HAMLET — When a Hamlet detective found and cracked open a personal safe belonging to a man mauled to death by his dogs, he found the first clue to a weekslong mystery: Did David Robert Baber have living relatives? And if he did, where were they?
Lt. Richard Jordan recounted the details of his two-week search Wednesday — a trail of rumors, missing records and shots in the dark. It was only when he opened Baber’s safe and found a family tree drawn by one of Baber’s sisters that he discovered a lead: The family all had lived in Detroit at one time.
“I searched everywhere around (Richmond County),” Jordan said. “Medical records, the VA. Nothing. Nothing.
“Nowhere that I found did he list a family contact.”
But when Jordan cracked the safe in mid-November — after making sure it had belonged to Baber and not his landlord — “I found out that he had two sisters and three brothers.”
No children were listed below Baber’s name on the family tree, giving lie to neighbors’ assertions that Baber had a daughter he no longer saw. The family tree was old, though — from 1994 — and didn’t list Baber’s deceased wife or a woman he had lived with but not married. That woman also had died, Jordan said. Nowhere did the investigator find a record of children.
So on Nov. 16, nearly two weeks after Baber’s death and repeated media releases seeking assistance, Jordan settled into his desk chair for a marathon session of telephone calls in an attempt to find Baber’s brother James Frederick Baber.
First, he took a shot in the dark. He chose one of the 12 police precincts in Detroit and called detectives there.
“It just so happened that the first precinct I called in Michigan … he was in their system,” Jordan said. Trouble was, James Frederick Baber wasn’t in Detroit anymore. He was in Harrisonburg, Virginia, records showed.
So Jordan called the police department in Harrisonburg and was referred to the Rockingham County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office. James Frederick Baber had been a guest in their jail and had listed his brother David Robert as a contact.
The brother was at work when officers called on him at home late Nov. 16 but called Jordan the next day. No one in the family had seen the deceased in 15 years, he told Jordan.
Ten minutes later, the Babers’ 88-year-old father, Donald Baber, called from Florida.
“I’m frantic,” he told Jordan. “I haven’t seen him in so long.”
Because Jordan wanted to make sure he was talking to an actual relative, he established a computer connection with the father. He sent the driver’s license photo Hamlet Police had received from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.
“I haven’t seen him in over 10 years,” the father said, “but that’s my son.”
Within days, James Frederick Baber had traveled to Hamlet — he was the relative who lived the closest — and arranged for his brother to be cremated at Harrington Funeral Home in Hamlet. He took the cremains home with him to Virginia, a spokeswoman for the funeral home said Wednesday.
Jordan remains perplexed by one thing: Baber had served in the military, even though the Veterans Administration had no record of him. Apparently, he visited a local doctor, but even his latest visit had been a while ago.
As for the two dogs that attacked the 65-year-old Baber on Nov. 4 as a 9-year-old neighbor tried to fend them off: They have been euthanized, as have the other four found in his house that day, Jordan said.
Left behind are people who apparently knew Baber better than his family — the children next door who had shared meals with him, gone to the park with him and called him “Grandpa,” even though he wasn’t.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.