Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.89] Jack Paris, a Mormon, met Kleasen the first Monday in September 1974. Kleasen had invited Gary Darley and Rich Jenkins to his Oak Hill trailer for a deer steak dinner. Paris and his wife, Chris, drove the missionaries over, thereby saving them miles on their car. The missionaries had another appointment at 6:30, so after dinner Paris drove them and his wife back to Austin, but returned about 9:00 with two other Mormon friends from Houston.
The four sat around and talked. Kleasen told his captive audience about his experiences as a CIA agent, as a U2 pilot and fighter ace in Korea, and about his defection from the CIA in response to “corruption.” Among his stories were those about killing communist revolutionary Che Guevara in South America, then cutting the man’s fingers off to send to Fidel Castro. He also talked about how he had recently been harassed with a “trumped-up charge of rustling a head of buffalo.”
Kleasen talked bitterly about how for six months he’d been dragged from jail to jail, humiliated, and ridiculed. He swore he’d never go back under any conditions. He said if a policeman pulled up in his driveway, he’d shoot him, cut him up, and spread him out so far they’d never find the body. “Believe me, I have everything I need to do it with right here,” he said. Paris was discovering that Kleasen was a colorful talker, fond of violent threats and dramatic language. He recalled that about half of Kleasen’s conversation concerned his bitterness toward law enforcement. Afterwards Kleasen gave his guests a tour of the taxidermy shop—he had all the keys. They left about 11:30 that night.
Paris, a son of stake patriarch Paul Paris, was a friendly young Mormon anxious to fellowship a recent convert. He visited the trailer [p.90] five or six times after that. At least once he picked Kleasen up at his trailer and drove him to a Safeway to buy groceries. At first, he regarded Kleasen as violent but not dangerous to him. However, the longer Paris knew him, the more he came to fear him.
On one occasion, while telling Paris about his escape from the CIA, Kleasen said, “I know how I’ll end up dying, but I don’t know when. President Ford hasn’t decided what to do about me and the other defected agents yet. The CIA will get me though. That’s why I always carry a gun with me ’cause if they shoot and miss, I won’t.” Another time Kleasen held a loaded pistol to his head and said he didn’t have any reason to keep on living, that sometimes he thought he should just kill himself. Paris said that scared him. And Paris believed everything Kleasen told him. “He seemed very serious,” he’d later say. Paris passed some of these stories on to local church leaders.
Kleasen had shown Paris the renovations he was attempting in the rundown sheds around his trailer. Paris’s apartment was next to a construction site and he sometimes helped Kleasen gather scrap lumber for his projects.
Kleasen invited Darley and Fischer to his trailer for their usual deer steak Monday night meal on October 21, but they canceled with a letter on the 19th. “We are running out of miles and we have a General Authority coming to speak to the missionaries,” Darley wrote. Missionaries with church-issued cars—always American Motors vehicles, a result of Mormon George Romney’s having run the company—had a strict limit on the number of miles they could drive each month and a round-trip to Kleasen’s rural location ate into them badly. The missionaries wrote, “We’ll plan on seeing you Mon. the 28th. See you then.”
On Wednesday night, October 16, 1974, Paris and his wife had other church friends over to their modest apartment for dinner. Once a week they invited missionaries to dinner and on this night they asked Darley and his mission zone leader, Christopher Warnock. Darley’s earlier companion, Elder Jenkins, had been released and had returned to his home in Utah. The Parises’ home teachers, Eddie Davis and Greg Molineaux, were also invited. Paris had suggested to Kleasen [p.91] that he stop by that night, promising to help him gather more lumber. In fact, Kleasen had asked to be invited for dinner.
Dinner was still spread on the table when there was a loud knock on the door. It was Kleasen. He stepped into the apartment and upon seeing Davis, who was also Kleasen’s home teacher, launched into a verbal assault on the Mormon church and its local leaders. He looked only at Davis, his voice rising to a shout. Discomfort quickly became tension as Paris and Davis feared Kleasen would punch someone.
Kleasen claimed the church had done nothing for him when he was jailed, that no one had ever visited or sent a card. Davis tried to calm him down and reminded him of his jail visit with groceries. Kleasen gave him a hard look and insisted, “I’ve never seen you before in my life.” Davis was stunned; it struck him that Kleasen believed what he said. Kleasen became so heated that Davis and his companion feared they might be assaulted so they excused themselves and left. Kleasen had terrified them.
Afterwards Paris was both embarrassed and furious. When the two were later alone, he chewed Kleasen out. “You had no right to speak to my guests, who are also my friends, that way,” he told Kleasen. “He told me that the Austin First Ward had not treated him right and that he had reason to speak to Davis in that manner. And I told him I was a member of the Austin First Ward myself and I had always treated him right.” Kleasen didn’t disagree. Having made his point, Paris dropped the matter and went with Kleasen to the parking lot to load scrap lumber.
An hour had passed, but Paris spied his home teachers talking in another part of the parking lot. One of them also lived in the apartment complex. Paris excused himself from Kleasen and jogged to his friends. In the dark they only heard the footsteps and, thinking it might be Kleasen, started to run until Paris called to them.
Talking, they found they all were frightened of Kleasen and agreed it might be a good idea to stay with friends or relatives for a few days. Davis, who’d been around Kleasen off and on for some time now, sensed that something about Kleasen’s anger was escalating. It frightened him. When Paris returned to where he’d left Kleasen, the [p.92] man and his car were gone. This unnerved Paris all the more. That night he and his wife left to stay with relatives for a few days.
Late on October 27, a Sunday, Darley telephoned Paris. They talked about Kleasen for half an hour, about his outburst and the fact that Darley was to have dinner at the trailer the following Monday. Darley was uneasy. He said if Kleasen “gave them any trouble,” they’d tell him they couldn’t return. Darley felt that Kleasen was “crazy enough to shoot someone if he got upset with them.” But Darley said he felt obligated to keep his commitments, including dinner with Kleasen.