The sheriff at the time said it looked like a grudge killing, “something a jealous husband might do.”
On Tuesday, law enforcement officials said that they had finally cracked the case: They issued a warrant for Ronald R. Cloud, whose stepfather had been fired by Baker at Kinloch Farm the day of the killing.
Cloud, who authorities said has confessed, will face first-degree murder and other charges, Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Fisher told a small crowd gathered in a historic building in Warrenton’s courthouse square. Cloud, 64, has been in prison in West Virginia since the late 1980s, serving time for assault and sex-assault offenses involving a child, according to online state records.
There could be other arrests in connection with the case, Fisher said. More than one weapon was fired inside Baker’s house, but Fisher declined to give more information, saying that the investigation is “to some degree ongoing.”
Still, he said, investigators are confident that they know what happened on the night of Dec. 31, 1980.
Baker, bleeding to death, was found by the woman he was to take to the New Year’s Eve party.
She was separated from her husband. The door to Baker’s secluded farmhouse, on the perimeter of Kinloch Farm, had been broken down that night during a driving snowstorm, and nothing appeared to be stolen.
Baker had been shot in the head and the groin. Investigators quickly focused on the women whom Baker had been dating, and their families, as they searched for a motive. A Washingtonian magazine article in the mid-1980s called it “Blood and Money: Murder in the Hunt Country,” and described “a love story” that ended with “blood on the snow.”
Kinloch Farm, which now has about 50 employees and 1,000 acres, was then owned by Andrea, Lavinia and Michael Currier, the children of Stephen and Audrey Currier. Audrey Currier was the granddaughter of the famed financier Andrew Mellon. She and her husband raised Angus cattle and racehorses at the estate but disappeared in 1967 when a chartered plane they were on crashed in a storm in the Caribbean.
Baker was friends with the three siblings, and Andrea Currier and Baker dated at one time, according to news accounts at the time. She was on her honeymoon on the night of the killing.
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, she said she may be asked to testify in the case, so she would not comment other than to say, “I’m very, very happy this is being resolved.”
Baker grew up in Indiana, an athlete and writer who received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration from Indiana University. He moved to the Washington area in 1975 and was “ahead of his time,” his older sister, Blythe Patenaude, said Tuesday.
He was interested in the environment, consumer protection, and hydroponic and organic farming.
He was a graduate student in agricultural economics at Virginia Tech when he took the job managing the farm. He made friends quickly with his kindness, Patenaude said, starting a baseball league for some children who would not otherwise be able to play.
He was generous to a fault, she said, remembering a time when he asked their mother two days before Thanksgiving whether he could invite friends who would not be with their families for the holiday. “About six hours later, my brother came in the door with 10 kids,” she said.
He was thrilled to have the job at Kinloch, she said, to put into practice some of the organic farming and other things he had been studying.
“He had reached a point in his life where if anyone was on cloud nine, it was him.”
For years, she said, Baker’s family and friends had been waiting for the day when police would announce that his killer had finally been caught.
“It’s a gift that is unimaginable,” she said, choking on her words, at the announcement in Warrenton, and several of the law enforcement officials lined up behind her, some of whom had worked on the case for decades, set their jaws or had eyes redden as she spoke. “There’s a point when you don’t have answers of your own, you have to trust in God.”
Cloud first became a suspect in 1995. But the case had long been cold when Fisher became commonwealth’s attorney a year and a half ago, and the newly elected sheriff, Charlie Ray Fox Jr., told him, “We want to solve this case.”
Investigators went back and re-interviewed many witnesses and possible suspects, and suddenly, in December, they had a breakthrough, Fisher said. Cloud confessed.
According to investigators, Cloud rushed to Baker’s house in the snowstorm, furious about his stepfather getting fired. After exchanging words, Baker ran into a back bedroom, Cloud broke in the front door, and in an exchange of gunfire, shot Baker.
Baker died the next day.
Cloud, 64, is in the Mount Olive Correctional Center in Mount Olive, W.Va., sentenced on charges unconnected to the killing in The Plains, authorities said. Cloud was sentenced in 1988 in Hampshire County, W.Va., for assault and sex assault offenses involving a child.
Still, the story is not over yet. Fisher said there could be “additional prosecutions that fly out of this case.”
Jennifer Jenkins and Martin Weil contributed to this report.