Abingdon’s Femme Fatalle
The Baker trial of 1891 held the region spellbound with shameless love, infidelity, and ultimately murder. The prosecution’s star witness was the mistress herself, and she wove a fantastic web in the courtroom. Researchers reinvestigate the proceedings nearly 150 years later. So, did a powerful doctor escape justice… or did a femme fatalle manipulate the legal system to punish a wayward lover?
The courtroom was filled to capacity on August 11, 1891. The humidity was already heavy, and it was only ten in the morning. Despite the heat, a woman in black entered the courtroom. Her face was hidden by thick veils. She was so frail and weak that her brother ushered her to the stand. Once sworn in, she wove a tale of love, obsession, and death. The trial of Dr. John Baker was unlike any ever witnessed before in Abingdon, Virginia.
Dr. John Alexander Preston Baker was 50, and had enjoyed three decades of successful practice. He was healthy and attractive for his age. His wife, Susan, was a beloved figure in the community. They had five children, most of whom were grown by the time of the trial.
Wyndam and Marguerite “Maggie” Gilmer were likewise known and respected. He was a successful farmer. He married her after the death of his first wife, and by the time of the trial, the couple had 9 children altogether.
The charge against Maggie and her “paramour” Baker was that of spousal murder. So, did the two really conspire to kill?
Maggie grew overwrought several times while giving testimony. The star witness wept and begged the court for patience. She said she was 35, and had been married for 15 years, since 1876. She said rumors of adultery had kept her socially ostracized for over two years.
She was only 20 when she married Wyndam Gilmer, and he was a widower with 2 small children. Contrary to her implications in court, her marriage had been most productive. Wyndam and Maggie had produced seven children, in addition to his other two.
She claimed there was no indication of trouble when they wed. She was originally from Pulaski, and moved to the area with Wyndam. He brought her to a festival at Maple Grove church in 1877, right after their marriage. That was where she first met Baker and his family. The Gilmer and Baker families attended the same church and lived as neighbors for 13 years. They were close friends for years, and then Baker became the Gilmer family doctor. He was their physician for about nine years.
Seducing the Prosecutrix
Maggie claimed she had been ill five years earlier. She’d suffered with severe “catarrh,” or sinusitis, and thought she might die from it. Her husband was away for work, as he normally was. Baker first treated her as a patient. Eventually, she said he made romantic advances, and she submitted. Their affair had continued since.
They had been disgraced two years before the trial. Neighbors became suspicious of the couple’s unusual behavior. He visited the Gilmer household too often, and when no one was sick. It wasn’t long before the relationship apparently led them to a hotel room in Bristol.
The Fairmont Hotel said the woman had registered as Emma Gordon, from Roanoke. She and Baker had separate, but adjoining rooms. Baker told the hotel staff she was his patient. Rumors traveled, however, and someone said she was Maggie. It was only a matter of time before rumors reached Abingdon. In 1889, a staff person at the Fairmont hotel informed the family’s church of the couple’s meeting. The couple only met one time, according to court documents, but it was enough to set the rumor mill ablaze.
The two were brought before a panel of trusted elders and questioned. The couple eventually confessed to the affair. To save their families from disgrace, the pair were allowed to quietly withdraw their membership, as opposed to subjecting their loved ones to scandal.
Wyndam Gilmer suspected nothing of the affair, or his wife’s extramarital affections, until the church interrogation. He was devastated. Maggie, however, begged him to keep her, for the sake of their many children. He tentatively consented and assumed she’d realized how much she might lose.
Maggie told the courtroom their attraction only grew more powerful after the interrogation. Baker was caught at the Gilmer household a number of times, and Wyndam always forbade him from returning. On one occasion, Wyndam simply went to Sunday school, and Baker was at his house by the time it was over.
Sealed with a Kiss
Maggie claimed the two resorted to their own method of exchanging letters near her house, by way of leaving them in the outhouse. They continued their relationship without anyone knowing. She also devised a way to leave certain colored towels or linens on the clothesline, so Baker knew when her husband was away.
Maggie stated Baker then complained he couldn’t get enough of her and was tired of sharing her with her husband. She claimed it was then they began planning on murdering their spouses. She said he swore that “ever barrier must be burned away.”
Maggie said Baker told her his money was her money. He wanted her away from her husband. She claimed he urged her to go stay with her sister in Pulaski, but she could only stay 2 weeks. She was overcame with the urge to see her children. She said Baker told her if she returned to her house, he would never speak to her again.
