Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.20] Throughout the first part of November, Mormons continued to hold out hope for Gary Darley’s and Mark Fischer’s return. “Our hopes are running high because of the tremendous love we have for these young men,” mission president Loveland told reporters on Wednesday, November 6. “We have not entirely given up hope.”
Loveland also praised law enforcement. “I’ve never known of such loyal and great cooperation between the people of Austin and the police and the members of the LDS church as is occurring at this time.”
Officers and a number of volunteers, including Mormon missionaries, were back searching the taxidermy studio on November 6. Newspapers reported that eighty people helped, including Fischer’s father, Jim. This new search party fanned out over the rural Hill Country. “We don’t know what we’re looking for,” police told Bishop Frank McCullough. “We’re just looking.”
One group of volunteers from the Ft. Hood Army Base flew military helicopters over the area searching for anything that might suggest the missionaries were there.
Thirty-five to forty people combed the grounds around the taxidermy shop. Texas game officer Frank Henzy was among them. He had been helping out almost from the beginning. On this day he was responding to a Texas Department of Public Safety request for law enforcement officers to assist with the search.
Henzy didn’t enter the trailer but noticed a large metal can close to it. (The prosecution and defense would later argue over whether the can was for trash or a sort of laundry drop.) He saw underwear, a pair of pants, and a combat type jacket stuffed in the can.
Henzy pulled out the wadded clothes and looked them over. He [p.21] immediately noticed blood stains on the pants and jacket and what looked like hair stuck to the pants. The blood on the pants was around the right knee in a stain about twice the size of a thumbnail. He couldn’t tell if it was human blood, but it certainly warranted testing.
Another officer helping was Hays County deputy sheriff Alfred Hohman, who had come over from his home in Dripping Springs. For a time he was among eight to ten people crawling on their hands and knees in the tall grass where Bill Bluntzer had found Elder Fischer’s name tag. Hohman and missionary Conrad Hardcastle, Elder Darley’s close friend, found some fragments of burned papers and a split black Bic pen about a hundred yards behind the buildings. Fischer had always carried this type of pen. His father had bought him a ten- pack at the University of Utah bookstore shortly before he departed for his mission six weeks earlier.
Among the burned papers was a piece of the ministerial certificates issued to missionaries. There were also bits of the daily planner missionaries used to keep track of their weeks—“We call them our paper brains,” the missionary who found the fragments said at trial. Darley’s handwriting was clearly recognizable on them.
Another searcher looked under a tarp in one of the sheds near Kleasen’s trailer and found a set of tires that later proved to be from the missionaries’ car. Searchers also found the car’s Texas license plate— HTR-410—in the same shed.
Colon Jordan logged in evidence which turned up in this and other searches. The idea was to simplify chain of custody problems for the anticipated trial.
Back in town that morning, Kleasen was asked to fill out a personal history form for ATF files—“Form 57-a” in bureaucratic jargon. He listed Burnet Pentecostal pastor Rickaby to be notified in an emergency.
The federal court set Kleasen’s bond at $10,000 which he was unable to post. At first he remained in the Travis County Jail, but soon was taken to San Antonio and housed in the Bexar County Jail. Initially police would only say this was to treat “medical problems.”
Kleasen made a phone call to a lawyer who had recently repre-[p.22]sented him, Randy Savage of Marble Falls. Savage would not take the case and urged Kleasen to seek a court-appointed lawyer. Kleasen did so and Austin lawyer Sal Levatino was assigned to him.
Another planned aerial search of Lem Rathbone’s property and surrounding areas on Thursday, November 7, was called off because of low clouds and more rain.
The next day Texas Ranger Spillar returned to the Austin Taxidermy Studio. Rathbone told him he had several Skill and band saws, including one used to cut off deer horns and bones. Normally the saw had a metal plate attached to it, but on October 29 this had been replaced with a wooden one in anticipation of deer season. Spillar asked for the metal plate, which he took to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) crime lab where tests showed the presence of human blood and head hair later identified with both victims.
