Folktale Friday: “The Baby Doll Murder Case” by Glenn R. Parker

40 South St.

In 1919, Dwight Chapman inherited a house located at 40 South St. that originally served as a rooming house on the Blake Estate. The 74 year-old Chapman was a veteran of the Civil War and described as a cranky old eccentric with a foul mouth and a roving eye for young woman. He lived alone in an unattached building behind the rooming house on the bottom floor. It wasn’t a big space, just enough for an old single man. The outside area in front of Chapman’s place was an open area used as a vegetable garden, along with a trellised grape vine and stacks of wood used for heating. Chapman kept chickens and pigs, and he fed them with scraps from area eateries. The property was on a corner lot at Cottage St., opposite the Central House where Chapman spent much of his time.

Chapman’s Place

In 1919 a young couple got off the train at the Westborough station and went to the Central House to find lodging but were directed to Chapman’s place. The man was Harry Baker and the attractive young woman with him was his wife Eleanor Baker, so he said. The couple walked across the street and found Chapman tending his garden. Immediately Chapman took a liking to the young woman and was more than happy to rent the couple a room.

As was customary in Westborough, newcomers received nicknames after a few days in town. From that time on Harry became “Sneaks” Baker and his pretty little wife was known as “Baby Doll” Baker. For the next several days the couple got around the downtown and even applied for jobs at the Westborough State Hospital.

The Bakers were only in town for a couple weeks before they quickly disappeared without anyone knowing. This situation in itself was not unusual as downtown Westborough was a center for transients, salesmen, job searchers, and tourists.

Then, Westborough Police Chief Robert Johnson was notified by the keepers of the Central House that they hadn’t seen Chapman for several days. Although not out of the ordinary, the locals began to think that the coincidence of Chapman’s absence from his daily routine and the Baker’s sudden disappearance was suspicious. It seems as though Baby Doll had made it known that the old man was making sexual innuendos and advances towards her that made her feel uneasy. It was also observed that Chapman was suddenly flashing a wad of dough.

Chapman Kitchen, with safe on the right

Although Chapman’s absence was not a total surprise, the chief went to his place and saw the curtains pulled. There being no response at the door, he broke the lock and entered.  When the chief entered the kitchen, he was first met with an odor of rotting food and observed the usual squalor. But when the chief saw a large safe with the dial-lock knocked off and damage to the top of the safe, his curiosity became elevated.

As the chief opened the door to Chapman’s bedroom he observed what appeared to be a body under a blanket and was taken aback by the odor of death. He pulled down the blanket and found a naked Chapman lying lifeless with his head covered with blood. The discovery of the body was immediately deemed a murder.

Chapman Death Bed

The chief notified State Detective Robert Molt and asked for help in the murder investigation. A crime scene was established, and a subsequent search for evidence was conducted. During this time, the chief discovered a bloody claw hammer, a pry bar, and a hand drill near the safe. Although the safe had been badly damaged, the door remained closed and locked. The intent to rob was clearly obvious. Also discovered was that Chapman had taken a $1,500 mortgage on the property, which gave a strong indication as to motive. There was no money or other valuables found. The chief then ordered to have the safe opened and found it totally empty.

The Open Safe

Dr. C. S. Knight, state medical examiner, arrived to examine the deceased and declared Chapman dead of a skull fracture by multiply blows to the head with a sharp-edged weapon. As rigor mortis had set in and decomposition had begun, the doctor estimated the time of death between 24 and 36 hours from discovery. 

As the chief began his investigation beyond the crime scene he questioned a number of people who had contact with Chapman. Word quickly spread through the community that Chapman was bludgeoned to death while he slept. It didn’t take long before the chief had his prime suspects, the Bakers, and after a search of their room he was convinced. The Bakers had left town in a hurry leaving behind a small travel bag, some cloths and a couple of notes of paper. But where were they now?

The chief then got a break when he talked with a railroad clerk who remembered Baker at the station buying two tickets for the 7:20 a.m. train to Boston but arrived late and waited for the 8:03 a.m. train instead. He remembered Baker and his pretty female companion who had one travel bag. Ironically, there were two of Baker’s trunks on the platform but only one got on the train, the other accidentally left behind. This trunk was opened and contained men’s clothing and more documents revealing the Bakers names and some of their history.

