Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.35] Who was this guy Kleasen?
On paper there were many Robert Elmer Kleasens. During his life he used several aliases: Charles Kleasen, John T. Williamson, Richard Raadt, and Don Eugene Carrington, among others.
To anyone who would listen, Kleasen said he was a top CIA operative, a big game hunter and outstanding marksman, a brilliant scholar, a world traveler who spoke many languages, and a deeply religious man. Much of his conversation was filled with accounts of these imaginary accomplishments or the trials connected with them. He enjoyed the attention his stories brought to him.
Kleasen rarely made up a complete lie—there was almost always some shred of truth to each of his stories. But the very grandiosity of this imaginary life gives some insight into how pathetic his real existence probably was. He was deeply depressed, his life had been one personal disaster after another, and he had very few real accomplishments to point to. Beyond a handful of temporary high points, he lived a marginal existence.
To Texas and New York law enforcement, as well as eventually to most Mormons, he was an evil man, a completely unrepentant law breaker, a cold blooded killer, a pathological liar, and very dangerous. It is difficult to reconstruct him from interviews with Mormons and law enforcement because across the board they see him as a monster.
Kleasen lived a life surrounded by firearms and punctuated by violent outbursts. He left a trail of victims in his wake, including his own elderly mother. Many people still fear him. Former Travis County district attorney Robert O. Smith in 1988 told reporters, “This guy is probably the most dangerous person I’ve ever met.”
Yet many young adults, inexperienced in life or with people like [p.36] Kleasen, seemed fascinated by him and willing to accept his stories. Others felt sorry for him and went out of their way to help. They saw him as lonely and depressed, which was true enough but not the whole picture.
For a time Mormons greeted him as an “investigator” interested in joining their church and later as a new convert to be fellowshipped. Young missionaries, typically youths of nineteen, twenty, or twenty-one, with little exposure to the world, were drawn to his macho stories of guns, spying, and danger. Two young missionaries lost their lives due to just such an attraction.
Nearly all the mental health experts who evaluated Kleasen saw him as disturbed and needing medication which he rarely received when not in custody. He was variously diagnosed as a psychopathic personality with psychosis, as a paranoid schizophrenic possibly with a psychomotor epileptic condition, as suffering from a schizoid personality disorder, as being severely depressed, and as an emotionally unstable personality. He sometimes threatened dramatic suicide. A 1977 death row evaluation concluded that because of his obvious paranoid mental illness he was “an extremely dangerous person who would constitute a threat to society if ever released.”
Kleasen was not so severely ill that his condition could be instantly recognizable. The majority of his life appeared to be normal and he did accomplish things. He was a college graduate and had enrolled in graduate courses; he worked as a New York deputy sheriff for two years; he was married and had a child; and was able to impress many people with his talents. He was the kind of unhospitalized schizophrenic who often lives among us, undiagnosed and untreated, one of those difficult people we all have to deal with. But unlike the vast majority of mentally ill, Kleasen was exceptionally dangerous.
Throughout his life, and especially while on parole in Buffalo, New York, he had real friends. More than a few people came forward to describe him as intelligent, courteous, willing to help others, a pretty good guy.
Much of what can be learned about Kleasen comes from the tide of letters he wrote. He pecked away on an old typewriter daily, send-[p.37]ing letters to anyone he thought would read them. Many of those letters were saved by his correspondents. At a minimum, they reveal an active fantasy life. But it is hard to say how much of what he wrote he actually believed. They often portray a man who is very difficult to like.