A Twisted Mother-Son Bond: Barbara Baekeland’s Story

Barbara Baekeland was brought into the world with exceptionally good looks. She was considered one of the ten most beautiful girls in New York. Thanks to her beauty, Barbara began modeling with some of the most popular magazines of that era, from Harper’s Bazaar to Vogue.

Barbara Baekeland amd Anthony Baekeland / Anthony Baekeland / Barbara Baekeland / Anthony Baekeland
Source: Facebook

Unfortunately, her DNA also consisted of a hidden history of mental health problems that haunted her for the rest of her life, and she spent tons of money on expensive therapists and the best psychiatrists. She married into wealth and lived a dream life of fortune, glamour, and status. However, the marriage was far from perfect and produced a child that was even more erratic and unhinged than his parents.

Rich, Troubled Minds

When the young socialite was introduced to the charming Brooks Baekeland, a trainee pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, they quickly earned the status of a celebrity couple who had it all: good looks, wealth, and in Brooks’s case, a member of the Bakelite empire lineage (as the grandchild of the person who invented plastic, Leo Baekeland).

A portrait of Leo Baekeland beside a group photo of his grandkids.
Source: Pinterest

After walking down the aisle in California, the newlyweds moved into a stunning, extravagant apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. But not long after, their marriage began to show some obvious cracks, and that’s when the trouble started. We’ll jump back into this and all the juicy drama shortly.

A Gruesome Scene

On November 17, 1972, Barbara Daly Baekeland was stabbed to death in her luxurious London apartment; she was only 52 years old. The gruesome murder was the violent end to an emotional rollercoaster for the gorgeous socialite who was related (by marriage) to the Bakelite empire – which introduced plastic to the world.

A portrait of Barbara Daly Baekeland.
Source: Tumblr

Just before Barbara’s brutal death, she was out with a friend in London bragging about her extravagant, wonderful, fun-filled life that she had with her son Anthony whom she absolutely adored. Tony was a tall, skinny, 25-year-old and the only child of Barbara and Brooks Baekeland – the heir to Bakelite. Hours after she got home, it was her own son who killed her in the kitchen.

Real Life Norma Bates

The violent attack ended a turbulent, toxic, and combative mother-son connection. As it turns out, their relationship was the furthest thing imaginable from the ideal, loving bond that Barbara always boasted about; the reality was a fatal combination of possessiveness, mental illness, and disturbingly, alleged incest between mommy and son.

Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, speaks with Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, in a scene from Psycho.
Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

When the shocking scene was discovered, police found Barbara lying on her back, dead. Tony didn’t seem to understand the severity of his actions; he was in such denial that he started ordering Chinese takeaway on the phone.

Captivated the Headlines

The same year that the legislation of cannabis passed in Holland, the computer company Atari launched the first generation of video games, and there was much controversy over the Vietnam war. Still, the headlines and news stories couldn’t stop talking about the murder of a rich, beautiful, American socialite associated with one of the wealthiest and most powerful dynasties.

A newspaper clipping that tells the story of Barbara Baekeland
Source: The New York Times

But the captivating story had a shocking aftermath as details came out about Barbara and Tony’s dark and unsettling family secrets. Some friends described the tense environment of arguments. The reason for these extreme conflicts was because Barbara encouraged and pushed Tony to sleep with prostitutes in an attempt to “cure” his homosexuality. But even worse, she deliberately instigated a sexual relationship with her son as a way to control her gay child. She was terrified of losing him.

A Smothering Mother

Soon enough, these volcanic arguments turned physical, and Tony was seen trying to hurt or kill his mother on multiple occasions, like pushing her in front of moving cars. It became an irreversible cycle of tension, suppressed anger, and grievances that eventually erupted into a deadly stabbing of a mother who doted on her only son too passionately.

Tony is smiling up from the bathtub at the camera.
Anthony Baekeland. Source: Tumblr

It was the kind of devotion that was suffocating. Her possessiveness and controlling behavior ultimately ruined the lives of one of the most privileged, wealthy American families.

Let’s Start at the Beginning

On September 28, 1921, Barbara Baekeland was welcomed into the world as Barbara Daly to an ordinary American family. Growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she seemed destined for a well-adjusted upper-middle-class life. Everything went well until the year she turned 11, that is.

A little girl holds her father’s hand.
Photo by Lambert/Getty Images

In 1933, everything changed in the worst way ever. Young Barbara lost her father, Frank, in a horrific manner. After the stock market crash, Frank ended his own life by filling up his car with carbon monoxide in his garage. Barbara, who wasn’t even a teenager, had already endured tremendous trauma. Unfortunately, this heartbreaking story gets even sadder.

