Thomas Holman Baer

Tom Baer was a member of Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity. On the evening of August 20, 1988, Jeffrey Underwood—who had been drinking at a nearby bar and taking drugs—entered an impromptu party being given at the Phi Kappa Tau house. The fraternity’s house manager, Scott Brown, asked him to leave. When Underwood pulled a knife, threatening Brown and another fraternity member, Danny Baker stepped in and confronted Underwood. Underwood then attacked Baker, who struck him with a metal table leg, disarming him. Underwood ran from the house. The police were called and an officer responded. The officer talked with Underwood at the nearby bar but did not arrest him.

Tom Baer arrived at the party and was told about the incident. An alumnus requested he monitor the back door and not let anyone in other than those who had been invited. He was holding a softball bat across the door at about the height of his shoulders to prevent entry of the uninvited. Underwood reappeared and tried to force his way in. Finding his way blocked, he rushed Baer and stabbed him in the upper chest—in the heart. Baer died minutes later. Former UT fullback John Rollins, also not an invited guest, was implicated for having picked up the knife and holding it until UT police arrived. Tried with Underwood, Rollins was acquitted of accessory to murder charges.

The knife became a point of controversy. It had been taken into custody but was left in the open. While at the police station for questioning, Craig Moore (who was at the scene following the stabbing) took the knife. Moore was frisked, but the officer frisking him missed the knife, and Moore left with it in his car. Upon learning that UT Police sought him, he returned to the car, got the knife, and threw it into the woods. He then returned home and was taken by UT Police to the station, where he testified that Police Chief Ed Yovella had told him that if he would give the knife back, there would be no charges placed. He then told the officers where the knife was, and UT Police recovered it.

ABC’s 20/20 program aired a segment on the events surrounding the incident on February 10, 1989, charging that UT police dragged their feet with the stabbing investigation. Underwood was convicted on July 15, 1989, of one count of second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to fifteen years on the murder charge and three years each on the aggravated assault charges with the sentences to run concurrently. He was subsequently convicted of smuggling drugs into prison and sentenced to an additional two years. He was released from prison on parole in August 1995.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Thomas Holman Baer
  • Author
  • Keywords Thomas Holman Baer
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date October 25, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 3, 2018