Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.42] Bob Kleasen’s adulthood was mostly a matter of drift, mental illness-driven anger and violent outbursts, some higher education, and a series of short-term jobs with little to boast about. However, his adult experiences provided a hook upon which he hung his extravagant spy and war hero fantasies.
Kleasen worked for Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, New York, from 1951 or 1952 to 1956, as a file clerk. Then he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1956 and on to Texas around 1957 where he stayed until about 1960.
In Texas Kleasen told people he hoped to find work at a Bell Helicopter plant near Ft. Worth, but then was injured in a car accident which left him walking with a cane. He said he lived off government benefits connected to his prior military service as a pilot in Korea.
He had a pet beagle at the time and often took him to veterinarian Dr. J. P. Jones in Hurst, a suburb of Ft. Worth. Kleasen liked to tell Jones about his military exploits and hunting successes. Kleasen would later tell people he had been a paid helper, but Jones recalls that he was just an odd young man who liked to hang around. Kleasen always wore military jackets and tried to leave the impression he was a retired officer.
Kleasen came to love Texas, especially the many hunting opportunities he found in the beautiful Texas Hill Country west of Austin. While in Texas in 1957, he also “graduated” from the mail order Northwestern School of Taxidermy.
As he came to love hunting, Kleasen also developed a lasting relationship with taxidermist Lem Rathbone. Kleasen had Rathbone mount many of his trophies and corresponded often. “He is a note writer,” Rathbone later commented. No matter where he lived, Klea-[p.43]sen came to Texas at least once a year to hunt and, just as regularly, to drop off his kills at Rathbone’s Austin Taxidermy Studio.
While in Texas, Kleasen frequently slipped down to Mexico. He married his first wife, Landy Maldonado diBalboa, a Mexican national, in a Mexico City church wedding on September 6, 1961. The second wedding ring taken from Kleasen’s trailer in mid-November 1974 was engraved “L.M.B. to Pito R.E.K. 9/6/61 Mex. D.F.” Pito was probably a pet name. “Mex. D.F.” probably stands for Districo Federal, or Mexico City, where the couple married. After moving to Buffalo, they had a second marriage performed in a Presbyterian church. For a short time afterwards, Kleasen worked at a Buffalo shipping company. The couple moved into his mother’s Victoria Avenue home.
On June 6, 1962, Kleasen began work as an Erie County deputy sheriff. The department likely did no background check or they would have discovered the 1950 emergency room shooting incident. Kleasen did not disclose information about the charge on his application. As badge #568, he was a jail guard, a civil service position that did not expose him to the public in the normal course of his work.
In September 1963 Kleasen enrolled in the Erie Technical Institute’s police science program, taking classes into 1964. He did fairly well in the sheriff’s basic training courses and especially well in two courses on fingerprinting. This may explain why his fingerprints were not found on any of the critical evidence in the murder investigation.
While a deputy sheriff, Kleasen persuaded a newspaper outdoor writer to publish a column about his exaggerated exploits hunting black bear in the Smokie Mountains of northeast Tennessee. “Kleasen’s Tale of Two Boars a Tennessee Hair-Raiser,” the headline read. Kleasen was still carrying the browned clipping when he was arrested in 1974.
In the early 1960s, the Erie County sheriff’s department had a reputation for heavy-handedness, but even so still Kleasen was too zealous. The sheriff’s department received numerous complaints about his erratic behavior. One court official later described him as “badge happy” in that “he threatened the use of firearms on several citizens without there being cause to do so.”
[p.44] In winter 1963 Kleasen threatened a young man with his shotgun when the man parked near Kleasen’s Victoria Avenue home during a snow storm. The last straw came on June 10, 1964, when Kleasen chased and handcuffed some neighborhood kids to a porch after he caught them setting off firecrackers. The sheriff had finally had enough, telling Kleasen to resign or he would be fired. Kleasen turned in his badge on June 25, 1964, after just over two years in uniform.
Kleasen’s marriage to Landy was a stormy one. In 1964 they had a daughter, Yvonne, but the new baby didn’t save the union. His wife would later describe him as “a pathological liar” and an extremely violent and dangerous man. Kleasen beat both her and his elderly mother in Landy’s presence. After being fired as a deputy sheriff, he began to, in her words, constantly scheme to live without working, using others any way he could.
