Barbara Daly Baekeland lived a fantasy life of glamorous parties, wealthy admirers, and Hollywood starlets. Her incredible beauty got her into some of the highest echelons of society—but behind that exquisite face, she was hiding a terrible secret, and it was one that would drive her to an utterly gruesome act. This is the savage, tragic story of Barbara Baekeland.
Barbara Baekeland Facts
1. She Had Humble Beginnings
On September 28, 1921, Barbara Baekeland was born as Barbara Daly to a normal American family. Growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the young Barbara seemed destined for a well-adjusted life of upper-middle class contentment. That is, everything seemed swell until the year she turned 11—and everything started to change in the absolute worst way.
2. She Lived Through An Early Tragedy
In 1933, Barbara lost her father Frank in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. After losing all his money in the stock market crash, Frank took his own life, funnelling carbon monoxide into his car while idling it in the garage. Barbara wasn’t even a teenager yet, and she was already facing enormous trauma. And as though that's not bad enough, there’s even more to this sad story.
3. There Was A Curse On Her Family
You see, Frank Daly wasn’t the only family member to suffer from mental health issues—both Barbara and her mother had psychological demons, with Barbara later employing a series of expensive therapists to help her find some modicum of happiness. As we’ll see, she only grew more unhinged, and with disastrous consequences.
4. She Became An Instant Success
Despite the tragedy of her early years, Barbara’s life soon skyrocketed. A few years after losing her father, she and her mother moved to New York City, posted up in the iconic Delmonico Hotel, and almost overnight, Barbara became the talk of the town for her big dark eyes and thick head of luscious hair. Soon enough, though, she went from bombshell to scandal-maker.
5. She Was Power Hungry
Barbara wasn’t just pretty, she was incredibly ambitious. Even from a young age, she knew she wanted bright lights, big cities, and a whole lot of money. She also knew she had the goods to make it happen. In the blink of an eye, she was one of “New York’s ten most beautiful girls” and one of the top models of her time. So it’s no surprise that trouble came knocking.
6. She Almost Married A Famous Figure
When Barbara was barely an adult, she got the attention of some very powerful men. As a regular on the high-society party circuit, Barbara met and started up a fling with none other than John Jacob Astor VI, the fabulously wealthy scion of the Astor clan. Some reports even say that Astor wanted to marry her. But Barbara had her sights set on a different mark…
7. She Met The Man Of Her Dreams
Around this time, Barbara fell head over heels for the debonair Brooks Baekeland, a man people in the know called “the intellectual Errol Flynn.” Brooks was the grandson of Leo Baekeland, the inventor of Bakelite plastic, and his family was stinking rich. He had also inherited his grandfather’s expansive mind, starting a PhD in physics before switching to writing.
In short, the wealthy, dashing, and intelligent Brooks was everything Barbara wanted in a man. So believe me when I say she stopped at nothing to get him.
8. She May Have Faked A Pregnancy
In the 1940s, Brooks and Barbara were getting hot and heavy, but that didn’t seem to be enough for our girl. According to one report, she lied and told Brooks that she was pregnant in order to push him into a quickie wedding. It worked, and suddenly Barbara went from hungry social climber to high society socialite in her own right.
In the short term, this was everything Barbara wanted. In the long term, though, this would lad to all-out carnage.
9. She Lived The High Life
From the outside, Barbara’s life now had all the trappings she could have ever wanted. She and Brooks bought an extravagant apartment in New York’s Upper East Side, and they frequently entertained all manner of luminaries, from Hollywood starlet Greta Garbo to tormented playwright Tennessee Williams. But it didn’t take long for the cracks to show.
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10. She Had A Dark Side
Everyone knew Barbara loved all that glittered—money, status, her own beautiful face—but they quickly found out that she had an ugly side too. Dinner guests noted Barbara’s emotional instability, her occasionally vile manners, and her excessive drinking. Indeed, many of the couple’s friends ardently hoped they would never have children, lest they risk passing their dysfunction onto the poor kids. Uh, about that…
11. Her Marriage Was Falling Apart
In 1946, Barbara got pregnant for real this time, giving birth to a baby boy she named Antony. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. At this point, both Brooks and Barbara were cycling through depressions together, had engaged in several affairs, and were generally miserable. Guess what? A baby didn’t fix those issues. In fact, new ones just started popping up.
12. Her Son Had Scary Tendencies
As young “Tony” grew into a toddler, the Baekeland heir started to exhibit some disturbing signs. For one, Barbara’s son delighted in investigating and nearly dissecting insects and other small animals. Even worse, his own father Brooks encouraged the boy’s tendencies, praising his “scientific talent.” And that wasn’t all.
