In the fall of 1994, Julie Baumeister’s son Erich—the middle of three children she shared with her husband Herb Baumeister—brought her a human skull. When she asked where he’d found it, he said that he got it in the woods of their 18-acre estate, Fox Hollow Farm, a few miles outside Indianapolis. Julie asked her son to take her back to where he found the skull, and there in the woods she found a half-buried pile of bones—enough to make up an entire human skeleton.
Her husband, Herb, was quick to allay Julie’s fears. His father had been an anesthesiologist, and Herb said that the skeleton was nothing more than the remains of a medical school anatomical skeleton. Why they were in the backyard of the $1 million estate that the Baumeisters had bought just a few years before, Herb didn’t say.
It seems that there was a lot that Herb Baumeister didn’t tell his wife. The two had been married since 1971. They had three children together, even though Julie would later confess that they had consummated their marriage only six times in 25 years of marriage. They co-owned a chain of Sav-A-Lot thrift stores in Indianapolis, which donated some $50,000 a year to programs to help neglected children.
According to Julie, Herb was a devoted and even doting father, helping his kids with everything from schoolwork to making their peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Every summer, Julie would take their son Erich and their two daughters, Marne and Emily, to a lake house owned by Herb’s mother. Herb stayed home during the week to keep an eye on the family business, visiting his wife and children on the weekends.
What Julie didn’t know was that though Herb was working during the day, he was cruising the gay nightclubs of Indianapolis by night, picking up young men who were never seen again.
In May of 1993, Indianapolis police began receiving missing person reports. Gay men were disappearing in the area, and they had usually last been seen in the city’s gay bars and nightclubs. Over the course of two years, 10 or more disappearances were reported, but the police had little to go on until Tony Harris (a pseudonym used to protect the witness’s privacy) came to them with an unusual story.
He said that he had met a man who called himself Brian Smart at one of the city’s clubs and that the two had gone to Brian’s estate in the country. Once there, Brian had insisted that they participate in autoerotic asphyxiation, what Tony called a “strangulation fetish thing,” with the aid of a pool hose, an activity which Tony said had gone too far and almost cost him his life.
Tony believed that Brian Smart may have been responsible for the disappearance of one of his friends, and when he saw the man again at an Indianapolis bar, Tony wrote down his license plate number and went to the police.
It turned out to be the missing link they needed. The man who called himself Brian Smart was actually Herb Baumeister, and in November of 1995, police approached the couple at Fox Hollow Farm. However, with only one man’s story of a sexual encounter gone awry, the police didn’t have enough evidence for a search warrant, and Herb rebuffed them at the estate.
The police later approached Julie at the Sav-A-Lot store, where she also refused to let them search her property. She was initially shocked by the allegations that her husband was cruising gay nightclubs while she was away. However, Julie’s suspicions were growing as Herb became more unstable. The once-successful Sav-A-Lot stores were nearing bankruptcy, and the couple was contemplating divorce. She also couldn’t forget the human bones that her son had found on their property.
On June 24, 1996, while Herb was out of town, Julie allowed the police to search Fox Hollow Farm. She could never have imagined what they would find.
In the woods behind the 11,000 square-foot Tudor house, police unearthed more than 5,000 human bones in what one searcher later described as a scene “like a bomb went off in a people factory.” The remains had been burned and buried and the search to find them all took two weeks.
At the same time, Herb had disappeared. Perhaps aware of his imminent arrest, he had fled to Canada, where his body was found on July 3, lying just outside his car in Pinery Provincial Park. He shot himself in the forehead with a .357 Magnum, leaving behind a three-page suicide note that described his failing business, his family’s financial woes, and his marital troubles, but made no mention of the grisly crimes of which he was now the prime suspect.
Police found the remains of at least 11 men at Fox Hollow Farm, eight of which were eventually identified. Each of those eight had disappeared during the time when Julie was out of town with the children and Herb was at home alone.
