PROVO — Jerrod Baum has pleaded not guilty to brutally murdering two people and dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft.
But investigators want to know if Baum’s tattoos tell a different story.
The Utah County Attorney Bureau of Investigations recently served a search warrant to collect updated photographs of all of Baum’s tattoos. According to those who know Baum, he considers his tattoos to be his “records.”
Those records include tattoos of headstones with the initials of the people he’s killed, according to a new search warrant affidavit filed in 4th District Court.
Investigators now want to find out whether Baum has added tattoos to represent the killings of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17.
“Just as Baum’s iron cross may have documented bravery in battle for his involvement in any number of acts, he may have documented his killing of Riley and Brelynne by way of tattoos as well. My training and experience and consultation with experts leads me to believe that there is a reasonable probability that he has done so,” an investigator wrote in the warrant.
“There is a strong likelihood Mr. Baum may have recorded the deaths of Riley Powell and Brelynne Otteson in the form of another tattoo. Updated photographs of any new tattoos would offer corroborating evidence of the murders.”
Baum, 43, is accused of slitting the throats of the young couple and throwing their bound bodies into the Tintic Standard Mine outside Eureka, Juab County, sometime between the night of Dec. 29 and the morning of Dec. 30, 2017.
Baum is charged with two counts of capital murder and prosecutors have announced they are pursuing the death penalty if he is convicted. His trial is scheduled to start in March.
Defense attorney Mike Brown declined to comment about the search warrant, saying it’s a “pending criminal matter” and his client is presumed innocent. Utah County Attorney David Leavitt also declined comment Thursday.
On Aug. 18, investigators filed a lengthy 25-page affidavit in support of their warrant seeking an update on Baum’s tattoos. The affidavit goes into detail about more than two dozen tattoos Baum is known to have.
The majority of the tattoos have links to white supremacy symbols and rune writings. Investigators took interest in the tattoos after interviewing Baum’s girlfriend, Morgan Henderson, who was allegedly present when the killings occurred but lied to police about what she knew.
In 2018, Henderson pleaded guilty to 10 counts of obstructing justice as part of a plea deal that would have her avoid a lengthy prison sentence if she testifies against Baum.
“While listening to interviews of Morgan Henderson I was made aware Mr. Baum had a variety of highly controversial tattoos depicting and documenting his ideologies and organizational principles. During these interviews, Morgan made reference to the swastika tattooed on Mr. Baum’s face,” the warrant states.
In another interview, Henderson said Baum “spoke about his tattoos as ‘records.’ With specificity, she reported the tattoos of the ‘headstones’ ... symbolized people he had killed. Morgan stated Mr. Baum did kill people and he was a ‘tax man’ for illicit organizations,” according to the affidavit.
Investigators noted in their warrant that in a 2002 interview with Adult Probation and Parole, Baum claimed he was “working for local drug dealers ‘collecting taxes,’” meaning he would assault people who owed drug debts, the warrant states. “He admitted to several assaults in the Utah County area and one in Cedar City. He stated that he has represented himself as a hit man named Chris from California to help secure debts that are owed to local drug dealers. He stated that he has threatened and intimidated numerous people.”
During the interview with Henderson, she also said Baum took the ancient religion of Odinism, where worshipers embrace Norse and Viking figures like Thor and Odin, seriously, and that he had been teaching her about it.
“Morgan reported that Mr. Baum drew runes and symbols on her naked body with her own blood ... and that it was meant as a threat and to bind them together. Morgan then stated Mr. Baum told her if she left him, they would perform the ritual again, but that it would be with someone else’s blood,” the warrant states.
According to experts from a security threat group that the investigators talked to, what Baum was allegedly doing was trying to establish ownership over Henderson.
“Considering Morgan’s age and stability, this likely had a significant psychological effect on her. The expert additionally advised Mr. Baum used the runes as control measures through (corrupt) religious propaganda, fear and violence,” according to the affidavit. “It corroborates her fear and explains why she was reluctant to report the murders to police.”
In November, Baum received a visit in prison from his biological sister. It was the first time the two had met in person in over 40 years, investigators wrote.
“During the initial portion of the visit Mr. Baum began showing Ms. Howe his tattoos. At one point in the conversation Mr. Baum states, ‘I got my little gravestones right here’ and then he laughs. It is my impression in listening to this visit that Mr. Baum is proud of his ‘gravestones,’” investigators wrote in the warrant.
