On September 7, 1997, Brook Baker, a 19-year-old journalism student at Vincennes University in small town Indiana, was found viciously murdered in her bed.
The victim, who was discovered by her brother, was naked. She had 11 stab wounds. Bruising and evidence under her fingernails indicated that she had been violently restrained and sexually assaulted.
Investigators found no signs of a struggle in the rest of the home, which suggested there hadn’t been forced entry or a burglary, they told “One Deadly Mistake,” airing Saturday at 9/8c on Oxygen.
However, a number of things stood out as they examined the crime scene, according to Knox County prosecutor Hal Johnston. The water was running in the bathtub, which contained towels. The kitchen sink was filled with soapy water. There were knives in the sink, including a large one that was bent.
Authorities sent the knives out for analysis at the crime lab. One was identified by genetic material as the weapon used to kill Baker. “Science proved it,” said Johnson.
Detectives considered various persons of interest early in their investigation. Among them was a fellow journalism student who had dropped Baker off at a party earlier in the night she was murdered. There was a student who had a one-sided crush on her. The victim’s landlord, who not only had access to the off-campus house Baker rented but also a history of inappropriate sexual advances, was a potential person of interest.
All three men agreed to give DNA samples and were eventually cleared as suspects.
Investigators acknowledged that a week after Baker’s body was found they “were scrambling for leads.” They turned their attention to Baker’s work as a reporter. She was covering an alleged rape case involving one of the most powerful fraternities on campus.
One of the brothers had purportedly sexually assaulted a young woman and Baker was seeking to help the victim tell her story, according to “One Deadly Mistake.” Baker was met with intimidation by members of the fraternity because of her efforts.
Authorities painstakingly questioned and took DNA samples from the nearly five dozen frat brothers. There were no matches. Detectives were back at square one. “It was really, really frustrating,” they told producers.
The case went cold for almost two years, but was revitalized by an investigation involving another Vincennes University student, 21-year-old Erika Norman, who was reported missing on July 5, 1999.
Authorities searched Norman’s home, where they found blood on walls, dishes, and lamps but no signs of a forced entry or robbery.
In the bathroom, water was running in the tub, which contained a couch cushion from the living room. The use of the bathtub to clean up immediately recalled the Baker crime scene. It was a distinct deja vu.
“In all the murder cases I’ve worked, I’ve never seen anybody do anything like that before,” said Johnson. “Humans are creatures of habit. Killers are creatures of habit. They’ll kill the same way. They’ll clean up the same way. Why? Because it worked before.”
Detectives traced Norman’s whereabouts before she vanished. On July 3, the last time she was seen alive, she’d been with friends at a local bar. Witnesses told investigators that she’d been seen with Brian Jones, 22, a former Vincennes student with nothing more than a traffic ticket on his record.
Jones told investigators that he and Norman had watched a movie. He agreed to give a DNA sample and allowed authorities to search his car and home and have the clothes he’d worn the night he was with Norman. That outfit included a pair of shoes upon which an investigator noticed what looked like a bloodstain. Other traces of blood were also found in Jones’ car.
While awaiting lab analysis on the blood evidence, the case took another turn after 16 days of intensive searching for Norman. In Lawrence County, Illinois, a farm worker discovered human remains in a cornfield, reported the Chicago Tribune at the time. Dental records confirmed it was Erika Norman.
Crime lab analysis also confirmed that the blood on Jones’ shoe and inside his car was Norman’s. Jones’ DNA also matched genetic material found on Baker’s body.
After being questioned and arrested in the Norman case, he was arrested and charged on July 13 in the murder and rape of Brook Baker, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Jones pleaded guilty to murdering Erika Norman. The guilty plea in the Norman case was part of a plea agreement that took the death penalty off the table. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Jones was later convicted in Knox County Superior Court of raping and fatally stabbing Brook Baker. During the trial, according to the Associated Press, the judge ruled the jury could not be informed that Jones had earlier pleaded guilty to killing Norman. Still, Jones was sentenced to life without parole for raping and killing Baker.
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