The 1955 case of the missing fisherman and Waynedale Detective Harry Monn
Clarence Baysinger and his wife, Lucy were a couple of strange ones, everybody agreed. Or maybe just rugged individualists.
In an age when conformity and “keeping up with the Joneses,'” were taken for granted, the Baysingers lived as far removed from society as possible. And under circumstances so primitive as to make the average man or housewife shudder, or feel sympathy for their state.
Nevertheless, folks around Fort Wayne knew Clarence as a steady sort of fellow. In the 11 years he worked for the Fort Wayne Structural Steel Company, he had not been late or absent from work once. That’s why Arnold Diester got a little worried when he didn’t show up at his job for three days without calling in.
Diester, an executive at the steel company got in touch with the police and Lieutenant Harry Monn, a member of the criminal division of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, answered the call. Harry promised to check what seemed, at first, to be just a routine missing persons report. Like most of the others, Lieutenant Monn thought this one on Clarence Baysinger would end up with the guy returning from a week–long drunk or something as ordinary as that.
Monn put Officer Billy Kaylor on the assignment and turned to other matters.
Kaylor returned to the office that afternoon with the report that he had questioned Baysinger’s wife and she didn’t seem worried about her husband’s disappearance.
“She claims her man is nuts about fishing and that he went off Thursday morning with two fellows on a fishing trip,” the officer told his superior. “Mrs. Baysinger’s been doing some housecleaning,” she says, and is glad that her husband is not under-foot while she’s busy.
“Did she say who the two men were?” Lieutenant Monn asked.
“No,” Kaylor replied, “the old lady claims that her husband’s fishing partners waited outside and she didn’t get a chance to see their faces.”
Lieutenant Monn looked thoughtful for a minute before speaking.
“Well if the old guy hasn’t come back tomorrow, I’m going to go out there and see for myself,” he told Kaylor.
“I’d like to be there when you get a look at the old place they have up there. Baysinger 61, lives with his wife Lucy, also 61, in a cottage on the bank of the Saint Joe river. It’s a lulu!” Kaylor exclaimed.
“All I’m interested in at this point,” Monn said, “is what has happened to old Clarence Baysinger…”
When Monday rolled around with no word from the missing fisherman, Lieutenant Monn consulted with Allen County Sheriff Harold S. Zeis on further action in the Baysinger case.
Sheriff Zeis saw no need to wait any longer for Baysinger to return from his trip. He reasoned that the steel company janitor might possibly have broken his long-standing good job attendance record to take off on a long enjoyable weekend of fishing.
But for him to still be away from work on Monday was too unusual. Zeis told Lieutenant Monn to take Detective Sergeant Arnold Lord with him out to the Baysinger place for a thorough check into things.
St. Joe Road was empty when the two burly officers turned off it, into a rarely traveled rural route. It wound in tight curves down toward the St. Joseph River.
A narrow creek brought the path to an abrupt end. The creek, Monn noticed, flowed down to the river.
About 50 feet from the other bank of the creek, on a high mound of rock and scrubland, stood the Baysinger house. And it was a mess, as Billy Kaylor had claimed.
The place was a little more then a crumbly, termite-ridden shack. It leaned perilously in the direction of the river in front.
Monn and Lord crossed a shaky wooden bridge across the creek and made the climb to the house.
Lord remarked upon the sad condition of the riverbank property. “Look at all that junk scattered about. Seems like they never heard of trash cans and incinerators here. That old twisted iron bedstead down there, for instance it looks like it’s been there for quite sometime.”
He had pointed to a scattering of household furnishings, which had obviously been tossed out a window and left where they dropped when the tenants tired of them.
Strewn casually about the small yard of the place were staves and crate boards put down when heavy rains swamped the area so that Baysinger and his wife could walk back and forth across the mud.
Down the creek edge, an old rowboat rotted half afloat in the tall weeds. A small pickup truck was parked in the yard, although how it had managed the old bridge and not fallen through was a mystery to the police officers.
They climbed the steps to the porch and were amazed at the even greater collection of junk, which had been accumulated there in every nook and cranny.
