Served: 14 years
1904 to December 15, 1919
We know very little about the Merchant Police in Hamilton, Ohio at the beginning of the 20th Century. We believe they were empowered to patrol the central business district that included High, Second, Third, Court, Ludlow, and Market Streets.
During 1904, twenty-one year old Harry Baker, the oldest of nine children, left the family farm in Reily Township and joined the Merchant Police. Six years later, in 1910, he married Nellie May Davis. Their first child, James Baker, died at birth in 1913 due to a difficult delivery. They had a daughter, Dorothy Hina Baker, in 1915, but then in 1917 lost another son, John Francis Baker due to a difficult delivery. Their last child, Eva Mae Baker, was born in 1919. The four of them lived at 648 Miner.
During the afternoon of December 14, 1919, Nelson J. Barger (22), Kimber Baker (no relation), Justus Bowling, and Hargis Callahan met on B Street in Hamilton and planned to hold up a crap game that was operated on Court Street. About 11 p.m., the four men armed themselves with revolvers. Barger had two revolvers in calibers .32 and a .38.
The foursome met at the Grand Theater and agreed to split up and meet again at Fourth and Court Streets. Bowling and Callahan left. Before Barger and Baker left, two temporary private policemen hired by the merchants, Frank S. Brown and Charles Morton, found the two loitering and ordered them from the entrance to the theater. They arrived first at Fourth and Court Streets at about 1 a.m. on December 15, 1919.
About 1:15 a.m., Patrolman Baker was in plain clothes and patrolling the area. He found Brown and Kimber Baker loitering and inquired as to their business. Their answers provoked suspicion and Patrolman Baker tried to detain them. They resisted and Kimber Baker drew his revolver. Patrolman Baker scuffled with him. Barger, watching for a time from some five feet away, drew from his pocket the .32 caliber revolver, pointed it at Patrolman Baker, and twice pulled the trigger. The revolver did not fire. He then drew the .38 caliber revolver, aimed, and fired twice. This one fired. The first round went into Patrolman Baker’s back. The second shot missed and struck Kimber Baker in the left shoulder. Kimber Baker and Barger ran, leaving Patrolman Baker on the sidewalk.
Patrolman Baker almost certainly died within a few minutes. The bullet entered his body about the left shoulder and passed through a lung and the pericardium of the heart. He was found soon after and in a pool of his own blood.
In the span of six years, Nellie May Baker had lost her two sons and husband. Besides his wife and daughters, Patrolman Baker was survived by his parents, Jonas and Sarah Baker, and eight siblings; David Baker, Homer Baker, Glenn Baker, Earl Baker, Mrs. Amanda McCormick, Mrs. Sadie Miller, Martha Baker, and Ethel Baker. He was buried December 18, 1919 in Greenwood Cemetery.
There were no witnesses to the killing, but the private police officers and Herbert Stricker saw the two men before the incident and one was wearing a cap. Officer Stricker later saw the two running later and the one no longer had the cap. Descriptions of the two were broadcast to all the departments in the region.
That afternoon, Hamilton Police Chief Stricker and Director of Public Safety Henry B. Greevey announced they had a few clues. Detective Peter Hetterich mentioned there was but one clue and it was later made public that a cap was left at the scene with a tuft of hair still in it. From this starting point, police learned the names of all four men involved in the original conspiracy.
Barger was arrested in Berea, Kentucky, with his .38 caliber revolver in his trouser pocket. When returned to Hamilton, he provided a written confession. At his trial on March 5, 1920, Judge Clarence Murphy subsequently dropped the charge of Attempted Robbery of a Nick Brown. Barger took the stand and repeated his confession. He was found guilty of first-degree murder – the first person found guilty of first-degree murder in Butler County in 15 years – and sentenced to die in the electric chair on July 30, 1920, in the Ohio Penitentiary.
On January 7, 1921 Barger was still alive and in prison. On his last day in office, Governor James M. Cox issued a stay of execution for Barger, possibly because he was terminally ill. Barger died on April 18, 1921, of tuberculosis while in the prison.
Kimber Baker was also found and arrested in Kentucky. But, prior to being extradited to Ohio, he escaped and was never found again.
If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was revised on December 14, 2014 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President, with research assistance from Joyce Meyer, Price Hill Historical Society Volunteer. All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.