The Devil in the Details
Maggie’s report of his gifts of money were never substantiated. She produced a number of trinkets as Baker’s gifts, but they weren’t valuable. John was known for living beyond his means. He practiced medicine regularly, but his patients were not wealthy and didn’t always pay. He inherited from both parents, and even a brother, but never seemed to have what doctors usually did. He actually had little money, and sold parcels of the family land as needed.
No one ever suspected any member of the adulterous party of murder. Most of the community believed the relationship ended when it cost the couple their social standing and church membership. To further reinforce public assumption the affair was over, John sold his house near the Gilmer residence in August 1890. He moved into Abingdon, and away from his “beloved” the following month. For someone who “couldn’t get enough” of his mistress, he put a notable distance between them. Perhaps that is what infuriated Maggie.
A Woman Scorned?
Maggie, while eager to portray herself as meek and manipulated, was rumored to be a force of reckoning. Several in the community said she told John that she would “sink his soul in hell, in less than four months,” if he didn’t do exactly as she wished.
No sooner had Baker moved to Abingdon when a mysterious cache of sensational love letters was found in his old barn. St. John, the neighbor who purchased the house, conveyed them to his friend, Mr. Whitaker. The two men couldn’t fathom who owned the letters, because the author didn’t use real names. Eventually they decide d it was communication between Maggie and John. Whitaker knew the Gilmer family, so he delivered them. Letters soon emerged from strange places all around the home’s exterior.
Discovery of the letters set off a chain reaction. There were several mysterious hints of dosing someone, and the wording implied poisoning. The Gilmer family then turned them into the authorities. When the authorities arrested Maggie, she first wove the tale of their murderous plot. She even produced an empty bottle for the arresting magistrate, Col. John Summers, and claimed it once held the poison Baker gave her to give to her husband. Unfortunately, the truth of her tale was never satisfactorily proven. As a matter of fact, much of it seemed to be pure fantasy. Baker was arrested around an hour later at the Methodist Church in Abingdon. He denied everything.
The following day, the couple appeared before the magistrate at Wallace’s. Baker was jailed and Gilmer was confined to her home, with guards posted. Judge Ward refused to grant Baker bail. The grand jury was held on May 7, 1891. Baker told the grand jury that Maggie’s story was “false as hell.”
Rumors circulated of a lynch mob coming for Baker, but were unfounded. Baker pled “Not Guilty,” but still wasn’t permitted bail. Maggie Gilmer was bailed on $20,000 bond, her husband and brother were her bondsmen. Baker’s trial began on July 28, 1891.
It Gets Sinister
Maggie said the murderous plan was developed in April or May of 1889. Baker was first going to overdose his wife on opium. By their third conversation, which she said happened weeks before Susan died, he’d decide to use strychnine and phosphorous acid. Baker claimed he would give his wife the regimen of strychnine and phosphoric acid, and tell others he was trying to build up her system. He would then administer a fatal dose. Maggie stated Baker admitted his wife was pregnant, and he swore to God she wouldn’t live to see its birth.
Maggie initially refused to poison her husband, but Baker grew cold. She feared she might lose him if she didn’t comply. She said she worshipped Baker above all else on earth. She said Baker threatened to “blow his brains out” if she didn’t do as he wished.
As further proof of the relationship, John gave Maggie a ring inscribed with, “Love for Maggie.” One of her children was also named Maggie, so she claimed John told her to say it was for their daughter.
Susan Baker died on September 25, 1889. Maggie stated she was found in a corner of her bedroom, vomiting and exhibiting paralysis. She died on a Wednesday and was buried on Friday.
Baker visited her on Saturday, but the pair didn’t have physical relations until four or five days later. Maggie claimed Baker spent half that day with her, even after the minister met Baker on the road to console him about his wife.
Maggie said Baker told her she, “should be made his own little wife.” She gave a list of gifts she alleged to be from Baker, including the aforementioned ring, watches, presents, a gold pen, and a lot of money. She said she’d fallen under his power from the moment she first surrendered her honor.
Maggie then admitted she’d tried to poison Wyndam Gilmer, but the attempt failed when his brother intervened and saved him. She claimed they would’ve gotten away with everything, if not for the trove of letters that had came to light earlier that year.
It looked like a cut-and-dried case of murder. Her testimony alleged the couple had motive, method, and had already successfully killed once before they poisoned Wyndam. Unfortunately, the case was anything, but simple.
