Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.30] On Wednesday, November 13, 1974, hopes of finding the missionaries alive were officially abandoned. Robert E. Kleasen was officially charged with the murders of Gary Darley and Mark Fischer.
Chief Bob Miles held a press conference where he confirmed that Kleasen would be charged with capital murder—a murder in the course of a robbery. Asked about the still undiscovered bodies, Miles, said “No, we don’t have bodies. We have body parts.” He told reporters these body parts had been positively identified as belonging to the two missing missionaries. Police sources confirmed to at least one reporter that these parts were found on a bandsaw in the taxidermy shop.
Miles described the crimes as among the worst murders he had ever seen in Austin. The case “looks as bad as the Cross, Whitman, and Durbin cases,” he said. James Cross was convicted of murdering a female University of Texas student in 1965 and was suspected in the murder of another woman. Charles Whitman had shocked the nation on August 1, 1966, when he climbed atop the University of Texas Tower with a high-powered rifle and shot forty-seven people, killing sixteen, before he was finally killed by Austin police officers. Clyde Durbin received life sentences for the 1969 shooting murder of two UT students at a local lover’s lane.
Kleasen was brought into federal court that day handcuffed and wearing a blue State University of Buffalo windbreaker. He stared straight ahead, a week’s worth of reddish-brown stubble on his heavy jowls.
That day he visited briefly with Linda Miller, a heavy-set piano teacher from Longview, Texas. The two had been introduced through [p.31] Pentecostal friends and corresponded for four or five months. Kleasen had kept up a veritable blizzard of mail throughout his incarceration. This was the first time he and Miller had actually met. Kleasen told her he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the two missionaries. He asked Miller to pray with and stand by him.
But Miller wasn’t so ready to believe and quizzed him about the evidence. She asked about the incriminating name tag with the bullet hole in it. Kleasen said the three men were horsing around outside the trailer one day; he threw the name tag into the air, then shot a hole in it when it hit the ground.
Afterwards Miller recounted some of their conversation to reporters. She loyally insisted, “I believe him.”
Kleasen’s bond on the murder charges was set at $100,000.
The next day, the 14th, Texas Ranger Spillar went back to the taxidermy shop to ask Lem Rathbone for the rest of the suspected band saw. Rathbone had given him the metal plate a week earlier. This time Rathbone was less than thrilled, but he surrendered the machine. Back at the crime lab, biological residue was collected from the blade and housing for testing.
Fearing something really ghoulish, Lt. Jordan on the 19th secured a package of meat from one of the freezers which Kleasen had filled with poached deer meat. Jordan had it tested at the DPS Lab.
Some of Kleasen’s Pentecostal acquaintances also anxiously brought in packages of deer meat he had given them.
It was only venison.