Barbara Daly Baekeland

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Barbara Daly Baekeland
Barbara Daly Baekeland.png
Born Barbara Daly
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died 17 November 1972
Chelsea, London
Cause of death Murder by stabbing
Nationality American
Known for Murdered by her son
Children Anthony Baekeland

Barbara Daly Baekeland (1922 – November 17, 1972) was a wealthy American socialite who was murdered by her son, Anthony Baekeland.[1] She was the ex-wife of Brooks Baekeland, who was the grandson of Leo Baekeland, inventor of Bakelite plastic.

She was murdered at her London home when her son Anthony stabbed her with a kitchen knife, killing her almost instantly. Anthony was found at the scene of the crime, and later confessed to and was charged with her murder.

Early life[edit]

Born and raised in Boston, her mother Nini had had a mental breakdown a few years before Barbara was born. In 1932 when she was aged 10, her father Frank committed suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust of his car in the garage. After the life insurance payment had been collected, Barbara and her mother moved to New York City, taking up residence in the Delmonico Hotel.


As a young woman living in New York City, Barbara became a prominent socialite. She was also hailed as one of New York's ten most beautiful girls, gaining her regular modelling contracts with Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Her social status and beauty resulted in frequent invitations to high society parties, allowing her to date various wealthy admirers. She also suffered mental health problems like her mother, and was a private patient of psychiatrist Foster Kennedy.[2]

An invitation to Hollywood for a screen test with the actor Dana Andrews[3] didn't lead to film stardom, but did lead to a friendship with fellow aspiring actress Cornelia "Dickie" Baekeland. She introduced Barbara to her younger brother Brooks, a trainee pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force.[2]


After Barbara falsely told Brooks Baekeland that she was pregnant,[2] the couple quickly married in California. At the time of the marriage, Barbara listed her profession as painter, while Brooks listed his as writer.[4]

After the marriage the couple set up home in a luxury apartment in the Upper East Side of New York, where they held extravagant dinner parties for their friends, who included Greta Garbo, Tennessee Williams, William Styron, and Yasmin Aga Khan.[4] Over time, Barbara became well-known to many for her unstable personality, rude outbursts, and bouts of severe depression. She also drank heavily, and both she and her husband participated in extramarital affairs.

Barbara gave birth to a son, Anthony Baekeland, in August 1946.[2]

From the summer of 1954 onwards, with Anthony aged eight, the Baekeland family led a nomadic seasonal existence, maintaining their home in New York while being mainly based in Europe. Renting houses and villas in London, Paris, Zermatt, Cap d'Antibes, and many parts of Italy, Barbara and Brooks continued to live extravagantly, entertain guests, and have affairs.[2] From 1960 onwards, the family's main base was an apartment in Paris, where during one party Brooks met an English diplomat's daughter who was 15 years his junior.[2] After Brooks requested a divorce and Barbara subsequently tried to commit suicide, Brooks terminated the affair.[2]

In 1967, at which time the family was based in both Switzerland and the Spanish-resort of Cadaques, the 20-year-old Anthony met Jake Cooper, a bisexual Australian man. Cooper introduced Anthony to various hallucinogenic drugs, which they travelled to Morocco to obtain. Anthony and Cooper also began an affair. When Mrs. Baekeland was informed of this by her friend Barbara Curteis, she travelled by car to Spain to bring her son back to Switzerland. However, at the French border, Anthony was found not to have his passport. After the ensuing fracas, both Anthony and Barbara were arrested and placed in jail.[2]


Returning to Spain, Barbara accepted the extent of her son's relationship with Cooper, but preferred his developing relationship with a young Spanish girl, Sylvie. However, Sylvie then started an affair with Barbara's husband Brooks. After discovering the affair in February 1968, Barbara again tried to commit suicide. Brooks decided that he had had enough of Barbara's behaviour, and decided to pursue a divorce.[5] This led Barbara to severe depression and a further suicide attempt, from which her friend Gloria Jones, wife of author James Jones, saved her.[6]

Brooks married Sylvie and had one child. He later divorced and married again Susan Baekland.

In 1969, Barbara met noted pop art curator Samuel Adams Green, with whom she started an affair. When later introduced to her son Anthony, Green was very unimpressed by his artistic capabilities.[7] After six weeks, Green broke off the relationship, although Barbara was still obsessed with him. She pursued Green relentlessly; when she returned to the United States that fall, she walked barefoot across Central Park in the snow wearing nothing but a Lynx fur coat to demand entry to his apartment.[8]

Relationship with son[edit]

Barbara Baekeland had a complex and allegedly incestuous relationship with her son, Anthony Baekeland, who was gay or bisexual. Baekeland attempted to "fix" her son by hiring prostitutes to have sex with him. After this failed, while the pair were living in Majorca in the summer of 1968 following Barbara and Brooks's divorce,[2] Barbara was alleged to have manipulated or coerced her son into having sex with her.

