Is murder or suicide to blame for an oil tycoon’s mysterious death?
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
That same day, a letter from Baker arrived at the office of his attorney, Ward Busey:
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:
Sandy Baker refused to accept the idea that her husband had taken his own life. She hired Keith Lyons, an independent private investigator:
However, Baker’s attorney, Ward Busey, disagreed:
Bob Gale proposed an even different scenario. He believed Ed Baker staged his own suicide:
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?