Friday, February 8, 2013

Norman Baker -- Quack, Killer and All Around Scum

On 8 Oct 1938, Jonathan Hiller and his 8-year-old son, John Ian Hiller, crossed the border from Canada into the U.S.

Jonathan Hiller

The border crossing form said they were going to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to visit Jean Hiller at the Baker Hospital. I figured there had to be a story behind that as Jean (Schultz) Hiller died on 20 Oct 1938.

1938 Border Crossing Manifest

And what a story it turned out to be!

Jonathan and Jean (Schultz) Hiller's wedding
photo; they were married in 1923

Norman Baker was the founder of the Baker Institute in Muscatine, Iowa. He was a flamboyant, medical maverick with a new cure for cancer. Always dressed in a white suit and a lavender tie, he owned a radio station in Muscatine, Iowa, with the call letters KTNT, which stood for Know the Naked Truth. He took to the airwaves and declared war on big business, and the American Medical Association. He believed that organized medicine was corrupt and chose profits over patients. He preached the Gospel of alternative medicine. He was the self proclaimed champion of the common man against the ownership class.

He was a former vaudeville magician, turned inventor, turned millionaire business man, turned populist radio host, turned Cancer doctor without a day of medical training in his life. His magic elixir was nothing more than a useless mix of watermelon seed, brown corn silk, alcohol, and carbolic acid. Baker had cancer hospitals in Muscatine and Eureka Springs.

In the introduction of Norman’s bought-and-paid-for biography, “Doctors, Dynamiters and Gunmen” author Alvin Winston wrote:
 “This is an inspiration book for young and old. A fact story of how a man fought his enemies-how he faced Gunmen, Dynamiters and enemy Doctors -- how he fought the medical racket, the radio trust, the aluminum trust and others. He did it for you….There has never been a book prepared so carefully. This makes it the most important book ever written. Read the life story of Norman Baker the greatest one man battle ever fought.” 
 That was how Norman Baker wanted the world to see him. As a crusader who fought to protect the common man against exploitation. But behind the mask of humanitarianism was a man who leeched off the sick and dying to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Having been run out of his Iowa, Norman moved to Arkansas. This time to the Ozarks and the town of Eureka Springs. There he bought a majestic Victorian hotel that had fallen on hard times. The Crescent hotel sat on a hill 2,000 feet above sea level overlooking the town nestled below. He called it a “Castle in the Air” and made it the new location of the Baker Hospital. Norman picked up where he had left off in Iowa. Running the same medical scams in the Ozarks that had made him hundreds of thousands of dollars in Iowa. According to one U.S. Postal Inspector Norman was pulling in $500,000 a year in Eureka Springs.

Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

For two years, He thrived in there, but the clock was ticking on Norman. He was now a marked man by federal authorities. They quietly investigated him and in 1939 they closed in.

After ten years of being hounded by the authorities and the AMA all it took to bring Baker down was seven letters placed in the United States mail advertising his services. Norman Baker was arrested by federal authorities and charged with using the mails to defraud. The trial was held in January of 1940 in Little Rock and Norman was found guilty on all seven counts. He appealed the decision, but was denied. The opinion handed down by the court of appeals said that Norman’s cancer cure was “pure hoax.”

In January of 1940 Norman arrived at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary to serve a 4-year sentence. One investigator wrote:
 “Our investigation indicates that Baker and his associates defrauded Cancer sufferers out of approximately $4,000,000. Our investigation further shows that a great majority of the people who were actually suffering with cancer who took the treatment lived but a short while after returning to their homes from the hospital. We believe that the treatment hastened the death of the sufferers in most cases. It appears to us that the sentence of four years which Baker received and the fine of $4000 was an extremely light penalty under the circumstances.” 
 He was no longer Norman Baker, millionaire business man, and cancer maverick. Now he was simply known as inmate 58197. In a statement in the Warden’s report Norman said, “I am not guilty. They have never proved anything in the indictment. We figure this was a railroading proposition. It is my opinion that the jury was fixed and influenced. We have hired private detectives to look into the matter. It is believed that whiskey and women were made available to the jurors. We were railroaded by the American Medical Association who have been after me for years.”

Norman was released from Leavenworth on July 19, 1944. He retired to Florida and lived comfortably until his death in 1958.

This fascinating story was written by Stephen Spence and excerpted by me. The complete story can be found on the Crescent Hotel website.

In 1948 Jonathan married Jean's sister, Velma Jean Schultz:

Jonathan and Velma Jean (Schultz) Hiller and the witnesses to their wedding

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