Also that day Sergeant Riley accompanied a DPS criminologist to the missionaries’ Mary Street apartment to lift fingerprints, hair samples, and anything else of value. There they found Elder Darley’s mother, Jill, and two of his brothers, Kelle, himself a former missionary in Texas, and Clark. The Darleys had arrived by car from California on Friday, November 8, just in time to participate in a massive search the following day. (Cathy Fischer had been so distressed she could never bring herself to visit her missing son’s apartment.)
They all talked for a while. Kelle described for the officers the Voumaid calendar watch he had given Gary. His description matched the watch seen in and later taken from Kleasen’s trailer. The crime technician processed the apartment for fingerprints. He also gathered some papers and a butcher knife with hair on it. None of these proved to be of value.
Riley also found a note on Elder Fischer’s desk dated November 1, 7:00, and with a name, address, and phone number. Riley tracked the name down—a married couple where the husband was Mormon and the wife was not. They both knew the missing missionaries but could not explain the note. Maybe Fischer had planned to contact them on that date, the couple suggested. Neither had heard from Fischer or Darley on the 1st or later.
[p.23] Fearing the worst, law enforcement asked church leaders if they could secure medical records and hair samples to identify any body parts that might turn up.
In California David Darley undertook the painful task of gathering Gary’s dental records and hospital x-rays which he forwarded to Texas.
A few days before leaving on his mission in January 1974, Gary Darley’s mother Jill cut his shoulder-length hair. His girlfriend Kerrie Hampton was there and scooped up much of the hair from the floor with her fingers, putting it into a plastic bag and saving it along with other mementos of their relationship. She filled half the bag with Gary’s hair. David Darley now drove to her home where he secured several locks of Gary’s hair which he sealed in an envelope and sent to Texas.
In Milwaukee Mark Fischer’s cousin Susan Fischer cut his hair two days before he left for his mission. Mark had gathered it from the floor and taken it to his girlfriend Barbara Bakewell.
Within a week of the initial Oak Hill police search, Lem Rathbone went into the trailer to gather up whatever he thought might be valuable. Lieutenant Jordan had talked with Rathbone and suggested that he collect the case containing the watches, and that if he did, the police might be interested in them. Afterwards Rathbone called Jordan to come get the watches.
On Saturday, November 9, over a thousand volunteers in 170 cars gathered from Corpus Christi, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and other cities to search the countryside for clues. Lieutenant Jordan had asked for 600 volunteers and got many more. They were joined by off-duty sheriffs’ deputies, FBI and ATF agents, game wardens, and ordinary citizens.
The Friday night before, Jordan and other officers met in the LDS meeting house with Mormons who would coordinate their volunteers. “I don’t want to tell you what to look for,” he told the group, “just look for anything unusual. It might be as small or unexpected as a human finger. This man traveled a lot at night and did some strange things. If we don’t search the right way we might be missing a good bit.” He [p.24] cautioned the group not to move anything suspicious, just to mark the spot until police officers could check it out.
Another officer commented that most of Kleasen’s recent “activity” had been in the Burnet area.
After Jordan’s briefing, stake president Amos Wright told a reporter about Kleasen’s letters to a missionary named Bell. “This man talks a lot, and some of his talk is pretty gruesome—about chopping people up and that sort of thing.”
On Saturday the Austin meeting house on Parker Lane was the starting point. As drivers pulled through the parking lot, they were organized into teams, with groups of five or six teams reporting to a separate law enforcement officer. They were first instructed on what to look for and what to do if they found anything. Maps were passed out; each team was assigned a two-mile stretch of road.
From the chapel they fanned out over Travis and bordering counties. They walked up one side of the road, then down the other, searching for anything that might provide clues. When something promising was found, volunteers would stay with it until one of their police supervisors, cruising the roads of their assigned areas, came along. The officers then decided on the value of the find. Hundreds of miles of roadside were searched.