If that was all, it would be chilling enough, but that wasn’t the end of the nightmare. In 1998, a witness identified a photo of Herb Baumeister, saying that he had seen Baumeister leaving an Indianapolis nightclub with Michael Riley in 1983. Riley’s body was later found in a stream near I-70. Riley's murder was one of nine killings between 1980 and 1990 which the police believed were committed by the same person, but which remained unsolved.
The victims, all of whom hailed from Indianapolis, were found strangled to death, their nude or partially-nude bodies dumped into shallow streams along the I-70 corridor.
This led authorities to conclude that Herb Baumeister had also been the so-called “I-70 Strangler,” bringing his total body count up to around 20 and making him one of the most prolific serial killers in Indiana history.
“If somebody has any information, we’d be happy to look at it,” Hancock County Sheriff James Bradbury said of the case. “But Herb Baumeister is the only suspect we have.”
Not everyone was as convinced. “They just decided to take some stuff out of old files, dust it off and say we solved this,” Ted Fleischaker, the publisher of a newspaper serving the Indianapolis gay community, told the Associated Press. “It’s a neat election-year ploy to get some sheriffs, and some people who are incompetent, re-elected.”
During the time that the I-70 killings were committed, Herb and Julie Baumeister had been married for a little over 10 years. By 1984, midway through this killing spree, their third child was born. In 1988, Herb borrowed seed money from his mother to start his first Sav-A-Lot thrift store. Their finances were doing well and their marriage was apparently stable.
“We did everything together,” Julie was later quoted as saying. “He would push the mower and I would trim the bushes.” Yet, if the police are correct and Herb Baumeister is also the I-70 Strangler, he had a sinister and deadly secret life that he was hiding from his family, stretching back over a decade.
That doesn’t mean Herb’s dark side was without its own warning signs. When Herb was a young man, his father had secretly taken him in for psychological testing, which reportedly diagnosed Herb with schizophrenia, a condition for which he was never treated.
Six months after his marriage to Julie, Herb’s father had him committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he spent nearly two months. Julie didn’t object, saying that Herb was “hurting and needed help.” In 1985, Herb was accused of committing a hit-and-run while drinking and driving, and in 1986 he was charged with auto theft and conspiracy to commit theft.
Before starting the Sav-A-Lot thrift store chain, Herb held a variety of jobs, where his strong work ethic clashed with occasional fits of anger and bizarre behavior. While working at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles from 1974 until 1985, Herb Baumeister managed to work his way up to the rank of Program Director, but his coworkers also noted odd behavior, including one report of him urinating on a letter addressed to the governor or possibly on the desk of his supervisor.
While he owned the Sav-A-Lot stores, employees reported that he would sometimes disappear for long stretches of the day, occasionally returning with alcohol on his breath.
He was in turn described as a “hotheaded” boaster always trying to impress people, a perfectionist given to unprovoked rages, and a gregarious family man who loved old cars. It seemed that those who knew Herb Baumeister saw completely different sides of him.
When he was younger, he worked as a copy boy at the Indianapolis Star, during which time he and a friend also co-owned a secondhand hearse. Garry Donna, a former co-worker, was later quoted as saying that people often asked, “What’s the deal with this guy?”
“I just said, ‘Well, Herb’s just Herb,’” Donna replied. Of course, in the years that followed, evidence came to light to suggest that Herb's seemingly harmless eccentricities were much more sinister than “just Herb.”
Shortly after the police searched Fox Hollow Farm, Julie and her three children moved back to the house in Indianapolis where she and Herb had lived shortly after their marriage. Fox Hollow Farm, which the couple had once seen as a “utopia” where their children could “rollerblade without having to worry about cars coming around the corner,” was now a grisly crime scene. “Happiness as we knew it is never going to return,” Julie told People magazine.
It wasn’t just one family’s cherished memories of home that were lost when the dark secrets of Fox Hollow Farm were revealed. In the years since the Baumeisters left the estate, dozens of people have reported that the farm is haunted, with some even claiming that the spirit of Herb Baumeister himself still walks there.