As previously mentioned, the letters were filled with sentiment bordering hysteria. They were also dated nearly a year after Susan’s death.
The prosecution carefully guarded the seven detailed letters, so even publications willing to print them were turned away. This might’ve been simple caution, but came across as looking suspicious. This is one excerpt from the newspapers:
“Darling One— Ah! let me come to you once more, and falling at your feet scream mercy! Will you turn me away again empty, or will you hear and answer my pleadings?
“I have been asleep, and dreamed of you, and woke up all in a tremor, and for the first time in one month I have given way to my feelings, flew into my trunk, untied your precious photograph, and pressing it to my heart screamed aloud, ‘Oh, God, take my soul and destroy it, but give my angel back to me!’ I can’t endure this life; and dear, something has to be done at once, or I will do something to cause deeper trouble than there has ever been. I don’t care who knows I am distracted about you.”
One or two letters did get published during trial and were printed in the papers. Here is a full letter, dated August 26, 1890:
“My own little guardian angel! My little love sing forever and forever! God knows this is from my soul as purely as one of his angels could utter anything. I said in my note to you Saturday—‘No more’ until I had a dear, sweet letter from you, and so the one I received Sunday morning is what I term a dear sweet letter. If you are sincere in what you say, darling, I could not ask for sweeter promises. I am going to believe every and trust you for the rest; and I can’t believe you will let me suffer for one trust confided in you. If you do it will kill me, sweet one, and the sin will be that much greater on you.
“Let me, oh! Let me, relieve your precious heart in regard to that creature. I will swear to you that if he wanted ever so bad, to even put his hand on me there, he shouldn’t do it for ten thousand times ten thousand this world and everything in it, while I have the least ray of hope of ever becoming yours, and you know I will hope as long as there is life; and my little angel if this is not true, I pray God’s direst curses to rest upon me from this moment, and to damn me when I die; or if every word I have written you is not true, I pray the same. Now, isn’t it awful that I have been enduring all I have for you, and still you do not show me the sympathy as you should, as I want you to? I know how loving and sweet you can be, and what a comforter you are in time of trouble. Let me have all your soul, and see how sweet I’ll be to you.
“I know darling, you were disappointed Friday from my own sad heart. He fully intended going, and the evening he was going A.S. Rogers told him he would attend to his business for him, and so he did; and S. Graves came up to see him, so you can imagine my sorrow by your own feelings. Never mind, honey, this is not the last time, and you just be patient, and see if I won’t reward you for all you have endured. I’ll never grieve that little darling spirit, but will do everything in human power to make it bright and happy. I was more relieved by your letter Saturday than I can tell you. It was the letter I mailed you that I was so wrought up over. He has not gotten that yet, but will any time. I gave him two doses yesterday, and one today. I gave enough to accomplish our object if no more, and you know what that is. I can manage any way you say; now there is no danger but what the prescription will be filled and that real soon. And I want you to tell me just what you want me to do. Encourage me if you intend to do as you say in your letter; that I shall be yours, beyond a doubt.
“O, my darling one, how precious your promises are to me! I confide in the least or greatest you can tell me.
“Perhaps you did not understand the little note attached to my ring. I do not remember just what I wrote, but I had that ready to mail with my letter, and I was awfully blue, then. I thought best not to put it in, so I just laid it away until Saturday and put it in the office with the same note tied to it I had written on Thursday. I never thought about it until Sunday, and you would not comply with my request to come by. I have written a letter every night since. You will never come to the office that you do not find one, and I’ll never let your soul see rest until I am safe in your great, big loving arms as your own wife! you my own darling husband? I know it could be the sweetest husband God ever gave a woman.
“If they go to Baltimore it will be nice. I think our office is one of the cutest tricks ever was; no one ever would suspicion such a thing, and if you will just have patience to visit it often I could let you know everything, and if he is going off any time I could let you know. Oh! I want you so sweet, my darling, and if we could just see each other as I would so much love to, I would prove what I say. Why do you not come by, my little one? Don’t you remember how you used to promise to pass, and I could say there goes a soul that loves me dearer than his own or God who created his soul. My poor little heart is about to burst. I can’t allow myself to think o the past. Oh, pray for me my little angel, as I pray for you; pray God to help us accomplish our soul’s most ardent desire. Love me sincerely, think of me all the time. Believe what I have sworn to you. Come to me at once. Blinded with tears, I lay this simple offering at your feet, and with a heart all bleeding and torn I turn away.