Finally Landy borrowed money from friends and disappeared. On September 20, 1966, she took their baby daughter and left him for a distant new home. She only told one family in Buffalo where she was going. On May 25, 1967, she divorced him in a Mexican court. She later detailed his violence and extensive gun collection for federal agents, but only when they promised not to reveal her whereabouts.
The day after Landy got her divorce, Kleasen married Laura Salazar-Artiedia, a native of Quito, Ecuador, and a friend of the first wife. She was four years older than Kleasen. At some point he brought her to Hurst, Texas, where she was introduced to the veterinarian.
He had told his new wife his usual self-aggrandizing stories about being an air force veteran and a Korean War pilot. Beginning in June 1967, the couple moved in with Kleasen’s elderly mother on Victoria Avenue. In Buffalo Laura worked as a seamstress four days a week.
By 1951 his father’s increasingly erratic behavior was interfering with his ability to cope. Finally in July 1956 Elmer Kleasen had what his wife’s lawyer would later call “a complete mental breakdown.” It took Buffalo police to forcibly remove him from Victoria Avenue to Meyer Memorial Hospital. From there he was committed to the state hospital at Gowanda on July 10, 1956, about five years after the son [p.45] was treated there. He was diagnosed as psychotic with arteriosclerosis. His wife Lydia visited him there and soon became aware of his attachment to another patient named Edwin Storey.
The father was discharged from the hospital in 1961. But Lydia would not let him return to Victoria Avenue to live with her, her son, and new daughter-in-law. Elmer lived out his days in rooming houses on Social Security checks, his best friend being Storey. He died in a flop house in Dunkirk, New York, on August 25, 1968.
When Elmer died, he had a joint checking account with Storey. Storey and Lydia later fought in probate court over the less than $2,000 balance. Lydia’s lawyer claimed that her former husband had not been competent since his 1956 hospitalization. The feud generated more ugliness in a family that seemed somehow cursed.
In 1960 Jacob I. Brasser, a prominent Wayne County attorney and cousin to Elmer Kleasen, executed a will leaving Lydia Kleasen a seventy-five-acre farm, with a farm house, in the town of Williamson near the intersection of Bear Swamp and Brasser Roads. His will expressly left little to his own relatives and suggests his gift came with a recognition that his cousin Elmer was mentally ill.
The farm was just a few miles from Palmyra, where Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., grew up, and where the sacred grove and Hill Cumorah—sites revered by Mormons—are situated.
Under New York law, a will is not filed until the individual’s death. Brasser died in 1968, the same year his cousin Elmer Kleasen passed away. Apparently, his relatives were ready to contest the will because Lydia ended up paying his estate $8,500 for what was set out as a gift. Lydia quickly transferred a joint tenancy interest with a right of survivorship to her son Bob for $1, recording the transaction in the Wayne County clerk’s office. Kleasen was thirty-five and still married to his second wife at the time.
Wayne County, New York, is beautiful green farm land with rolling hills and thick woodlands, teeming with game. Kleasen loved it, especially for the hunting opportunities it afforded him. He frequently made the hour-and-a-half drive from Buffalo to stay at the farm.
[p.46] Kleasen continued to take college courses during his second marriage, probably as an excuse to avoid a regular job. Then his second wife divorced him in a Buffalo court less than four years into the marriage.
A November 1970 family court intake report filed in the divorce said Laura Salazar-Artiedia was referred by the suicide crisis office and was under a doctor’s care for “nerves.” At the time Kleasen had not worked since leaving the Wilsolite Corporation in March 1970 after being employed there a year.
“The petitioner alleges she has been living with the respondent for the past year in a very threatening atmosphere, so she has had to support the respondent since March, 1970 and has been assaulted and threatened with her life,” the report said. Kleasen was mostly living off his wife’s $50 a week earnings as a seamstress and the school loans he had finagled. The report went on to say he “apparently has threatened to ‘kill’ her relatives and she is extremely fearful of him.” All the guns he kept in the house gave her good reason to be afraid. The report went on to note that Kleasen was then under psychiatric out-patient care through Jewish Social Services of Buffalo. (In January 1966 he was hospitalized at the SUNY-Buffalo Infirmary following a car accident. He then began outpatient psychiatric treatment in 1966 through the SUNY-Buffalo Psychological Clinic.) Laura regarded Kleasen as “‘dangerously sick,’ because she had been told this by a priest and others who know him.” She showed “considerable emotion as she relates her fears toward the respondent.”