In 2009, Fox Hollow Farm was bought by a couple with the perhaps grimly ironic last name Graves. They paid $987,000 with the help of a silent partner, though the property had been put on the market for $2.8 million in 2004.
The legal term for such a property is “psychologically affected.” While laws regarding “psychologically affected” properties vary from state to state, in Indiana, sellers don’t have to volunteer information about a property’s sordid history unless they are directly asked. But it’s also unlikely that many buyers in the area won’t already be aware of the sinister reputation of Fox Hollow Farm—hence the steep discount.
If you don’t mind its bloody history and possible ghostly occupants, Fox Hollow Farm would certainly seem like a steal at just under a million dollars. The 11,000 square-foot house features an indoor swimming pool, a five-car garage, stained glass windows, and two libraries.
In spite of the unwholesome reputation of the place, the Graves family says that they love their home, with Vicki Graves describing it as a “lifestyle.”
The Graveses and their sons work as housekeepers, groundskeepers, and do-it-yourselfers to keep the sprawling property in top shape. They recently sold eight acres of the property to Noah Herron, owner of the Urban Vines Winery & Brewery, who intends to break the acreage up and sell off three lots, while also building a home for his family.
“I wanted to make a joke at the [city] council meeting and say that we hope we don’t find any bones while we’re building, but I decided to keep it professional,” Herron told the Indianapolis Star.
If Herron is concerned that the history of the place will make it a hard sell, he doesn’t show it. “We asked neighbors around there if they’ve ever seen ghosts, and they said no,” he told the Star. “So we’re good.”
He may have asked the wrong neighbors. Even the Graveses, who still live on 10 acres of the property and who generally shrugged off the suggestions that it’s haunted, may not be as skeptical as they once were. According to the Chillicothe Gazette, “weird things” started happening about a year after the Graves family moved in.
Rob Graves said that the psychics who had visited the property chalked the sudden haunting up to the presence of Joe LeBlanc, one of his colleagues at the Tom Wood Porsche Audi dealership, who had recently moved in to an apartment above the home’s five-car garage. LeBlanc was around the same age as many of Baumeister’s victims.
“I’m Catholic,” Graves was quoted as saying. “I don’t even like talking about psychics, but that’s what they say.” According to the Gazette, the psychics also say that the place is haunted by at least four of Baumeister’s victims, not to mention Herb Baumeister himself.
“They say he stands at the window in the living room,” Rob Graves said. On his iPhone is a recording taken by one of the paranormal investigators who toured the property, of what they claim is Herb Baumeister’s voice saying that he “took a pipe to the skulls” of his victims.
Members of the Graves family are far from the only ones who have reported strange goings-on at and around Fox Hollow Farm. The blog Real Evidence of the Paranormal records a veritable litany of accounts supposedly drawn from the Graves family and their friends. Reports of strange dreams, misbehaving vacuum cleaners, and the figure of a man in a red t-shirt blend with more sinister tales of apparitions walking without legs and the feeling of cold hands trying to choke LeBlanc in the pool.
The estate has appeared on ghost hunting shows such as Paranormal Witness in 2012 and Ghost Adventures in 2014, not to mention being the focus of a feature-length 2011 documentary film The Haunting of Fox Hollow Farm, directed by Dan T. Hall.
The particularly adventuresome can even take haunted tours of the property hosted by American Hauntings Ghost Tours. Their website calls Fox Hollow Farm “one of the most terrifying locations we have EVER investigated.” They claim that the Graves family found even more human remains on the farm, and that they have witnessed apparitions and heard voices, knocks, and footsteps in the house.
In 2015, the Graves family agreed to allow the haunted attraction company to bring five annual trips to the house, at around $90 per person. According to Troy Taylor, the founder of American Hauntings, Fox Hollow Farm has never disappointed, with groups that visited the farm reporting everything from voices and footsteps to feelings of being punched, pinched, and even choked.
“Even if you don’t believe in ghosts,” Taylor told the New York Daily News, “there is no denying that a sinister pall hangs over this farm, if for no other reason than it was a place where evil once lived.”
Featured photo: Alchetron