A Family Curse

Frank Daly suffered from mental health issues, but he wasn’t the only unstable family member. Psychological demons consumed Barbara and her mother as well. Barbara would eventually hire a bunch of expensive therapists to try and find a glimpse of happiness, but nothing worked. As we’ll see, she became more and more unhinged, with dreadful consequences.

The exterior of Delmonico's Hotel on 5th Avenue.
Photo by Schenectady Museum; Hall of Electrical History Foundation/Corbis/Getty Images

Despite her early tragedy, Barbara’s life got better. A few years after she lost her father, she moved to New York City with her mother and stayed at the iconic Delmonico Hotel, and Barbara became the talk of the town almost overnight. People couldn’t get enough of her big dark eyes and thick, shiny hair. But she quickly went from bombshell to scandal-maker.

She Was Power Hungry

Barbara wasn’t just beautiful; she was extremely ambitious. Since she was a little girl, she knew she wanted the good life with big cities, vacations, parties, and a whole lot of cash, and she knew she had the looks to make it happen. She became one of the top models of her time.

Barbara sits on her windowsill staring out onto the street.
Source: Twitter

When Barbara was barely an adult, she gained much attention from rich, powerful men. As part of the high-society party circuit, Barbara met John Jacob Astor IV, the incredibly wealthy offspring of the Astor clan. It’s been reported that Astor wanted to marry her, but Barbara set her sights on someone else.

Finding Prince Charming

Around that time, Barbara fell for debonair Brooks Baekeland, a man the high-class people called “the intellectual Errol Flynn.” Since his grandfather invented plastic, let’s just say he was sinking in money. He also inherited his grandfather’s bright mind, starting a Ph.D. in physics before switching to writing.

A young couple flirt with each other over their sodas.
Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

So, to sum it up, the dashing, intelligent, wealthy Brooks checked off everything Barbara wanted in a man. And with her strong determination, the socialite stopped at nothing to get him. Sadly, her erratic behavior started to surface even before the wedding.

She May Have Faked a Pregnancy

Barbara and Brooks were getting hot and heavy in the 1940s, but that wasn’t enough for the beautiful socialite. According to one source, she was so desperate to get him to marry her that she even faked a pregnancy to push him into a quicky wedding.

A bride and groom sit in the back seat of the car.
Source: Reddit

Her plan worked. But faking a pregnancy should have been the first red flag. The social climber became a high society socialite in her own right. At first, Brooks was everything Barbara wanted, but in the long run, this romance led to a gruesome bloodbath.

Living the High Life

On the surface, Barbara had everything she could ever want: good looks, money, and status. They often entertained famous faces, from Hollywood starlet Greta Garbo to tortured playwright Tennessee Williams. But it didn’t take long for the marriage to self-destruct.

A portrait of Barbara wearing a large hat.
Source: Reddit

Everyone knew Barbara was all about the glitzy life, money, status, and diamonds. Her beautiful face certainly helped her climb the social ladder, but a pretty face isn’t everything. People soon found out that Barbara had a very ugly side as well.

The Dark Side

Dinner guests described Barbara’s emotional instability and her occasional vile mannerisms, such as excessive drinking. Indeed, many of the people closest to the couple hoped they would never have kids and risk passing their dysfunction on to poor, innocent children. Well… that is exactly what happened.

Dinner guests are taking part in a dinner party.
Photo by Denver Post/Getty Images

By 1946, Barbara was expecting a baby – for real this time. The parents weren’t ready for this responsibility, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Brooks and Barbara were cycling through depressions and cheating on each other. Surprise, surprise, a baby didn’t fix their marital issues; it just brought new problems.

Tony’s Childhood Tendencies

Anthony was born in August 1947 and was an only child. By the time he was about ten years old, his parents had decided to lead a nomadic life and travel the world with an apartment in Paris, where the relationship problems began. Consumed by emotional issues and affairs on both sides, Barbara tried to kill herself on more than one occasion.

Barbara holds her baby boy Tony in her lap.
Source: Pinterest

When Tony was a toddler, the youngest Baekeland heir started to show some disturbing signs. Tony enjoyed examining and dissecting insects and other small animals. To make matters worse, his father encouraged his psychopathic tendencies and praised his “scientific talent.”

The Perfect Son

There is no denying that Barbara Baekeland was self-absorbed, but she must have noticed that there was something off about her son that needed professional help. Instead of taking her son to a psychologist, she pretended everything was fine. In fact, she loved showing her dinner guests Tony’s drawings. Want to guess what he drew? Oh, you know, just bloody humans, the usual.

A photo of Tony Baekeland.
Source: Tumblr

By 1967, the family was living in Switzerland, and twenty-year-old Tony began an intimate relationship with a bisexual Australian man while he was in Morocco. This infuriated his mother, who literally drove a car to Spain to bring her son home.