13. She Had Gruesome Dinner Parties
Although Barbara Baekeland was nothing if not self-absorbed, even she must have seen that her son was in need of some professional help. Her response was blood chilling. Instead of taking Tony to therapy, Barbara insisted on pretending everything was fine. In fact, she once “proudly” showed her dinner guests a series of drawings Tony had done. Their subject matter? Oh, just bloody human figures.
And yet, for all that Barbara’s relationship with her son was dysfunctional, her marriage was about to reach new levels of horror.
14. She Was A Jet-Setter
In 1954, Barbara and Brooks decided they needed a change, so they packed up their eight-year-old son Tony to go live a nomadic existence around Europe. In many ways, it was the kind of wealthy, jet-setting life that most people dream of, and Barbara flitted from party to party in a cloud of perfume. Then one day, it all came crashing down.
15. Her Husband Had A Humiliating Affair
If the Baekelands thought that escaping to Europe would help them outrun their marital issues, they were very, very wrong. In the 1960s, while the couple was hosting a party in their Paris apartment, Brooks happened to meet an English diplomat’s daughter who, while strikingly beautiful, was also a full 15 years younger than him. Did this stop him from striking up yet another affair? Heck no. But he didn’t stop there.
16. Her Husband Tried To Abandon Her
Usually, Brooks had no reason to go flaunting his sidepieces around his wife, but this time it was different. In the warm light of his lusty affair, Brooks realized how desperately unhappy he was in his marriage and asked Barbara outright for a divorce. He probably wasn’t expecting a calm conversation—but nothing could have prepared him for what he got.
17. She Tried To End It All
Barbara, as vain and insecure as she always had been, was devastated that a woman so much younger than her had caught her husband’s eye. Her reaction threw everyone into a tailspin. On the brink of her sanity, Barbara tried to take her own life. It was heartbreaking, but it was also effective: Brooks quickly ended his affair and all his thoughts of separation.
18. Her Son Liked Bad Boys
Although Barbara narrowly managed to cling onto her husband, it was far from happily ever after for the dysfunctional couple…and they had another curveball coming. In 1967, the Baekelands were still bouncing around the continent when their son Tony, now 20 years old, met a bisexual Australian bad boy by the name of Jake Cooper.
Cooper was far from the sort of man the Baekelands wanted their son to hang out with, and in a matter of days, their "friendship" went from uncomfortable to scandalous.
19. Her Son Rebelled
Besides his pronounced psychological issues, Tony had also grown up in posh isolation—so he needed very little encouragement to let loose with Jake Cooper. Not only did the two begin a steamy affair, Cooper also convinced his upper-class beau to travel to Morocco with him, buy hallucinogenics, and have a grand old time rebelling against mommy and daddy. Until, that is, Barbara found out.
20. She Went On A Bizarre “Rescue” Mission
Apparently high society matrons have eyes everywhere, because Barbara soon heard from one of her friends that her precious little Tony was on a psychedelic romp with his beefcake male lover. Now, this news would upset many an uptight mother, but Barbara took it to the next level. She immediately drove across Europe, set on bringing Tony back to mommy dearest in Switzerland.
Spoiler: This was a total disaster.
21. She Got Thrown In Jail
Although Barbara managed to track down Tony easily enough and stuff him back into the car with her, her plan soon took a dark turn. While heading back to Switzerland, they got stopped at the French border and Tony realized that he didn’t have his passport with him. It was a conundrum even beautiful Barbara couldn’t flirt her way out of, and she and Tony ended up in the slammer that night.
Then, after this brush with the law, Barbara Baekeland’s life really went off the rails.
22. She Took An Interest In Her Son’s Love Life
As we’ll see, Barbara never fully accepted Tony’s diverse bedroom tastes, so she was especially thrilled when he stopped hanging around Jake Cooper and his hippie friends, and instead brought home a real live girl. Tony’s new love interest was a French beauty named Sylvie, but she was a little too much of a hit with the family…
23. Her Husband Humiliated Her
Soon after Tony began his relationship with Sylvie, the Baekelands home life turned downright scandalous. Brooks Baekeland, still desperately unhappy in his marriage to Barbara, began an affair himself with Sylvie. That’s right, Brooks started cheating on his wife with his son’s girlfriend. This went about as badly as you’d expect.
24. She Had A Nasty Divorce
In early 1968, Barbara found out about Brooks’ affair with young Sylvie, and the discovery sent her into yet another terrifying depressive episode as she tried once more to take her own life. This time, though, it had the opposite effect: Brooks filed for divorce once and for all, even stonily weathering another suicide attempt right after he served Barbara the papers. Then he really twisted the knife.
25. She Was Living In A Nightmare
Brooks didn’t simply divorce Barbara; he also took right up with Sylvie after, actually marrying the girl and having another son with her. It must have been the worst outcome that Barbara could have predicted, and she was at sea for many long months following the split. Unfortunately, this vulnerable state produced some blood-curdling actions.