Kleasen was also seen by the family court intake office and denied everything, but agreed that a divorce was necessary. It was granted on January 21, 1971.
The fall semester of 1968 Kleasen had enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo, carrying over his 1962-66 credits from the Erie County Technical Institute. His transcripts show only an average student. He earned as many D’s as B’s and frequently failed to complete courses. Among the D’s were courses in criminology, religion, economics, logic and scientific method, and foreign political systems. He did not take many demanding subjects. Only twice did he [p.47] receive an “A” grade in a substantive course, once for United States History and once for the Psychological Development of the Child.
Kleasen would later claim to speak several languages fluently, but in college he took only two semesters of Spanish, receiving a “C” and a “D.” This in spite of the fact he was twice married to native Spanish speakers.
On June 1, 1969, the State University of New York at Buffalo awarded him an associate of arts degree in general studies. The next year he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from SUNY-Buffalo. On September 1, 1971, he also received a New York teaching certificate in high school social studies good for five years.
Studies have suggested that graduating from a university of moderate difficulty requires an IQ around 115 to 120. Whatever Kleasen’s mental problems in life, he was an intelligent man.
In September 1971 he began graduate work at Buffalo State, which he continued until May 1972 without receiving a degree. He told some associates his graduate study concerned pornography. He later told a Wayne County probation officer his doctoral thesis was titled “The Sexual Revolution in Scandinavia” and that he had traveled extensively in Scandinavia researching and gathering material, mainly pornographic films, pictures, and literature. His pornography stash was later noted by ATF agents who raided his house the fall of 1971. Most of it was in a safe in the basement of the Victoria Avenue home.
A later pre-sentence investigation report commented, “One investigator who viewed this material saw no evidence of orderliness in packaging these things and believed that Kleasen kept the goods only for his personal prurient pleasures. This Officer noted that Kleasen was unable to pronounce correctly several words pertaining to sexual deviations and thus this Officer doubts the defendant’s efforts and ability toward a Doctorate Thesis.”
His college transcripts do not reflect a final grade in any of the four graduate level courses he registered for in the fall 1971 term. Under each he is listed as having “Resigned officially.” He did not register for any further course.
In late May 1969 Kleasen was on a hunting trip in the Texas Hill [p.48] Country with his friend Ivan Makuch. On May 30 they came across a female buffalo about 130 yards off Highway 281. This was on the Diamond X Ranch owned by A. W. Moursand, an intimate and financial confidant of former U.S. president Lyndon Johnson. After shooting the buffalo, they cut off its head and four legs and skinned it, then cut a hole in a fence to drag out their trophy.
The next day Kleasen showed up at Rathbone’s Taxidermy Studio with the buffalo parts, saying the hide was still “hot.” Rathbone, who later testified that he helped arrange an exotic animal hunt for Kleasen on the Diamond X Ranch, mounted the head and prepared the hide. The discarded carcass was discovered by ranch managers and reported to law enforcement on June 7, 1969.
Some weeks later Texas game officers showed up at the Taxidermy Studio, asking about animal parts Kleasen had left to be mounted. The buffalo head was mounted and hanging on Rathbone’s wall at the time. He vigorously protested the seizure because Kleasen had never paid him for the work. Game officers took the buffalo head and two or three other trophies anyway. Kleasen was finally charged in Blanco County with the misdemeanor offense of “killing a game animal without a permit.” The charge was filed in February 1970 in a Blanco County court.
At the request of Blanco County, the Erie County sheriff’s department tracked Kleasen down in Buffalo to inform him of the charges. Since it was only an out-of-state misdemeanor, the sheriff did not take him into custody. Kleasen claimed he and Makuch were on an organized exotic game hunt and had paid $450 cash to a mysterious “Mr. Burns” for the right to shoot the animal. By March 3, 1971, the Erie County sheriff’s department wrote Blanco County informing them that Kleasen’s attorney would soon provide proof. Kleasen and Makuch later executed affidavits to this effect with an obviously faked receipt. They claimed to have met the mysterious “Mr. Burns” in a parking lot and provided no information as to his identity or whereabouts.
Because the offense was a misdemeanor, Kleasen was not extradited. Though the matter just sat, it would resurface to haunt him a few years later.