Their first knock elicited no response, although they knew that their movements had very probably been closely watched since they had left the main road.
A second knock brought a slender woman with thick rimless glasses to the door. She looked quizzically back and forth from one officer to another.
Before she had a chance to ask who they were, Monn told her. “We have to check on your husband’s disappearance, Mrs. Baysinger. His friends down at the plant are worried about him.” “Oh, them people are so nice and thoughtful for worrying about Clarence,” she said. “But they’ve no call to fret over it. He’ll be back in no time at all with his friends from that fishing trip and that’s a fact.”
I’m sorry Mrs. Baysinger,” the lieutenant said, “but we can’t let it go like that. A man is missing who’s always been punctual at his job. We have to come up with a reason for the absence.
“Do you know these two men your husband went off with?” Monn asked.
“No I don’t. They didn’t come up to the house and I didn’t go down to see them. They yelled up to Clarence and he went off down the road with them.”
“Did the two men and your husband go off in a boat or on foot up to the lane?” “I don’t rightly know. I didn’t see, but they probably took a boat.”
As the officers were about to leave, a truck drew up below. It was a second hand furniture dealer. He’s come for that old iron bedstead,” Mrs. Baysinger explained. “He wouldn’t buy it so I’m giving it to him. The thing’s been an eyesore for too long.”
The officers agreed silently as they watched the man from the furniture store load the ancient bedstead onto his truck. Then they went slowly down the concrete steps, Mrs. Baysinger calling after them, “Tell everybody not to worry. I’ll let them know the minute Clarence gets back.” Lieutenant Monn paused at the top of the stairway. “Aren’t you afraid to stay here alone, Mrs. Baysinger?”
“No, I ain’t afraid I got me a shotgun and if anybody comes prowling around, I’ll use it.” The detectives crossed the wooden bridge and turned toward the river, a wide stream with banks shrouded in dense underbrush that hung down over the water’s edge. At the end of the lane was a wide clearing. There they readily found the small wooden dock and the stake where the boat would have been tied, according to Mrs. Baysinger. It wasn’t there!
“Looks like they took Baysinger’s boat, all right,” Lord said quickly. “Yeah, and maybe we can find somebody who saw them. Three men in a rowboat ought to be conspicuous enough to be noticed.”
“Maybe we can,” Lord said. “But why bother? He may come back anytime.”
They returned to the parked car and drove back to Fort Wayne. Early the following morning, Sheriff Zeis led a large group of men from his own staff and from the State Police post to the area around the Baysinger house. All that day and the next, they searched the section, spreading out in every direction, beating through the underbrush, searching the bypaths and dense growths along the bank. Late Tuesday, the weary officers came in. They had found nothing. “We may be going at this the wrong way,” Sheriff Zeis said to his men that evening. “Our best bet might be to trace Baysinger’s path home from work the morning he disappeared and find out where he met those two men and who they might be.”
They set out to do this Wednesday morning but they could find no one who had seen Baysinger stop anywhere or meet anyone on Thursday morning, June 16th. Nor could any of his friends or acquaintances even suggest who the two men might be.
“Clarence didn’t care overmuch for fishing with a party,” one of these persons said. “He was the kind of fellow who liked to be alone.”
When these reports were brought to him, Sheriff Zeis listened with intensely.
“No one has seen these two men,” he said,” except Mrs. Baysinger. So far we haven’t even proven that they exist.” “You mean,” asked Sergeant Lord, that Mrs. Baysinger might have made them up?”
“That’s just what I mean,” said Zeis.
They went out to talk to her again, this time, taking with them Deputy Sheriff Patricia Conrad. While the sheriff, Lieutenant Monn and Miss Conrad talked to the woman, Sergeant Lord and Detective Nye prowled again about the junk strewn yard of the river cottage.
This time they probed the ashes of the fire, which Mrs. Baysinger had been burning the day the Lieutenant first spoke to her about her husband.
In those ashes they found the remains of a mattress, which had been ripped apart, and also the charred but not very old handle of an axe. They reported these discoveries to Sheriff Zeis.
