I had a periodical desire to poison human beings and in killing them in this manner, I derive a certain mental satisfaction. When this mania seizes me, I want to kill the nearest person to me.” –excerpt from “Texas Jim” Baker’s murder confession.
On the morning of December 27, 1928 New York Police responded to an emergency call at the Guggenheim Brothers metallurgical laboratory on 202nd Street and Tenth Avenue.
Arriving at the scene investigators discovered that a lab worker had been murdered and two truck drivers had narrowly escaped death.
Police would later learn that Henry S. Gaw, 29, of 163 West 84th Street, an assistant in the lab, had been forced to drink cyanide before his death.
The prime suspect was a former submarine crewman named “Texas Jim” Baker.
Baker, a former Guggenheim employee who had stopped working in the lab just three weeks before Gaw was hired, was a colorful and well-known figure in this industrial section of uptown Manhattan. He was known for his signature stunt, the almost superhuman ability to tear phonebooks in half. He also had two distinctive tattoos, a dagger and a snake.
Baker’s former captives, who were delivering a load of nerve gas to the lab, explained to the police that they had walked in on the scene after Gaw had been murdered.
They were promptly bound and gagged at gunpoint.
Both were very grateful that their lives had been spared.
Police reported that the perpetrator had made off with twenty dollars cash, taken from a safe, and $1,000 worth of platinum.
Just hours later an all-points-bulletin was issued for Baker. A search of his nearby apartment uncovered enough poison to kill thousands of others.
But Baker had vanished.