Is murder or suicide to blame for an oil tycoon’s mysterious death.

Ed Baker

Someone set fire to his car

CASE DETAILS

On November 8, 1985, flames ravaged an expensive Jaguar in a remote field 20 miles outside Houston, Texas.  Inside, sheriff’s deputies found a charred body, so disfigured, that even the gender was not apparent.  The car was registered to millionaire oil well promoter, Edward Gerald Baker.  Forensic tests indicated that the body was, indeed, his.

Does this letter prove it was suicide?

Ed Baker personified Texas in the 1980s.  He was powerful, bold, and rich.  A onetime shoe salesman and insurance agent, he built a multi-million dollar oil investment business, seemingly overnight.  Then, in 1985, Baker’s world came to a fiery end.  Some believe he took his own life; others were certain he was murdered.  Incredibly, a few people even think Ed Baker may still be alive.

Ed Baker 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.  Ed’s second wife, Mary E. Walker, watched him build the company from the ground up:

“He always knew he had the potential to have a very successful business.  And I think he tried his best to manage that business honestly and with a great deal of integrity.”

A gun was found inside Ed’s car

When Baker started his oil well business, his timing was perfect.  Houston was booming.  After his first oil wells came in, Ed had no trouble selling his clever tax shelters to wealthy investors.  According to Mary, people tended to trust him:

“He was acknowledged as a pretty brilliant strategist when it came to developing… shelter programs at that time.”

Four years after Baker started Vanguard, its sales reached $19 million.  But Baker’s sudden wealth brought on many changes in his life.  In March of 1984, he divorced Mary, his wife of ten years.  Soon after, he began to indulge in high stakes gambling.  Baker also underwent two face-lifts, took disco lessons, and purchased a flashy new Jaguar.  In September of 1984, Baker remarried, only to file for divorce five months later.  Just four days after the dissolution was final, he married Sandy Hoff, one of his employees at Vanguard.   All the while, Baker’s financial empire was disintegrating.  And in order to support his extravagant lifestyle, Baker was taking his client’s money.  Ward Busey was Ed Baker’s personal attorney:

“He was looking at some serious charges from a lot of his investors.  He was looking at… serious tax problems.  It may have been very true that he was about to go to jail.”

Ed received numerous death threats

By October of 1985, Baker’s investors were clamoring for money, but Vanguard was on the edge of bankruptcy.  Baker apparently arranged to borrow money from a highly suspect source.  He brought in his private investigator, Bob Gale, to run a background check on the source:

“I got information from Ed that he was talking big money, such as millions.  And he thought maybe we’d have to do a little background on these individuals that he was preparing to have some financial dealings with in Florida, because he’d heard that… they had some sort of Mafia connections.”

Ed Baker seemed unable to reverse his downward spiral.  On November 6th, at around 7:30 PM, he showed up at his ex-wife Mary’s house in a state of emotional disarray:

“I was really kind of shocked because he was real pale and he was afraid he was being followed.  And this was very unusual.  It didn’t fit what I normally knew.  He told me that he had received death threat letters at work.  Within the past two weeks.  And that that day he had received two telephone calls at his unlisted home number, telling him this is your day to die… and that was the last time I saw him.”

Ed’s new wife, Sandy, said her husband sent her to Austin as a precaution.  She said she spoke to Ed at around 1 AM.  He was holed up in their bedroom because he had received yet another death threat.  Two days later, on November 8th, investigators found the charred remains in Baker’s burned out Jaguar.

Terry Byrd was an arson investigator for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department at the time of the discovery:

“Somebody obviously was trying to burn the car… it was a rather crude effort.  We found three gallon cans of gasoline inside that vehicle, and around that vehicle, more than enough to sufficiently burn it up.”

That same day, a letter from Baker arrived at the office of his attorney, Ward Busey:

“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 Baker became the subject of intense speculation. His wife, Sandy, was convinced that he was the victim of a Mafia hit.

Although Baker had told a number of friends about the threats to his life, law enforcement investigators believed he had committed suicide.  They learned that in the days prior to his death, Baker had called his life insurance agents.  According to Ronnie Phillips, a detective for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, he specifically asked if his policies would pay in the event of his suicide:

“I believe it’s a possibility that Mr. Baker shot himself, committed suicide and then he had an accomplice that set the car on fired to make it look like a homicide so that all of the insurance policies would pay off.”