26. Her Son Had Issues
As her marriage to Brooks disintegrated, Barbara’s relationship with her son grew intensely alarming. By this time, the adult Tony hadn’t grown out of his childhood creepiness—if anything, his issues had just gotten worse. He was by turns cold and wrathful toward his mother, and prone to rude outbursts and aggression. Not that he had much support…
27. She Birthed An Evil Genius
Just as she had done when he was a child, Barbara stubbornly refused to see that anything was wrong with Tony. To her, Tony’s macabre taste in art, erratic behavior, and cruel sense of humor were just signs of his genius, and she adored him all the more for his, uh, quirks. Meanwhile, although Tony's father Brooks was certain his son was “evil,” he spent more time running away from him than helping him. Wow, this is going to end well.
28. She Didn’t Know How To Help Her Son
Perhaps most unsettling of all is the fact that although Tony was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and paranoid tendencies, this diagnosis didn’t do him any good. When the doctors first gave the Baekelands the news, Brooks Baekeland actually refused to let the boy seek any psychiatric help, all because he thought psychiatrists were “amoral.”
29. She Wanted To Convert Her Child
As we’ve seen, Barbara was so obsessed with maintaining her picture-perfect facade that there was almost nothing about her troubled son that she couldn’t wave away—emphasis on almost. Barbara did have one sticking point: Tony's still-burgeoning homosexuality, or possibly his bisexuality. In fact, it bothered Barbara so much, she went to chilling lengths to “change” him.
30. She Took Drastic Measures
While some mothers go the horrific route of conversion therapy to “fix” their gay sons, Barbara had her own twisted methods. Reportedly, she started hiring female sex workers to come in and try to seduce her son over to the straight side. To Barbara’s great disappointment, Tony didn’t bite even once, forcing her to move on to even more disturbing tactics.
31. She Was Flirtatious
Around this time, friends of the family began to witness bizarre scenes between Barbara Tony. Barbara had always been brash and flirtatious, and she had always been preternaturally close to Tony, but people soon realized she was starting to use her feminine wiles on her own son. One day, Barbara even let an excruciatingly awkward detail slip.
32. She Made A Very Awkward Comment
At a dinner event that Barbara attended with Tony in Paris, the socialite apparently swanned in, sat down, and tittered to her companions, “Oh, what a wonderful day it has been. Tony and I spent the entire morning lying in bed reading the papers.” While Tony only smirked at this bizarre over-share, the rest of the guests got very uncomfortable, very fast. If they only knew...
33. She Tried To Reset Her Life
In 1968, Barbara’s already dramatic life came to a screeching climax. That year, fresh off her divorce from Brooks Baekeland and mired in a panic over her son’s sexuality, Barbara took Tony on a summer vacation to Majorca to unwind and get away from the world. Instead of relaxing, however, Barbara committed an act she could never go back from.
34. She May Have Slept With Her Son
Although some of the details are necessarily hazy, it was in Majorca that Barbara and Antony likely began a physical, incestuous relationship after a series of intimate, candle-lit dinners. The details are skin crawling: Sickeningly, Barbara supposedly believed she was doing Tony a favor by finally showing him what a real woman could do. Of course, it didn’t take long for her horrific plan to unravel.
35. She Made An Enormous Mistake
Tony and Barbara were reportedly shameless about their relationship while in Majorca, treating it more like an open secret than a skeleton in their closet. But all of that changed once they got back from their vacation. Tony grew utterly distraught and even more unhinged than usual, so much so that he checked himself into a psychiatric ward. Barbara wasn’t much better off, either.
36. She Started A New Romance
In 1969, just months after her taboo tryst with her own son began, Barbara met and struck up a dalliance with the trendy New York art curator Samuel Adams Green, who was nearly two decades her junior. With her life still spinning around her, Barbara quickly became obsessed with Green, introducing him to Tony after mere weeks of dating. If that sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it definitely was.
37. Her New Boyfriend Disliked Her Son
When Barbara first introduced Green to her son, she pulled her old classic move and had Tony show her new lover his artwork. Green, an experienced eye in the art world, wasn’t exactly blown over by Tony’s macabre drawings of bleeding people. Even worse, Green broke off their relationship after just six weeks. And remember, Barbara didn’t take breakups well…
38. She Humiliated Herself
After experiencing yet another rejection, Barbara went off the deep end. She refused to get over Green, and months later, she tried to get him back with one very ill-advised seduction move. With snow on the ground, she dressed up in nothing but a fur coat, walked across Central Park in bare feet, and, once she made it to her ex-boyfriend's apartment, banged on Green's door while begging him to take her back.
Sadly, it didn’t work, and Barbara only ended up feeling more pathetic. In short, her life was spiralling toward a tragic climax.
