Monday, May 28, 2018

Bess Fern Baldwin Murdered Her 5-Year-Old Son to Express Anger Toward Her Husband – Missouri, 1987

FULL TEXT: Marshfield – A rural Niangua woman killed her 5-year-old son because she was angry with her husband, investigators testified at a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Two criminal investigators with the Missouri State Highway Patrol said Bess Fern Baldwin told them told them her husband David couldn’t keep a job and had drinking problems.

“She said, ‘I was so mad. I was so mad. It’s the only way I could keep David from hurting us anymore,’” Sgt. Jack Merritt testified in Webster County Associate Circuit Court. “She expressed her anger in that context.”

At the end of the hearing, Baldwin, 33, was bound over for trial in the death of her son Clayton. Arraignment is set for 9 a. m. Dec. 15.

Baldwin is charged with second-degree murder. She is free on $100,000 bail.

Clayton Baldwin was killed Oct. 1 as he slept in the family house on Webster County M about eight miles northeast of Niangua.

Her husband, who didn’t attend the preliminary hearing, was close to Clayton, testimony indicated.

During the two-hour hearing, Bess Baldwin kept her head propped on her clasped hands and cried as law enforcement officials described their investigation. They said she wasn’t suspected in his death until she blurted out “I hurt my baby” when she returned home a week after the killing.

After admitting she killed Clayton, Baldwin said it was accidental, testimony showed. Later she told investigators the incident was prompted by domestic problems with her husband.

Sheriff Eugene Fraker testified that Baldwin first told authorities she picked up Clayton at her sister’s home, took him and put him into bead. She also called a family friend in an effort to learn her husband’s whereabouts. While outside the house, she heard a popping sound.

“She answered me that she saw no one, saw no car, saw no lights,” Franker testified.

A .410-guage shotgun belonging to Clayton’s 12-year-old brother, Who wasn’t home, was discovered near the house.

Sgt. Tom Martin, a criminal investigator with the highway patrol, led the investigation because county officials were already grappling with the Sept. 25 shooting deaths of seven family members near Elkland.

Martin said Baldwin gave conflicting statements about her son’s death.

When Baldwin decided to return home a week after the incident, Martin and other investigators escorted her on the assumption that she could provide more details.

They were walking toward the older brother’s bedroom, where the shotgun was kept.

“She just stopped sobbing and said, ‘I hurt my son,’” Martin testified.

At first, Baldwin told authorities that Clayton was accidentally killed after he got the shotgun when she heard strange noises.

Later this evening, Baldwin was taken to the highway patrol’s Troop D headquarters in Springfield. She confessed that she killed Clayton because she was mad at her husband, Martin testified.

[Bill Maurer, “Trooper says woman killed son because of anger at her husband,” The Springfield News-Leader (Mo.), Nov. 25, 1987, p. 12]

Oct. 1, 1987 – murder of Clayton Baldwin, 5, by shotgun.
Nov. 24, 1987 – preliminary hearing; police testimony;Webster County Circuit Court.
Dec. 16, 1987 – Pleads not guilty.
May 11, 1988 – Trial begins. 2nd degree murder.
May 13, 1988 – convicted of 2nd degree murder; 4 hrs deliberation; recommended life sent.
Jul. 8, 1988 – sentencing hearing. Sentenced to life in prison.




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