Another bit of luck came to the chief when a tracer put on Baker’s trunk revealed that the trunk went to North Station and was then loaded on the Boston and Maine Railroad to Portland, Maine.

When Chief Johnson learned that the Bakers were headed north to Portland, he immediately notified the authorities there to be on the look-out for the Bakers. However, by the time the message trickled down to the Portland beat cops, the hapless Bakers had accidentally boarded a ferry to Peaks Island thinking it was a transcontinental ship to Europe. When the Portland detectives tracked the couple to Peaks Island, they found the Bakers were gone, but they collected evidence indicating that the pair had left for Bangor. Upon notification, the Bangor Police alerted the entire force to be on the look-out for the suspected murderers. At the same time, Chief Johnson and Detective Molt were alerted of the new evidence and immediately boarded the next train to Bangor.  

Union Station at Bangor, Maine

Days later, Bangor Detective Golden having difficulty locating the Bakers and frustrated by the conventional method of interviewing people by knocking on doors decided on a hunch to stake out the train station in the hope of coming across Baker. In possession of a good description of the tall 25 year-old with a slender build, wearing a cap and a pinch back jacket, he saw a man of that description. He let him walk by without saying a word and noticed that the man avoided eye contact with him by staring straight ahead towards the Bangor House. But this man had a mustache. Could this be Baker? The detective decided to call out Baker’s name.

When the young man stopped and turned to the detective, a surprised Golden asked, “Are you Harry Baker?” Bakers face went pale and his head dropped as he replied, “Yes.” Then Detective Golden identified himself as a Bangor Police Officer and informed him of the Fugitive from Justice Warrant against him. Baker had easily given up. He was tired of running and living a lie. Golden then asked, “Where is your wife?”

Baker momentarily paused and looked at the hotel. “She is a chamber maid at the Bangor Hotel,” he replied. This was too easy, Golden thought to himself. He called for back-up and went to the hotel where Baker pointed out Baby Doll. As the detective approached her she made a lunge for her purse, but she was intercepted by a second officer, who opened her purse to find a small caliber handgun.  The chase was over, and now they were both in custody.

Chief Johnson and Detective Holt had arrived the day before and now took charge of the suspected murderers. They took them before a Maine Magistrate where the Bakers waived extradition and denied any knowledge of Chapman’s death. However, upon returning to Westborough Harry Baker admitted to killing Chapman in defense of his wife’s honor. In a surprise plea deal, Baker admitted in court to second degree murder and was sentenced to life in jail. Harry took the rap for Baby Doll Baby, who was given a one-year sentence as an accessory to the crime.


Detective Holt with Harry Baker, age 25, while Westborough Chief William Johnson escorted Eleanor “Baby Doll” Baker, age 20, into the Worcester County Courthouse.

The Rest of the Story . . .

After returning to Westborough, Chief Johnson and Detective Holt interviewed the Bakers while they were incarcerated at the Worcester Jail awaiting trial. It turns out that Baby Doll had a criminal past before coming to Westborough, while Baker had no record and was from Reading, Pennsylvania. How the couple met and why they came to Westborough was not known. It turns out that Baker named her “Baby Doll,” while she called him “Daddy.” 

The interview revealed that Baby Doll was never married to Baker. Her name was actually Eleanor Reise. She was married and originally lived in Wisconsin.  But after an incident of marital discord with her husband, Eleanor was arrested for throwing vitriol on him and was sentenced to six months in jail. When released, she never reunited with her husband or bothered to get a divorce.

Although Baker freely admitted to killing Chapman, investigators were not totally convinced that he was the murderer. The autopsy revealed that Chapman was not only struck numerous times on the head with a sharp instrument (a claw hammer), but he also suffered blunt trauma (a hammer head) to his lower belly and arms. The wounds, they concluded, were not consistent with Baker’s admission. They surmised that the act was a rage killing by a disturbed person, not Baker.

