HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. — The Hamilton County Coroner’s office is working to give names to the remains of victims found on a sprawling Westfield estate.
The estate belonged to Herbert Baumeister, a man suspected of luring gay men to his home before killing them. Here is what we know about the case and its developments.
On June 24, 1996, Herbert Baumeister’s 15-year-old son stumbled onto bones while on the family’s 18-acre estate in a remote wooded area of Hamilton County. The discovery took place about 60 yards away from the home.
The Dayton Daily News reported that the 15-year-old found a skull on the property and showed it to his mother. At the time, Baumeister explained away the skull, saying it was part of his dead father’s medical practice. It didn’t seem out of character, as Baumeister collected and kept everything.
While the discovery at the time would only merit a brief mention in the staff reports for the Indianapolis Star, it started an investigation. That investigation would end up suspecting Baumeister as being a serial killer who lured gay men to his home before killing them.
Three days after the boy discovered the bones, they would be identified as human, with more remains discovered by Hamilton County firefighters. At the time, the discovery perplexed investigators.
“It’s an unusual spot to find bodies,” then-Sheriff Joe Cook is quoted as telling The Indianapolis Star.
Trouble at home
The investigation began amid divorce proceedings between Herbert and his wife of 24 years. The day after the 15-year-old found the bones, Baumeister’s wife was granted an emergency protective order and custody to keep Herbert away from her and the three children.
“She did not know how he’d react to discovering the bones and the investigation that was unfolding,” Bill Wendling Jr., the woman’s divorce attorney said at the time.
The divorce records indicate that the Baumeisters accused the other of mismanaging the family business. They operated two Sav-A-Lot thrift stores, which had judgments and lawsuits filed against them.
Less than two weeks after the discovery, Baumeister died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound near Toronto. He skipped out on a divorce hearing the Tuesday before he died.
After his suicide, the Indianapolis Star reported that Herbert Baumeister mentioned several regrets in his note, but did not mention the bones.
However, it would not be long until FOX59 would be made aware of prior allegations against Baumeister that would connect him to the mysteries surrounding the deaths of young gay men or male prostitutes missing from Indianapolis.
After Herbert Baumeister’s suicide, a confidential source told FOX59 that Herbert may have been leading a double life.
The source told FOX59 that in 1994, Baumeister picked up a man in the neighborhood of an Indianapolis gay bar. He brought the man to his Westfield home for a sexual encounter that the man says he is lucky to have escaped from alive.
The man contacted the police, who were investigating the disappearance of several gay men in the area. Baumeister’s widow said she knew nothing about her husband’s apparent double life.
In November 1996, The Indianapolis Star reported that Baumeister used two aliases, one the name of a man who went missing, at many of the downtown Indianapolis gay bars he frequented.
Hints at a larger case
The Dayton Daily News reported that the case tantalized an investigator with the Preble County, Ohio prosecutor’s office. Between 1980 and 1991, the bodies of a dozen men were found strangled and dumped in rural areas. All the men were missing from a three-to-four-block area frequented by gay men in Indianapolis.
The last of the victims was found shortly before Baumeister moved into his secluded 18-acre estate. The investigator speculated no more bodies were found after that point because he had room to dispose of the bodies.
Of the remains on the estate initially identified by police at the time, three had been previously arrested for prostitution. All disappeared when Baumeister’s wife and children were out of town while he remained home.
The man that FOX59 learned about would tell police that during his encounter with Baumeister, he was choked with a hose.
If Henrick Baumeister was behind the men’s deaths, it was a secret he took to the grave with him. With his suicide, he took away the police’s ability to definitively solve their cases.
DNA could help identify more victims
The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office said Monday that they are redoubling their efforts to identify the remains of what is believed to be 25 people found on the estate.
The office said improvements in DNA technology make them hopeful that they can provide families with the answers they have been searching for.
“DNA was a relatively new tool for law enforcement twenty-six years ago. It was very expensive and often took months to complete,” said Chief Deputy / Coroner-elect Jeff Jellison. “Now, DNA profiling has become faster and more user-friendly.”
Investigative genealogy has helped crack several cold cases, including identifying the I-65 killer after 30 years. Investigators can turn to labs to sequence samples of DNA that were collected during the initial processing of the crime scene. Those samples are run through online genealogical databases to try to find a relative.
Recently, investigators were able to use DNA from bones found in a large metal tank on a Hendricks County property in 2013 to identify the victim.
A detective with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s missing persons division contacted family members to collect DNA samples. Those samples helped identify the victim as John Turner.
While he has been identified, police still have yet to figure out what happened.
A team of investigators and coroners are now trying to get answers for more families by building DNA profiles for every unidentified person across the state. They are also working to get DNA samples directly from family members of missing people.
With those samples, they can compare them directly with DNA profiles and see if there is a match.
The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office is working with a group of investigators in an effort to identify the remains found on the Baumeister estate. For the investigation, they need comparison samples.
“If anyone is a family member of a male individual that went missing in the mid-80s to mid-90s, we need you to step forward and provide us with a DNA sample,” said Jellison. “The process is quick, simple, and only involves swabbing the inside of the cheek.”
With nearly 10,000 bones and bone fragments, the office has a long way to go to get answers for families.
“We have a huge job in front of us; however, I have confidence this team of police officers and forensic specialists will exhaust all efforts to identify the individuals that were brutally murdered and discarded on Herb Baumeister’s property,” said Jellison.
Anyone who believes they are a relative of a missing person who may be connected to this case is asked to contact the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office at (317) 770-4415.