WESTFIELD, Ind. — Investigators say Herbert Baumeister would pick his victims up at a downtown Indianapolis bar, take them home to his Westfield estate, strangle them in his swimming pool or during sex and deposit their bodies in the woods behind his house.
Detectives first suspected Baumeister in the summer of 1995 but couldn’t get onto his property until almost a year later when they discovered some 10,000 bones and bone fragments belonging to at least 11 men.
Eight victims have been identified. Three have not, and Baumeister killed himself in a park in Canada on July 4, 1996.
Now, more than a quarter century later, the Hamilton County coroner is spearheading a re-examination of the crime scene in an attempt to determine if there are the remains of another dozen or more victims of Indiana’s most notorious serial killer still left undiscovered.
“This initiative began three to four months ago when I was contacted by a family member of a missing individual that is convinced that his loved one was a victim in the crime that occurred here,” said Jeff Jellison. “It’s about attempting to find additional remains, trying to identify those remains and provide closure for those families.”
Dogs specially trained to track the scent of human remains prowled the woods Sunday behind what was the Baumeister family home.
“The primary thing we look for is a change in our dog’s behavior,” said Jeremy Pell of Indiana Canine Search & Rescue. “If we have one dog that has a change in behavior, then we will confirm that with other dogs, hence, the flags, so we can mark an accurate location of where the dog had some behavior that indicated they were in the odor of human remains.”
Red flags dot the woods where Jellison, investigators from Indiana State Police and forensic anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis may decide to dig for remains. Around 20 flags were placed in various areas and GPS coordinates were taken.
“We don’t know at this point who we have,” said Jellison. “We don’t know who those people are and we don’t know where their family members or next of kin are located. That’s’ the biggest challenge in this. 26 years have gone by, so we can develop a DNA profile on a bone, but to track down a family member that can provide us with a comparison sample is the big piece of this.”
Jellison said he needs family members who suspect a missing loved one may have fallen prey to Baumeister in the decade from the mid-80s to the mid-90s to call him at (317) 770-4415.
“These people for 26 years have sat on a shelf or remained on this property or in the woods of this property,” he said. “They were forgotten, and I can assure you they’re not going to be forgotten any longer.”
Robert Graves bought the property more than a decade ago.
“This is the first time that I’m aware in 15 years that dogs are out here. Dogs have never been here,” he said. “We knew about the killings but assumed they got all of the remains.”
Graves said the estate was sold by Baumeister’s widow to an investment company that sold it to him.
“Every day something comes up related to the case. Either visitors coming on to the property to see where it happened or media requests,” he said. “People want to see where things happened and this is a pretty infamous case.”
Graves said he’s learned to live with the property’s history and the occasional reminder of what’s in the woods out back of his house.
“Animals drag bones around and have for years. Apparently, the killer did not bury anyone,” Graves said. “He literally just laid them on the ground and animals drug the bones all over the property.”
Graves said he takes whatever evidence he finds to the U of I anthropologists and is cooperating with the latest crime scene investigation for the sake of the victims and their families.
“There’s a lot of people who just disappear and no one knows where they go,” he said. “It’s surprising that more family members don’t go looking for them but apparently they don’t.”