Indiana serial killer made concerning purchase before burying 10,000 pieces of remains at home: family friend

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A serial killer bought a hearse “to pick up women for dates” about 10 years before murdering his first victim, a friend of the killer’s father told Fox News Digital.

“I’d say it was 1970, or somewhere around there. I’m not really sure of the exact date, but Herb (Baumeister) Jr. purchased a hearse. . . . And I could tell Dr. (Herb) Baumeister (Sr.) was genuinely perplexed and a little, what can I say, concerned,” Mannetta Braunstein said.

Braunstein worked with Baumeister Sr. several times a week from about 1966 to 1976 in the surgery department at Indiana hospitals. She said the elder Baumeister was a “gentleman” who drove her home after late shifts or emergency surgery and looked out for her. 

While they worked together, Baumeister Sr. told her tidbits about his son that seemed to weigh on his mind, according to Braunstein. And that was years before his son killed the first of at least 12 victims and buried their bodies around his Indiana property

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Baumeister Jr. is believed to have killed at least 25 people from the 1980s to the 1990s, and buried them throughout his $1 million, 18-acre property called Fox Hollow Farm in Westfield, Indiana. 

Law enforcement recovered 10,000 “burnt and crushed” skeletal remains after Baumeister Jr. shot himself as police closed in on the serial killer. 

So far, the Hamilton County coroner’s office has identified eight victims, and investigators have four more DNA profiles that have not been identified yet, which brings the body count up to 12, according to Coroner Jeff Jellison. 

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Looking back, Braunstein remembers several conversations in which Baumeister Sr. seemed concerned about his son. 

The hearse was the most vivid in her mind. 

She said Baumeister Sr. asked his son why he would get a used hearse, and his response was, “Well, dad, it’s a good way to get around and go on dates,” Braunstein said. “And we left it at that, but I could tell it bothered him.”

There were other potential red flags that she can see now in hindsight. 

Baumeister Jr. and Braunstein were close in age, so she felt that Baumeister Sr. spoke to her to get a younger person’s perspective. 

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She said Baumeister Jr. did not appear to have many friends – people did not come to the house or want to hang out with him, he did not play sports at a high school that was an athletic juggernaut or participate in extracurricular actives, and struggled to maintain his grades. 

Baumeister Jr. flunked out of college after one semester. His dad pushed him to go back to school in the late 1960s to study anatomy, but he did not make it through the first semester.

“I knew Dr. Baumeister was very disappointed when his son dropped out,” Braunstein said. “And it’s as if he (Baumeister Jr.) didn’t want to bother (with school).”

Braunstein personally met the serial killer once while he was a college-aged man, but she does not remember anything out of the ordinary. 

He came to her house once and spent about an hour talking about “mundane things,” said Braunstein, who noted that they were mostly topics he picked. 

And she came away thinking he was a “polite, courteous and nice-looking” man. 

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“It’s hard to get my mind wrapped around something like this, even after all these years,” Braunstein said. 

At one point, she fought back tears and rubbed her eyes. “It’s still emotional.”

“I knew Dr. Baumeister very, very well,” she said. “He was just a kind person, and it’s hard to imagine his son being able to do these incredible crimes, and incredible in a bad way.”

Braunstein’s glimpse into the years of Baumeister Sr.’s concern for his son seemed to come to a head in 1971, when Baumeister Jr. was committed to a mental institution six months after marrying Juliana Saiter. 

She stuck with him through his treatments, and by 1984, Baumeister Jr. was a married dad of three. 

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He had achievements at different jobs, but some odd behaviors, such as urinating on a letter addressed to then-Indiana Gov. Robert Orr in 1985 – shortly after a promotion in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles ended his success. 

He lost his job after that incident, but he and his wife essentially switched roles. He became a stay-at-home dad, while she went back to work. 

The couple ultimately founded a profitable thrift store, which changed their lives. 

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In the early 1990s, Baumeister Jr. and his family moved into the $1 million, 18-acre home, but their marriage began to crumble. 

He stayed behind to care for the stores and the house, which is where he committed most of his murders, while his wife and kids left for long stretches of time to get out of a toxic environment. 

That’s when his double life started. He used the name “Brian Smart” when he hunted for his prey in gay bars in the Indianapolis area. 

That’s where he picked up his victims. He brought them to his spacious and secluded home and ultimately killed them and buried the remains. 

One day, in 1994, his teenage son found a skull and showed it to his mom.

He initially brushed it off as an anatomical skeleton that his father owned, which Braunstein and her friends from the medical field knew was a lie right away. 

“Of course, we all know there’s no such thing as owning an anatomical skeleton. They’re carefully handled,” Braunstein said after hearing about the murders on the news. 

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But Baumeister Jr.’s wife believed the excuse but became suspicious. She initially denied law enforcement’s requests to search the premise. 

But their son’s chance discovery of the skull was trapped in her mind like a fly in a spider-web. 

The business went downhill, the couple faced bankruptcy, and Baumeister Jr. was consumed by alcoholism. All of this led to divorce, and his wife going to the police with the skull. 

“It certainly crosses your mind thinking, ‘I had a brush with the devil.’”

— Mannetta Braunstein, after learning about Baumeister Jr.’s murders.

Baumeister Jr.’s reign of terror was over. 

Law enforcement closed in. There were a warrant for his arrest and a search warrant to dig up the property, which was littered with human remains. 

Baumeister Jr. fled to Canada, where he shot himself. 

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Braunstein said, “Everybody was stunned” after hearing about Baumeister Jr.’s crimes. 

“We all knew Dr. Baumeister (Sr.) and his family. They were normal people. It wasn’t like they were doing anything weird that we knew of,” she said. “So the fact that his son turned into this prolific serial killer was just unimaginable.”

Looking back and rethinking the hour or so that she and Baumeister Jr. had spent together years before the murders, she said, “It certainly crosses your mind thinking, ‘I had a brush with the devil.’

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“I just remember saying, ‘My God, thank goodness his father died and didn’t have to live to see this.'”

She has since moved out of the state but said it’s still “unnerving that someone can be such a chameleon.”

“That’s the only word I can use,” she said. “He fooled me. I’m sure he fooled everyone else.”