The unexpected plea to guilty of second degree murder by Baker was believed to deflect any suspicion or wrong-doing away from Baby Doll, both to keep her from a murder charge and keep her off the witness stand. The fact that she was not married to Baker would have made her eligible to testify, and that would not have bode well for her. In the end, there was no trial.

Baby Doll and Harry Baker pose for this courthouse photo.

Baby Doll Goes to Jail

In December 1919, Baby Doll was sentenced to the Worcester Jail for a one-year term but was paroled after serving six months. Upon her release, Eleanor changed her name to Hazel Manning and dyed her hair red. She got a job as an elevator operator in Worcester, then worked at the Wrentham and Foxboro State Hospitals. While living in Worcester, she kept her promise to wait for Baker and visited him often at the Charlestown Jail. However, her loyalty to Baker was short lived. As soon as Baker had given her all his money, she ceased all contact with him.

Not long after Baby Doll was paroled, she hooked up with a Boston cop who tried to help her after she was robbed of $200. The cop became enamored with Baby Doll, and he abandoned his wife and four children and quit the police force to be with her. He called her “Tiger Kitten,” and the two were seen at various Boston hotels portraying themselves as married. Shortly after, they were arrested on morals charges, found guilty, and given a six-month jail sentence. But the lovers fled the area pending an appeal. Shortly after, Tiger Kitten was admitted to a Providence hospital as a result of a suicide attempt and an admission of being depressed. The couple then fled to Texas, where they took jobs in a night club.

Baker Recants

After a year in jail, Harry Baker became increasingly enraged with Baby Doll abandoning him. He recanted his confession and stated that Chapman’s murderer was actually Baby Doll. She admitted to Baker that after a drinking binge at the Central House, she went to Chapman’s place with the express intent of taking revenge and stealing the old man’s money. But the encounter did not go well, and to escape Chapman’s advances she bludgeoned his head with a claw hammer numerous times.

When she told Baker what happened, he told her that he loved her and vowed to take responsibility for the act. The next morning the pair returned to the scene of the crime and found a pry bar and drill to break into the safe, but they were unsuccessful.  After covering Chapman’s body, they attempted to clean up the crime scene and locked the door from the outside. That evening they packed their travel trunks in preparation for a speedy escape and the next morning boarded a train for Boston.

In 1933, the former-cop-turned-lover of Tiger Kitten returned to Boston to make amends with his deserted wife and kids. He had been thrown out, and Tiger Kitten was again on the prowl.  Once back in Boston, he was apprehended by a bail bondsman on the default warrant for jumping bail for the old morals charges. He was held without bail and sent to jail for six months.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Reise, alias Baby Doll Baker, alias Hazel Manning, alias Tiger Kitten, was last seen heading to Mexico, never to be heard of again.

After serving 15 years of a life sentence in jail along with years of pleading his innocence, Harry Baker received a Governor’s Pardon and was placed on parole. However, it wasn’t long before he disappeared. He was later convicted by a Texas court of an armed robbery charge and sentenced to 25 years in jail.        

The Baby Doll Murder in historical records

The Racine Journal News: Monday, May 8, 1916

The most troublesome woman ever arrested is the title given Mrs. Ellen Reise 23 years old, by the Milwaukee police. She is the woman who was captured in this city last week by Detective Johns, and who, after being placed in charge of police woman Webers, broke fro her and ran away but Detective Johns afterward having a race in a taxicab captured her.

Her husband, Robert Reise testified that she had shot him, attacked him with a pair of scissors, attempted to burn down his parents’ house, and finally poured acid on him.

When taken to the detention rooms she made two or three attempts to get away and had matches which she probably intended to eat and poison herself. The charge against the woman was that she threw carbolic acid on her husband when he was asleep, severely burning him. This was on April 17.

Previous to this she had masqueraded as a man at Kenosha, This deception she carried out for ten days. Her husband, Robert Reise, declares that while he slept she threw the acid on his legs and body and when he was awakened by the burning she stood by the bed with an empty bottle. ‘He came here and met her on the street and induced her to accompany him to a hotel and then notified the police and her arrest followed.

