INDIANAPOLIS — The biggest case in Virgil Vandagriff's long career as a police detective and private investigator began when two families hired him to find their missing loved ones in the mid-1990s.
The men, Allen Wayne Broussard, 28, and Roger Allen Goodlet, 33, were both gay and went missing in June and July of 1994. This search led Vandagriff to well-to-do businessman Herbert Baumeister and the bones of at least 25 victims on a sprawling horse farm in Westfield.
"I had investigators go out to the gay bars, start gathering information and passing out the wanted posters," Vadangriff, 80, said. "And we found out real quick that there were a lot of missing people, a lot of missing gay people in Indianapolis or the Indiana area."
Vandagriff was the first investigator to link Baumeister to the killings of gay men who were picked up in Indianapolis.
One key witness told Vandagriff about a harrowing night he'd spent with a man he met in a bar. That strange man, the witness said, took him to a fancy house with a swimming pool in the suburbs. That man, who would later turn out to be Baumeister, used a fake name and told the witness he was the groundskeeper.
"Him and Herb drank, did some drugs and Herb took a hose and wrapped it around his neck tried to strangle him," Vandagriff said. "He acted like he passed out."
Baumeister soon realized the informant was alive, Vandagriff said. Instead of killing him, Baumeister decided to drive the witness back to Indianapolis.
The informant didn't know exactly where he had been taken that night, but the informant remembered the guy's face when he saw him again at a gay bar in the city.
“What really broke the case is one night he (the informant) was at a gay bar and Herb came into the gay bar," Vandagriff said. "So (the informant) jumped up on one of the tables and yelled out 'This guy's a serial killer! Somebody to get his license number!'"
That plate number led Vandagriff to Baumeister. By 1996, that license plate and other clues led to the discovery of more than 10,000 bone fragments on Baumeister's 18-acre Westfield property just west of U.S. 31 on 156th Street.
Vandagriff said early in the investigation the judges in Hamilton County didn't think the informant was a credible enough witness to grant search warrant. Baumeister, who owned two Save-A-Lot thrift stores in the Indianapolis area, denied knowing anything of the missing men and refused to let police search his property.
As investigators closed in, Baumeister's business and family life crumbled. He closed his stores and his wife filed for divorce in early 1996. She gave police permission to search the family's horse farm, Vandagriff said. Investigators found the burned and pulverized bones scattered on the property.
Baumeister fled Indianapolis as police moved closer to making an arrest. Baumeister, 49, shot himself in the head in Pinery Provincial Park in Canada on July 3, 1996, according to media reports.
He left a suicide note, Vandagriff said, in which he mentioned his failing marriage and business, but said nothing about the missing men or the bones on his farm.
"I was upset that Mr. Baumeister took his life," Vandagriff said. "I wanted to have my time to talk with him and I never had the opportunity."
In 1999 investigators identified the remains of eight men found on Baumeister's property. Broussard and Goodlet were among those victims.
A newly elected coroner, Jeff Jellison, has pushed the Baumeister case into the spotlight again with a new effort to use modern DNA technology to find relatives of Baumeister's still-unidentified victims.
Jellison announced that another bone was found on the property in a new search last weekend. On Wednesday, Jellison said he released the remains of another victim, Michael Kiern, so his family can finally lay him to rest in a marked cemetery plot they've owned for decades.
Vandagriff said he hopes the families of all the victims find peace and closure.
"In 2016 my stepdaughter was murdered. I know what it's like to also be the victim of a crime," Vandagriff said. "You don't really understand until it happens to you. And then you really feel the grief and the sorrow that goes along with the fact that you've lost a loved one due to violence."
More: Here's what we know about notorious Indiana serial killer Herbert Baumeister| New efforts to identify remains of Herb Baumeister's victims help bring closure to local family | Bone found during Sunday search of Herbert Baumeister property | 'Not acceptable': New push to put names to 17 unidentified victims of serial killer Herbert Baumeister
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.