Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.103] There are over 10 million LATTER-DAY SAINTS in the world today, with a majority outside the United States. Considering that there were just over 1 million Mormons in 1950, this is unprecedented growth. LDS membership has doubled roughly every ten or eleven years since then. Some 380 new church buildings were constructed in 1997. Non-Mormon demographers have projected 260 million members by 2080. This is due in large part to the high-powered missionary program. Volunteer missionaries have been a feature of LDS life since the church was founded in 1830.
About a third of all Mormon males between nineteen and twenty- five serve on such missions at their own expense. About 10 percent of young women also go on missions. Young men serve for two years, while young women are “called” to eighteen-month missions. LDS parents are urged to begin saving for a child’s mission from birth. Many Mormon youngsters drop sticky pennies and dimes into a mission piggy bank. Sometimes their home congregations, called wards, contribute some or all expenses. No worthy young person is denied a mission call because he lacks the funds. Retired couples are also encouraged to go on missions, and many do. LDS temples and historic sites, such as those in Nauvoo, Illinois, are usually staffed by these retired couples.
Proselytizing missionaries seek out and teach prospective converts, called investigators, using standardized teaching materials prepared by church headquarters. Today over 56,000 missionaries are in the field seeking converts in 161 countries, far more than any other Christian denomination. In 1996 some 78,000 children of members and 330,000 new converts were baptized into the LDS church.
In 1974 elders Darley and Fischer were but two of 18,109 mis-[p.104]sionaries in the field, 9,811 of them set apart that year.
A mission “call” is extended by the young man or woman’s home bishop, as local pastors are called. When an individual is accepted for such service, he is given a specific departure date and told the mission he will serve in. Just before a missionary leaves, his ward will hold a special “Missionary Farewell” meeting where he is often lavished with attention. While he serves, his picture is often displayed in his home chapel along with his mission address and a favorite scripture. Local members are encouraged to write, along with parents and sweethearts.
Missionary service is considered one of the most honorable responsibilities a young Mormon can undertake. “Where did you serve your mission?” is a very important question among church members getting to know each other. “RM’s,” as returned missionaries are often called, are considered prized mates in the Mormon world. A son’s decision not to go on a mission can be especially difficult on many devoted parents.
In 1974 new missionaries began at the Mission Home (now demolished) near Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There they got accustomed to the regimented life of the missionary, and learned the standardized religious instruction the church employs. Volunteer mission presidents, usually successful businessmen accompanied by their wives and families, undergo a similar schooling before they enter the mission field.
The missionary’s life is one of strict regulation. Virtually every hour must be accounted for to the mission president or to their missionary zone leaders, usually senior missionaries finishing up their service. They are told when to get up and when to retire. The church tries to limit the amount of money families send so that the missionary experience is the same without regard to personal wealth.
A few get cars they secure from the church, always with limits on how many miles they can drive. Many ride bikes. Wearing standard dark suits and white shirts with distinctive black-and-white breast pocket name tags, young male missionaries are easy to spot. Most religious teaching materials are produced by the church in Utah, but in the [p.105] 1970s missionaries still had to purchase them.
Missionaries are assigned to specific geographic areas that can be anywhere in the world. In 1974 there were 113 such missions, today there are over 300. There a mission president, called for three years of voluntary service, acts as administrator and surrogate father to the young people in his mission.
Missionaries work, live, and travel in same-sex pairs as “companions.” Companions rotate within the mission at regular intervals. These rotations often involve moving to another congregation or another city within the mission.
Missionaries are fully integrated into their local ward life. Members are encouraged to provide them with investigators ready to learn about the church, and local members often accompany them when teaching non-Mormons. They speak regularly in church meetings and become well known to local members.
Members are encouraged to invite missionaries into their homes for dinner. It is common in church meetings for sign-up sheets to circulate as members commit to feed the missionaries. It is not unusual for a released missionary to return to his former area to marry and make a life.
Gary Darley never doubted he would give such service to his faith, just as Kelle, his older brother, had before him. Like everyone in his large family, he had a testimony as to the truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Service in their Santa Susana Third Ward, located in Simi Valley, was expected. His father, David K., an engineer with Rockwell International, was a ward clerk. His mother, Jill, was a Sunday school teacher; and Gary was an assistant scoutmaster in the ward sponsored troop.
Gary was born on September 27, 1954. He turned twenty one month before he disappeared.
Kelle had already served in the Texas North Mission, later renamed the Texas Dallas Mission. He arrived at the Salt Lake City Mission Home in October 1971, then returned to California in November 1973, just a few months before Gary’s departure. Kelle was twenty-two in 1974. Gary also had a twin sister, Gaye; a brother, Clark, seven-[p.106]teen; another brother, Todd, thirteen; a fourth brother, Bruce, nine; and a baby sister, Beverly, eight.
One of Gary’s avid interests before his mission was a motorcycle, a Honda 350 with an Easy Rider extended fork and a sissy bar on the back. He used to ride it to work, earning extra money as a clerk at a drive-in dairy. However, he quit after his second armed robbery in two weeks.
One family story about Gary tells of a day when he was riding to school with a friend on his motorcycle. They were stopped by the police and a marijuana cigarette turned up on the friend. Gary hadn’t known anything about it. The friend told the officer. “You leave him alone, he’s a Mormon.” The police let Gary go on his way.
Like many teenagers, he played bass guitar in a family garage band, joined by twin sister Gaye on lead guitar and younger brother Clark on drums.
