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.

"Texas Jim" Baker in 1930.

“Texas Jim” Baker in 1930.

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.

3171 10th Avenue, scene of the Henry Gaw murder.

3171 10th Avenue, scene of the Henry Gaw murder.

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.

"Texas Jim" Baker, Miami News,  August 3, 1930.

“Texas Jim” Baker, Miami News, August 3, 1930.

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.

At one point police speculated that he might have fled to Berlin.

Capture

"Texas Jim" Baker

“Texas Jim” Baker

More than a year after the murder in uptown Manhattan police in Detroit received a tip that the 25-year-old New York fugitive was living on a farm fifteen miles west of the city.

As luck would have it NYPD Detective Thomas A. Smith was in town on an unrelated police matter and volunteered to head over to the farm with Detroit police.

Baker was arrested without incident.

After being taken to police headquarters Baker boastfully confessed to a globetrotting murder spree that would shock the seasoned investigators.

I was born in Warren, Ohio, and went to grade school there,” Baker began.  “I left home when I was 16 years old.  I learned the steam fitting trade and got a job on an ocean freighter.”

Baker quickly turned to his macabre fascination with poison.
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"Indian Caves" of Inwood Hill Park on the northern tip of Manhattan.

“Indian Caves” of Inwood Hill Park on the northern tip of Manhattan.

On the northern tip of Manhattan, a twenty-minute walk from the subway,  is an historical site so rare and unexpected that it warrants a detour on any tourist’s itinerary.

The majestic “Indian caves” of Inwood Hill Park were once used as a seasonal camp by the Lenape people who lived in the region before the arrival of explorer Henry Hudson in 1609.

The caves, created by the tumbling of rocks during a glacial retreat more than 30,000 years ago, are a picturesque reminder of the Native people who once lived on Manhattan Isle.

The Indian caves on Manhattan, from New York walk book : Suggestions for excursions afoot within a radius of fifty to one hundred miles of the city, 1923.

The Indian caves on Manhattan, from New York walk book : Suggestions for excursions afoot within a radius of fifty to one hundred miles of the city, 1923.

The modern history of the caves began in 1890 when Alexander Crawford Chenoweth came across a curious rock formation not far from his uptown home.

Chenoweth was a respected engineer who designed the Croton Aqueduct and the base for the Statue of Liberty, but on weekends he assumed the role of amateur archeologist.

Map showing Indian caves, Inwood Hill Park on the island of Manhattan, Reginald Bolton, 1932.

Map showing Indian caves, Inwood Hill Park on the island of Manhattan, Reginald Bolton, 1932.

Inwood Hill Park Map, Inwood Hill Park on the island of Manhattan, Reginald Bolton,1932.

Inwood Hill Park Map, Inwood Hill Park on the island of Manhattan, Reginald Bolton,1932.

Over the course of several days, ten years before the turn of the Twentieth Century, Chenoweth carefully explored the curious rock formations he had come across just off a trail in an area of Inwood Hill known as “the Clove.”

Exploring the Indian caves, undated photo, NY-HS.

Exploring the Indian caves, undated photo, NY-HS.

There the civil engineer sifted through centuries of accumulated dirt and debris to gain access to the far reaches of the small cave system.

Model of the Inwood Hill caves by William Orchard, once on display at the Museum of the American Indian.

Model of the Inwood Hill caves by William Orchard, once on display at the Museum of the American Indian.

Inside the small chambers he uncovered pottery, axes and other artifacts used in daily life by the Lenape people who used the area as a seasonal camp.

Chenoweth’s 1890 exploration of the caves was carefully documented by the New York Sun.
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Glacial Potholes of Inwood Hill Park

glacial pothole

Just off the path, in an area of Inwood Hill Park known as “The Clove,” are a series of rock formations that have fascinated geologists and hikers for generations. These glacial potholes, which look almost man-made, are the product of glacial runoff that occurred during the last ice age some 50,000 years ago.  During a […]

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The Fort George Hill Climb

Fort George Hill

“How fast can your car make the ascent of Fort George Hill?  The hill is 1,900 feet from base to crown, with a grade ranging from ten to thirteen per cent and averaging about eleven per cent.  It is paved with cobblestones and has two sweeping curves. “ (New York Herald, March 15, 1908) The […]

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Inwood’s Indian Life Reservation

Thumbnail image for Inwood’s Indian Life Reservation

In the winter of 1926 Inwood historian and local archeologist Reginald Pelham Bolton began work on a curious and eclectic exercise, the creation of an Indian reservation in Inwood Hill Park.   Bolton’s vision was not to be a true reservation, but rather a recreation of what a Native American encampment might have looked like. “The […]

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Gangsters on the Dyckman Strip: 1931 Shootout Makes National Headlines

1931 Dyckman Street shootout

“The final battle in which the bandits were killed was in front of 146 Dyckman Street.  Here the bandits were overtaken in a taxicab driven by William Nugent and occupied by Patrolman Albert Walker of the Thirtieth Precinct, Patrolman Albert Morrell of Traffic Squad H and Detective William Kiley.   The two patrolmen and the detective, […]

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Inwood Hill Park Concession Stand: A Reader Contribution

Inwood concession stand 1977

Recently, MyInwood.net reader Frank Yannaco wrote in to tell me about the concession stand his family once owned and operated inside the Isham Street entrance to Inwood Hill Park. We soon began a dialogue that included a promise of photos and descriptions of his life in Inwood.  True to his word, Frank soon emailed me […]

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Inwood Postcards

Inwood Postcards

New York City has always been a popular subject when it comes to the world of postcards. I like to call the collection that follows “Postcards from the Edge.” For the most part, I’ve tried to focus on Inwood proper, but other subjects, like the George Washington Bridge, Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage in the Bronx, […]

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