Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a two-part series exploring the brutal murder of Robert Salem in San Francisco in 1970. Click here to read part one.
SFPD homicide inspectors weren't quite sure if the April 1970 murder of lamp designer Robert Salem was the work of the Zodiac Killer or a twisted copycat. However, the arrest of two hippie Satanic cultists in a hit-and run gave police a suspect in the Salem murder — and another more heinous crime.
The hippies plowed the yellow Opel sports car they'd stolen into a truck off of Highway 1 just outside Big Sur on Monday, July 13, 1970. The Detroit tourist who was driving the truck wanted to get the hippies' insurance info. The hippies fled into the woods on foot. They didn't get far before Highway Patrolman Randy Newton caught up with them.
The hippies were Stanley Dean Baker, 22, and Harry Allen Stroup, 20, both from Wyoming. After being arrested, Baker was found with a recipe for LSD, a copy of Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible
, and a human finger bone that had been gnawed on.
"I have a problem," Baker confessed to Newton. "I'm a cannibal."
Baker went on to tell the officer that he was electrocuted when he was 17.
"I haven't been the same since," Baker explained.
The finger bone belonged to James Michael Schlosser, a 22-year-old social worker from Roundup, Mont., who made the mistake of picking up the hippies while they were hitchhiking near Yellowstone Park. Baker repaid Schlosser's kindness by dismembering him on the banks of the Yellowstone River and eating his heart.
Once in custody, Baker detailed cutting up Schlosser and copped to murdering Robert Salem in San Francisco three months earlier, saying that the crime was part of a satanic ritual.
Baker and Stroup hitchhiked from California to Montana, and came back again. Baker said that he and Stroup had somehow gotten separated before the murder, reuniting sometime after Baker stole Schlosser’s car.
Despite claiming sole responsibility for killing Schlosser, Stroup's jury wasn't convinced that one man could accomplish the butchery of the 220-pound victim on his own. A Yellowstone park ranger also saw three men drive into the park in Schlosser’s car. Stroup was convicted of manslaughter, but served just two years for the crime.
When Baker testified during Stroup's trial, he said he was Jesus Christ and that he had killed Jimi Hendrix through a long-range hex. He also described killing and eating Schlosser in what the Montana Standard
paraphrased as "an LSD-heightened rage at 'the establishment.'" When asked about the murder of Robert Salem, Baker took the fifth. Baker also declined to answer questions about cooking and eating Salem’s missing ear.
Baker served just 16 years of his life sentence and was released in 1986. He eventually became a top salesman at a Minnesota sporting goods store until the tabloid TV show A Current Affair
exposed him for worshiping Satan and eating people. Baker died from liver cancer in Bemidji, Minn. in 1994.
Harry Stroup was convicted of selling meth in April 2007. When he was released again in July 2015, he had served more time for dealing drugs than for being an accomplice to cannibalism.
According to a July 3, 2015, USA Today
article by Claire Baiz, a childhood friend of James Schlosser's, Baker was never charged with the murder of Robert Salem, leaving open the possibility that the Zodiac Killer was responsible after all — at least officially.
"Yesterday's Crimes" revisits strange, lurid, eerie, and often forgotten crimes from San Francisco's past.