At Milwaukee she was taken before Judge Pago and he expressed a belief “that she was not mentally sound. and said that she had attempted to set fire to the house of her father-in- law and tried to shoot her husband with a shotgun and that she should be examined when her case is called in the municipal court. The charges which she made against her husband while here are said to have been the result of her imagination.

The Racine Journal News: Saturday, May 20, 1916

Ellen Reise, 23, the woman who, when arrested here some days ago by Detective Johns attempted to escape from Miss Rose Webbers policewoman then tried to jump out of a window of the detention rooms in city hall and who was discovery to have a quantity of matches in her possession with which undoubtedly, intended to poison herself, broke away from three deputy sheriffs in Milwaukee yesterday, and attempted to leap from the eighth story of the municipal court building.

The sheriffs managed to catch her after a desperate struggle she was overpowered. The charge against the woman is assault with intent to do great bodily harm on the person of her husband by throwing carbolic acid on him while he slept. She said that she committed the assault because she loved her husband and was afraid some other woman, would get him away and she desired to mar his beauty. She was sentenced to two years in prison. When the judge pronounced sentence, the woman exclaimed: “O Lord: only two years, I thought I was going to get fifteen.”

Mr. Reise testified that the woman shot him on one occasion, attacked him with a pair of scissors, poured water on him when he was in bed, attempted to burn the home of his parents and finally poured acid on him.

The Milwaukee Journal, May 19, 1916

The front page of the Milwaukee Journal headline reads: “Furious Woman Startles Court- -Raves, Stamps her feet, Defies Judge and Sheriff- -Dashes Out, but Is Overtaken, Handcuffed and Taken to Jail- Accused of Pouring Carbonic Acid on Sleeping Husband.”

Quivering with rage, Mrs Ellen Reise, 23, charged with pouring carbonic acid upon her husband, Robert, stamped her small foot in municipal court Friday, defied the Judge, district attorney, and sheriff, and then darted through the courtroom door and made for the banister in the corridor. Deputies seized her, handcuffed her and let her to the jail.

Mrs. Reise weighs about ninety pounds. She has been in the jail two weeks and has kept the institution in a turmoil. Firemen in Engine 1 declared they have scarcely slept for ten days. The woman sings, shouts and raves throughout the night, according to the sheriff and prisoners complain they cannot sleep. She has attacked the matron and sheriffs several times, the court was informed.

 She Poured Acid on Him. –

The woman’s husband took the stand and said that, while he was asleep in his home on American Ave, she poured carbonic acid over his body. He asserted that she is extremely jealous, and that she shot at him once, put fire to his home, and attempted to cut his throat with a razor. He said they quarreled day and night.

After pouring acid upon him, Reise told the court, she went to the shop where he was employed and told the foreman that he had committed suicide. She got his pay, he said, and his tools and clothing, and left the city.

“I did that to my husband, but I did it because of love,” Mrs. Reise told the court. “I never did anything to anybody else. Send me to Waupun, but don’t send me to the insane asylum, I am not crazy.”

Judge Backus called her attention to the record showing that she has been arrested several times for being drunk and disorderly. He declined to sentence her, but appointed Doctors Studley and Bradley to examine her mental condition.

Mentally Deficient or Mean?

“I don’t believe she is right mentally,” said the court. “If she is sound mentally, then she has the meanest disposition of any woman who ever came into this court.”

During the time she was before the court, Mrs. Reise kept up a running fire of comment, informing the district attorney and attaches what she thought of the proceedings and of them personally.

When the court warned deputies to be careful that the woman did not escape when being taken to the jail, she said: “You think you’re cute, don’t you?” Another time she informed the district attorney she was “No rummy,” and that she did not have her ears stuffed with cotton.G

Sources

Boston Daily Record, Westborough Chronotype, and crime scene photos contributed by David Kaprelian.

Dwight Chapman deed,  2168-152.

1874-538 Emily Blake deed.

1646-532 Ellen R. Woods deed.

1924…2330-5 Don C. Parker bought estate for $3,000

Susan Doyle provided news articles

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