A Malibu security guard died on the job. Three months later, questions remain
Inge Baumbach did not like taking flowers from his garden.
It was in his nature to protect everyone and everything in his life, including the plants in his yard. So his then-fiancee will not forget the one time he gave her a handful of blossoms.
“I never asked him, but he gave me cut flowers, and he thought it was horrible,” SaraLynn Mandel recalled. “I think it was the sweetest thing.”
Mandel and Baumbach never married, but they remained close over the years. Then, in March, his body was found, face down, in a parking lot in Malibu. Mandel doesn’t know how he died. Law enforcement officials have provided few details.
Mandel is fighting for answers. She is the closest thing Baumbach had to family in the United States.
Baumbach was a native Swede who instantly fell in love with Southern California’s weather when he arrived in 1993. He later went into business as a landscape designer, taking advantage of the Golden State’s perpetual warmth.
Mandel recalled their life together, how he helped raise her two sons who are now adults, the time they lived on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, how he always built a new fence whenever they moved to a new home.
He helped her through a divorce, and she helped him become an American citizen.
Three months ago, Baumbach geared up at his Venice apartment and headed out to Trancas Canyon Nursery. The garden store sits at the back of a shopping center with rustic barn-style storefronts, a Starbucks, a market and a modest courtyard just off Pacific Coast Highway.
He wasn’t planning on buying any gardening supplies or plants but instead would stay overnight at the property as a security guard.
It was March 28, his 58th birthday.
The next morning, an employee at the nursery found Baumbach lying face down in the parking lot. He was pronounced dead by emergency officials, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The county coroner recorded his death as the day his body was discovered.
Mandel wonders if he actually died alone on his birthday, if he was attacked, or tripped and fell.
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“There’s just so many scenarios, but I think it’s safe to say that we won’t know. And that’s, I was trying to think, is that good or bad?” Mandel asked. “He died on the job trying to protect people.”
Even though he was born on the Swedish island of Gotland, Baumbach was unapologetically American. He boasted about being from the land of Vikings, but declared his love for his adopted home in California.
His son, Mathias Johansson, remembers a different dad in California. He and his younger brother, Oliver, visited Baumbach from Sweden, and they noticed how much calmer their father seemed.
“Even as a kid, I could tell he was happier in the U.S.,” Johansson said.
“He was not perfect by any means, but he was always willing to help those that needed it, even if he himself was struggling,” Johansson said in a telephone interview from Lund, Sweden. “Even if he was feeling down at times, he would try to make you happy, and he would do this for strangers as well, not just family.”
Baumbach did not often call in sick to work and often covered shifts for his co-workers. The Swedish army veteran relished working as a security guard in the U.S. because it was the closest, he told Mandel, that he would ever get to becoming a law enforcement officer.
“There are people as we all know, from other countries, that love our country so much,” Mandel said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Baumbach sustained blunt force trauma to his upper torso. Investigators are looking for the driver of a car that was in the parking lot before his body was discovered.
Lt. Vincent Ursini said it doesn’t appear that he was attacked. A coroner’s report on Baumbach’s official cause of death is pending. His employer, Cornwall Security Services, did not respond to requests for comment in early June.
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“Even though he was in a high-end neighborhood, it doesn’t matter, because the risk for security guards is always so great,” Baumbach’s former co-worker Terrence Crump said. “It’s always dangerous.”
Crump said he cried when he heard his friend and colleague had died on the job. The two worked together years ago as security guards. Although they went on to work for different security firms, they kept in touch.
Their last conversation was a phone call. They talked about starting their own businesses and what they planned to do in the future.
“We were just kind of daydreaming about that,” Crump said.
Before he came to the United States and watched over affluent neighborhoods and movie studios in Southern California, Baumbach watched over his family in Sweden.
“One of my first memories, like from age 5, or something like that, I remember there were some kids taunting me during a jog outside,” said Richard Baumbach, Baumbach’s younger brother. “I came home and I told my brother and he said, ‘There is no one else alive that can help you.’”
Then he went out and beat up the bullies.
“He was four years older than me, and I was always his little brother,” Richard said.
But their last conversation was a fight.
Their mother, Inger Baumbach, was upset over something Richard had said and she confided in her older son about her frustration. Just as he did for his younger brother when they were children, Baumbach leaped to their mother’s defense, lashing out at Richard over the phone from America.
“When you’re living so far away and you hear one story, it’s very important to confirm it,” Richard said about the misunderstanding. “And we never did that. I kind of expected that we would follow up on that later.”
Mandel said she and Baumbach did not see eye to eye on a lot of things later in his life, including politics. He boasted about voting for former President Trump and often derided progressives and liberals on social media.
But his stubborn nature translated to a type of warmth that made others feel protected, Mandel said. She hopes to raise money to send to Baumbach’s mother in Sweden, but she knows it will be little comfort when there are so many lingering questions.
Mandel said Baumbach talked about getting into fights while on the job, but he would brush them off as minor scuffles. In a December 2020 Facebook post, however, he wrote about a “violent encounter” at work.
“It is amazing how younger people underestimate us older guys,” Baumbach wrote. But then he stopped posting about his job and, in the weeks leading up to his death, instead wrote about soccer and heavy metal music.
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Mandel is unsure what exactly happened to him the night he died. She has theories, she said, but she’s waiting for solid answers from the final autopsy report.
“He was friendly to everyone and treated everyone equally unless they threatened him or his loved ones,” Mandel said.
Mandel and Baumbach bonded over their love of animals, like the newborn foal they found tangled in a tree at the back of their property in Westlake Village and named Calypso. They also raised a Doberman named Oden. She said she plans to spread Oden’s and Baumbach’s ashes in Hawaii, where he had hoped to retire.
“We had our differences, but I miss him and feel so very sad he died at 58 without getting to spend the rest of a longer life on the sand and in the water of Hawaii,” Mandel said.
Richard doesn’t want to dwell on his brother’s last moments or his absence. The last image he has of Baumbach is him on the ground in the yard, trying to screw in a sprinkler head and getting frustrated.
“I will keep that in mind. That memory,” Richard said.
As for Mandel, she doesn’t have to look far to find reminders of Baumbach.
All she needs to do is look in her garden. He planted succulents there, and they stubbornly linger.
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