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Ed Baker

Real Name: Edward Gerald Baker
Nicknames: Ed
Location: Katy, Texas
Date: November 8, 1985

Case[]

Details: On November 8, 1985, in a remote rice field two miles north of Katy, Texas, and twenty miles outside Houston, flames ravaged an expensive Jaguar sedan. Inside, sheriff’s deputies found a charred human body, so disfigured that even the gender was not apparent, so completely burned that its weight was reduced to thirty-two pounds. The car was registered to a fifty-two-year-old millionaire oil well promoter from Houston, Edward Gerald "Ed" Baker. Eventually, forensic tests indicated with near certainty that the body was, indeed, his.
Ed personified Texas in the 1980s: powerful, bold, and rich. A one-time shoe salesman and insurance agent, he built a multimillion-dollar oil investment business seemingly overnight. Then, in 1985, his world came to a fiery end. However, even now, the exact circumstances of his death are disputed. Some believe he took his own life. Others are certain he was murdered. Incredibly, a few people even think he may still be alive.
Ed seemed an unlikely person to be at the center of such a deadly puzzle. His company, Vanguard Groups International, was one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States. He founded it in 1978 to build inexpensive housing. In 1980, the company switched to selling limited partnerships in commercial real estate. His second wife, Mary E. Walker, watched him build the company from the ground up. She thinks that he always knew he had the potential to have a very successful business. She thinks that he tried his best to manage the business honestly and with a great deal of integrity.
Ed started promoting oil well exploration in 1980. His timing was perfect; Houston was booming. After his first oil wells came in, he had no trouble selling his clever tax shelters to wealthy investors. According to Mary, people tended to trust him. She said that he was acknowledged as a "pretty brilliant" strategist when it came to developing the tax shelter programs. She notes that the laws have changed since then, but at that time, it was brilliant.
When Ed founded Vanguard, Mary was one of only three employees, and cardboard boxes served as their file cabinets. Four years later, Vanguard's sales had skyrocketed to $19 million. The flood of wealth prompted drastic changes in his life. In March 1984, he divorced Mary after ten years of marriage. Soon after, he began to indulge a taste for high stakes gambling. He also underwent two facelifts, took disco lessons, and purchased a flashy new Jaguar.
In September 1984, Ed remarried, this time to Karen Wallbridge, only to file for divorce five months later. Just four days after the dissolution was final, he married forty-nine-year-old Sandra "Sandy" Hoff, one of his employees at Vanguard. All the while, his financial empire was disintegrating. At the time, Ward Busey was Ed's personal attorney. In 1985, the price of crude oil dropped. According to Ward, the oil industry "hurt" a lot of people in Houston; this caused people to stop investing in the deals that Ed was selling.
As it turns out, Ed was borrowing from a lot of his investors to sustain his lifestyle, always assuming that he was going to be able to repay them with money from the next group of investors. Eventually, however, there was no "next group" of investors. According to Ward, Ed was looking at serious charges from many of his investors. He was also looking at serious tax problems. Ward believes that Ed was facing possible jail time.
By October 1985, Ed's investors were clamoring for money – but Vanguard was on the edge of bankruptcy. He allegedly arranged a desperately needed cash bailout from a highly suspect source in Florida. Then, he brought in his private investigator, Bob Gale. He got the impression that Ed was talking "big money", such as millions of dollars. Ed wanted him to look into the background of the individuals that he was preparing to have some financial dealings with. He had heard that they had some sort of mafia connections.
Ed seemed unable to reverse his downward spiral. At around 7:30pm on November 6, he showed up at Mary's house in a state of emotional disarray. She was shocked because he looked very pale. He said he was afraid he was being followed. She felt that his behavior was unusual; it did not fit what she normally knew about him. He told her that within the past two weeks, he had received death threat letters at work. Earlier that day, he had also received two telephone calls at his unlisted home number, telling him, "This is your day to die." He did not know who was making the calls or writing the letters.
