Baumeister: The Fiend of WestfieldPosted on: December 29, 2018, by : Jeff Turner
By Jeff Turner
When people hear the term serial killer, they typically think about London’s Jack the Ripper, or Washington State’s Ted Bundy, or Chicago’s John Wayne Gacy, or even Milwaukee’s Jeffrey Dahmer. However many here in the Hoosier State have forgotten Indiana’s own violent, prolific serial killer, whose crimes primarily took place in the 1990’s, Herbert “Herb” Richard Baumeister. The Indianapolis native, who would later move to the town of Westfield, a suburb of Indianapolis, is believed to be responsible for at least eleven deaths, according to official sources, twenty if he is indeed responsible for the I-70 murders as many in law enforcement believe (which stretch back into the 1980’s).
Baumeister was considered to be charming, good looking, and intelligent, a successful business man who owned his own chain of thrift stores. But beneath that façade was the troubled psyche of a depraved fiend, one who lived a double life.
Baumeister’s heinous crimes show just how vulnerable the LGBT community was back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and many would argue still is today. Westfield residents alive during the 1990’s still remember Baumeister quite well.
“He was uber creepy,” said Joe Brown, who went to school with Baumeister’s son Erich. “Weird, sociopathic weird. (But) people respected him.”
According to a People magazine article, Erich Baumeister discovered a human skull in the backyard of the family home in Fox Hollow Farm, where the family resided, back in 1994. When asked if Erich ever brought up this discovery at school, Brown said “Yeah… A lot of the other kids thought it (the skull) was Native American… Naïve times, naïve place. No one could conceive of a normal family guy (Baumeister) doing that.”
When Julie Baumeister, Herb’s wife, confronted her husband about the skull, he claimed that it was from a medical school skeleton. It wouldn’t be until a couple years later that Julie Baumeister would learn the terrifying reality of the situation.
The article goes on to describe how Julie Baumeister would leave the home each month with the family’s three kids, leaving Herb alone to manage the thrift store chain they owned. Unknown to her, however, this was not all he did. During the night, he would visit gay bars in Indianapolis and lure unsuspecting men back to the pool house of the family’s property in Westfield, where he would strangle them to death.
In a little over two years, starting in May 1993, ten gay men in Indianapolis were reported as missing. Police had relatively few leads. The only real lead they had came in 1994 when a man told police he had met a man named “Brian” at a gay bar in Indianapolis. “Brian” brought this individual back to his house and almost killed him during a violent round of erotic asphyxiation. In 1995 the man saw “Brian” again and followed him, taking down his license plate number. From this, police were able to identify “Brian” as Herb Baumeister.
Still, police did not have enough evidence to obtain a warrant. However, they did visit Baumeister, telling him that he was a suspect and asking for permission to search his property. Baumeister refused. Police then approached his wife for permission to search, but she also refused. The People article describes her reasons for this, a blind loyalty to her husband and believing him incapable of such violent criminal acts. Five months went by with no police action taken. Then on June 24th, 1996, Julie Baumeister had a change of heart. Due to marriage problems the couple were having, as well as remembering the discovery of the skull, she finally gave police consent to search the property. A thorough police search revealed the skeletons of eleven individuals (only eight were positively identified). The victims’ bodies had all been burned prior to being buried. A warrant was then issued for Baumeister’s arrest.
By then, howevever, Baumeister had fled to Canada, where he committed suicide. In what was reported to be a rambling three page suicide note, Baumeister makes no mention of the murders, citing his failing marriage and financial woes as his motivations for taking his own life. Many in law enforcement also believe Baumeister to be responsible for the I-70 murders, a long stretch of road between Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio where the bodies of several gay men were found strewn along the roadside. If this is correct, that would bring Baumeister’s total number of victims up to at least twenty.
The Baumeister murders serve as a tragic example of what can happen when society stigmatizes and refuses to empathize with the welfare of a marginalized group of people, in this case the LGBT community. According to Brown, a belief held by many residents of Westfield is that Hamilton County and town leaders never adequately dealt with the situation because of its potential damage to public relations, hence the reason the matter is largely forgotten by most Hoosiers. The murders have gained what would best be described as a “cult following” in recent years, Fox Hollow Farm and the property where the murders took place even visited by New Age enthusiasts who believe it haunted.
A look at new coverage from the time reveals how local media largely ignored the disappearances of young gay men from the Indianapolis area. Then, when Baumeister’s dark deeds finally came to light, local media downplayed the crimes, describing Baumeister as a successful businessman who had fallen upon hard times while his victims were from the “dregs of society.” While not coming out and explicitly saying it, local news outlets seemed to be implying that since Baumeister’s victims were all gay men that their murders weren’t of major significance. This is evidence enough of how Indiana would benefit from a hate/bias crime law many would argue, though such a law wouldn’t be applicable in this instance.
Indiana is a red state after all. And while Indianapolis is bluer, it is still considered a more conservative metropolitan area than other cities across the country. This remains true even more than twenty years after Baumeister’s crimes were revealed. It’s true that Indianapolis is more accepting of the LGBT community, was considered to be that way even in the 1990’s. The question remains though, could such a tragedy happen again in this day and age here in the Hoosier state? Let’s hope the answer to that question is no.