Sandy Baker refused to accept the idea that her husband had taken his own life.  She hired Keith Lyons, an independent private investigator:

“If you’re… professional like a mafia or syndication type thing, I don’t think so.  I don’t know why they would burn the car.  It seems to be somebody was paid to kill Ed Baker and that’s exactly what they did.  Ed Baker did not commit suicide.”

However, Baker’s attorney, Ward Busey, disagreed:

“The letter I got said if you’re reading this, I am dead.  How did he know he was going to die that night, unless he planned to kill himself.  I think Ed decided that he was about to probably go to jail and decided to get Sandy out of town so that she wouldn’t be implicated.  Said goodbye to everybody that he loved, went out to this field that he knew about, set his car on fire and shot himself.”

Bob Gale proposed an even different scenario.  He believed Ed Baker staged his own suicide:

“I feel the possibility that Ed could arrange something like this with a different body in that vehicle.  Ed was a very intelligent man.  A man who took in as he told me himself, $66 million the last year that he was in business.  And a man capable of faking his own death.”

Bob Gale and others believe that, despite conclusive evidence to the contrary, Ed Baker faked his own suicide.  They are convinced that Baker fled to an unknown location, perhaps the Caribbean, to live in luxury on funds embezzled from his investors.  While this theory may seem unlikely, the fate of Ed Baker has become something of a myth in parts of Texas.  If it was Ed Baker in the front seat of the Jaguar, did he commit suicide, or was he murdered?  And if so, by whom?


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season five with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

SUBMIT A TIP

14 Comments

  1. thinkingoutloud

    why would a wealthy man receiving death threats kill himself instead of trying to outrun death? doesn’t make sense. i think he staged it all. no one threatened his family so it’s not like he had something to lose. of course he could have had someone send the letter on the day of his ‘death’ to make it look like he killed himself and was giving his last goodbyes. he staged the murder so his family would gain the money while he secretly hides out.
    he’s probably hiding out somewhere and i’m sure he was taking care of his family as much as he could secretively.

    Reply

  2. Curious Body

    Ed Baker looks exactly like my boss with a door to door magazine company in 2001-2002 going by the name of Paul cant remember his last name. He had a series of odd behavior patterns such as he paid for 3 vehicles for the magazine crew In cash he always had one of the crew members drive rarely would he drive his reason was he had no license due to his vision he had an ID but didnt look like the ordinary Texas State Issued ID and he claimed to have a wife and 6mo old baby when i started working for him yet was always on the road ao i didnt understand how he honestly had time to have a settle life with a wife even more so a baby. I once got a ticket for not having proper door to door identification amd he quickly paid it before it even got processed saying he couldnt risk any trouble. My prayers to his family and I also pray this strange mystery is solved for the sake of his family!

    Reply

  3. Kip

    This sounds like the plot line to the movie “Fletch”!!

    Reply

  4. Sam

    Surely if he committed suicide: they would have found a bullet. Seeing as the gun didn’t get pulverised a bullet in the depths of his head or chest would also have made it. Seems like real shabby detective work to me I’m afraid.

    Reply

    • Trena Williams

      There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. I was working for Ed when he was supposedly killed. I do not believe that the body found in his Jaguar was that of Ed Baker. I have known one of the HPD homicide detectives assigned to this case for years and he doesn’t believe it either. There is no way that the medical examiners office was able to definitively ID the body based solely off of a small piece of jaw bone that was recovered. Yet that’s exactly what happened. I’ve been told even those in the FBI don’t believe it was him either.

      Reply

  5. Blue bird

    Well I agree I Think Ed Had Set His Car On Fire Plannig To Defraud The Insurance Company! When That Failed! He Walked Away And Killed Himself!

    Reply

  6. Black Bieber

    I think Ed Baker was murdered, because it would simply be impossible for somebody to pour gasoline on their car, light it on fire and then shoot themselves. I think somebody (perhaps a Mafia group) followed Ed, forced him to go to the woods, killed him, & set his car on fire. As far as the Insurance policy & the letter was concerned, I think he was writing a “Will” to his family so that they could know what to do in an emergency if something awful did happen to him. I think he wanted to live, I just think he was taking some (smart) precautions by doing a “Will”?

