Short Mysteries

Blood and Money

Before it was murder, it was a beautiful love story.  Brad Baker, the charming and handsome farm manager, was in love with Andrea Currier, the young, beautiful heiress of one of America's great family fortunes. It was the summer of 1978 and Brad, 26, and Andrea, 21, were living a life that is everyone’s fantasy in America—youth, romance, money, and a future of limitless possibilities.  Few romance novels could have matched the real life love story unfolding in Virginia’s hunt country.

Brad Baker was the talented and curly-haired farm manager who lived just down a country road from Kinloch, Andrea's 2,000 acre estate two miles from The Plains.  He was the energetic, charming activist who knew everybody and was popular with the younger, more affluent residents of The Plains.  Andrea was the shy, sensitive young woman coming of age, with responsibility over a share of the great Mellon fortune.  Her great-grandfather was Andrew W. Mellon; her grandfather,  Ambassador David K.E. Bruce, her great uncle, Paul Mellon, her uncle by marriage, Senator John Warner.

When they met and fell in love, Brad was already a worldly man full of ideas and ambitions.  Their future included all the wealth they would ever need to enjoy themselves, the possibility of marriage and bright, happy children, travel to exotic locales, and time to take quiet horseback rides on Andrea’s  country estate.  Brad might have sought the power of political office, Andrea prominence among the wealthy and privileged in New York and Washington.

But something went wrong in their love affair, and someone, somewhere along the line, decide that Brad Baker’s continued existence was a threat.  That someone acted, tragically and violently.

Blood on the snow was how the love story of Brad Baker and Andrea Currier ended.  It’s was Brad’s blood, and it was splattered on Andrea’s beautiful Kinloch outside The Plains, Virginia.

 

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Andrea Currier was one of the six great-grandchildren of Andrew W. Mellon, who amassed one of the largest fortunes in American history.  Mellon founded Gulf Oil, Alcoa, the Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh, and other large enterprises.  He paid for the design and construction of the National Gallery of Art, donated the first 115 paintings for its walls, and provided an endowment of $5 million a year to run it.  He served as Secretary of Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, and as ambassador to Great Britain under Hoover.

As was the case with John D. Rockefeller and other magnates, Mellons’ business practices came with criticism.  In 1932, Congressman Wright Patman, a fiery populist from Texas, accused Mellon of profiting from his Cabinet position and said this of Mellon’s wealth:

“The fortune I have mentioned is twice as much money as the average amount of money that has been in circulation during the past three years. . . .  It is twice all the gold in the United States and is equal to two-thirds of all the gold in the entire world.  It is nearly twice the expenses of the federal government in one year.”

When Mellon died in 1937, he passed on $500 million to his children, Paul and Ailsa.  Most of that was in stocks, and its value multiplied.  In his book, The RIch and the Super-Rich, Ferdinand Lundberg calculated that in 1964, the Mellon holdings included $4.3 billion in Gulf Oil and $439 million in Alcoa, not to mention substantial holdings in the Mellon Bank and dozens of other leading corporations.

Mellon’s offspring lived elegantly, settling in the Virginia hunt  country around Middleburg.  Ailsa Mellon married David K. E. Bruce, who earned fame as a diplomat.  The Bruces had one daughter, Audrey.  She attended the Foxcroft School in Middleburg and the Breaerly School in New York and graduated from Radcliffe College  In 1955, she married Stephen Currier, whose father was a painter and whose stepfather was a wealthy New York banker.  Stephen Currier had attended good prep schools and was graduated from Harvard College.

The Curriers were philanthropic and lived privately, avoiding society gatherings.  They had three children.  In January 1967, Stephen and Audrey Currier grew impatient at an airline delay and chartered a small airplane to fly them from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where they were to pick up their youngest child, Michael.  In doing so, the couple violated their policy of never flying together.  The airplane vanished at night in the Bermuda Triangle.  The Currier children were orphaned.  Andrea was ten, Lavinia was nine, and Michael was six.

The Currier children were raised by a succession of housekeepers at Kinloch and in New York.  Their life was very comfortable and secluded.  The Kinloch mansion resembled an art museum, set off by fountains and terraces.  Dozens of servants worked on the farm and in the house.  Every path was paved, every fence painted, every post straight.  A huge greenhouse produced a year-round bounty of vegetables and fruits—bananas, limes, oranges.  Stables housed thoroughbred horses, and cattle grazed on rolling, lush pastures, as if put there for the pleasure of the children’s eyes.

When the children reached eighteen, they came into large fortunes—certainly hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps more than a billion.  As the eldest, Andrea carried the heaviest responsibility.  Friends say that she felt guilty about her wealth and at the same time felt obliged to managed it wisely.  She worried that people who seemed friendly might have designs upon her and her money.  It was a difficult position for a young women with no parents to turn to.  Andrea withdrew.  She had few friends and only superficial contact with her neighbors and other residents in and around The Plains.

During the summer of 1977, Andrea, by then a beautiful woman of 21, happened to meet a handsome neighbor at the main gate to Kinloch.  Mailboxes were located there for families living along the country road, and he was picking up the mail for Gilmary, a nearby farm that he had been managing for the last eighteen months.  His name was Brad Baker, he was 27 years old, and his background was as deeply in the American mainstream as Andreas’s was above it.