Brad Baker, a 31-year-old farm manager, had accomplished what many in this tiny horse-country town thought was impossible. An attractive, ambitious stranger when he first came here five years ago, he had successfully entered the tight social circle of the Currier family, one of the area's most prominent landowners.
Then he was murdered, only 10 days after the Curriers had hired him to manage their farm.
His killer, who found him dressing for a New Year's Eve party, shot him in the living room of the isolated farmhouse that had just become his home.
Outside the perimeters of the 1,900-acre Kinloch estate --a manicured patchwork of rustic pastures and woods dominated by the lowslung hilltop Currier residence and guarded around the clock by armed patrols behind hedgrows and rail fences -- Baker's house was within sight of the cars that streak by on Interstate 66.
But the night he was killed, in a driving snow, it was nearly invisible to all but those who knew what they were looking for. Police said nearly everything in the house appeared to be the way the intruder found it.
Fauquier County Sherriff Luther Cox has labeled Baker's slaying a "grudge" murder, "something a jealous husband might do." After breaking in through the front door, Cox says, the killer confronted the victim with Baker's own 20-guage shotgun, and blew away the right rear portion of Baker's skull. Then, as Baker lay mortally wounded on his living room floor, the assailant broke the gun open, inserted another shell and fired a second blast into Baker's groin.
It's been a million days since we've had a murderer around here," said George Beavers, the town's farm manager. It's not unusual for people to get shot, but it's most unusual for somebody to get murdered. People want to know who did it and why."
Last week police interviewed all 36 employes of the Kinloch estate, the farm and country residence bequeathed to descendants of legendary lineage -- heirs to the fortune of Currier & Ives, related to the wealthy families of Paul Mellon and the late Ambassador David K. E. Bruce. Yet the investigation seems to be rife with possible suspects taking investigators in the many directions in which Brad Baker led his unusual life.
No arrests have been made, and Sheriff Cox said late last week he is no closer to naming either a suspect or a motive.
In the short time he was here, Baker left an imprint on The Plains. A bright, articulate and educated man with curly brown hair who customarily wore a T-shirt and bib overalls that hung long over his boot tops -- but who donned three-piece suits to promote his causes at the county newspaper offices in Warrenton -- he made many friends with his outgoing, energetic style. He also made enemies among those who found him pushy and arrogant.
"A lot of people didn't care for his attitude," said one town resident. "To me, he was just a nuisance."
Not so the three grown Currier children. "He [baker] seemed to be able to get in with them which nobody before had been able to do," said one longtime farm hand. "At least not to the extent he did."
Described by friends as "charismatic" and "irresistable," Baker in the past had expressed a plainspoken longing for "breakfast in bed, wine and candlelight dinners . . ." and "probably," police said, "dated more women than we know about."
He had many interests and pursued them aggressively, residents said. He helped organize the local farmers' market, wrote and printed his own greeting cards for sale in the town pharmacy and claimed to be active in the county Democratic party organization.
"If you met Brad, you fell in love with the guy," said one friend of 10 years. "I don't know what it was about him, but I wish there were more people with it."
Some residents, lauding his crusade for the farmers' market, praised Baker's persistence and ingenuity. Others complained they were never paid for their work on it. "He got everybody else to do the work, then took all the credit for himself," said one prominent resident, who asked not to be named.
His greeting card venture, said pharmacist Toby Merchant, "didn't amount to a hill of beans."
And if Baker was active in local politics, there is no record of his being registered to vote here.
An Indiana native with degrees in business and public administration, Baker began work in The Plains on the farm of an elderly couple who badly needed a manager, said one friend. "Ever since I've known him, he's had a very strong instinct, love for the land."
Later he was hired as a caretaker at Gilmary Farms, then owned by Jane Marilley, who was dying of cancer. It was then that Baker began to show an interest in Kinloch Farm across the road, owned by the Currier family and home to its three children, Michael, Andra and Lavinia.
During the years they ran Kinloch, the Currier children's parents, Stephen Richard Currier and his wife Audrey Sheila Bruce, had established for it a reputation that survives them in the hills 45 miles west of Washington, pursuing the gentlemanly pleasures of raising Angus cattle and race horses.
"The place carries a character of quality," said Beavers, the fire chief. "When you think of Kinloch, you think of caliber and quality. Mr. Currier had the highest standards I ever knew."
Stephen Currier was known among his employes as a generous benefactor. Under his direction the farm thrived with nearly 100 employes, many of whom lived -- and continue to do so -- in the farmhouses that dot the property. At one time, an additional 100 men were hired to clear the oak forests on the vast acreage for pasture land.
Audrey Currier, a relative of the Mellons, brought to the estate what one former employe called "a down-to-earth friendliness."
Both are deceased. One night 14 years ago, after a brief stay in Boca Raton, Fla., they boarded a chartered, twin-engine plane in San Juan for a Caribbean vacation in St. Thomas. The plane was caught in a rainstorm and it, the Curriers and their pilot disappeared without a trace.
Their offspring -- Andrea, 24, Lavinia, 23, and Michael, 19 -- grew up at the family's Fifth Avenue residence in New York and at Kinloch. When Brad Baker moved to The Plains, operations had shrunk considerably on the estate, but the children -- Lavinia especially -- were taking increasing interest in its affairs and making their own management decisions.
How Baker made their acquaintance is a subject of debate among residents and employes. The security gate at the farm doubles as the newspaper drop for those who live along State Route 601. Baker "picked his paper up in the morning like everyone else," said a sheriff's department employe who grew up on the farm and was an occasinal security guard. "He usually stayed around for 15 or 20 minutes to shoot the breeze with the guard."
Baker gradually became a close friends of all three Curriers, employes said. According to friends and those who worked there, Baker and Andrea Currier dated before she married Donald Patterson, 42, a local landowner and unsuccessful state Senate candidate, in November.
"Those kids were real tight," said Arnold Bourne, a former farmhand who lives on a hillside estate overlooking the farmhouse where Baker was shot. "They used to go horseback riding together, up there in the fields and through these woods back here."
Though he was said to be working "30 hours a day" on the Gilmary farm, Baker found time to help the Kinloch farmers with their cattle chores. "He didn't get nothin' for it," said one employe, "but he used to help drive 'em in from the pastures across the way. He was crazy about cattle."
In 1978, Baker, who once had written a children's book about living in the country, began traveling. He occasionally returned to Kinloch, to spend weekends with the Curriers.
About the time Baker enrolled in a doctoral program in agricultural economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the Curriers bought the parcel of land Baker was to manage. They also began experimenting with organic farming, which was "right up Baker's alley," one employe said. "They didn't like toxic sprays," said the estate's greenhouse manager.
Baker interrupted his university studies to manage the farm's cattle, hay and feed operations. One of his first acts as manager was to fire one employe, which seemed to surprise no one in The Plains.
On the night of Baker's murder, Micheal, Andrea and Lavinia were all out of town, police said: Andrea was honeymooning in the Caribbean, Lavinia was vacationing in Paris, and Michael was in New York.
Friends said Baker had planned to attend a New Year's Eve party with a radiiologist at Fauquier Hospital who was separated from her husband. The party was at the home of a close friend, a physician at the hospital who lives down twisting clay roads three miles away. It was snowing hard.
About 7:30 p.m., police said, the woman called Baker and woke him. She was probably driving there as Baker finished his shower. When she found him about 9 p.m., bleeding profusely, she drove to the scene of the party to summon help.
Baker was flown by helicopter to the Washington Hospital Center. He died the next day.
"I don't know anyone who had a bad word to say about him," said one friend last week. "[But] Obviously, somebody did."