Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.57] After bonding out of the Wayne County Jail, Kleasen flew to Sweden on November 21, 1971, where he remained until the 27th, to try to patch things up with Irene. Now he was a different person, courteous and charming, promising to be better. He wanted Fredriksson to return to the U.S., and she foolishly relented, but this time a male cousin, Curth Ekgren, came with her. Irene had been staying with Curth and his family in Enköping. They left Sweden on December 26, 1971. Kleasen bought both their tickets on a TWA credit card.
But Kleasen had not changed. Only hours after meeting Fredriksson and Ekgren at the airport, he beat her again for refusing to have sex with him in the middle of the night. He had told her he could not sleep, that it was her obligation.
A few days later he beat her again for failing to prepare his lunch as quickly as he wanted. She would later tell police he didn’t beat her often, and usually struck her in the face and head with his hands. Twice he’d threatened to kill her, and she was beaten often enough, once almost breaking her neck, she said; she took the threats very seriously.
Once Fredriksson witnessed Kleasen beating his mother, who was then nearly eighty. Lydia Kleasen turned up with a broken leg during the first week of December 1971; Dick Murphy was convinced Kleasen had done it.
Kleasen had run up substantial credit card debts, and creditors were constantly at the Victoria Avenue home trying to collect either the cards or some of the money. Kleasen would hide and force his mother to handle the collectors.
When he felt his mother had mishandled one encounter, he exploded. Kleasen grabbed a rifle he had intended to chase the bill col-[p.58]lector with, but the man had already driven away. He came back inside the house, still carrying the rifle, and took Lydia by the throat with one hand. Kleasen didn’t threaten to shoot his mother, but Fredriksson was afraid he was going to beat her with the rifle. Fredriksson was able to save the old woman from further harm.
From behind closed doors, she often heard Kleasen screaming at his mother and her crying. At other times she heard what she believed was Kleasen slapping and beating her.
After the fight over the slow lunch, Kleasen took Fredriksson’s passport from her purse and said he would never let her leave him again. Kleasen threatened to kill Curth if he tried to help her. He also refused to allow the two to speak to each other in Swedish for fear he wouldn’t understand what they said or planned.
Fredriksson contacted the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., for help and somehow Kleasen’s lawyer became aware of this, telling Kleasen. Ekgren had left for New York City to visit relatives. Irene was then alone with Kleasen and his frail mother.
Kleasen wanted to head off any threat to his domestic rule that might come from the Swedish Embassy. He drafted a letter in English for Fredriksson to rewrite in Swedish and mail to the embassy. Kleasen’s draft said everything was all right and she did not need help. He wrote for her that they were newlyweds and she had just overreacted to a domestic spat. Fredriksson wasn’t sure if Kleasen could read Swedish, so she copied his letter slowly trying to measure his understanding while he watched over her shoulder. After a few lines, she concluded he did not read Swedish. She began to insert information about the real situation. She wrote:
I am writing this letter in order to take back what I said about my husband Robert Kleasen in my telephone conversation with the Swedish Consulate in New York. I regret this telephone conversation and what I said about him is not true. This letter is written under a threat. My husband and I have agreed to repair the damage to our marriage, which I caused through my actions. I, therefore, ask you to stop all your actions and my husband is innocent. Please help me I am in danger. I have been forced to write this letter. Please help me I am in great danger but be careful.
[p.59] The Swedish Embassy routed the matter to their New York Consulate which immediately contacted the Buffalo Police Department. Within hours a squad of police and the district attorney’s investigator, Dick Murphy, already aware of Kleasen’s propensity for violence and love of guns, appeared at the house. A sheepish Kleasen let them in where they were able to ask Fredriksson if she wanted to leave. Without hesitation she said yes and gathered up her things. Again this group of officers was struck that the house looked like a zoo or museum with stuffed animals everywhere. Later that day Fredriksson gave a tape-recorded statement to police and prosecutors setting out her harrowing experiences as Kleasen’s prisoner. Federal AFT and immigration agents were part of the debriefing.
Authorities could not get her on a plane back to Sweden that day, so Murphy and his wife volunteered to put her up. A flight had been booked for the following morning. Fredriksson kept talking to the investigator and his wife well into the night. Kleasen, she claimed, had shipped several crates of guns to Rathbone in Texas for “safe-keeping” and planned to ship anything returned to him from the September ATF raid. She told them of the time she and Kleasen were at the Wayne County farm and she walked in on Kleasen in the bathroom. He was in the bathtub naked with a freshly killed deer carcass. He had gutted the deer and was smeared with its blood and entrails.
The next day Fredriksson was on a plane back home, determined to be forever rid of Kleasen. Buffalo authorities did not prosecute Kleasen on any matter relating to Fredriksson because doing so would have prevented her immediate return to Sweden. She quickly divorced him in the Swedish courts. The Swedish government had bought her a round-trip ticket, leaving her a return trip to the United States if she wanted it. Fredriksson mailed the unused ticket back to Murphy saying she never intended to get that close to Kleasen again.
Kleasen was furious.
