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May 1, 2013

Testimony recounts hunt for missing Kathy Jo Baker

TERRE HAUTE — Kathy Jo Baker was described as fiesty, a “sun worshipper” who liked to tan, as loyal and as a good friend by the people who knew her before her death in 1979.

“If there’s a thing such as storybook true love, we had it,” Kenny Baker said of his wife on Tuesday during his testimony in the murder trial of Richard Boswell Jr., the man accused of killing his wife in May 1979 and also attempting to kill her toddler son, Ryan.

Testimony began Tuesday morning in the second trial for Boswell, 55, of Riley. A trial in January was declared a mistrial because of statements made by a former prison mate of Boswell, who claimed that the defendant made a jailhouse confession of the 1979 slaying.

Boswell was connected to the Baker slaying through DNA evidence found by police following up on a tip about the cold case.

Kenny Baker told the six-man, six-woman jury that he hoped to have more children with his young wife, who was only 20 when she died. The couple already had a 2-year-old son, and Baker said that while the couple was living in a rented house near Riley, he was purchasing some rural property in Owen County where he hoped to build a log cabin for his wife.

“I wanted a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ kids,” Baker told trial prosecutor Dan McGlone from the witness stand.

Baker testified that he knew something was wrong on the evening of May 22, 1979, when he came home from work and found the fence gate open and the back door to his house standing open. He said he found a lunch prepared but uneaten on the stove. And he found his wife’s clothes for the day laid out on the bed, as was her habit. However, her purse and shoes were still at the house, along with his son’s baby blanket.

Baker said he was concerned, and he started calling relatives and friends to see if anyone knew where his wife and child were. He called the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, but was told that missing people can be reported after a 24-hour waiting period. So, he called the Indiana State Police at Terre Haute and talked to a trooper he knew. The trooper later arrived at the Baker home northeast of Riley, but could find no evidence of a crime.

The following day, friends continued the search for Kathy Jo and Ryan. A tip from some boys who had been fishing the night before came when the youths realized an animal sound they had heard in a remote area was probably a child crying. That tip directed the search to a marshy area more than a mile from the Baker home where the slain mother and injured child were found.

Kenny Baker’s friend, Les Boling, said he was searching in an area near an abandoned farm when he found the young woman’s lifeless body. Boling testified that he thought at first that Ryan Baker, who was lying at his mother’s feet, was also dead. He touched the child, who turned and looked at him and tried to speak.

Boling said he could barely hear the child, so he put his ear down to the boy’s lips. He said he realized that the child wanted his daddy and some water, so he took of his shirt, dipped it into a nearby stream and rung it out, then gave a corner of the shirt to the child to suck on until help arrived. The child had an obvious head wound, and the boy’s blood was smeared onto the right foot of his mother, which was resting next to the child’s cheek.

When police arrived at the scene, they scooped the child into a blanket and took him to an approaching ambulance. Kenny Baker testified that his son had a large gash in his head and that he was hospitalized for months in serious condition.

Retired ISP Lt. Charles Ellis reviewed photographs taken of Baker’s body in the marshy area where she was found, before an autopsy. He said that in his opinion, Baker’s body had been dumped at that site because the wetland plants growing there were upright around her body and between her legs. It did not appear that a struggle had occurred there, he said.

“It appeared to me that she was dropped or thrown in that area because all around her body [the cattails] were straight up,” he said.

Ellis also testified that it did not appear that a struggle had occurred at the Baker home. In fact, there was no evidence that a crime had been committed there, he said, so no photographs or investigation was conducted at the home before her body being found the next day.

“There was no crime scene,” Ellis said.

The photos taken later showed that the top and bottom to Baker’s yellow bikini were found with her body. She was wearing a T-shirt that was pulled up to reveal most of her torso. Some type of straight-line flesh wound was also visible on her neck near her chin.

The prosecution team also presented Jodie Bennett as a witness when the jury returned from its lunch break.

Bennett, who is now incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City on a double-homicide conviction from Vigo County, said he met defendant Boswell in prison. Bennett said he hung out with Boswell from October 1991 through March 1992, because he knew Boswell was from Vigo County, and Bennett said that inmates tend to stick together according to their hometowns.

Bennett testified Tuesday that Boswell told him on one occasion that he had killed a person but had not been charged for it. Bennett said he thought that Boswell was talking tough, because people tend to do that in prison. However, on another occasion, Bennett said, he asked Boswell who he had killed. Bennett said Boswell told him he had made sexual advances toward a woman, and being afraid that she would tell on him, killed her. He said he tried to kill the woman’s son because he didn’t want the boy to grow up without a mother.

Bennett said he still thought that Boswell was making up the story and did not tell anyone about it until November 2010, when he read a newspaper article about Boswell’s arrest in the Baker slaying.

Defense attorney Luther Garcia questioned Bennett about why he waited so long to tell anyone what he alleged that Boswell had revealed. And Garcia suggested that Bennett was seeking some kind of improved treatment in prison for talking to police about the Boswell case.

Garcia pointed out that Bennett had made similar statements about another Vigo County criminal case in 2007.

However, under questioning by McGlone, Bennett stated that he received no benefit in exchange for his testimony in either the earlier case or the current trial.

Testimony in the trial will resume this morning with more witnesses for the prosecution taking the stand.

The trial is scheduled to conclude Friday.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.


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