There’s nothing quite like an unsolved mystery, which made my last blog about D.B. Cooper so tantalizing. This week, we look at a different type of case. This is the story of Tony Baekeland and how he murdered his own mother.
Antony “Tony” Baekeland came from a wealthy family. His great-grandfather, Leo Baekeland, established the family fortune when he invented Bakelite, an early plastic product.
Tony’s father, Brooks Baekeland, Leo’s Grandson, considered himself an author. His mother, born Barbara Daly, became a prominent socialite.
Despite their wealth, the Baekeland family had issues. Brooks, the supposed author, seldom took up his pen. Barbara was notorious for her unstable personality and rude outbursts. She also endured bouts of severe depression and drank a lot. On more than one occasion, she attempted suicide. Both parents conducted extramarital affairs. Not a stable household for a young boy.
Brooks and Barbara Baekeland lived a nomadic albeit high-rolling lifestyle. Although they maintained a permanent home in New York, they spent most of their time in Europe. While in Europe, they rented homes and villas in London, Paris, Switzerland, and Italy.
Barbara Tries to “Cure” Tony Baekeland
Tony Baekeland was either gay or bisexual. In 1967, when he was 20, he supposedly started an affair with an Australian named Jake Cooper in Italy. Cooper denied the sexual relationship, but he did introduce young Tony to hallucinogenic drugs. Horrified, Barbara rushed to Italy to bring her son back to Switzerland.
Barbara decided that finding the right girl would “cure” Tony of his homosexuality. To this end, she invited a young Spanish girl named Sylvie to live with the family. Her plan failed; Sylvie and Tony did not become lovers. Instead, Sylvie did begin a romance with Barbara’s husband, Brooks. Fed up with Barbara’s volatile behavior and infatuated with Sylvie, Brooks divorced Barbara in 1968. He and Sylvie later married.
Still determined to “fix” her son, Barbara hired prostitutes and forced him to have sex with them. When this failed to alter the young man’s sexual orientation, she decided to have sex with him herself. At least that’s what Barbara told her friends. People who knew her doubted she ever slept with her son, and no proof of the affair exists. But rumors of it still persist.
Tony Baekeland Murders Barbara
It’s no surprise that Tony Baekeland developed issues of his own. When Tony exhibited schizophrenic and paranoid traits, his father refused to allow psychiatrists to treat him, dismissing the entire mental health field as “professionally amoral.”
In late July 1972, Tony tried to throw his mother into traffic outside their Cadogan Square penthouse in Chelsea, London. He failed because he lacked the strength and because one of Barbara’s friends intervened. Barbara refused to press charges. Tony did spend some time at The Priory, a private psychiatric hospital, but the hospital soon released him.
After his release, Tony continued to see a psychiatrist. His doctor, concerned about his condition, warned Barbara that Tony was capable of murder on October 30.
Two weeks later, on November 17, 1972, Tony stabbed his mother with a kitchen knife, killing her. She was 51, and he was 25. When the police arrived, Tony was on the phone ordering Chinese food.
Tony confessed to killing his mother but ended up in Broadmoor Hospital instead of a prison cell. Due to a bureaucratic foul-up, Broadmoor released him on July 21, 1980, when he was 33. Tony immediately flew to New York and moved in with his 87-year-old maternal grandmother. Six days later, he stabbed his grandmother eight times and broke several bones.
After spending eight months at the Riker’s Island jail, Tony expected to be released on bail after a court hearing. However, the judge adjourned the case because of a delay in receiving Tony’s medical records from the UK. He returned to his cell at 3:30 p.m. on March 20, 1981. Thirty minutes later, guards found him dead by suicide. He’d suffocated himself with a plastic bag.
You can read more about the Baekeland case in Savage Grace, a 2007 book by Natalie Robins and Steven H. L. Aronson.
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