[p.49] When Kleasen’s second wife left him in January 1971, his depression became severe. He had been an outpatient of Buffalo’s Jewish Family Services where his doctor persuaded him to voluntarily admit himself to the Buffalo State Hospital. (Kleasen listed himself as Jewish when he first came to the agency for treatment.) He was brought to the hospital by a friend the afternoon of January 20, 1971. Kleasen was then thirty-eight years old and described himself as a SUNY-Buffalo social science education graduate student.
He told admissions officers: “I feel I can’t go on like this. I can’t study; I cannot cook to feed myself; I have no one but my aged mother who is near 80 and cannot care for me.” He was still living at his mother’s home. An admitting physician noted a diagnostic impression of “Depressive Reaction in an Emotionally Unstable Personality.”
Kleasen told admissions staff he had been an outpatient of the SUNY-Buffalo Psychological Clinic since 1966, but neglected to mention the year and a half he was in the Gowanda State Hospital. He said his Ecuadoran wife had recently moved out. She had filed for divorce and her attorney had scheduled a hearing for the day following this hospitalization.
But his stay at the hospital was short-lived. The following morning Kleasen was anxious to discharge himself. “On regaining his perspective the day after admission, patient asked for his release and discussed his realistic plans for the future,” hospital records say. “He was anxious to get out of the hospital in time to register for his classes and to continue with his plans of completing his master’s degree requirements by the end of the coming Summer.” Another doctor observed that Kleasen was “rather adamant” about being discharged. This would have been just after the fall 1971 semester where Kleasen withdrew from his four graduate courses without receiving any grades.
So a compromise was struck. Kleasen was placed on convalescent care to attend a day program five days a week. He was prescribed Vivactil and Elavil, drugs used to control depression.
Two weeks later Kleasen again appeared at the hospital for a routine check-up. He had attended his day program faithfully and stayed [p.50] with his medications, telling a doctor that he no longer was depressed but still worried about the unresolved Texas charges. Kleasen said he had just been served with a warrant which he did not understand but which he suspected had to do with his hunting. The doctor observed that Kleasen was “pleasant and appropriate.”
Three weeks later, on February 24, 1971, Kleasen returned to the hospital feeling better still. He was now anxious to finalize his unresolved divorce so that he could bring a Swedish fiancé to the United States. This was apparently Anna Irene Fredriksson, whom Kleasen said he had met while traveling in Europe the year before. The doctor reduced the dosage of his medications.
A month later Kleasen returned to the clinic saying the Texas hunting charges had been dropped. He told his doctor he was still feeling lonely at home alone with his mother. The doctor recorded that “he intended to marry his girlfriend from Sweden and was saving some money so he could get her into the United States.” The doctor was comfortable enough with Kleasen’s condition to discharge him from convalescent care if he continued meeting with a social worker at Jewish Family Services.
During this same spring Kleasen became involved with Mormon missionaries who taught him about the LDS church. Apparently little teaching was required as Kleasen had been learning about Mormon beliefs for a number of years.
Kleasen expressed a desire to join, but church leaders hesitated, possibly because of the Texas charges or because more experienced Mormons found him odd. They would not authorize his baptism. The missionaries visited Kleasen’s and his mother’s home several times. Kleasen entertained them with stories of his exploits as a CIA operative and took them to the attic floor to show off his large gun collection. There was a lot of scientific-looking gear which Kleasen used to load his own ammunition and modify his many weapons. The missionaries thought the house looked like a zoo, filled with mounted animals Kleasen claimed were hunting trophies. They believed everything Kleasen told them about being a spy, big game hunter, Olympic marksman, and scholar.
[p.51] Not surprisingly, Kleasen did not tell these missionaries about his interest in pornography.
On one of his frequent trips to Europe, Kleasen met and wooed Irene Fredriksson. Born in 1951, she was about nineteen when they met, while Kleasen was thirty-eight or thirty-nine. She worked for a Swedish pornography retailer Kleasen frequented. He had known Irene for about a year and a half. Kleasen told her of his heroic past, that he was a captain in the air force and was a fighter ace in the Korean War.
Irene came to the United States on May 25, 1971, and the two were married in Buffalo on July 1, 1971. The Mormon missionaries who attended the wedding thought she was a street-wise, hard-looking woman who spoke fair English. Kleasen toasted his new bride with champagne, which also surprised the missionaries. Given his professed belief in the LDS church, they had assumed Kleasen was living the Mormon Word of Wisdom which does not allow the use of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee.