Tony Baekeland: Odd Son, Troubled Mother, and Murder

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.

Tony Baekeland

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.

Leo Hendrik Baekeland
Leo Hendrik Baekeland

Tony’s father, Brooks Baekeland, Leo’s Grandson, considered himself an author. His mother, born Barbara Daly, became a prominent socialite.

Barbara and Brooks Baekeland early in their marriage (FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Barbara and Brooks Baekeland early in their marriage (FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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.

Barbara Daly Baekeland and her infant son, Anthony Baekeland
Barbara Daly Baekeland and her infant son, Anthony Baekeland

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.

Antony "Tony" Baekeland
Antony “Tony” Baekeland

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.

Barbara Daly Baekeland (Wikimedia Commons)
Barbara Daly Baekeland (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Epilogue

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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Gary Triano: Big Explosion Makes Ex-Wife a Killer

My previous blog presented the case of Eric Hainstock. Eric, a high school freshman, shot and killed the principal of Weston High School in Wisconsin. This week’s crime takes us to suburban Tucson, Arizona, where in 1996, Pam Phillips orchestrated the murder of her ex-husband, Gary Triano.

Gary Triano

Gary Triano lived most of his life as a resident of Tucson, Arizona. He attended high school and the University of Arizona in Tucson. After obtaining a law degree, He changed course and forged a career in real estate development. Gary became successful enough to be worth several million dollars.

Gary Triano (David Bean Photography/CBS News)
Gary Triano (David Bean Photography/CBS News)

In 1986, Gary Triano was divorced and an extremely eligible bachelor. He met and married Pamela Anne Phillips, a socialite, and former model. Pam also sold real estate. The new couple welcomed two children in addition to the two from Gary’s first marriage.

Pamela Phillips and Gary Triano (David Bean Photography/CBS News)
Pamela Phillips and Gary Triano (David Bean Photography/CBS News)

The happy times didn’t last. Gary and Pamela divorced—by all accounts acrimoniously—in 1993. Furthermore, Gary filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He claimed to owe $40 million from failed business ventures related to Indian casinos.

The Death of Gary Triano

On November 1, 1996, Gary Triano planned to play golf at La Paloma Country Club in Catalina Foothills, a suburb of Tucson. In the parking lot, a tremendous explosion ripped his Lincoln Continental apart. Someone placed a pipe bomb underneath the car’s passenger seat. The blast flung pieces of the vehicle over 100 yards away, some landing in the La Paloma swimming pool.

The Lincoln Continental after the pipe bomb exploded (Pima County Sheriff's Department)
The Lincoln Continental after the pipe bomb exploded (Pima County Sheriff’s Department)

Investigators took a long, hard look at Gary’s ex-wife, Pamela Phillips. They discovered she took out a $2 million life insurance policy on Gary not long before his death The policy named the couple’s two minor children beneficiaries (the insurance company paid the claim in 1997). What’s more, it was no secret their divorce three years earlier had been bitter. But Pamela moved to Aspen, Colorado, after the divorce and lived in Aspen at the time of Gary’s death. For that reason, and because they suspected the killing might be a mob hit, the investigation stalled.

A Solution to the Gary Triano Murder

Investigators caught a break more than a decade after Gary Triano died. When police in Aspen arrested a small-time criminal, Ronald Young, on an unrelated charge, evidence emerged linking him to Pamela Phillips. Police uncovered evidence Pamela agreed to pay Young $400,000 to kill Gary. And detectives also learned of recorded conversations between Pamela and Young where the two discussed the conspiracy.

Ronald Young (Pima County Sheriff's Department)
Ronald Young (Pima County Sheriff’s Department)

Ronald Young stood trial in 2010. The jury convicted him of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and the judge sentenced him to two life terms without parole.

Extradited to Arizona, the court found Pamela Phillips incompetent to stand trial in December 2011. However, she finally faced a jury in October of the following year. After a seven-week trial, her jury also found her guilty of murder. The judge sentenced her to life without parole.

Epilogue

Today (2022), Pamela Phillips and Ronald Young reside in Arizona Department of Corrections facilities. Pamela is at the Perryville complex in Goodyear, while Young is at the facility in Tucson.

Pamela Phillips (L) and Ronald Young (R) prison photos (Arizona Department of Corrections)
Pamela Phillips (L) and Ronald Young (R) prison photos (Arizona Department of Corrections)

You can read more about the Gary Triano murder in Kerrie Droban’s 2012 book, A Socialite Scorned.

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Brett Seacat: Man Burns Down House in Daring Murder

Last week, I featured the case of Alan Berg, a popular but abrasive radio host murdered in his driveway. This week, we metaphorically journey to the heartland, In 2011, Brett Seacat, a police academy instructor and former deputy murdered his wife and staged the scene to look like suicide. To hide the crime, he set fire to the house.