—Yours forever and ever,
L.W. [Little Wife]
A few days later she wrote:
“…My encouraging you to commit the crime you did was not without foundation… Then I look back and ask myself the question, Oh, God, did he do that for me? (You know what I refer to.)… I never saw anybody in more agony (part of the time) than he has been to-day. He fairly screams with his back; says he knows he has Bright’s disease; that his kidneys are all wrong. Is it the effects of — or not?…”
“The office,” was the term Maggie used for the Gilmer outhouse, where she claimed their letters were privately exchanged. She said they were afraid of sending them through the regular mail because it might draw suspicion. She claimed she burned all his letters, so she couldn’t produce those.
The defense emphatically denied even receiving such correspondence, let alone responding to it. If we consider the allegations against Baker to be true, the question remains as to why he would’ve left such incriminating evidence behind at all.
Now About Susan
Susan Baker’s brother, Professor James A. Davis, refused to believe Baker murdered his sister. He testified the couple was as happy and affectionate as ever. To further complicate Gilmer’s story, Susan was in the 7th month of a complicated pregnancy. Her doctor previously warned her against another pregnancy because of heart problems. Susan told her closest friends about the diagnosis. Susan herself feared she would not live to see the birth of her child. Baker household servants also knew of her condition, and refused to believe Baker killed her.
Dr. George Wiley, Susan’s general physician, considered the charges against Baker nonsense. He said no doctor would involve other physicians if he wanted to kill his wife, and Baker himself summoned him. Baker sent for Wiley the day Susan died, but she was dead before he arrived. Dr. Clark, Susan’s heart doctor, also warned her another pregnancy could be fatal. The prosecution tried to insinuate suspicions because Susan didn’t have more than one heart physician, and equated his profession opinion with “the tomb of Moses.” They claimed the opinion was not to prove innocence, but create doubt.
Dr. William Tyler, of Richmond, autopsied Susan Baker’s body at the time of the trial. It had been buried for eighteen months. He found slight amounts of arsenic in her stomach, but that was just as easily attributed to embalming fluid. There was no strychnine in the body. The prosecution then claimed the doctor went against Susan’s wishes, deliberately, and embalmed her to cover the arsenic he poisoned her with. There was no formal proof of their accusation.
Poisoning Mr. Gilmer
The alleged “poisoning” of Wyndam Gilmer, which supposedly happened in April of 1891, is another gray area in Maggie’s story. Gilmer claimed he was saved when his brother, a Russell County physician, visited. He noticed his condition. Wyndam said his stomach was upset, he had a dry mouth, and sensitivity to light.
Dr. Scott Gilmer claimed he thought it was suspicious. He changed the medicines Dr. Baker had him on and returned a week later to follow-up. Baker was there then, as well. Wyndam made such a miraculous recovery in such a short amount of time that Scott suspected he’d been poisoned.
It seemed suspicious, until the details emerged.
There were actually two physicians treating Wyndam, other than his brother. Baker, and another physician, both diagnosed Gilmer as suffering from “nervous prostration.” Today, it’s called nervous exhaustion.
The suspicious letters were actually dated nearly a year after Susan’s death, and months after Gilmer’s recovery. They were used to create an impression of premeditation, or murderous intent.
Baker did prescribe Wyndam a regimen of prussic acid and arsenic, but that was in October of 1890. Baker moved away in September of 1890. The alleged attempt on Wyndam’s life didn’t occur until April of 1891. A druggist testified at trial that he sold Baker a vial of prussic acid, but the transaction had actually taken place the previous summer.
Commonwealth Attorney for case was Col. John C. Summers. He was also the arresting magistrate and the first man to take up the crusade for Maggie’s lost honor. He was a flamboyant man and kept the courtroom rapt with his passionate and peculiar sermons.
The prosecution’s first and “star witness” was Maggie Gilmer, herself. Judge Ward presided over the courtroom. The jurors were: I. H. Ingram, John Keller, Floyd Moore, Samuel Mock, Thomas Berry, S.P. Edmondson, E. H. Lee, O.H. Webb, John Bryant, Dulaney Leonard, Joseph Williams, and Solomon Sproles.
Baker claimed he had no knowledge of the letters. It also emerged that Wyndam Gilmer had a $10,000 lawsuit against him at the time of the trial. The defense believed the letters were part of a scheme to ensure the Gilmers won their money.
Although the mysterious love letters were supposed to be stored in various “hidden” nooks outside for about a year, they showed no sign of exposure to the elements. The paper was fresh, as was the pencil writing.