Mrs. Baysinger,” the sheriff said to the woman, “it’s possible that a laboratory could find bloodstains on that mattress even if it is partially burned. It’s also possible that we could find the head of that ax and learn if it has any stains from human blood.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied. Lieutenant Monn took up the questioning.
“We don’t like to say these things to anyone,” he declared, “but we can’t find a person who saw those two men you say went fishing with your husband; we wonder if they exist.”
“Would you be willing to take a lie detector test?” Zeis asked.
Mrs. Baysinger looked from one officer to another, her face drawn and pinched.
I’m too nervous,” she said. “I’m not in fit condition to go to town. But could you bring that lie machine out here?”
“We could and we will if necessary,” Zeis replied. “Anyway,” the woman replied, “I ain’t talking to you. I’ll talk to him and her,” she indicated, Miss Conrad and Sergeant Lord.
The other officers went out of the room, leaving Mrs. Baysinger with Sergeant Lord and Deputy Conrad. A short time later Sergeant Lord claimed that Mrs. Baysinger had admitted to him and to Miss Conrad that she had killed her husband with the ax and hidden the body in heavy undergrowth on the opposite side of the river.
Officers said later that she led them to the body, of which little but the skeleton remained. According to the sheriff, Mrs. Baysinger gave this statement:
She and her husband had quarreled because he refused to move away from the lonely cottage. He had saved $500, none of which he would give her, and he wouldn’t let her spend an additional $200 he gave her “to put away.” On the morning of June 16, after his return home from working the first part of his shift, they had quarreled again. After he had gone to bed, she waited until he was asleep. Then she crept silently upstairs, the ax in her hand. She threw a coat over his face…and struck him on the head with the ax. Ker-thunk, like a ball-bat hitting a watermelon. He didn’t move and she assumed he was dead. She left the body there all day and night. The following morning she went upstairs, confirmed that he was dead and spent several hours dressing him in his work clothes, as he had gone to bed in his shorts. Then she spread a leather cover on the floor and pulled his body off the bed.
Wrapping him in the cover, she dragged the dead body downstairs, thump, thump, thump, his feet bounced off of every step. Through the house, down the concrete steps, over the bridge and down the lane to the river. She stopped and rested. Using window sash rope she looped one end around his neck, and with the other end wrapped tightly around her left hand she drug him into the water. She got into the old rowboat and with her right hand; she rowed across the river, towing the body with her left hand.
She left the body there in the underbrush in a spot accessible only by boat. As soon as she had returned to the house, after setting the boat adrift, she had a call from her husband’s employer. She hadn’t expected this and in haste, made up the story about the two men.
She moved the mattress and bedclothes and one of her husband’s old suits, dragging them downstairs and tossing them into a fire in the backyard. The ax head she threw as far as she could into the thicket. It was found later by the officers.
Officers also had claimed that they found bloodstains in the empty bedroom, which, they said, was the one Baysinger had used. They said that Mrs. Baysinger dismantled the bed on which her husband had died and had given it away; with a dealer picking it up while Lieutenant Monn was talking to her.
Mrs. Baysinger was taken to the Allen County Jail in Fort Wayne. Deputy Prosecutor Orvas Beers placed a temporary charge of assault and battery with intent to commit a felony against her and she was arraigned in City Court on June 29, 1955, where her bond was fixed at $20,000.
At the inquest on July 1, 1955, Coroner Paul Miller issued a coroner’s report writ holding Mrs. Baysinger for the Allen County grand jury. She was indicted for her husband’s murder, but was not tried because she was declared insane. She was committed to the Norman Beaty Hospital at Westville, Indiana, in January 1956.
Westville was later converted from a mental institution to a prison and the patients, including Lucy Baysinger, were transferred to mental institutions around the state of Indiana. Lucy ended up in Richmond where she passed away in 1971.
Information for this article was submitted by Harry Monn’s daughter Harriet, who lives in Waynedale. Excerpts taken from Police Detective Magazine, edited by rls.
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