Vashti and Brett Seacat

Brett Seacat formerly worked as a deputy with the Sedgewick County sheriff’s office (Sedgewick County includes Wichita). In 2011, though, he no longer patrolled the streets. His new job was teaching police recruits at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. His wife, Vashti, worked in human resources at Cox Communications in Wichita. Brett complained she devoted too much time and attention to her job.

Vashti Seacat (Oxygen)
Vashti Seacat (Oxygen)

Brett first met Vashti Forrest when both were still in high school. They split up and got back together several times before marrying in 2004 on a beach in Belize. The good times didn’t last; neither the beach wedding nor their two sons were enough to keep their relationship going. In the spring of 2011, their marriage sputtered out.

Vashti and Brett Seacat at their beach wedding in Belize (Dateline NBC)
Vashti and Brett Seacat at their beach wedding in Belize (Dateline NBC)

In April 2011, Vashti filed for divorce. Brett did not react well. He threatened to “go to the mat” with her. Brett also promised to do everything possible to prevent her from keeping their sons. But on April 29, he begged Vashti to let him stay in the house overnight to “say goodbye” to the boys. On April 30, he was supposed to be out.

A Fire—And a Death

The 911 call came in at 3:57 a.m. on April 30, 2011. Brett Seacat called to report a fire. When first responders arrived, flames completely engulfed the Seacat house. Brett managed, he said, to escape and remove his two sons to safety, but his attempts to rescue Vashti failed.

A firefighter works to extinguish the blaze at what was once the Seacat home in Kingman, Kansas (Unsplash/Daniel Tausis)
A firefighter works to extinguish the blaze at what was once the Seacat home in Kingman, Kansas (Unsplash/Daniel Tausis)

Later, at the police station, Brett told officers the fire was no accident. He said Vashti had started the fire before killing herself. He said she did it because Vashti had severe issues with depression. During the interview, he kept telling detectives his wife suffered from depression.

The aftermath of the fire (Wichita Eagle)
The aftermath of the fire (Wichita Eagle)

At the scene, investigators found a Ruger .44 magnum revolver underneath Vashti’s left hip. They found the melted remains of a plastic gasoline can nearby. In the driver’s seat of her car, they found a journal. The last page of the journal sounded like a suicide note. Perhaps Vashti did shoot herself. But why would she set fire to the house with her boys inside?

Brett Seacat Under Suspicion

Police soon decided something was fishy with Brett’s version of the fire and Vashti’s “suicide.” They found a neighbor who remembered hearing a gunshot at 3:15 a.m. on April 30, more than 40 minutes before Brett’s 911 call. If true, there was no way Vashti could have set the fire before shooting herself. The medical examiner did not detect any soot in Vashti’s lungs or carbon monoxide in her blood. The conclusion: Vashti died before the fire started.

Arson investigators determined the fire had at least two points of origin. It was doubtful she torched the house and shot herself without breathing in some combustion products.

The gunshot wound itself argued against suicide. The shot appeared to come from above, as though someone shot Vashti while she slept. It would be almost impossible for her to inflict such a wound herself. Furthermore, had Vashti shot herself, it is doubtful the gun would end up underneath her body.

Brett Seacat on Trial

Police arrested Brett Seacat on May 14, 2011, and charged him with murder, arson, and child endangerment.

Brett Seacat mugshot (CBS News)
Brett Seacat mugshot (CBS News)

At his 2013 trial, lead prosecutor Amy Hanley painted a picture of a controlling and manipulative husband. Hanley introduced evidence contradicting Brett Seacat’s version of events on April 30, 2011. In addition to the crime scene anomalies, Vashti’s family testified she was not overly depressed. Instead, they said, she was planning her future. Moreover, Vashti told them Brett had threatened her. At one point, the family learned Brett vowed to kill Vashti, burn the house down, and make it look like suicide.

Vashti’s journal was one of the critical pieces of evidence supporting the suicide theory. But a prosecution handwriting expert testified the relevant journal page was a forgery. Prosecutor Hanley introduced evidence showing Brett sought out an overhead projector—obsolete technology—at work. She implied he used the projector to trace Vashti’s handwriting.

Image of the journal shown in court (Wichita Eagle)
Image of the journal shown in court (Wichita Eagle)

The defense mainly consisted of trying to trash Vashti’s reputation. They continued to push the severe depression scenario. And they also claimed she had an affair with an executive at Cox Communications. However, they provided no evidence to support the claim.

Brett Seacat confers with one of his attorneys,  John Val Wachtel, in court (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, Pool)
Brett Seacat confers with one of his attorneys,  John Val Wachtel, in court (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, Pool)

Seacat’s attorneys also claimed police botched the investigation. Ironic since Seacat might have trained some of those same investigators.