Various reporters requested to examine the letters. The prosecution refused to show any letters from Baker, and would only let them look at a stack allegedly from Mrs. Gilmer. They weren’t allowed to touch or handle them. Summers opened several letters so reporters see the correspondence was between persons initialed S.H. and L.W. They claimed Baker was “Sweetheart” while Maggie was “Little Wife.” The prosecution believed the media’s request was funny and claimed the letters were solely for the jury. While they implied differently, the prosecution didn’t actually have a single letter from Baker.
The defense said the initials should be, “Lost Wife.”
Baker’s trial resulted in a filled house. People came from across the region to watch the theatrics unfold in the courtroom. The shameless verbiage of the sensational letters were too much for most area newspapers. A few, however, bravely reported the salacious details. The reporters transcribed them when they were read in court.
Col. Summers began the theatrics with his opening statement. He claimed if Baker was guilty, he should be hanged with four place cards on his body.
“Seducer- On his back.
Hypocrite- On his left side.
Adulterer- On his right side.
Murderer- On his breast.”
It was never established why Baker needed place cards or why they had to appear in that order. Summers proclaimed Appius Claudius Caecus and Henry VIII both murdered their wives for lustful purposes, so how was Baker “better than Appius?”
Prosecutor D. F. Bailey proclaimed Baker had destroyed two families. The betrayal was worse than usual, because Baker was also a trusted family physician. He even went so far as to suggest that Maggie’s youngest child was Baker’s.
Defending the Incubus
The defense didn’t need much more than logic to refute the charges. James L. White, of White & Buchanan, said he’d never witnessed such an openly vehement and malicious prosecutor. He asked the court why Susan’s family support Baker, if he murdered her. White pointed out the notorious love letters were too pristine to have actually been written when the prosecution claimed, and they couldn’t even produce a single line written in response.
The prosecution provided little credible motive. There was no impediment to the affair, to begin with. Baker’s wife let him come and go as he pleased, and Wyndam Gilmer frequently left for a week at a time. There was no barrier to “burn.” The seduction claims were also called into question, and the defense stated she was as much to blame for the ensuing scandal as Baker. This statement might’ve been true, but sent Baker’s prosecution into a frenzy of indignant outrage.
Strangely enough, public sympathy leaned towards Baker at the time of the trial. Many vocal supporters attended the trial. There was actually good reason for their sympathy.
The Hammer of Justice
A number of glaring technicalities made the prosecution appear unjust. The trial looked more like a witch-hunt than a murder trial. Most of the proceedings were based solely upon the testimony of the dubious witness.
The prosecution committed a number of illegal acts, themselves. The autopsy was conducted at the time of the trial, eighteen months after the alleged “victim” died. They didn’t bother to get any warrants authorized, they didn’t have any permissions to disinter the body, there was no coroner’s jury present to view the body, and no one notified the Baker family, or Baker’s attorney, of the exhumation and autopsy.
The trial lasted 18 days. The court convened on the morning of August 15, 1891. It was over. People still packed the courtroom, even at 8:15. Baker was surrounded by a number of relatives, including his son and brother. The jury deliberated an hour and five minutes, then returned to the courtroom. Jury foreman S.P. Edmundson gave the verdict of, “Guilty of first degree murder.” Baker dropped in his seat.
For all the venom directed towards Baker during trial, the foreman was emotional. Several jurors followed in the sadness. Most of the prosecution openly cried, including Col. Summers. By the time Baker was removed from the courtroom, most in attendance were upset.
Baker was sentenced to be hung on November 27, 1891. Even before attendees left the courtroom, a petition for Governor McKinney was circulated. The petition requested the governor commute Baker’s sentence to life. Counsel presented a motion for a new trial, but was overruled.
On October 7, the Virginia Medical Society sent a formal request to the Washington County Court that, based on the medical evidence from the first trial. They believed a new trial should be granted. The petitions came in. Baker had more supporters than detractors.
Judge Kelly threw out Judge Ward’s sentence on October 14. The court had little choice, but to agree to a new trial. The new trial began in November, but had to be postponed. John A. Buchanan, the lead defense attorney, grew ill. Baker’s second trial wouldn’t reconvene until January of 1892.
Most of the 13 items cited by the defense, in the write of error, were sustained. These included:
- Testimony and evidence that might help the defense was not allowed.
- Susan Baker’s body was exhumed and examined in secret.
- There was no solid motive.
- The plot couldn’t be proven to exist until months after Susan’s death.