    Reply

  7. TCW

    I worked there at the time of his death. His son, Blake, was a drug addict and that is why his behavior was sketchy. There was definitely accelerant used and that’s why the body was so badly charred. His platinum wedding ring and gun were barely misshapen which means they were thrown into the fire after the initial burn, as determined by the Houston Police Dept. There is no way you can drink gasoline and then light a fire and shoot yourself. The gas would burn your lungs and suffocate you almost immediately. Although the medical examiner determined (using a small piece of his jawbone) that this was indeed Ed, there are many in the investigation that don’t believe it, including one of the homicide investigators who happened to be my neighbor at the time, the district attorney and the FBI. They continued the investigation after the decision by the M.E. One year after his death Texas Monthly Magazine featured and article about Ed and even used a picture of someone who looked similar to him in their cover with the headline “Is Edward Baker alive and well and living in Antigua?”

    Reply

  8. Rhonda

    I was dating his lawyer and Ward told me he thought it was suicide so the insurance could still be collected by his kids’ mama for their kids. He said the body was burned so badly, he thinks Ed actually drank gasoline as well as covered himself and the car with it. I believe Ward said it was a shotgun he propped up from the floorboard and he thinks Ed pulled the trigger as he lit the lighter. I remember him telling me that if someone was on fire, their natural instinct would be to run….they wouldn’t be able to sit there and burn. That sounded reasonable to me.

    Reply

    • Na

      There was one bullet in the body ( head) and the body was in the back seat of the car. The car was totaled by the fire and the skull was intact. No shotgun was found only a hand gun. I was the funeral director sent to the screen and removed the bullet from the body.

      Reply

  9. Drew

    Contrary to what you see in the movies the mob doesn’t kill you when you owe them money. If they kill you they can’t get paid. A person that can raise that kind of funds and has access to huge amounts of collateral such as cars and real estate and is high profile is not a candidate for a mob hit. He’d be worth more alive and they’d squeeze him dry for every penny first. Likely suicide insurance scam and dental records would have confirmed identity for any insurance claims to go through. Not much of a mystery really.

    Reply

  10. Erik Serruys

    Where is his step daughter Lisha? What happened to Lisha Hoff?

    Reply

  11. DG

    I was a freelance artist at the time and I went to the Vanguard building to talk to Ed Baker’s daughter about doing some artwork for them. I also met his son, who’s handshake was wet and clammy and he said he wasn’t feeling well, but seemed very nervous about something. The daughter toured me through the building which was lavishly decorated and designed by her mother, Baker’s first wife. We went into his office but he was gone. The fireplace was going and his daughter was surprised that he left abruptly. She showed me his office and private bathroom with black tile, gold fixtures, and other extravagant designs I had never seen in a bathroom. I had parked my ’62 Oldsmobile next to a black Jaguar, which I didn’t realize was Baker’s car that would later be found burned with a body inside. I was to get back with Miss Baker the following week and start doing artwork, but she didn’t call me. I waited a couple more days and decided to call her. She said there was a death in the family and asked if I’d heard on the news about the burned-out Jag with a burned body inside it. I said I had, and she told me it was her dad. She had also mentioned at our first meeting that her dad did some gambling in Vegas and would always win around $30,000 playing the roulette, with some strategy of placing bets on the 00 and 000. She said in our final conversation that he had talked with his ex wife about being afraid that the Mafia was after him, and was sickened with fear. I often wondered if Baker had told his son anything that day I met him when his handshake was cold and clammy as he seemed more nervous than sick. It was also then that Baker left his office in such a rush. I had a creepy feeling for a couple of weeks, as if I was being watched or my phone was tapped. The daughter mentioned a ring on the finger of the victim, that it was her dad’s, but she said it could have been placed there as it wasn’t destryoyed. I think she just had hopes he was still alive somewhere and I couldn’t blame her. She was a very sweet girl and I hated that she suffered such a loss.

    Reply

  12. Dahlia

    I think he committed suicide and staged a murder so his wife could collect his insurance money.

    Reply