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Psychiatrist, 75, strangled in Center City hotel

HOWARD BAKER spent decades helping people to sort through their most private struggles, to find a path out of the darkness of depression and addiction.

HOWARD BAKER spent decades helping people to sort through their most private struggles, to find a path out of the darkness of depression and addiction.

In a tragic twist, homicide investigators now are sifting through Baker's private life, trying to piece together the sequence of events that led to the 75-year-old psychiatrist being found dead Monday morning in a Center City hotel.

Homicide Capt. James Clark said an employee at the Rodeway Inn discovered Baker's naked body - with a leather belt wrapped around his neck - on the floor, next to the bed of his fifth-floor hotel room.

Baker, who had offices in Center City and Wynnewood, died from asphyxiation, Clark said during a news conference Tuesday at police headquarters. But he stopped short of declaring Baker's death a murder.

A person of interest in the case was in custody and was being held on an unrelated parole violation, police said.

Baker checked into the hotel, on Walnut Street near 12th, about 3 p.m. Sunday. In the hours that followed, Baker twice was seen on surveillance footage leaving the hotel, and returning each time with a different male companion, Clark said.

About 12:30 a.m. Monday, a light-complected, 20-something man in a red, puffy vest was spotted leaving Baker's room, carrying the psychiatrist's backpack and wallet.

That man, Clark said, was the "person of interest" in custody.

Many questions remain.

Clark said there were no signs of struggle in the hotel room, nor any injuries on Baker's body. The longtime psychiatrist had about $100 in cash and a handful of credit cards in his wallet.

It was unclear if he'd previously stayed at the Rodeway Inn.

"We don't really know what his routine is. We talked to [his] wife, and she didn't know that he was even there," Clark said.

"So we're trying to sort of backtrack [through] his lifestyle."

The captain said Baker had told his wife he was at a Center City bar Sunday night watching the Eagles game. His Philadelphia office was located on Walnut Street near Broad.

Clark said investigators were combing the area for additional surveillance footage.

Baker was a board-certified psychiatrist who previously served as a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, according to a website for his practice.

Penn Medicine released a statement Tuesday: "We are shocked at this tragedy. Dr. Baker was not a member of the Penn faculty but our records show that as a private physician he did have an associate appointment which ended in 2013."

On his website, Baker identified "relationship problems, AD/HD and spiritual difficulties" as his areas of specialty, in addition to addiction, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, and loss and grief.

Baker wrote that he believed, after more than 40 years as a practicing psychiatrist, that "good treatment requires that you feel a positive connection to your doctor, and this includes feeling confident that they understand you as a person."

Clark said anyone who has information on Baker's death may contact detectives at 215-686-3334.


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