- The prosecution failed to call any witness from Susan’s deathbed.
- None of those interviewed, from when Susan died, corroborated Maggie’s statements that she exhibited symptoms of poisoning.
- Baker never responded to any love letter.
- Several of the witnesses allowed were found incompetent and their testimony was irrelevant.
The next jury selection proved there was no adequate jury pool in the region. Everyone had heard of the trial. Jury members had to come in from Botetourt County. The second trial began on January 25, 1892.
The charges against Maggie were dropped, but the prosecution’s star witness still had issues. Wyndam filed for divorce in May of 1891, but never pursued the issue. The courts eventually dismissed the initial filing.
The Gilmer family didn’t appear to endure further sensation until January of 1892, just days before the second trial. Wyndam caught Maggie writing even more letters to Baker. This was too much. This time, he left. Wyndam Gilmer stated he tried to divorce her many times, but always gave in when she brought up the children.
Maggie also didn’t bear the same witness. Although the first trial was plagued by humid August heat, the “fragile flower,” wasn’t so fragile. Even during frigid January her veils weren’t as heavy as they had been the previous summer. She also walked correctly this time. Just as she changed, so had the court. Baker had better representation, and the prosecution couldn’t rely on emotion or sentiment alone this time.
Maggie told the court she was disappointed when Baker didn’t visit that Tuesday, and the prosecutor asked if she knew his wife was dying. When asked if she was happy about Susan’s death, Maggie claimed she had no idea Susan might die.
Col. Summers had rediscovered his animosity towards Baker, but found himself unable to speak as freely as he had the first time. The court wouldn’t allow hearsay this time. The defense continued to ask Maggie tough questions and she started to crumble. The prosecution grew irate and wasted an hour of the court’s time arguing witness rights. Maggie no longer wanted to answer questions that might implicate or incriminate her.
Maggie claimed she would not, under any circumstances, administer poison to her husband. During the first trial, Wyndam was sick in April because she had started to administer poison. In this new version of her story, Baker actually threatened to kill her if she didn’t poison Gilmer. This time, she couldn’t say how many days after Susan’s death that Baker waited to be intimate. It was now the “earliest opportunity.”
Maggie also knew quite a bit more about medicine this time. She knew drug names and their purpose. She even described one poison as being the strongest in “materia medica,” which was an obscure physician’s term. The bottle she gave to Summers when arrested, that contained the “lethal poison,” had been one of her children’s toys for months. She claimed she just poured the poison out and let her children play with the bottle.
During the first trial, she was forced into deceiving her husband. During the second, she never deceived him at all.
The questioning soon grew too intense. She suddenly proclaimed the judge was the only one left to protect her. Not only had Baker imposed upon her, so had Col. Summers, and the rest of the prosecution team. Col. Summers withdrew from the case.
The second trial was perhaps even more sensational as C. F. Trigg, one of the prosecutors, came to near-blows with defense attorney Wysor. The court fined them both $25 for their fight. They calmed and it was decided they could avoid the fines if they behaved properly.
Wyndam and Maggie eventually reconciled, again, and stayed together until his death in 1915. She died in November of 1928.
Baker was acquitted in March of 1892. The prosecution’s case imploded once hearsay and gossip were ruled inadmissible. Baker was acquitted due to insufficient evidence and lack of motive.
Baker moved in with his daughter after the acquittal. He had more patients than ever from that point on. He began riding horses that summer. However, the damage to his personal reputation had been done. Whatever money he had was gone after the costs of the trial. He died on December 21, 1899. Newspapers claimed he was without friend, and several claimed he’d gone insane years before. The legitimacy of these claims remain unknown.
Legend and Lore
As with many sensational and infamous trials, there was talk of “hoodoo” with Baker’s first trial. Rumors linked much of the trial proceedings, and Baker’s life, to the feared number “13.” It is left to the reader to decide any relevance or significance.
Baker met Maggie 13 years before the trial. Susan died after the couple had a total of 13 children. The chemist who aided the autopsy stated there was 1/13 part of arsenic grain in her stomach. Baker’s case was submitted to the jury on the 13th, and his attorneys had 13 legal exceptions in their appeal to reverse the jury’s verdict.
Still a Murderer
Like so many figures in our Appalachian history, many today continue to write about Baker’s “crimes,” and how the “wealthy physician” escaped his sentence. While they make good stories, it is apparently fiction. The real evidence in this case was nothing more than the testimony of a scorned woman.