Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Baumeister

The Dark Side

"Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio..."

William Shakespeare

During the first several years of the 1990s, the citizens in and around Indianapolis, Indiana might have stumbled on a very brief article in the local newspapers about how certain young men were disappearing from the streets of their town never to be seen again. In each case, the episodes mirrored each other; only the names changed. But, the articles grew no larger nor attracted much attention. All the prodigal sons were gay or were suspected of leaning in that sexual direction. Being gay, they were a coming and yet steadily outcast breed of citizens in a very conservative "Bible Belt". Even the officials remained lethargic; common belief was that the "victims" might simply have gone on to other, larger, more glitzy towns like San Francisco or New York where homosexuality was not considered wayward at all. The only victims here, thought the police, were the families these young men abandoned without a goodbye.

But, as the number of disappearances tolled up, a few members of the community began to realize that there might be something wrong in the Bible Belt. The first to suspect foul play was a private detective named Virgil Vandagriff the first, in fact, to start putting two and two together to actually add up to four. However, even he and the believers he eventually recruited from among the law enforcement agencies in the two surrounding counties who took up the search for a killer were not prepared to find a monster.

Virgil Vandagriff (John Zich)
Virgil Vandagriff
(John Zich)

Their trail ended in the wooded back yard of a huge private estate where the skeletons of the reported missing persons and others were uncovered. Then the media took notice, then the camera trucks rolled in, then the killings took headline.

However, who can condemn the media circus that followed? For perhaps it was not the blood and gore and spittle of the usual sensationalism that often follows a murder. Here, there was more. The graveyard, being dug up by the shovels-full, was unearthing more than bone. With each stab of a shovel into the dirt humankind itself was feeling the eerie pain of reality: that there exists in a dark corner of Man a skeleton that may come out of the closet at any moment, shouting.

The killer, the psycho, the demon, whatever you want to call Herb Baumeister, was a man with a surface so normal that, when his deeper psyche was discovered, made those who knew him wince. He was a family man, an entrepreneur who supported local charities. He looked normal and talked normal...until you really got to know him.

"He fit all the components of a serial killer," Vandagriff says in a not-at-all- surprised tone, "among them the ability to keep his crimes in control and silent under an everyday nonchalance. He was a business owner whose store many townspeople frequented. My own office was only a mile and a half away from his place. I never met him, but from what I understand he wasnt the type of guy youd at first suspect of being a sexual psychopath."

Vandagriff pauses and thinks about what he just said. In addition, his voice, which reeks of experience in dealing with the darkest side of humanity, grows more assertive as he adds, "The danger signals are always there in people of Baumeisters caliber. Trouble is the public ignores them. In Baumeisters case, even his wife ignored them. Lethargy - its the serial killers greatest strength."

The following story is based on a couple of existing sources, but is very largely a product of an interview with Vandagriff who shared his reminiscences and insight with Dark Horse Multimedia. His input helped to, you pardon the expression, flesh out the skeleton of a truly macabre but remarkable story in the annals of Americas serial killings.

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