According to Mary, Ed was taking the threats seriously. She told him to call the police, but he said that they would not do anything unless "something happens". She told him that he should not go home; she suggested that he stay at her house or rent a hotel room. However, he said that he had to go home because he was expecting a call from Sandy. He knew that she would be worried if he did not answer. He then got in his car and drove away; that was the last time Mary saw him.
According to Sandy, Ed had sent her to her daughter's home in Austin, out of range of the threats. She says that she spoke to him around 1am. He was holed up in their bedroom and told her he had received yet another life-threatening call. The caller said, "Baker, it’s time to die." When Ed asked who was calling, the caller hung up.
At around 9:15am the next morning, a gardener noticed that a window in Ed's home was broken. In his bedroom, the phone had been knocked off a table and an ashtray had been overturned on the floor. His shotgun was missing, but there was no evidence of ransacking. Also, most of his personal items, including his jacket and wallet, were left behind. When he did not show up for work, he was reported missing.
At around 9am the next day, November 8, sheriffs were notified of the burned-out Jaguar (a witness reported seeing it burning on November 7). In the passenger's seat were the charred remains later identified as Ed's. Detective Ronnie Phillips said that based on the evidence at the scene, it appeared that Ed had been shot. There was a burned .32 caliber revolver in the right front floorboard, which would have been at the passenger's feet. When detectives opened and examined the revolver, the cartridge underneath the firing pin had an indentation in it, which indicated that it had been fired. The other five shells looked like they had been exploded by heat. A shotgun, believed to be Ed's, was also found in the car.
According to arson investigator Terry Byrd, it was obvious that someone had tried to burn the car. To him, it appeared that it was a rather crude effort. They found three gallon gasoline cans, along with gasoline, inside and around the car. There was more than enough to sufficiently burn it up.
As they were leaving the scene, investigators made another troubling discovery. About 1,500 feet from the car was a second body. A young man in his early twenties had been handcuffed and beaten to death, apparently just hours earlier. He was nude except for a camouflage shirt. At first, investigators thought that the man was Ed's killer, and somebody killed him to shut him up. However, it was later determined that the man was not connected to Ed's death. The man had been killed in a dope deal and just happened to be dumped in that area, which was a known "dumping area".
That same day, this case took another surprising twist. A letter from him arrived at Ward's office. According to Ward, it said, "Dear Ward, if you are reading this letter, it means that I am dead. I've had some threats on my life. You've been a good friend to me. Please take care of Sandy and the kids and do what you can for them. And enclosed is another letter that I would like you to take out to Sandy and give to her for me."
In the weeks that followed, the fate of Ed became the subject of intense speculation. Sandy, who today lives in Europe, was convinced that he was the victim of a mafia hit. An eyewitness told police that he saw a blue Chevy pickup truck with chrome rails and mag wheels speeding away from the field where Ed’s car was found. The truck, and whoever was in it, have never been located.
Although Ed told a number of friends about the threats to his life, law enforcement investigators believe he committed suicide. They learned that in the days prior to his death, he called his life insurance agents. He specifically asked if his policies would pay in the event of his suicide. One, valued at $500,000, would not. He also wrote letters removing Vanguard as beneficiary on his insurance policies and naming his family instead.
Detective Phillips believes it is possible that Ed shot himself and had an accomplice set the car on fire to make it look like a homicide. That way, all of the insurance policies would pay off. Detective Phillips noted that he has had several cases where people have committed suicide in a car with a pistol. In all of those cases, the pistol was found at the person’s feet. In this case, the pistol that was recovered would have been at his feet on the passenger side of the car.
Sandy refused to accept the idea that Ed had taken his own life. She hired an independent private investigator, Keith Lyons. He believes that someone was paid to kill Ed. He does not believe that the death was a professional hit, related to the mafia or a syndicate, because it would not make sense for them to burn the car. He believes that it was simply a case of someone being paid to kill Ed. He does not believe that Ed committed suicide.
