W. Va. prisoner charged in 1980 killing of Brad Baker
--Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Ronald Richard Cloud
Fauquier deputies on Tuesday charged Ronald Richard Cloud, of Mt. Olive, W.Va., with the murder of Brad Baker in The Plains 32 years ago.
The case of Baker's death was the oldest unsolved murder in Fauquier County. It stymied sheriffs, detectives and even a pair of psychics since New Year's Eve 1980, when one of Baker's friends found him mortally wounded by gunshots in his home just outside Kinloch Farm.
Snow covered the killer's tracks. But new investigative techniques -- chief among them the use of a special grand jury -- helped detectives extract a confession from the man they believe killed Baker so long ago.
On that night, Baker had planned to go to a New Year's Eve party with a friend, Dr. Linda Davies. At 9 p.m., she came to his house and saw the front door open to the snowy night.
Inside, she found Baker struggling to breathe, shot in the head and groin.
A helicopter flew Baker to the Washington Hospital Center, where he died from his injuries on New Year's Day, 1981.
Baker, 30, had been working as the manager of Kinloch Farm for 10 days. The day he died, Baker fired one of his employees.
"Based on the evidence we have, it looks like a grudge killing of some kind," said former Sheriff Luther Cox in a 1981 edition of the Fauquier Democrat.
But the fired employee had a solid alibi, ruling out that line of investigation, said Lt. James Hartman, spokesman for the sheriff's office.
The detectives then considered that a scorned lover might be behind the killing, based on the gunshot wound to Baker's groin.
A 12-page article in a 1983 edition of Washingtonian Magazine, "Blood and Money in the Hunt Country," painted a picture of a relationship gone sour between Baker and Andrea Currier, the Mellon heiress and owner of Kinloch Farm.
But by 1995, Hartman said, detectives had exhausted that line of inquiry, finding no answers.
The Baker case got a fresh set of eyes in 2005, when newly-elected Sheriff Charlie Ray Fox Jr. asked his detectives in the Criminal Investigation Division to review their unsolved murders.
They've continued to work on all of them, Hartman said, but chose Baker's case as the one with the best evidence.
"The Baker case stood out as solvable, in our opinion," Hartman said.
Commonwealth's Attorney James Fisher, who took office in 2011, provided a key piece of the puzzle with his willingness to impanel a special grand jury to investigate the case, Hartman said.
Ordinarily, a grand jury assembles in Fauquier County six times a year to decide whether enough probable cause exists for an accused person to stand trial.
According to Virginia's Handbook for Grand Jurors, a special grand jury convenes in secret to "investigate a narrow special condition believed to exist in the community." A special grand jury has the power to issue subpoenas to order testimony.
At Fisher's behest, witnesses appeared before such a special grand jury. The information from their testimony led investigators to Cloud, who confessed to Baker's murder, Hartman said.
Cloud, already a prisoner in the Mt. Olive Correctional Facility in West Virginia, is serving a life sentence for kidnapping, beating, chaining and sexually assaulting a woman who worked with him at a manufacturing plant in Winchester.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Fauquier County General District Court by Fauquier Detective Cory Ashby, Cloud said he was the stepson of the employee Baker fired on New Year's Eve of 1980.
The firing meant Cloud's stepfather and his mother would be evicted from their home in the middle of winter.
In a rage, Cloud grabbed a shotgun and traveled to Baker's home that night, in the teeth of a storm.
According to the complaint, Cloud admitted to "exchanging words" with Baker at the front door. When Baker ran into the back bedroom, Cloud broke in the front door.
Investigators believe Baker fired a shotgun at Cloud, but missed. Cloud then shot and killed Baker, according to the complaint.
"Thus, the workplace violence avenue of investigation that had been previously abandoned was indeed the correct motivation for the crime," Ashby said in the complaint.
"However, as investigation finally revealed, it was one generation removed from the employee," he said.
It's very rare to crack a case as old as that of Baker's death, Hartman said. Fauquier's deputies are glad to have made the breakthrough, but they're not going to pat themselves on the back, he said. There's more work to be done.
"Obviously we feel very proud," Hartman said. "It's a huge accomplishment. But we can't celebrate too much because we have other unsolved homicides."