Road Trip to Morocco

Barbara managed to track down Tony when she got to Morocco and stuffed him into the car to take him home. But her plan took a dark turn. While driving back to Switzerland, Tony remembered he didn’t have his passport at the French border.

Tony is playing guitar with a girl sitting beside him.
Source: Facebook

Sadly, Barbara couldn’t flirt her way out of this one. She and Tony spent the night in the slammer. After that, Barbara’s life really went off the deep end. She was never a big fan of his sexual partners, so she was absolutely thrilled when he started dating a girl named Sylvie.

Brooks Stole Sylvie

This dramatic event was perhaps the beginning of a twisted mother-son relationship that culminated when Barbara went to extreme lengths to try and “cure” her gay son and also led to the demise of her marriage. Brooks was sick of his wife’s emotional issues and started sleeping with a young girl named Sylvie. Yes, that same Sylvie. Brooks started sleeping with his son’s girlfriend.

A woman is in bed crying.
Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images

When she found out about the affair, Barbara attempted suicide again. After that, Brooks married Sylvie, and they had a kid. Barbara was tortured by heartbreak and mental issues, and it turned out to be a toxic combination.

My Child Is a Genius

As her marriage to Brooks fell apart, Barbara’s relationship with her son became disturbingly alarming. Although he was an adult, Tony didn’t grow out of his childhood creepiness – in fact, his problems got worse. He was prone to violent outbursts and aggression.

A photo of Tony in the tub.
Source: Pinterest

Although his abnormal tendencies were evident, Barbara refused to acknowledge that he may have a problem. In her eyes, his erratic behavior, creepy artwork, and wicked sense of humor were just signs of his genius. It only made her love him more. Brooks was certain Tony was “evil,” but he never tried to help. Instead, he ran away.

Brooks Completely Abandoned Them

After the cheating and divorce, Barbara and Tony were heartlessly rejected from Brooks’s new life and new family in America. Needless to say, Barbara’s depression intensified. Tony had no desire to see his father after he left him to live with a new partner (3rd marriage) and a young child.

Photos of Tony and his mother at home.
Source: Tumblr

It’s unclear whether Brooks had tried reaching out to Tony in the past, but he started viewing his first son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, as strange and peculiar. Basically, he thought Tony was a weirdo and that Barbara was crazy, and he preferred to spend his time with his new, emotionally stable family and abandon his old one.

Damaged Personalities

Barbara’s controlling personality was cited as being a main contributing factor to her son’s increasingly unstable mental health. Still linked to one of the richest and most powerful American dynasties, Barbara lived a privileged life. Sadly, the material trappings of great fortune masked the outside world from the dark reality.

A smiling photo of Barbara.
Source: Reddit

She was dealing with a progressively out-of-control child who threatened her with knives, choked her, and even pushed her in front of cars outside of the family’s penthouse. It should be noted that whether the incestuous mother-son relationship actually happened is debatable. Close friends claim that Barbara loved shocking people with outrageous admissions that were likely fueled by fantasy and pathological attention-seeking.

That Fateful Night

Tony admitted that on the night of Barbara’s murder, the two had argued about a friend that Tony invited over, but his mom didn’t want to see. The argument escalated quickly and turned violent. Tony began hitting his mother before she ran into the kitchen. During his confession, Tony admitted, “My mind was slightly wacky, and I was very much under my mother’s influence. I felt she was controlling my mind.”

A newspaper clipping tells the story of the murder.
Source: Newspapers.com

It’s unclear if the admission had more to do with Tony’s unstable mind than his mother’s actual behavior toward him. But what we do know is that minutes after a terrified Barbara ran into the kitchen, Tony followed her, grabbed a knife, and stabbed her with no hesitation.

Life in Broadmoor

Despite confessing to the ruthless murder of his mother, Tony didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of his crime. It was like he had no sense of reality. Even while he was in custody in Brixton prison, he asked visitors how his mother was doing and if she was still alive.

Entrance to Broadmoor Hospital.
Photo by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tony’s defense lawyer at the Old Bailey was the legendary John Mortimer – author of Rumpole and the Bailey books. His goal was to get his client extradited back to the U.S. to receive treatment. However, Tony was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to Broadmore, one of the highest security hospitals in the U.K., where the rich and famous came to visit him due to his mother’s celebrity status as a member of the Baekeland dynasty.

A Grandma’s Love

One of the only people to have a more compassionate view of Tony’s troubles was his paternal grandmother. She was a driving force in acquiring powerful family allies, including Hugo Money-Coutts (linked to the famous bank family), to help launch her campaign to get Tony back in the U.S. Nini loved her grandson and thought he could live a normal happy life with her help and supervision.

