Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.5] Bob Kleasen had been a Mormon for just over a year in late October 1974. He was around six feet, weighed just under 200 pounds, and had an odd stare that could be disconcerting. His thick dark hair, which was beginning to streak gray, was usually combed in a vaguely Elvis Presley style. Kleasen looked rugged, was stocky but not muscular; some found him attractive. He favored jeans and white t-shirts. He’d recently secured work as a carpenter on Austin area building sites.
On Tuesday, October 29, Kleasen didn’t seem unusual. He was allowed to live in a twenty-two-foot aluminum camper trailer behind the Austin Taxidermy Studio by longtime associate Lem Rathbone who ran the place with his sons. Rathbone was a gruff, crusty character, but his taxidermy skills were much prized by Texas hunters. On most days Rathbone arrived about 7:00 a.m. and was there until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.
Kleasen often hung around the shop. On Tuesdays he usually left early for a Pentecostal Church meeting, but on this Tuesday he decided not to go. It was a cool rainy day; maybe he didn’t want to go out in the weather. Kleasen’s cars were notoriously unreliable as well.
That night Kleasen made a collect call to Rev. Rick Rickaby of the Burnet Pentecostal Church. Rickaby refused the call, and Kleasen called back a few minutes later at his own expense. He was agitated because, he said, Rickaby had refused the earlier call. Kleasen said he only wanted Rickaby, an electrician, to wire one of the sheds near his trailer. Two days later Rickaby came to the taxidermy studio and did the work.
That Friday, November 1, Clay Rathbone walked around the grounds of the business looking for deer tracks. He was the son of the taxidermist and had known Kleasen for several years. Lem Rathbone [p.6] owned the 4.5-acre parcel where his business was located; most of it was undeveloped. About a hundred yards from the buildings near Kleasen’s homemade shooting range, Clay noticed a name tag and a little “prayer book” in the grass. Each item had a bullet hole through it, but no powder burns. Inside the prayer book was a folded Mormon temple recommend, a pass faithful Mormons are issued for admission into temples which they consider to be sacred.
Clay took the materials to his father. The temple recommend—he couldn’t remember whose name was on it—hadn’t expired, so he figured someone would be looking for it. But Lem decided the name tag and papers weren’t worth saving and threw them away.
“To me they were just a piece of paper with a hole in it,” Lem later said. He agreed it was a bullet hole, but didn’t think anything of it because it was found next to Kleasen’s homemade shooting range.
Two days later, on Sunday, November 3, Kleasen burned the trash. As soon as Clay read about the missionaries’ disappearance in the next day’s paper, he started looking for the name tag and prayer book, but couldn’t find them.
On Saturday, November 2, Bishop McCullough, a civil engineering and transportation professor at the University of Texas, called Bruce Yarborough, a Mormon FBI agent in his congregation. Yarborough lived near the taxidermy shop. McCullough wanted to know whom to call to report the missing boys. Yarborough answered that since Kleasen lived on Highway 290 West, ten miles outside Austin on the edges of the hill country, he should call the Travis County sheriff’s department. McCullough called the sheriff and Travis County deputy John Barton was asked to investigate.
Barton arrived at Kleasen’s trailer before midnight on Saturday, November 2. No one was home. He returned at 1:30 in the morning and found Kleasen’s American Motors car beside the darkened trailer. The deputy and an accompanying patrolman knocked on the trailer’s door. They heard a loud noise, like someone stumbling in the dark. Inside a man yelled a couple times.
After a few moments Kleasen came to the door looking groggy. He sat down on the step to talk to Barton. He said he “fixed up quite a [p.7] large dinner” for the missionaries, but “they never showed up.” After a few minutes the deputy left with no new information on the missionaries’ whereabouts.
