Baker Heirs - Millionaires??
A group of businessmen placed ads in many American newspapers asking Bakers everywhere to file for an estate in Philadelphia, and to claim their birthright. They requested Bakers to send in proof showing their family once resided in Pennsylvania or was "somehow" related to one Jacob Baker. This caused a flurry of letters both in the USA and to Europe asking for family members to help piece together their family history. The response was so overwhelming, the businessmen set up branch offices, including the ONTARIO BAKER HEIRS' ASSOCIATION in Canada, to handle the correspondence. The Bakers were collecting family history and many family groups hired historians to trace their family in hopes Jacob would be found on their charts. I'm sure many researchers made sure to locate Jacob on the family tree..."somehow".
The possibility of being heir to millions and owning miles of prime land caused many of our otherwise level-headed Bakers to try for the brass ring. These family members numbered in the thousands and much of their life savings was spent tracing their family lineage and paying attorney fees. The Heirs' Association required various sums of money from EACH Baker several times a year. The money sent to the association paid the Board of Directors salary, several staff historians, newspaper ads, and filing fees. If you had a Baker ancestor you were welcome to send in your families' filing fee and attempt to claim the estate. Many branch offices were opened throughout the U.S.A. to handle claims locally. This was the largest heir hunt of the 19th Century...unfortunately...IT WAS A HOAX!
You have to realize the "hoax" was so well planned, many lawyers, judges, and government officials were being taken in also! The association kept in touch with the heirs and sent progress reports on a regular basis which added to their credibility. The Bakers sending in their family histories numbered thousands at the peak of the hoax.
I won't go into the "fleecing" that went along with this scam. Many of our ancestors lost homes, farmland, and spent their life savings in travel expenses and attorney fees. A number of trustworthy U.S.A. lawyers and judges were ruined, due to their belief in the association Many Bakers had their county judges verify Bible records and transcribe the entry in full. (This is where many missing family pages from the Bible you have looked for went!)
I do think we can be grateful to these "con artists" to a certain degree. The history of many Baker family groups were charted (some legitimately) instead of being lost.
IF you run across mention of a 99 year lease, railroad property, hundreds of acres of property in the City of Philadelphia, coal mines, or mineral rights (especially in Philadelphia; but also anywhere in Pennsylvania) you may want to check your family letters and notes more closely. Chances are good some of your Bakers were part of the "hoax". Just because the estate was a sham doesn't mean researchers can't find a gold mine of information!
Someone in Moms' Baker family wrote letters (intact) about ancestors in Ohio and Pa. and listed their names, birth dates, and married names of the girls. This helped me locate 300 years of ancestors! If not for the hoax, I doubt that many families would have kept notes in candy boxes, photo albums, coffee cans, books, and "memory boxes" every house used to have. There are many of you with letters from the association or from lawyers connected with them, I KNOW they look impressive but for the record!! IT WAS ALL A HOAX! NO ESTATE...NO MILLIONS OF DOLLARS...NO NOTHING!
"Baker Estate" Proven Fake; Fraud Convictions in US Postmaster-General Reports Heirs Deceived; Toronto Gave Freely To Investigate Claims.
The following article was taken from an Ontario, Canada newspaper dated Thursday, August 19, 1937. The name of the publication was illegible.
Take it finally, from the Postmaster-General of the U.S.A. - there is not now, nor ever was there a Baker Estate in Philadelphia which would be a gold mine to countless heirs!
"The most magnificent swindle of the 20th Century", the Washington correspondent of the Philadelphia Record says in reporting the Farley announcement that "Twenty-four members of the various groups engaged in this fraud against the public have been brought to trial and convicted."
In fact, it goes back into the 19th Century, for 30 years ago, or thereabouts, Bakers were York County residents who already saw them- selves rolling in riches on their shares from the huge property in the heart of the Quaker City, that would any day now, fall into the hands of the heirs of Col. Jacob Baker, whose services in that Revolutionary War had been generously rewarded by Government: grants which the course of time had transformed into gilt-edge, built-upon corner lots.
Behind the brief Farley statement, said the Record, was the story of a gigantic racket; carried on through the United States mails, which netted its' operators more than $1,000,000 and numbered among its' victims gullible citizens in every State of the Union, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.
