"Seeings believing, but feelings the truth."
Herb Baumeister continued to live his facade. His marriage to Julie continued on its on-the-surface normalcy and their two Sav-A-Lot stores continued to occupy much of their daylight time. The cracks that had, up until the mid 1990s,
been invisible to others were now beginning to manifest. The strains of a sexless, loveless marriage were appearing in the mannerisms and on the expressions of especially Julie. People at home and in the neighborhood were talking. Professionally, their business began suffering. By the end of 1994, the Sav-A-Lots had taken a plunge. Shoppers declined; bills soared. Julie, tired of the bickering, the financial dilemmas and of a fairy tale life that never quite matched Cinderella, threatened divorce. As another new year opened, however, she did not act. Instead, she sat by and watched her business decline, her marriage sour and her husband grow stranger.
At the work place, Herbs ever-darkening moods were venting on his employees. He demanded grueling work and unfair attention from them, acting as if he were some sort of king who deserved the peons praise; he fired those who wouldnt comply to unjust treatment. Yet, his own workaday behavior was a farce he would, say his employees, disappear for hours, then return reeking of alcohol and barking orders through whiskied breath. The once-tidy stores had become, under the lack of Baumeister attention, sloven. "Everything was so dirty," remembers one of Herbs clerks, "Everywhere you looked there were mountains of garbage bags. It was like working in a garbage heap."
* * * * *
Almost a year had passed since Virgil Vandagriff and Mary Wilson had begun their search for a man named "Brian Smart". His real identity and his house of mannequins remained a mystery.
"Whatever leads we could have taken went nowhere," Vandagriff states. "Personally, I didnt feel there was a whole lot of cooperation between the city police and the Hamilton County officials whose attitude I sensed was one of These folks here are rich and therefore above suspicion. But, in truth, there werent many hard leads, so we couldnt push too far."
"Hamilton was Indianas fastest-growing, wealthiest county, its median family income of $87,168 more than twice that of the rest of the states," to quote the book, Where the Bodies Are Buried, "The average home went for $106,500 ...Just a swift 25-minute highway commute north of Indianapolis, (it) was dotted with picture-perfect older communities...postcards of suburban middle America."
The hard lead that Vandagriff and Wilson wanted did finally leap forward. Assuming the situation had cooled enough for his reappearance on the gay scene, Herb Baumeister decided to stop in at the Varsity Lounge on the evening of August 29, 1995. Present at the bar was Tony Harris who, having given up hope of ever seeing "Brian Smart" again, refrained from jumping out of his shoes with excitement. He chatted with Baumeister nonchalantly and then, at evenings end, managed to record the license plate number of the pickup truck in which Baumeister drove away. The next morning, hearing what Tony had accomplished, Mary Wilson cheered.
Plate number 75237A belonged not to anyone named Brian Smart, but to a Herbert R. Baumeister of Westfield, Indiana. He lived in an estate called Fox Hollow Farms with a wife and children. The manor house, Mary learned, boasted a swimming pool in the basement.
Now, the police were closing in and Herb began to unravel.
Mary and her boss, Lt. Thomas Greene, approached Baumeister at his Washington Street store on November 1 after first surveying his actions for a term. Without pretense, Mary told him straight out why they were there they were investigating the disappearance of several young men in the Indianapolis community; that he was suspect; and they wanted to search his home. With the snub of a suffering saint, he refused, telling them that further communication must be channeled through his lawyer.
In the car afterwards, Greene told Mary that he thought Herb was not only "nervous beyond belief," but "one of the weirdest guys I ever saw."
Not to be outdone by Herbs refusal, Mary attempted to out-angle him. She approached Julie Baumeister who. as co-owner of Fox Hollow, could legally authorize a ground-search of the connubial property. The detective found Julie just as stubborn as Herb had been, however. Evidently, Herb had told Julie that he was being falsely accused of theft and, if approached, "Do not, under any circumstances, allow the police to conduct a search." But, when Mary confided in the wife, explaining the real reason for their quest, "Julie looked at Mary as if shed just dropped a nuclear bomb in her lap," declare authors Weinstein and Wilson. "When she recovered enough to speak again, she informed Mary...that they could not search her home. She was polite, but still stunned, almost beyond words. Mary gave Julie her card and urged her to call if she changed her mind." Julies refusal, the law knew, did not indicate her guilt. It was typical of the reaction of a wife who denies she has wedded someone with such a dark side.
So much that, as things soured more and more at the Baumeister residence (obviously brought on by the tensions Herb was feeling by the police inquiries), Julie even phoned Mary Wilson one morning to blame her for causing her domestic life to worsen. "The police are not coming to my house," she screamed, " tearing through things, upsetting my children, all on the word of a psycho named Tony Harris whom my husband never even heard of!"
Vandagriff, as a private detective, denounces the waiting game, played by the county police at this point. "Mary Wilson, who wanted a search warrant, was unable to get one issued because Hamilton County was out of her jurisdiction. Hamilton County, in the meantime, would not cooperate. Why? Who knows? Whether it was their timidity to confront an otherwise-law-abiding citizen until they had conclusive proof, or whether they really didnt believe Baumeister was guilty, I dont know, but it might have saved a lot of trouble and the six-months wait it eventually took for Julie to finally open her back yard for inspection."
It wasnt until June of 1996 six months, as Vandagriff states that Julie came to her senses. Over that time, her husband had become a paranoid wreck; when the Childrens Bureau decided to cancel its contract with the two failing Sav-A-Lot stores in May, he seemed to go off the deep end. Home life for the woman was now intolerable; both she and Herb had initiated separate divorce proceedings; and her mind continued, through it all, to replay the doubts about Herbs sanity that Mary had force-fed into her consciousness. Suddenly, she realized that she felt no loyalty to the thing that had been her husband.
On June 23, she called her lawyer, Bill Wendling, and told him to get in touch with Mary Wilson. Herb was currently out of town with son Erich visiting his mother at Lake Wawasee and she wanted to take this opportunity to tell Mary about the bones she had found in her back yard.