Later that Sunday morning, mission president Loveland and an assistant, Tim Gines, drove to Austin from San Antonio. They met at the Parker Lane meeting house with stake president Wright, Bishop McCullough, and two men who assisted McCullough, Ed Guyon and Yarborough. Guyon was McCullough’s executive secretary and helped with church administrative matters. He was a recent University of Texas law graduate with a new Austin practice. He knew Kleasen and was troubled by him. Yarborough was a ward assistant executive secretary. He’d secured permission from his FBI superiors to investigate the matter in an official capacity. Both were large men.
Also the previous night someone undertook the painful task of notifying each boy’s parents that the two missionaries had been missing for almost six days. In Milwaukee that duty fell to Bishop Jack Vogl, a police officer and friend of the Fischer family. (LDS church records spell his name Vogel, while the Fischer family recalls the spelling as Vogl.)
In Simi Valley, California, David Darley was awakened about 6:00 a.m. by his bishop and stake president at his front door, both looking sober and distressed. They’d been called by Salt Lake City church authorities and asked to convey the news that Gary was missing. Darley immediately thought of the voice crying out to him early the previous Tuesday morning.
The Austin group decided Guyon and Yarborough should try to meet with Kleasen, so later in the morning they drove out to the trailer. Guyon, a military veteran, now recalls that both men felt there was substantial risk in the assignment. Yarborough brought his FBI-issued handgun.
The two drove the fifteen miles or so out to the Oak Hill community, parked their car at the taxidermy shop near the crest of a hill, and walked toward the square silver trailer in back. It was about 10:00 a.m. A man came toward them from an area of old sheds on the property. “Can I help you?” he asked.
[p.8] Yarborough said they were looking for Bob Kleasen. The man replied, “I’m Bob Kleasen.” Guyon walked up and they talked at the trailer hitch of the camper, not moving around the property.
“I identified myself to him by showing him my credentials and told him I was a special agent for the FBI. I told him that we were searching for a car that belonged to two missionaries who had been missing for several days and that they were last seen heading for his place to have dinner,” Yarborough later testified.
“He [Kleasen] said, ‘They did not come.’ He said, ‘I have no reason to believe that they would have come although they have been here before.’”
Yarborough recalled that Kleasen specifically said “he didn’t expect them” on the night of the 28th. Deputy Barton had earlier been told by Kleasen that he prepared a big meal for them.
Yarborough asked if he could look around inside the trailer. Kleasen refused but agreed to let the FBI man look in the windows, and then only after Kleasen went inside to conceal an object in the carpenter’s apron he wore.
While Yarborough looked in the windows, seeing nothing, Kleasen talked to Guyon. They set up an appointment for Kleasen to see Bishop McCullough later that afternoon.
Guyon and Yarborough returned to the LDS meetinghouse to report. For the remainder of the day, the group called everyone they could think of who might know something about Kleasen. This resulted in a meeting with a Texas Game and Fish officer. Kleasen was a notorious poacher who hunted year round without regard to seasons or bag limits. Yarborough began assembling a list of the firearms Kleasen had in his possession when game officers encountered him.
Kleasen came to the ward meeting hall at 2:00 p.m. Bishop McCullough had gone on to an outlying congregation and missed him. Kleasen met with one of McCullough’s counselors instead. Kleasen’s first nervous comment on arriving at the chapel was that he knew nothing of the missing missionaries.
Since returning from Kleasen’s trailer, Yarborough had been using his professional contacts to learn what he could about Kleasen. [p.9] He found that the 1964 Rambler station wagon parked in front of Kleasen’s trailer was registered in Texas to a Richard C. Raadt with an Austin post office box for an address. Texas had issued driver’s licenses to both Raadt and Kleasen, both reflecting 1931 birth years.
While Guyon and Yarborough investigated, other church leaders were interviewing any member they could think of who had contact with Kleasen. One was a young member named Jack Paris who, along with his wife Chris, had been encouraged by missionaries to fellowship the man. Paris had been a dinner guest at Kleasen’s trailer several times. Stake president Wright and one of Bishop McCullough’s counselors caught Paris at church and asked what he knew about Kleasen.
