“I have a problem. I’m a cannibal.” These matter-of-fact words, uttered by 22-year-old “Satan cultist” Stanley Dean Baker, chilled the California Highway Patrol officer who arrested him in July 1970. And it wasn’t long before that horrifying statement was proven to be completely true.
The particulars of Baker’s crime, which was discovered just as the Manson Family was going on trial for murdering Sharon Tate and company, were chilling. For one thing, there was the condition of the victim’s body to consider; at first, Montana social worker James M. Schlosser, who was also 22, was nearly impossible to identify. When last seen alive, Schlosser was heading to Yellowstone National Park, and apparently made an unfortunate judgment call by picking up a hitchhiker along the way. An article from the July 15, 1970 Spokesman-Review, written just after Baker was arrested with an associate, 20-year-old Harry Allen Stroup (pictured at center above; that’s Baker on the left), offered up gory details:
Two Wyoming men were charged with murder in the apparent cannibalism slaying of a 22-year-old Montana social worker whose headless, heartless body was found floating in the Yellowstone River ... Baker said he shot Schlosser with a 22-caliber weapon, then hacked the body into six pieces and ate the heart.
After the murder, which Baker insisted he committed solo, he stole Schlosser’s sports car and reunited with Stroup before the pair drove to Big Sur, California, where they were arrested after causing a traffic accident. That’s when Baker made his grim confession to Officer Randy Newton, whom he also told “I haven’t been the same” since an “electrical accident” felled him when he was 17.
According to a Lodi News-Sentinel article, written as Stroup went on trial in November, 1970 (Baker pled guilty and received a life sentence, but Stroup claimed he wasn’t involved in the murder), Baker had some other forces to blame, too:
He said he was under the influence of the drug LSD at the time and during a thunderstorm in the mountains along the Yellowstone River that night said he had visions of talking with the devil.
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Baker also claimed to be a member of a Satanic cult, and to have committed the murder in service of his beliefs.
Stroup was found guilty of manslaughter. Last month, the Great Falls Tribune by way of USA Today published a 45-year remembrance of the case written by Claire Baiz, a woman who’d been a teenaged neighbor of Schlosser’s before he died. She notes a few more grisly facets of the case. When he was caught, Baker had Schlosser’s finger bones in his pocket for reasons unknown, which earned him the nickname “Uncle Fingers.” And he turned out to be quite a showboater on the stand:
He claimed he was Jesus. He took responsibility, by sheer mind control from his prison cell in Montana, of causing the death of Jimi Hendrix via drug overdose, in faraway England. Baker even admitted that he considered killing Stroup several times, but decided against it because, “True friends are hard to find.”
...Baker did have one outburst on the witness stand. He told [the judge in the Stroup murder trial, Jack Shanstrom],”Go (expletive) yourself.” Shanstrom, now a retired federal judge, reprimanded him.
The sly murderer replied, “What are you going to do? I’m already sentenced to life in prison.”
Shanstrom halted proceedings long enough to increase Baker’s sentence to “life plus 10 days.”
Baiz goes to note that Baker, who was suspected of involvement in other murders but never charged, served only 16 years of his sentence; Stroup served just two, though he returned to jail in the last decade to serve a drug-related sentence. After his release, Baker worked in a sporting-goods store until an expose on tabloid show A Current Affair outed his identity and whereabouts; he died of cancer in 1994.
Top image: Stanley Dean Baker, left, and Harry Allen Stroup, are returned to the county jail in Monterey, Calif., by Bailiff Earl Press after they waived extradition to Montana at Municipal Court in Salinas, Calif., July 15, 1970. (AP Photo)