39. She Couldn’t Leave Her Son Alone
By 1972, Barbara and Tony still hadn’t managed to extricate themselves from each other, and were living together in London, England. Although we don’t know for sure if they carried on their grim bedroom relationship into the new decade, the damage was very much done. Tony was slipping further into paranoia, and displaying some new unsettling symptoms on top of his many other issues…
40. Her Child Behaved Strangely
While Barbara frittered away most of her evenings at parties, Tony started to regress back into a child-like state. There are reports of him sitting on the floor of their luxury flat, finger-painting on his clothes and decorating his shoes with the kind of gold stars teachers give to very good boys. Yet for all that this seemed innocent, Tony’s dark side was also growing.
41. She Got Into Violent Fights
Tony was still susceptible to intensely violent moods, and he and Barbara would get into such massive fights that their well-to-do neighbors resorted to calling the authorities multiple times. Then Tony snapped. One day, officers found him in the street, carrying a knife and raving about his desire to annihilate all women. But he had even more disturbing acts in store.
42. Her Son Pushed Her Into Traffic
In late July 1972, Tony’s rage grew to epic proportions and he suddenly tried to throw Barbara into the busy street outside of their London penthouse. Luckily, Barbara’s friend rescued her, but the incident was serious enough that officers actually arrested Tony for attempted murder. Whew, that was a close one, right? Well…just wait.
43. She Ignored The Warning Signs
Disturbingly, throughout all these warnings, Barbara still refused to believe there was anything fundamentally wrong with her son. After the traffic incident, she didn’t even press charges, and although Tony had a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital following the attack, Barbara quickly took him out and put her precious boy back in her care. This would prove to be a fatal error.
44. A Therapist Gave Her A Dire Diagnosis
Although Tony was out of the psychiatric hospital, Barbara did at least pay a therapist to visit her son at home. After one intense session with the boy, the doctor gave Barbara some disturbing news. At the end of October 1972, he warned her that he believed Tony was capable of murder. Even at this juncture, Barbara dismissed the accusation one last, fateful time.
45. Her Son Attacked Her
On November 17, 1972, Barbara was making dinner in her family flat when she got into yet another argument with Tony, this time about a friend Tony wanted to invite over who she didn’t want to see. This small spat pushed Tony over the edge, and he finally made good on all the dark omens. He took a kitchen knife, charged toward his mother, and stabbed her directly in the heart.
46. She Died Instantly
Barbara’s end was instant, and she probably had no time to even understand what was going on. But Tony’s response was so disturbing, it’s impossible to forget. The Baekeland heir was so out of it, he ordered a Chinese takeout meal directly after slaying his mother, and was still munching on it when he calmly called the authorities to turn himself in. And then came the tragic coda.
47. Her Son Completely Lost His Mind
When Tony attacked his mother that fateful night, she was only 51 years old, but he was just 25 himself. He was also clearly mentally ill; while locked up before trial, he would often ask visitors how his mother was. Accordingly, the courts felt immense pity for him and a judge decided to institutionalize him at the infamous Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security psychiatric ward, rather than give him jail time. Only, that wasn’t the end of Tony or his wrath.
48. Her Violent End Got Repeated
After just six years at Broadmoor, a group of friends successfully petitioned the courts to release Tony into the world again, and he stepped out on July 21, 1980. His first move was bone-chilling. He flew to New York City, posted up with his 87-year-old maternal grandmother, and—just six days after he won his freedom—stabbed her eight times with a kitchen knife. And this déjà vu nightmare kept gaining strength.
49. Her Son Met A Dark Fate
Thankfully, Barbara’s elderly mother got luckier than Barbara herself, and she survived her grandson’s vicious attack. The same luck didn’t hold for Tony, though. The authorities threw him into Riker’s Island to await another trial, but before it could go through, Tony took matters into his own hands. Officers found his cold body in his cell on March 20, 1981, his face covered in a plastic bag.
To many, it was a vile end to a sordid story. The thing is, Barbara’s tale isn’t quite over.
50. She Got The Hollywood Treatment
Today, Barbara Baekeland dark story lives on in tell-all books like Savage Grace, which describes her relationship with both Brooks and Tony through the people who were close to the family. This then became a 2007 film starring Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne—but the attention these works received also brought out one crucial detail about Barbara’s life that might change everything.
51. She May Have Told A Huge Lie
When Barbara Baekeland’s former lover Samuel Adams Green saw the film Savage Grace, he came out with a shocking revelation. According to Green, Barbara and Tony didn’t have an inappropriate relationship at all. Instead, Green believes Barbara bluffed about the taboo tryst in order to gain attention. As he wrote, “I think she simply enjoyed shocking people.” True or not, we may never know the whole story.