Crime

A Boyfriend Shot Dead, a Girlfriend Gone Missing, an Unsubstantiated Confession—A Close Look at a 72-Year-Old Humboldt County Cold Case 

Henry “Red” Baird” and Barbara Joe Kelley [All clippings and images come from The Humboldt Standard between the dates of March 22-April 1, 1963]

Cold cases grow cold because their stories stop being told. Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office published an interactive map and timeline last year over sixty missing and murdered people whose cases remain unsolved. We have taken on the task of writing about each and every one of those cases, to keep their stories alive and hopefully find justice for the victims and families. Remember, as Jean Racine, the French playwright once said, “there are no secrets that time does not reveal.”

Henry “Red” Baird and Barbara Joe Kelley had gone out for two months. Red was a World War II Veteran and a bakery truck driver. Barbara was a waitress at a Fortuna restaurant called the Sweet Shop and known to be deeply religious.

The couple told their parents they would be going to a show on the evening of June 17, 1950. This would be the last evening their parents would see either alive.

A crime scene photograph of where Baird was found shot [Image comes from The Humboldt Standard between the dates of March 22-April 1, 1963]

The next morning, two Eureka fishermen found Baird’s body lying face down in the sand of Table Bluff Beach with a single gunshot wound to his head wearing nothing but his socks and shoes. Baird’s clothing was folded neatly next to him and investigators found his girlfriend’s clothes underneath except for her shoes and stockings. This suggested to investigators someone had made her strip off her clothing at gunpoint and led her away.

Thirteen years after the crime, an incarcerated man by the name of Gayle Patrick Irish, inspired by a sudden turn towards religion, confessed to a prison Chaplain while imprisoned at the California Men’s Colony near San Luis Obispo. Prison officials contacted the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office who dispatched two deputies to acquire further information from Irish.

A mugshot of Gayle Patrick Irish [Image comes from The Humboldt Standard between the dates of March 22-April 1, 1963]

The Humboldt Standard, an early periodical out of Eureka (1875-1967), provided the reporting that informed this review of the long-standing cold case. Their coverage in late March 1963 provided a thorough account of the murders in 1950 and the subsequent attempts to tie Irish to the killings.

Irish, at the time of his confession, was serving time for a 1958 sex conviction in Kern County, just seven years after a similar 1951 conviction of “outrages against a 12-year-old girl” in Humboldt County. Before that, he had worked as a laborer for the Mercer-Fraser Company until 1958 also working at Mum’s Cafe on lower F Street residing at the Cairo Hotel at 130 F Street in Eureka.

Irish told deputies he was “prowling” around Table Bluff beach in his car in the early morning of Sunday, July 18, 1950, when he found the couple sitting in Baird’s vehicle “on the beach under the bluff.” Irish told the deputies he proceeded to order the couple out of the vehicle at gunpoint, forced the pair to strip, and shot Baird in the back of the head, and drove Kelley 35 miles away off a logging Road in Crandell where he raped and murdered her.

Irish was flown to Humboldt County to take investigators including then Humboldt County Sheriff William Pederson to the place where he said he had dumped Kelley’s body. On Saturday, March 23, 1963, Irish along with Humboldt County deputies and detectives went to the site where he purported to have buried Kelley. 

While at the location in Crandell, Irish disclosed he was interrupted from burying Kelley’s body that morning back in 1950 after the discharge of his rifle attracted the attention of someone nearby who drove to the location in their truck. This startled Irish, he told authorities, and he hastily dumped her body behind a log and drove away.  

Irish provided authorities with more details of his detainment of Kelley. After shooting Baird in the back of the head on the beach, Irish led Kelley to his car where she wrapped her naked body in a blanket. During the 35-mile ride to the logging road off Crandell, Kelley was “frozen with fear” and was “unable to cry out” while driving through the more populated towns of Eureka or Arcata. 

Two months after the killings, Irish told authorities he returned to the spot where he dumped Kelley’s body and noticed that many of the logs appeared to have been moved. 

Humboldt County Sheriff William Pederson searched through the brush [Image comes from The Humboldt Standard between the dates of March 22-April 1, 1963]

During his on-the-ground visit to Humboldt County, some information came to light that corroborated his confession. A widely known Eureka boxer by the name of Oliver Haneurne told Sheriff Pedersen that he had actually worked with Irish the year of the murders in the Cranell woods near the area Kelley was reportedly murdered. Haneurne was actually taken to see Irish and Irish immediately recognized him.

Georgia Pacific Woodsboss Earl Shipley assisted investigators by using the company’s log loaders to actually move logs around in the area Kelley was supposedly left to no avail.

After multiple fruitless searches in the Cranell area, a break in the case occurred on March 26 when HCSO was contacted by a family outside of Trinidad who said their children had found human bones behind a log three years previously and one of those bones was wearing a wristwatch.

Sheriff Pedersen personally led the search of the area looking for the bones wearing a wristwatch. Sheriff Deputy Roy Simmons actually spoke with Kelley’s sister who confirmed the night her sister went missing, she was in fact wearing a wristwatch. 

Deputy Simmons said that investigators believed Irish was the murderer of Kelley and Baird saying “this boy has too much knowledge of the details not to have first-hand information.”

The search for the bone-wearing watch did not turn up anything but the children did pinpoint the approximate area they found the remains which was the same area Irish said he had shot and killed Kelley thirteen years before. The spot was described as “four miles up the private road from the Crannell gate and nearly five miles up this side of the Candy Mountain area where Irish led the field force in a massive search last Sunday and Monday.”

The next day, a second “hot clue” was reported in the same area the bone with the wristwatch was located. A hunter contacted HCSO and told investigators that in the fall of 1962 he had found a woman’s black, patent leather shoe four miles up the from the Crannell gate, but thought nothing of it at the time.

After a sixty-person search of the area turned up nothing on March 28, Captain Edward Hulbert, the Chief Criminal Deputy, bluntly told Irish “you’re either afraid to look at what’s left, or you’re afraid someone is going to hurt you.” Irish did not respond directly but instead started talking about religion. Many investigators believed Irish had something to do with the case, but after meeting with the District Attorney knew Irish’s confession was worthless unless Kelley was located.

Irish left Humboldt County on April 1, 1963, without any concrete evidence to tie him to the killings of Kelley and Baird. He was slated to stop in Sacramento with investigators to undergo a polygraph test where he would be asked questions about the crimes.

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office’s listing on the murder of Baird and disappearance of Kelley mentions nothing of Irish, and states clearly she “remains missing to this day.”

HCSO asks that if anyone has information to share about unsolved crimes to contact the “Crime Tip Line at 707-268-2539, submit information using our Online Crime Tip Form, or email hsotipline@co.humboldt.ca.us. Please reference the case number associated with the case when reporting information.” Barbara Joe Kelley and Henry Lawrence Baird’s case number is 195003681.

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