The day after Fredriksson’s extraction from his home, January 13, 1972, Kleasen wrote an angry letter to the Swedish Consulate complaining that “a great wrong has been done to me.” All he would accept was “she has had some difficulty adjusting to the U.S.A., and it is [p.60] true she is only 20 years old and I am 39.” He flatly denied any suggestion he had abused his wife. He urged that Fredriksson be placed in psychiatric care and challenged them to put her on a polygraph to verify her claims he abused her. The Swedes ignored Kleasen but forwarded his letter to Buffalo law enforcement which had a growing file on him.
Erie County district attorney Michael Dillon wrote the Swedish Consulate in New York to report. After briefly describing Kleasen, Dillon wrote, “As you can see from his prior record, Robert Kleasen is unstable and anyone living with him could be in danger if they upset him in any way.”
Now back in Sweden, Irene wrote Kleasen an angry letter on January 17, 1972. Her written English was rough, but her message was unmistakable. “I will tell you your damn stupid nut that from the day I left I am gonna live my own life. And you your illegal deer-hunter if you want to fuck four your damn deers. Women in not for a bastard like you,” she wrote. She was angry about property and money she had lost as a result of their relationship. The letter closed with “You damn bastard can fuck and suck yourself now and the right place for you to be is in a nut-house damn bastard.”
Kleasen saved her letter, only to have it seized by Austin police when he was arrested in 1974. He would later claim that Irene was subsequently killed in a Swedish auto accident.
With debts, legal fees and other financial pressures mounting, Kleasen pressured his mother to sell their Wayne County farm. On January 25, 1972, she got $12,500 for it. He apparently took most of the proceeds.
The assault charge continued to loom. One of his attorneys, Norman Effman of Buffalo, finally struck a deal and Kleasen pleaded guilty to reduced charges on December 15, 1971. Judge Reginald Oliver walked Kleasen through a routine series of questions to determine if the guilty plea was informed and voluntary. Kleasen also signed an acknowledgment of rights form indicating he had discussed the matter with his attorney and understood what he was doing. In an effort to present Kleasen to the sentencing court in a positive light, Effman ar-[p.61]ranged an evaluation by a Buffalo psychiatrist, Dr. Guyon Marsereau. His December 20, 1971, evaluation found Kleasen to be “a schizoid personality with a strong possibility of simple schizophrenia.”
Meanwhile, David Williams, senior probation officer in Wayne County, was assigned the Pre-Sentence Investigation. Williams undertook a thorough investigation of his background. His dogged pursuit of Kleasen’s real life turned into the defendant’s worst nightmare. Williams did not interview Kleasen until he had done his background investigation, determining much of what was the truth. He later set out Kleasen’s claims in the written report, finding many of them to be baseless. Among other things, Kleasen also claimed to have been a Mormon for the previous three years.
Williams spent two days in Buffalo combing through criminal and family court records, university transcripts, credit materials, and bad debt judgments, as well as interviewing local police. He received considerable help from Dick Murphy in the Erie County district attorney’s office. Williams learned about Fredriksson’s virtual imprisonment and secured the relevant Buffalo police reports. He reported that Kleasen was suspected by U.S. Customs officials of smuggling drugs into the country but “nothing ever came of that investigation.” Under the heading “Special Problems,” Williams listed “Psychopathic Personality.”
Williams’s seventeen-page report concluded Kleasen was a dangerous man, and strongly urged that Judge Oliver sentence him to four to seven years in prison, the maximum:
Inasmuch as the defendant has shown a continual trend towards irrational behavior, since this is at least the second time that he has been in trouble due to gross negligence with firearms and since he appears to be an unstable and unpredictable person, who has not benefitted from community oriented psychiatric counseling this Officer believes that the Court has no alternative in this instance other than incarceration with the hope that adequate residential psychiatric care can benefit this individual.
The report was completed in January but not yet entered into the record. Effman pestered Williams by telephone to know his recom-[p.62]mendation. The probation officer finally told Effman he was recommending prison time; the lawyer then apparently told Kleasen. Kleasen panicked.
At the scheduled sentencing on January 26, 1972, Kleasen once again fired his lawyer and tried to withdraw his plea. “Sir, I sincerely tell you that I am innocent,” he insisted to the judge. “I have lost everything that I thought was important in my life through this case.” He claimed he had lost his wife and all his friends “except the ones in the church.”
Oliver at first would have none of it. “This has been going on, Mr. Kleasen, since October,” he snapped back.
Kleasen persisted. Oliver finally relented and let Kleasen withdraw his guilty plea, but at the same time he revoked his bond and sent him back to jail.
The next Kleasen lawyer, Basil Tzetzo, filed a petition for habeas corpus and managed to get Kleasen released again shortly thereafter. He was at least the fourth defense lawyer brought into the case by Kleasen. The trial was set for April 3, 1972.
When that date arrived, Tzetzo appeared but told the court, “I have been unable to contact my client for the past week and a half.” Kleasen had fled to Europe in March. Tzetzo told the court his client was in Denmark. “I contacted the American Embassy in Sweden and they contacted his wife,” Tzetzo explained. “Defendant apparently was in Denmark and had contacted her through other people in Sweden and she didn’t know his exact whereabouts.” The embarrassed lawyer said, “It’s my feeling that he’s gone and not about to return.”
Kleasen’s bond was revoked and a bench warrant issued. Efforts to extradite him from Sweden did not meet with success. The FBI was contacted about a fugitive warrant. New York authorities would have to wait him out.