A photo of Tony in the hospital.
Source: Reddit

Brooks, on the other hand, was against the move and believed his son should have been found guilty of first-degree murder. He also thought psychiatrists were a waste of time and called his son “evil” after he sent his young stepbrother morbid gifts that he made while at Broadmoor.

Rich People Connections

In 1980, money, power, and associations with Coutts bank, the American Embassy, and contacts in Washington finally managed to secure Tony’s release, but there was a little catch. He got out on the condition that he would live in New York under the care of his 87-year-old grandmother, Nini.

A correctional officer shakes hands with a prisoner as he is released.
Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

This decision infuriated Tony’s father, Brooks, who believed Tony was capable of killing again. He made multiple attempts to get his release reversed. Insufficient conditions were made for the release as it appeared no one in the U.K. or the U.S. understood the extent of Tony’s instability. The now-thirty-three-year-old was accompanied on the plane by a total stranger – his grandmother’s friend who happened to live near Broadmoor.

Moving in With Granny Nini

Sadly, his grandmother Nini’s misguided trust combined with a lack of responsibility by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic brought the damaged, disturbed, and schizophrenic Tony to New York’s Upper East Side to live with an elderly woman.

A poto of Barbara Baekeland.
Source: Facebook

Back in Britain, it turned out that Tony’s Broadmoor consultant admitted that Tony’s release was a “faux pas” and was perhaps aware that the lack of proper psychiatric care and supervision would eventually lead to tragedy. Sadly, his concerns were warranted. Tony’s erratic and strange behavior increased, and his aging grandmother was not equipped to handle it.

A Shrine to Mother

Just days after landing in New York and moving into his grandmother’s apartment, Tony’s bizarre behavior turned chilling. He built a macabre shine to his dead mother and uttered satanic phrases over her ashes. And who helped Tony deal with his escalating, disturbing behavior?

A man stares deeply into a woman’s eyes.
Source: Vanity Fair

His elderly grandmother and a family psychiatrist. Needless to say, neither of them was much help. At this point, with no assistance, it seemed as though the mentally disturbed former inmate was on an inevitable path of violence. As much as Nini wanted to see the best in her grandchild, she wasn’t prepared to deal with an unhinged criminal.

Here We Go Again

Six days after leaving Broadmoor prison, Tony got in a heated argument with grandma Nini over a phone call he wanted to make to England. Nina wouldn’t allow it, and when she refused to give him permission, she enraged her troubled grandson. Within minutes, the impulsive Tony lost control and stabbed her a total of eight times!

A young man stands handcuffed in court.
Photo By Cloyd Teter/The Denver Post/Getty Images

When police arrived at the scene and discovered the murder, Tony complained to law enforcement that “she won’t die” despite her broken bones and the multiple stab wounds he had inflicted on the fragile, still alive, screaming old lady.

It Was the Nice Thing to Do

His grandmother brought him into her home with the genuine intention of helping him get his life back on track. She loved him and had no clue what she was really getting herself into; she never imagined that Tony’s mental instability would cause him to go after her.

Tony as a young man.
Source: Reddit

After the stabbing, his mind manifested that he thought he was doing Nini a favor as it was the “kinder” thing to kill her. If that wasn’t chilling enough, get a load of this. During his confession, Tony admitted that he wanted to sleep with his 87-year-old grandma. Nini miraculously survived.

Jail for Life

After the attempted murder of his elderly grandmother, no rich or influential people had Tony’s back. No one wanted to defend his right to freedom after this cold-blooded crime, and he was incarcerated for life at Rikers Island, New York’s main prison, where his family money gave him access to a string of sexual partners and protectors and possible enemies.

A guard opens up a prison cell gate.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Eight months after the psychiatric assessments, Tony’s attempts for bail were delayed since they were waiting to receive medical records from Broadmoor back in the U.K. The 33-year-old came to terms with the fact he would be in the slammer for life; unfortunately for Tony, that wouldn’t be as long as he thought.

Tony’s Ironic Death

On March 20, 1981, Tony returned to his cell. At 3:30 p.m., he was found lifeless with a plastic bag tightly wrapped around his head. In a sinister act of unintentional irony, his ultimate end was brought on by the same material that made his family wealthy decades before.

A newspaper clipping that discusses Tony’s death.
Source: Pinterest

The plastic bug suffocated him, which is a common way to commit suicide. However, it hasn’t been verified whether Tony Baekeland’s brutal death was a suicide or a murder; it remains a mystery. Do you think there was any way to help Tony? Or did his upbringing and mental instability seal his unfortunate fate?