Toronto Gave Freely
That million dollars must be a modest estimate. In 1933, the president of Toronto's Bakers Heirs Association told the Ontario Securities Comissioner that from 1922-1931 more than $100,000 was collected by local heirs associations and $223,000 had gone into the hands of one Seligman, of Pittsburg, to investigate claims. This same president of the Baker Heirs was five years previously sentenced to one year in jail on the charge of theft of $_0,778 (?) from the Drake-Watson-Springer Heirs, a sister association , of which also he was president. It was testified then that $174,000 had been collected from these "heirs". Subsequent to the sentencing, 500 Baker "heirs" met here, expressed their continued confidence in their President and discussed financial arrangements to be made with their Pittsburg investigator. In November 1929, the Attorney General's Department announced that until Seligman had returned substantially more than $150,000 received as retaining fee, the department refused to believe there was anything to the Baker Estate, and that the stop order imposed the year before to prevent....(I.E. article cut off here)
A faked will, dated December 27, 1830, was the lure which caught thousands of heirs, the Washington correspondent explains, for it provided, operators of the racket assured their victims, indisputable proof the existence of a Baker or Becker Estate in the very center of Philadelphia, worth $80,000,000 and included property on which now stand Independence Hall, Franklin Square, the United States Mint, the Broad Street Station, and the abuttments of the Delaware River Bridge.
To make the proposition even more attractive, the promoters added to those properties the grave of Benjamin Franklin and 11,000 acres of valuable coal, lead, and zinc lands throughout Pennsylvania.
The will, claimed to have been executed by one "Jacob Baker", purported to dispose of the fabulously valuable properties to the Baker heirs. Basis of the racket in the United States was to solicit money through the mails for the presumed purpose of probating the amazing document.
If the person solicited was not named Baker or Becker, he was offered a "share" of the mythical estate or perhaps an "enrollment" at $10 or $20 each. Even memberships with monthly dues were collected from those who hoped eventually to collect several thousand per cent profit.
Paper A Give-Away?
"Inspectors assigned to this work thought it very unusual that an authentic will to such valuable property should remain unprobated for almost 100 years," Postmaster-General Farley announced, " the alleged will was obtained through court proceedings and submitted to analysis by a chemical engineer and handwriting expert." As a result, post- office inspectors discovered what they suspected: The paper on which the will was written was not manufactured until 50 years after its' date. The signatures were forged.
As the will and representations of the promoters called for property throughout Pennsylvania as part of the mythical inheritance, postoffice inspectors were obliged to trace the name of "Baker" or "Becker" and various properties in all the 67 Counties of the State, from 1683 to the present time. (NOTE THIS FACT: THE INSPECTORS HAD TO TRACE THE BAKER AND BECKER SURNAME FROM 1683 TO MID-1920'S! Crystal)
After 14 months of investigation, the inspectors discovered: (1) None of the property mentioned was owned by a Jacob Baker or by any other Baker at the time the will was purported to have been executed; (2) There was no vast unsettled or undistributed Baker or Becker estate anywhere in the State of Pennsylvania.
Ramifications of the racket, it was discovered, were almost limitless. For example, some promoters claimed that Jacob Baker or some other Baker executed a 99-year lease to one Martin Yates for property upon which now stand most of the buildings in downtown Philadelphia. That lease, expiring next year, would, of course, be incredibly valuable.
Another method by which money was claimed, it came out in the trials, was in the compilization and sale of so-called "genealogical charts". Needless to say, they traced ancestors of the victim back to the Baker or Becker of whom they were supposed to be an heir. Charges for those charts ranged from $1 to $50.00.
"Associations or Leagues" were organized, memberships to which were sold to gullible citizens in every state from $1 to $20.00. The initial payment, however, was far from the total extracted from individual victims. The investigation revealed several whose contributions amounted to as much as $7,000.
The inspectors found promoters who had represented various banks and trust companies in Philadelphia as holding millions of dollars for "Baker Heirs" in the form of rentals and other collection from the 99-year leases, executed by the Baker ancestors. Investigators discovered not a single penny was being held by any of the institutions mentioned.
Search of Army and Navy files produced proof, however, that there never was a Jacob Baker from Pennsylvania who served as a comissioned officer in the Revolutionary War and that no land grants were made by the United States Government to any Captain or Colonel or any other Baker in Pennsylvania on account of such asserted service.
No less than 44 different organizations had been engaged in this gigantic racket at one time, it was revealed. Most of them, after conducting their schemes for a comparatively brief period, would fold up when pressure became to great.
Until the U.S. Post Office Department took a hand last year, the reproduction process had been going on for years.
"THERE IS NO BAKER ESTATE AND THERE NEVER HAS BEEN SUCH AN ESTATE THAT COULD POSSIBLY BE THE SUBJECT OF SUCH SCHEMES" Farley concludes, "Something that started as a rumor grew into a gigantic fraud. Thousands of people were deceived into contributing their time and money for many years without any return or possibility of reward.