The Parises fed missionaries two or three nights a week and enjoyed their company. Gary Darley was a regular guest. It was through missionaries that Jack met Kleasen and tried to fellowship him. Paris told them about Kleasen’s CIA stories and of his once threatening suicide, holding a loaded pistol to his head. The young Mormon had begun to fear Kleasen and was careful not to cross him.
In Simi Valley David Darley, who was a Mormon stake high councilor, had been assigned to visit an outlying congregation that Sunday. He struggled to get through the day, sometimes sobbing and thinking, “Gary’s gone, Gary’s gone …”
By Monday, a week after the missionaries had last been seen, fear for them among Mormons increased dramatically.
On Monday, November 4, Loveland and Gines provided local law enforcement, which were starting to treat the matter seriously, with all the information they had.
At the time missing persons cases were handled by the juvenile division. One of the first officers asked to investigate the matter was Doug Ferris.
Lieutenant Colon Jordan heard about the case and knew it could be more than just kids running off. A veteran cop of twenty-two years, Jordan had been in charge of homicide investigations since 1972. He went to police chief Bob Miles and asked to be more involved.
Assistant district attorney David Spencer, the liaison with the po-[p.10]lice department, was also informed. However, because the matter was unfolding in such an unusual way, the DA’s office was not very involved in the early stages of the investigation.
Yarborough continued to work the telephone and his law enforcement contacts. On Monday he talked to missionary Blair Bell who’d labored in Austin but had recently been transferred to Houston. Bell had unwittingly become one of Kleasen’s regular pen pals since his transfer.
Yarborough learned from Bell that Kleasen had shown off a driver’s license with his photograph but identifying him as Richard C. Raadt. He explained to Bell that he used it for purchases he didn’t want traced to him. On one occasion Bell accompanied Kleasen to a local firearms dealer where he purchased reloading components using this identification. Yarborough immediately passed this information on to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Then Yarborough talked to Bill Millner, a Texas Department of Public Safety official. Millner had compared the thumb prints accompanying the Raadt and Kleasen driver’s licenses and had determined they were from the same person.
Mormon leaders met with local media, and by the evening news the case was a major story. The front page of the evening Austin American-Statesman ran the headline “Two Missionaries Reported Missing” with photographs of Darley and Fischer.
“They were good, reliable, dependable young men, or they wouldn’t have left their schools and homes and families to come down here,” the Mormon leaders told reporters. “We are very much afraid for their lives, and the concern of their parents is tremendous.”
The first break in the case had actually come two nights earlier, but had not been reported through police channels until Monday.
It was Austin police sergeant A. P. Lamme who found the missionaries’ abandoned car Friday night, November 1. A seven-and-a- half-year veteran of the force, Lamme was in narcotics at the time. Working undercover with an informant, he’d been hanging around the Inwood Apartments on South Lamar. He hadn’t been looking for the car, but for the open drug dealing they believed was going on.
[p.11] About 7:00 that evening, Lamme and his informant started lounging on a curb on the east side of the complex, trying to look as indigenous as possible. He soon noticed what looked like an abandoned American Motors Hornet. “It was sitting on concrete blocks,” he recalled, and “appeared to have been sitting there a few days.” Lamme noticed “the windshield was dirty, and it was sitting up on those concrete blocks with leaves and dirt piling up on it.
“The leaves apparently had been washed down against the blocks where it collected. You know, it was a little stack like they normally do when you have a rain.” It had rained a lot in the past week. There were no license plates, but the hood and trunk were down and the doors were locked. The tires, wheels, and lug nuts were all missing.
Lamme couldn’t inspect the car too closely, but made a mental note of it. “You get into a problem of being robbed when you’re going out making these buys, and so you want to be kind of familiar with the vehicles that are normally there.” He and the informant thought the car was probably stolen, and were “just passing the time while we were waiting for something else to happen.” Both men left the area a couple of hours later. Lamme planned to point out the car to their auto theft division. He saw the car again several times on Saturday.
