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‘I-70 Strangler’ remains mysterious Midwest boogeyman, but private investigator has theory

“The I-70 Strangler” has become a ghost story about a faceless monster that preyed on young boys and men in the 1980s and 1990s.

At least 12 bodies were found semi-nude and strangled, dumped in streams, ravines and ditches along Interstate 70 in Indiana and Ohio.

For years, investigators had investigated two notorious serial killers, Larry William Eyler and Herb Baumeister, as the “I-70 Stranglers,” but the theory was never conclusively proven.

Baumeister’s property was littered with the skeletal remains of 10,000 “burned and crushed” victims, but he has since become increasingly associated with the Midwestern Mystery Monster after a highly respected former local sheriff turned private investigator implicated him in the murders.

“I encountered the devil”

Approximately 10,000 bodies of Herb Baumeister’s victims were exhumed across an 18-acre site in Indiana. (Google Street View/Indianapolis Police Department)

After Virgil Vandagriff retired as sheriff of Marion County, Indiana, in the mid-1990s, he received two calls from families concerned about the suspicious disappearance of loved ones.

What was a seemingly isolated missing persons case evolved into a manhunt for a serial killer.

Both missing men were similar in height, weight and appearance. They vanished on their way to a bar where he was handing out flyers.

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During the investigation, the publisher of a magazine covering gay issues alerted Vandagriff to a sudden increase in the number of missing men in the Indianapolis area who appeared to fit the same profile.

“It was clear that there was a serial killer,” Vandagriff said. He told WTHR In an interview in December 2022. “We had to figure out who, where and how to finish it.”

of "Interstate 70 Strangler," The assailant, whose identity has yet to be revealed, murdered at least 12 boys and young men and dumped their bodies along interstates in Indiana and Ohio.

The still-unidentified “Interstate 70 Strangler” murdered at least 12 boys and young men, dumping their bodies along interstates in Indiana and Ohio. (Google Maps)

Interstate 70 from Indiana to Ohio features a variety of terrain, including waterfronts, canyons and wooded areas, where bodies were dumped in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Interstate 70 from Indiana to Ohio features a variety of terrain, including waterfronts, canyons and wooded areas, where bodies were dumped in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Google Street View)

Vandagriff took his findings to police, but at the time gay victims were considered a low priority for law enforcement.

“It was shocking to me how many gay people are going missing without anyone noticing,” Vandagriff told WTHR in a 2022 interview.

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Instead of waiting, investigators took the case themselves and developed a profile of the killer.

During the investigation, an informant using a false name said he met a man named “Brian Smart,” a nickname Baumeister used while frequenting a local bar.

Interstate 70 from Indiana to Ohio features a variety of terrain, including waterside areas, canyons and wooded areas, where bodies were dumped in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Interstate 70 from Indiana to Ohio features a variety of terrain, including waterfronts, canyons and wooded areas, where bodies were dumped during the 1980s and early 1990s. (Google Street View)

The informant survived the confrontation with Baumeister and met him again at the bar, yelling, “This guy is a serial killer. Someone get the license plate number on his car,” Vandagriff told WTHR.

Sure enough, the license plate turned out to belong to Baumeister, leading police to his secluded 18-acre estate at Fox Hollow Farm in Westfield, Indiana.

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Police eventually unearthed 10,000 “burned and crushed” skeletal remains around Baumeister’s home in the 1990s, including those of two of Vandagriff’s missing persons.

Investigators believe Baumeister abandoned his victims along Interstate 70 before buying a large plot of land in 1991, but his life took a sudden turn and he fled to Canada and then committed suicide.

His marriage was falling apart, his business was bankrupt and he had a warrant out for his arrest.

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Approximately 10,000 bodies belonging to Indiana serial killer Herb Baumeister were discovered on an 18-acre property in Westfield, Indiana.

Approximately 10,000 bodies belonging to Indiana serial killer Herb Baumeister were discovered on an 18-acre property in Westfield, Indiana. (Google Street View)

He committed suicide in July 1996, taking all his secrets to his grave.

The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office worked with Otram, one of the nation’s leading forensic genetic genealogy laboratories, to identify Baumeister as the victim 30 years after his death.

The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office has identified eight victims so far, and investigators have four DNA test results yet to be identified, bringing the total number of bodies to 12, Hamilton County Coroner Jeff Jellison said.

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Jeffrey A. Jones, who was reported missing from Fillmore, Indiana in 1993, has been identified as the latest victim of serial killer Herb Baumeister.

Jeffrey A. Jones, who was reported missing from Fillmore, Indiana in 1993, has been identified as the latest victim of serial killer Herb Baumeister. (Hamilton County Coroner’s Office)

Manuel Resendez, who was 34 years old when he was thought to have disappeared in 1996, was identified in January 2024 as one of Herb Baumeister's victims.

Manuel Resendez, who was 34 years old when he was thought to have disappeared in 1996, was identified in January 2024 as one of Herb Baumeister’s victims. (Hamilton County Coroner’s Office)

Investigators have linked Baumeister to at least 25 of the victims, but have not identified him as the “I-70 Strangler,” nor has Eyler, another suspected ringleader who is believed to have killed at least 21 victims during the same period.

His victims included boys and young men from the local gay community. Eyler was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

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The “I-70 Strangler” and the “I-70 Killer” are two different (but as yet unidentified) serial killers who murdered victims in the same area.

However, whereas the “Strangler” murders appeared to be sexually motivated and the victims were male, the victims of the “I-70 Killer” lacked evidence of sexual assault and were typically young women.

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