BAKER TRIAL INFORMATION MISSINGI have tried to locate the records of the "Bakers' Heirs Association" and the trial exhibits once housed in the Library of Congress. The records showing genealogical data from ALL Bakers and Beckers in Pa. could really help most Baker researchers! I was told, by a person that attended the Baker Trials that there were several filing cabinets worth of Baker information. These files included Bible records, charts both from the association and from "Heirs".
Several of us have spent years working on the "Baker Hoax" trying to get researchers to forget looking for the phony estate and to search for the only "riches" the hoax left...BAKER and BECKER Genealogical Information! The files were kept in every state in the U.S.A., these were besides the genealogical files used for the trials!
Every year a new crop of genealogists start searching for their Bakers and guess what? Most times, the "Baker Hoax" or a letter found in an ancestors' box of letters starts the "Hoax" all over again!
I'd like the information from the association found and also the "missing" court records! Maybe then, the "Baker Hoax" would end once and for all!
Philadelphia Inquirer - Tues. March 12, 1974Baker information was listed in the Action Line 3-12-74
Question from: L.B. Fort Erie, Ont., Canada re: Baker Fortune (Hoax)
While in the process of making a family tree, I discovered that my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather was named Jacob Baker, born in 1731. Since then I have heard that he bequeathed a vast fortune that can still be claimed by his heirs. I have heard that this fortune includes huge pieces of Center City Philadelphia. I have also heard that many Baker heirs have made attempts to claim the fortune, and that the whole thing turned out to be a hoax. Could you tell me the facts behind this matter?
So, the great Baker Estate Swindle once again rears its ugly head. We thought we'd seen the last of it in the 1940's,when local, state, and Federal government investigators exposed it as a fraud. Conmen were bilking Baker descendants out of money from as early as 1860. What they did was promise, for a fee, to act as an agent for anyone who said he was an heir to Jacob Baker, who had allegedly left an estate- mostly real estate- valued between $200 million and $3 billion.
The story goes that Col. Jacob Baker, a surgeon in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was rewarded by George Washington and a grateful new-born U.S. government with a grant of 11,000 acres of mineral-rich land in 17 Pennsylvania counties, plus Philadelphia, including the present day site of City Hall and John Wanamaker's department store. Baker heirs were contacted by promoters and told the old Jacob Baker will had been uncovered in the Philadelphia Orphans' Court , and that if they would contribute to the "legal fees" the promoters would seek to secure them their share of the estate. An estimated 500,000 PERSONS fell for the hoax (the Bakers were apparently a prolific clan) and paid the assorted swindlers some $25 million. Philadelphia Orphans' Court records indicate that the estate of a Jacob Baker, Revolutionary War Veteran, was disposed of around 1847. His fortune totaled a whopping $6,000.
For The Record!
In two trials in Federal Court in Pittsburgh, Pa., during May and June, 1937, people from: Washington, D.C.; Indiana, Pa.; Johnstown, Pa.; Davidsville, Pa.; Greensburg, Pa.; were convicted. (10 people)
Also, from Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Oregon; Pana, Illinois; DeSoto, Kansas; Springfield, Missouri; and Middletown, Virginia. (9 people)
At the trial that lasted from April 1, to April 16, 1937, six were convicted from these places: Altoona, Pa.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Mendon, Missouri; Greensburg, Pa.
Now, these towns were a few of the places the phony association kept their records! NOTE: There are STILL records out there from private citizens that worked with this association. Most were innocent people that really believed they were doing good for their family by backing the association. They collected charts for the association and kept them on file (as instucted) before making charts for the association to take to Pa.
The Linn, County, Missouri (Mendon, Mo.) and Winigan, Missouri, Bakers can have a treasure hunt! Also, info. on W.H. Baker (may have been a lawyer from Independance, Missouri) can be checked for a collection of Baker information, due to this association.
I've spent years trying to track down these records for Baker Family members. They are probably in someones' attic or basement and it will take someone from these towns to locate them!
Once found, they will fill in information on many Baker Family Groups. Keep in mind...500,000 or so Bakers, handed their family info. over to the paid genealogists. Actual pages from your families Bible, hand written letters, and charts filled out and signed (verified) by local doctors and judges, that vouched for your ancestors' lineage. (Most filing for this estate, really felt they had to do everything by the book to have a "claim" on the estate) The estate was a hoax but the info. Bakers' used to file was real.
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© 1989 Crystal Jensen