Two days later, on Monday morning, November 4, Lamme read the newspaper article about the two missionaries. The article mentioned that they were last seen driving a white two-door American Motors Hornet sedan. He immediately reported the car to the officers investigating the case. About the same time a Mormon woman named Carol Wise who lived in the apartment complex called police to report the abandoned car.
When officers arrived to inspect the car, the license plate was gone but they noticed a bumpersticker reading “Happiness Is Family Home Evening” given out by the LDS church.
At 4:00 p.m. mission president Loveland was at the FBI office with Yarborough preparing to call church headquarters in Salt Lake City to report on the situation. Before he placed the call, they learned that the missionaries’ car had been found. They quickly drove to the Inwood Apartments.
[p.12] The car was sitting on pumice blocks, some of them streaked with brown stains. Officers had popped the trunk which was empty except for a single Spanish-language missionary pamphlet. The jack and spare tire—an almost new black wall Goodyear—were missing. The inside of the car was likewise empty except for a rag on the floor and gas receipts in the ash tray. When officers opened the hood, they found someone had cut the battery cables, but that the battery remained in place.
Officers first fingerprinted the car, then took dirt samples from the exterior. After it was removed to a police impoundment facility, other officers fanned out through the apartment complex to interview anyone who might have seen something. Those apartment residents who had noticed the car recalled first seeing it on October 28 or 29.
Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent Dale Littleton was assigned the Kleasen case that Monday. ATF agent Roger Bowers had compiled a list of firearms Kleasen possessed during his various encounters with game officers. That information alone did not mean much, but it was a starting point. Littleton was also working with a lead from FBI agent Yarborough that Kleasen had bought guns using the name Richard Raadt.
Littleton took the list and contacted the National Tracing Center in Washington, D.C. With the make and serial numbers of the weapons, the center backtracked through the manufacturers to the retail sellers and from there to required federal paperwork filled out by the buyer.
Meanwhile, Bill Bluntzer, a high school kid who had worked at the Austin Taxidermy Studio for three years and had known Kleasen for half that time, was talking to his friend Jeff Rathbone about the name tag and papers Jeff had found the previous Friday. Bill got curious. Around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 5, he went out back of the shop to look around in the tall grass and weeds.
Twenty-five or thirty yards from the trailer along a fence where Kleasen had set up a shooting range, Bill found another 3-inch-by-3-inch black-and-white plastic pocket name tag. It read:
[p.13] Elder M. J. Fischer
Texas-San Antonio Mission
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
There was a hole in the lower right-hand corner; it looked like a bullet hole.
Bluntzer gave the name tag to Lem Rathbone who this time called FBI agent Yarborough. Yarborough called the Austin police. Within minutes Austin police sergeant Doug Ferris drove to the shop to pick it up. Sergeant Harold Bilberry and a police photographer, Richard “Curley” Jones, joined him.
Kleasen was gone for the day.
Bluntzer led Ferris around back and showed him where he’d found the name tag in the tall grass. Ferris quickly called his supervisor, Lieutenant Jordan, to tell him about the find. By 11:00 Ferris was joined at the taxidermist’s by Jordan, Sergeant Al Riley, and Texas Ranger Wallace Spillar.
Lem Rathbone consented to a search; no warrant was needed. The officers scoured the shop and grounds without finding anything more, and by 3:30 returned to police headquarters.
Meanwhile Agent Littleton got his first hit from the National Tracing Center. A Browning .22 rifle had been purchased by a Robert E. Kleasen at McBride’s Guns in Austin on August 11, 1973. The buyer had filled out forms indicating he was neither under indictment for a felony nor a fugitive from justice. He also answered on the form that he had never been adjudicated mentally defective or been committed to a mental hospital. The printed forms warned that “the making of any false oral or written statement” was a felony. Kleasen had used a Texas driver’s license for identification.
By this time Littleton and other investigators had learned that Kleasen had jumped bail on a 1971 Wayne County, New York, felony assault charge. He apparently had shot a man. Later they would learn he also had a history of psychiatric treatment.