The warrant also contends that Baum was a participant in the 1994 murder of Lonnie Blackmon, a Black man, at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. Troy Kell is currently on death row in Utah after being convicted of stabbing Blackmon 67 times. Kell was seen on prison video surveillance tape recordings, strutting and yelling “white power” after the murder.
According to officials, some of Baum’s known tattoos include:
- A swastika to the side of his right eye.
- Runes on his back stretching from his left shoulder to his right shoulder.
- An “unknown demon” in the center of his back.
- A Viking or Nordic scene with an iron cross on the lower left side of his back.
- A swastika in the center of his chest.
- Documented patch member of Aryan Republic Militia, plus unknown writings underneath the patch.
- The word “RAHOWA” written across the front of his stomach. RAHOWA is an acronym for “Racial Holy War” and has been used as a rallying cry for the white supremacist cause.
- A swastika with two lightning bolts inside, plus a Viking and hammer on his left torso.
- “What looks like headstones and lettering” on his left forearm. Investigators noted in the warrant that “there is probable cause to collect better photographs of the headstones on Mr. Baum’s left forearm as it will corroborate testimony of Morgan. Additionally, clearer photographs of these tattoos will offer a richer picture of the lettering on the headstones leading to evidence of additional crimes Mr. Baum has committed.”
- An iron cross and a circle and undecipherable writing around the cross on his right shin. Investigators noted in the warrant, “Quite simply the wearer of this tattoo has been ‘brave in battle with an enemy race.’”
The warrant also contends that Baum may have received that particular iron cross tattoo for participating in the July 6, 1994, brutal stabbing death of Blackmon at the Gunnison prison. “Following the murder of Mr. Blackmon, sources advised Mr. Baum was holding the murder weapon for inmate Troy Kell who perpetrated the murder,” according to the warrant.
“Reports from the Utah Department of Corrections indicate Mr. Baum gave inmate Kell the shank that he used to murder Mr. Blackmon and following the murder, inmate Kell gave the shank back to Mr. Baum. This would suggest Mr. Baum had been ‘brave in battle with the enemy race.’”
Video of the killing shows Kell throwing the shank under the door of another cell, just a few feet from where Blackmon lay bleeding to death, according to a 1994 Deseret News report. Any alleged involvement by Baum has not been publicly reported.
Baum would have been 17 at the time.
- Thor or a man with a hammer on his left thigh.
- World of the Church of the Creator patch on it with “14/88” and runes on his left shin. World Church of the Creator is a radical white supremacist organization, the warrant states. 14/88 is a hate symbol, according to security groups. The “14” stands for the 14-word slogan of white supremacists. The number 8 stands for the eighth letter of alphabet, H, and 88 stands or HH or Heil Hitler.
But there are several tattoos Baum has that investigators were not able to decipher, in part because they did not have a clear picture of them. The warrant notes that law enforcement has not received updated photographs of his tattoos since 2018. The warrant served on Aug. 27 hopes to change that.
Utah County investigators consulted with the FBI and members of Homeland Security as part of their investigation, as well as corrections officials from other states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“These experts all indicated that many of Mr. Baum’s tattoos demonstrate his adopted ideologies as well as document his history in going into and out of white supremacist organizations. Based on my consultation with experts, it appears that the murders committed by Baum have a relation to Mr. Baum’s radical views: He used bind runes in a dark manner to control Ms. Henderson and when that didn’t work he resulted to extreme violence. The use of runes is part of many white supremacist organizations. The view of women as subservient to men and as subject to their control is also part of many white supremacist ideologies, and both of these aspects of white supremacist ideology appear to have relation to the killing of Riley and Breezy,” the warrant states.
The warrant also notes that while in prison, Baum has been disciplined in the past for possession of contraband, “specifically possessing a tattoo gun and ink,” according to the warrant. In 2001, while Baum was being housed in a Missouri prison, “a jar of black ink, a homemade tattoo gun complete with motor and two AA batteries” was found during a routine search of his cell.
“Mr. Baum treats and speaks of his tattoos as being records of past acts of violence. An updated record of tattoos newer than January of 2018 would support recent violent behavior and produce additional evidence of the murders of Riley Powell and Brelynne Otteson,” the warrant says.
Baum has a hearing next week to argue the latest in a series of numerous motions filed in the case.