Brett Seacat Convicted

The jury got the case on June 11, 2013. They deliberated for six hours before returning with their verdict: guilty on all counts.

At his sentencing hearing, Brett Seacat went on a bizarre tirade accusing Judge Larry Solomon of “ensuring” his (Seacat’s) conviction. He would up the rant by saying, “You are going to hell for what you have done in this case.”

Judge Larry Solomon sentences Brett Seacat (Wichita Eagle)
Judge Larry Solomon sentences Brett Seacat (Wichita Eagle)

Unimpressed, Judge Solomon sentenced Seacat to 25 years without parole for murder. He also added five years for aggravated arson and seven months each for two counts of child endangerment. He will serve the sentences consecutively.

Epilogue

In November 2013, the State of Kansas relocated Brett Seacat to an out-of-state correctional facility. Kansas does not house former law enforcement officials with criminals they might have sent to prison.

NBC’s Dateline aired Burning Suspicion, an episode about the Vashti Seacat murder in March 2016.

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Dan Brophy: Wife of Popular Chef Exposed as Killer

In my last blog, I profiled the case of Eric Witte. When Witte was a teenager, his mother goaded him into killing his father. This week, we look at the case of Chef Dan Brophy. Culinary students found Brophy shot to death in a kitchen at the school where he taught. The person tried for the murder surprised many.

Dan Brophy

Daniel C. Brophy was a chef. But more than that, he was a chef instructor. For a dozen years, he taught at the Oregon Culinary Institute (OCI) in Portland, Oregon. He’d been on the faculty there since the school opened in 2006. In 2018, he was the lead instructor at the school. Chef Brophy was popular with his students, sometimes injecting humor into his lectures. For instance, he warned his students against grinning in the kitchen, saying that “smiling could sully the food.” He took classes foraging for mushrooms in the words and digging for clams on the coast.

Chef Dan Brophy

Chef Brophy’s wife was 68-year-old Nancy Crompton-Brophy. Nancy was a native Texan who met Dan when she moved to Oregon in the 1990s. She took some classes at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts where Dan taught at the time.

Nancy Crompton-Brophy
Nancy Crompton-Brophy

The Chef’s Wife

Nancy Crompton was the daughter of two lawyers from Wichita Falls, Texas. After moving to Oregon and marrying Dan Brophy, she wrote a series of steamy romance novels, which often included crime themes. She published the books herself. According to an article in Portland Monthly, the books are replete with typos and overwritten pages. But they also had a brisk pace and many fans on Goodreads.

Nancy and Dan in happier times
Nancy and Dan in happier times

Nancy wrote about other things besides romances. In an online biography, she described the challenges of being married to a chef. “As a result there are chickens and turkeys in my backyard, a fabulous vegetable garden which also grows tobacco for an insecticide and a hot meal on the table every night.”

Chef Dan Brophy Found Murdered

June 2, 2018 was a Saturday. Chef Brophy arrived at OCI to prepare for a morning class. He disabled the alarm system at 7:21 a.m. At 7:30 a.m., another instructor arrived at the school. She opened the doors for students at 8:00. That’s when they found Dan Brophy lying on the floor in the rear kitchen, bleeding from two gunshot wounds. He’d been shot once in the chest and once in the back. He was still alive—barely—when students found him but died before paramedics could reach him.

Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon where the murder occurred
Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon where the murder occurred

Evidence Against Nancy

In murder cases, the spouse is always a person of interest, at least at first. In Nancy’s case, there were additional reasons for suspicion. Perhaps the first red flag was the special request she had for Portland detective Darren Posey. Three days after Dan’s murder, Nancy asked Posey for a letter confirming that she wasn’t a suspect in her husband’s death. This was, she said, to help her collect her on husband’s $40,000 life insurance policy. But that wasn’t all. Police later learned that Nancy stood to collect more than $1.4 million in life insurance.

Nancy claimed she was at home during the time Dan Brophy was killed. But surveillance cameras from businesses hear OCI contradicted her story. Video shows her vehicle near the school at about the time of the murder. Furthermore, she admitted to purchasing parts for a “ghost gun,” a Glock 9mm, similar to the murder weapon. Prosecutors alleged that she replaced the slide and barrel on a Glock she owned with parts she bought on eBay.

Nancy Crompton-Brophy in court
Nancy Crompton-Brophy in court

There was more evidence that was less tangible but definitely interesting. A search of Dan’s phone turned up a bookmarked article in an iTunes account the couple shared. Its title was “10 Ways to Cover Up a Murder.” She had also recently written an online essay entitled, “How to Murder Your Husband.”

Epilogue

On May 25, 2022, a jury found Nancy Crompton-Brophy guilty of second-degree murder. She is now serving a life sentence at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon.

In June 2022, NBC’s Dateline broadcast an episode about the case, Murder in Kitchen One.

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