About noon two Mormons from Houston found $50,000 in counterfeit $20 bills. Most had the same serial number—K-66485860A. The bogus money was hidden in a trash bag in a brushy area near Highway 71, two miles west of the hamlet of Bee Caves. The Secret Service quickly collected the bills from the searchers but refused to say much about the matter.
The money had nothing to do with the missing missionaries but was just one more freakish event in an increasingly weird story.
Jordan recalls that it was deer season and they found a lot of sacks filled with discarded doe heads and hides. In all several pick-up trucks worth of promising items were saved for further testing, but produced nothing in the crime lab.
After the day’s search, the detectives tried to be optimistic. “We’re still hunting [for] them,” Jordan told a reporter. “We’re going [p.25] to find them.”
On Sunday the 10th another helicopter search by LDS servicemen from Ft. Hood was conducted. This would be the end of efforts organized by the church. Afterwards the case was developed by law enforcement alone.
That same day police searched a Burnet County park called Mormon Mills after a nineteenth-century Mormon settlement once located there. The area included a small but deep lake. The search turned up nothing of value.
FBI agent Joe Butler was even dispatched to search a barn in nearby Hayes County that a psychic had connected to the case. He found nothing.
While searchers returned to the rural roads, a police investigator raised Kleasen’s impounded Rambler on a grease rack and inspected the underside. He gathered some hair he found on two wheels, along with dirt samples from the fenders. All would be tested at the DPS lab with negative results.
Also on the 11th, Littleton was back in touch with the National Tracing Center. Suddenly the Raadt identification papers became significant. The Walther .22 Hornet rifle seized by Littleton from Kleasen’s car the night of his arrest had been purchased on August 25, 1973, from Don’s Gun Sales in San Antonio by a Richard C. Raadt. The buyer provided a Texas driver’s license for identification—probably the fake license found in Kleasen’s trailer. Again the completed federal forms denied any outstanding criminal charges or prior psychiatric hospitalizations. Handwriting experts would later identify the writer as Kleasen.
With the investigation winding down, investigators returned to the trailer on November 11. Sheriff’s investigator Robert Nestoroff found the manufacturer’s serial number on the left side of the trailer tongue. Number 20296 turned out to be the same serial number as one on a used Twilight Bungalow trailer reported stolen from an Oak Hill mobile home dealer a year and a half earlier.
Deputy Jim Lammers and Sergeant Riley moved inside the trailer, this time without a search warrant. Riley had been part of the earlier [p.26] November 4 search. Lammers found cassette tapes and film strips on a counter by the sink—two were Man’s Search for Happiness and Meet the Mormons, both used by missionaries instructing investigators. Lammers inventoried the contents of the trailer as it was being impounded.
The septic tank at the taxidermy studio was also pumped. Police collected hair, bone fragments, and other biological debris from it. Four large plastic bags of suspicious materials were left with the crime lab for testing. None of this would prove to have any value.
Taxidermist Rathbone gave Sergeant Riley the tooled leather shaving kit which had been in a closet next to the camper’s refrigerator. It contained several wrist and pocket watches, including a Seiko with a blue face and a gold colored Voumard. Rathbone also turned over several pieces of jewelry, antique coins, some binoculars, and a few other items. There were two inscribed wedding rings, one from Kleasen’s first marriage and one apparently from his grandparents.
That would wind up most of the investigation in the field. On November 11 Lieutenant Jordan told reporters they were going to “cool it” for a while and begin a closer examination of the evidence they had gathered. “We have some things in the lab to be examined,” he explained. “We’ve got a lot of laboratory work that we’re waiting on.” Jordan would not detail everything that was to be tested, but he said they had turned over “barrels and barrels” of articles collected in the Texas Hill Country.
The next day some Mormons searching in Zilker Park on the Colorado River found what they thought were two shallow graves. They were located in thick woods on the west side of the park, a popular downtown recreation area. Police were summoned but concluded they were left over from some fisherman digging for worms.
Sometime during this period Kelle Darley and his brother Clark drove late one night to the taxidermy shop and broke into Kleasen’s camper. They saw a number of things the police would later collect as evidence but didn’t take anything on their own.