During his young adulthood, Anthony displayed increasingly regular signs of schizophrenia with paranoid tendencies, and his erratic behavior caused concern among family friends. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia.;[2] however, his father initially refused to allow him to be treated by psychiatrists, a profession he believed to be "amoral".[9]

Over the years, Anthony and his mother had several violent arguments involving knives.[2]


In late July 1972, Anthony tried to throw his mother under the traffic outside her penthouse on Cadogan Square in Chelsea, London. She was only saved by his physical weakness, and the intervention of her friend Susan Guinness.[2] Although the Metropolitan Police arrested Anthony for attempted murder, Barbara refused to press charges. Anthony was subsequently admitted to The Priory private psychiatric hospital, but was released soon afterwards.[2]

Anthony then undertook sessions with a psychiatrist while living at home. The doctor became so concerned about Anthony's condition that on October 30, he warned Barbara that he was capable of murder. Barbara dismissed the doctor's assertion.[4]

Two weeks later, on November 17, 1972, Anthony murdered his mother by stabbing her with a kitchen knife, killing her almost instantly. She was 50 years of age at the time, and Anthony was 25. Police arrived and found Anthony at the scene of the crime.[10] He later confessed to, and was charged with, her murder.[4]

Anthony was institutionalized at Broadmoor Hospital prison until July 21, 1980 when, at the urging of a group of his friends, he was released.[11]

Anthony's death[edit]

Upon his release, Anthony, now aged 33, flew directly to New York City to stay with his 87-year-old maternal grandmother, Nina Daly. Only six days after his release, on July 27, he attacked her with a kitchen knife, stabbing her eight times and breaking several bones. He was then arrested by the New York City Police Department, charged with attempted murder[4] and sent to Rikers Island prison.

After eight months of assessment by the psychiatric team at Rikers Island, he was expecting to be released on bail at a court hearing on March 20, 1981. However, the case was adjourned by the judge due to a delay in the transfer of his medical records from England.[4] Anthony returned to his cell at 3:30PM on March 20, 1981, and was found dead there 30 minutes later, suffocated by a plastic bag.[12]

Savage Grace[edit]

Main article: Savage Grace

The 2007 film Savage Grace is based on the life of Barbara and Anthony Baekeland, beginning with Antony's birth and following the family to the time of Anthony's arrest for the murder of his mother. The movie, starring Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Dancy, Elena Anaya and Unax Ugalde, was based on the book of the same name.

After the film opened, Baekeland's former lover Samuel Adams Green wrote an article pointing out elements in the film which were potentially misleading for those trying to read back to the reality inspiring it. Referring in particular to the menage-a-trois scene, which depicted Barbara, Anthony, and Sam Green in bed together having sex, he wrote:[7][8][13]

It is true that almost 40 years ago I did have an affair with Barbara, but I certainly never slept with her son ... Nor am I bisexual. She started telling people she had had an incestuous relationship with her son as a way of 'curing' him of homosexuality... But I don't believe she had sex with Tony. I think she simply enjoyed shocking people.

Green then embarked on legal action against the film makers, which was still unresolved at the time of his death.[7][8]


  1. ^ Robins & Aronson, pp. 3–6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Leafe, David (27 June 2008). "Fatal Seduction: How a society millionairess seduced her own son to "cure" him of being gay". Daily Mail. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Robins & Aronson 129.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Krajicek, David J. (July 15, 2012). "He will kill you: Shrink warned mother of Baekeland plastics heir". New York Daily News. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Robins & Aronson 285.
  6. ^ Robins & Aronson 288.
  7. ^ a b c "Sam Green Obituary". 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c "Sam Green". The Telegraph. 18 March 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Robins & Aronson 81.
  10. ^ Robins & Aronson 6.
  11. ^ Robins & Aronson 409.
  12. ^ Robins & Aronson 469.
  13. ^ Green, Sam (12 July 2008). "I wasn't to blame for heiress murder, says art expert depicted on screen in 'incest threesome'". Daily Mail. 
Reissued in the U.S. as Savage Grace: the true story of fatal relations in a rich and famous American family (Simon & Schuster Touchstone, 2007, OCLC 176925680. Sometimes issued in the U.K. as Savage Grace: the true story of a doomed family

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