With this information Littleton went to federal magistrate Phil Sanders about 4:00 p.m. He sought and got a criminal complaint for [p.14] the illegal purchase of the Browning .22 rifle, and a search warrant for the trailer.
Just as now, police in 1974 were not allowed to burst into a person’s residence to search on a hunch or suspicion. Except in certain limited circumstances—such as when the property owner gives police permission to search, as Rathbone had, or when seized items are already in “plain view”—officers must get a search warrant first, and the issuance of that warrant is subject to later review.
Littleton presented a sworn affidavit in support of the application for a warrant. He alleged that Kleasen had bought a Browning .22 rifle at McBride’s gun shop in violation of the 1968 federal Gun Control Act and concealed it in his trailer on the Rathbone property. As substantiation for this claim—“probable cause”—Littleton said an unnamed “reliable citizen who lives near ROBERT KLEASEN” had said within the past week he saw Kleasen shooting a firearm on the property and in possession of other guns. The magistrate quickly issued the search warrant, possibly based on some oral representations by Littleton which were not part of later appellate records.
Littleton brought his search warrant to the taxidermy shop and Kleasen’s camper trailer about 6:00 or 6:30 that evening. ATF agent Earl Dunagan accompanied him. The two had asked for “assistance” from local law enforcement and were joined by Jordan, Riley, Bilberry, Ferris, and Jones of the Austin police department and Texas Ranger Spillar. Lieutenant Jordan and Ranger Spillar did not seize any evidence themselves, but supervised.
Littleton first searched the rundown buildings around Kleasen’s trailer and found firearms, ammunition, and “component parts” for more guns. Agent Dunagan found a gray suitcase with a slide projector and hundreds of pornographic color slides. In a trailer closet Sergeant Riley found a tooled leather shaving case. It contained several watches, old coins, and photographs. Several photographs were nude black-and-white pictures of young women Kleasen would later claim were previous wives.
One watch was a Seiko with blood spattered on the band. It was self-winding but had stopped at 6:00 p.m., October 30, 1974. Knowing [p.15] that nothing in the case came within the scope of the search warrant, Riley left it but first showed it to Lieutenant Jordan. Someone later told a newspaper reporter about the watches and they were mentioned in the Austin American-Statesman the next morning.
In a drawer under the sink, Riley found a key ring which included one for an American Motors car, a padlock key, and a key to a bicycle lock. Later in the day Sergeant Bilberry took the key ring to where Kleasen’s Rambler station wagon was impounded. One opened the door; another fit the ignition. From there he went to the missionaries’ Mary Street apartment. Another key fit the padlock the young men used to lock their front door. Still another key was later found to fit the bike lock belonging to one of the missionaries.
In other drawers Riley and Dunagan found a birth certificate and other identification papers for a Richard Carl Raadt. By now officers knew of Kleasen’s alias. There was also a driver’s license for Don Eugene Carrington of Richardson, Texas, along with passport pictures of Kleasen.
In a drawer under the trailer refrigerator was a short “Dear Brother Kleasen” letter from missing missionary Darley confirming their October 28 dinner engagement. Dated Saturday, October 19, the letter canceled a dinner commitment for the 21, but promised “We’ll plan on seeing you Mon. the 28th.”
In that same drawer was a letter addressed to John T. Williamson at Kleasen’s Austin post office box. It was from the pastor of a Buffalo church saying a Francis Raadt was buried at his church in an unknown year.
There were several books of Mormon scripture, each with the fly page neatly cut out. A few had inscriptions to Kleasen from various Mormon missionaries.
There was also a manuscript typed on yellow paper: “My Thousand Whitetails a Poacher’s Notebook,” authored by John T. Williamson. It was the work of a braggart, proud of his poaching accomplishments, especially the kills and getting away with it. Part of that manuscript discussed how to dispose of deer carcasses.
In addition, the officers found several written records of Klea-[p.16]sen’s purchases of firearms, some fuses, blasting caps, and primer cord. Also, ten firearms and reloading supplies were found in and around the trailer.
With the search, the officers felt they had enough to take Kleasen into custody.