Ward disagrees with the theory that Ed was murdered. He points out how the letter Ed sent him said, "If you're reading this, I am dead." He does not believe that Ed would have known he was going to die that night, unless he was planning on going out and killing himself. He thinks that Ed decided that he was about to probably go to jail and decided to get Sandy out of town so that she would not be implicated. He said goodbye to everybody he loved, went out to a field he knew about, set his car on fire, and shot himself.
Investigator Byrd has spent over twenty years investigating fires. He said that based on what he knew, he does not believe an individual can pour gasoline on themselves, ignite it, and be able to stay calm and still enough to reach down and put a gun to their head and pull the trigger.
Bob said that homicide is a possibility in this case. However, he also feels that it is possible that Ed could have arranged it so that a different body was in his car. He said that Ed was a very intelligent man, a man that took in $66 million the last year that he was in business. He said that a man capable of doing that is capable of faking his own death. Bob and others believe that, despite conclusive evidence to the contrary, Ed faked his own suicide. They are convinced that he fled to an unknown location, perhaps the Caribbean, to live in luxury on funds embezzled from his investors. Interestingly, at least $10 million from Vanguard remains unaccounted for.
However, evidence found in the car seems to indicate that the body was indeed Ed's. His ring was found in the car. A shotgun believed to be his was also found in it. The autopsy revealed at least sixty points of similarity between Ed's medical records and the teeth and pieces of jaw found in the car.
In November 1986, the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office ended their investigation into this case. They were unable to determine the cause of Ed's death. They claimed that they were unable to do so because too much of his body was destroyed in the fire. The medical examiner believed that Ed committed suicide; however, he said there was not enough evidence to prove it. He believed that Ed's motive was the collapse of his financial empire and the threats on his life. At least one insurance company refused to pay on a policy because they believed he committed suicide. However, the assistant district attorney at the time believed that Ed was murdered.
Today, Ed's fate has become something of a myth in parts of Texas. It seems unlikely that he is still alive, yet one of his insurance carriers refused to pay death benefits without conclusive proof that he is dead. But if it was him in the front seat of the Jaguar, did he commit suicide, or was he murdered? And if so, by whom?
Suspects: In order to bail out his company, Ed allegedly borrowed money from a suspicious source: a reputed organized crime figure in Miami, Florida, that may have had Mafia connections. It is possible that this source or the Mafia was responsible for his death. Sandy later told police that she believed that Miami organized crime figures had him killed because he owed them over $1 million.
Six weeks before Ed's death, he and Sandy went to Miami to "pacify" the people who loaned him the money. They tried to arrange another way to repay the loan because he had already spent all of the money. However, Sandy said that she did not know much else about the situation. The night he disappeared, he allegedly told her that they were angry with him because he failed to repay their $250,000 loan. He allegedly told her that they were going to kill him.
An eyewitness reported seeing a blue Chevy pickup truck with chrome rails and mag wheels speeding away from the scene of the fire. It and its occupants have never been identified.
Ed's son, Blake, was arrested shortly after Ed's death for threatening to kill Sandy if she did not pay him $200,000. He later took a lie detector test which indicated he was not withholding any information. However, when she took one, it indicated that she was withholding information. It is not known if Blake or Sandy were considered suspects.
An investigation by six law enforcement agencies failed to identify any firm suspects in this case.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the October 7, 1992 episode.
  • Ed's first wife of twenty years was killed in a car wreck on Thanksgiving weekend 1973.
  • Less than a month after Ed's death, Vanguard filed for protection pending reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law.
  • Some sources state that Ed called Sandy at 3am on the night of his death.
  • It was also featured on "The Trail Went Cold" podcast.

Results: Unsolved. In 1995, Blake passed away at the age of thirty-three. In 2000, Ward passed away at the age of fifty-one.
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