In 1968 his mother, Jill, gave Kelle a watch with a distinctive band for Christmas. It was the same watch she gave her husband. Kelle wore it during his own two-year mission in Texas. There the humidity made the face of the watch turn green, so Kelle took it apart and tried to wipe the stain off. In the process he wiped off part of the words “17 jewels” on the face. Some of the green stayed near the remaining words.
Kelle returned from his mission in November 1973 and bought a new watch. When Gary left for his own Texas mission in March 1974, Kelle passed the old watch to him. He had it cleaned and tried to restore the damaged face at a local jeweler’s, picking it up in January 1974, just in time for Gary’s departure. Gary wore it throughout his mission, a kind of good luck charm and reminder of his brother’s missionary service.
The gift was a natural thing as the two young men were close. When Kelle came back from Texas, he and Gary often double-dated to dances and movies. Gary took his Mormon girlfriend, seventeen-year-old Kerrie Lynn Hampton.
Kelle enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in January 1974. BYU was a goal of many faithful, young Mormons and [p.107] their parents, enrolling 25,000 students by the 1973-74 school year. Kelle and Gary planned to room together at the Y when Gary came home from his mission.
Gary wrote Kelle from Texas each week, often asking him for advice on various problems missionaries had to wrestle with.
During Kelle’s first semester break, he visited Gary who was then serving in Cleveland, Texas. There Kelle met one of Gary’s best friends in the mission field, Elder Conrad Hardcastle. They went out to dinner where they discussed missionary work, going to college in Provo, and future plans.
The big brother recalls being surprised at how muscled-up Gary had become on his mission, perhaps reflecting the regular regimen of exercise the new missionary put himself on each night and on his free Mondays. “You know, you have brothers and sisters, but you have friends, too. He wasn’t only a brother, he was a friend,” Kelle said of Gary.
Gary’s hair was long when he got his mission call, and it fell to his mother to cut it in January 1974. Mormon missionaries always wear closely cropped hair. Major haircuts were often a last step before departing for the Mission Home. Gary’s girlfriend, Kerrie, was there for this sacrifice and kept some of it as a keepsake. Kerrie saved mementos of their relationship and the small plastic bag of hair went with the other things. She wouldn’t see it again for more than eight months.
His parents, bursting with pride, accompanied Gary to Salt Lake City to begin his mission. On March 2, 1974, they left him at the Missionary Home near the imposing Salt Lake temple, never dreaming of the final sacrifice his mission would require.
From that point on Gary was a missionary in every sense. He faithfully wrote his family every week. The letters were written on Monday, the missionaries’ “free day,” and arrived on Thursday. He wrote to Kerrie every week as well.
Once he wrote his nine-year-old sister with a drawing of the two of them together. He wrote, “I’ll bet you’re the prettiest girl in the class.” Gary had tried to say things that made the rest of his family feel good about themselves.
[p.108] A letter from Gary, dated Monday, October 21, 1974, arrived in the family mail box three days later. It was the last the Darleys would ever hear from their son.
Once in the mission field, Gary kept journals. He recorded his regular meals and camaraderie with Jack Paris, his close relationships with missionary companions, and his calls home. His last call came on his twentieth birthday, September 27, a month and a day before he was killed.
Missionary work was a growing experience for Gary, helping him make the journey from teenager to young man. His journals record his anxiousness about assignments of increasing responsibility and a growing spirituality. At the time of his murder, Gary was a district leader. On September 11 he recorded an intense discussion with his mission president which he described as “a very spiritual interview.” President Loveland told Gary he would soon get “a brand new elder” as a companion, Mark Fischer.
In his journal for Friday, September 6, 1974, Gary wrote, “Drove out past Convict Hill to see an inactive member named Mr. Kleasen who Elder Bell wanted to see.” On the 23rd Gary recorded that he and Clark had another steak dinner with Kleasen who “told us about all his problems again.” Clark was transferred the next day, and on the 27th, Gary’s birthday, Mark Fischer arrived. The next day they had lunch with Jack and Kris Paris.
Gary continued to visit Kleasen even though the man was beginning to wear on him. On Monday, September 23, he and Fischer had dinner at Kleasen’s trailer which was probably Mark’s first visit. Gary’s journal records: “We came home and Jack and Chris Paris picked us up and took us to Bob Kleasen’s. We had steaks and Bob told us his big story of what happened to him again. I’ve heard that story three times now. Kleasen really puts me in a spot by wanting us to stay longer and break the rules.” Darley was referring to the rule that missionaries not stay in any home longer than an hour and a half.
Darley and Fischer returned for dinner on October 7. Two days later they were eating dinner at the Paris apartment when “Jack went out and got Kleasen which didn’t please me a whole lot.” Gary re-[p.109]called the confrontation between Kleasen and his home teachers a week later. Once again Paris had invited the missionaries for dinner. “Bob Kleasen was there. Paris’ home teachers came by and Kleasen gave them a hard time,” Darley wrote. It was his last journal entry about Kleasen.
Mark James Fischer was born on August 12, 1955. His parents were James and Catherine Fischer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the oldest of five children, with three younger brothers and a sister. The Fischers were a close and loving family who were not reluctant to tell each other of their affection. And they were very religious.
The Fischers were converts to the LDS church, brought into the faith by young missionaries much like their son just a few years before. Mark was thirteen at the time of their baptism. Their testimonies of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and the church he founded could not have been stronger. Other members of the Milwaukee First Ward came to see them as one of the most faithful families in the congregation. (The Milwaukee First Ward was one of the older outposts of the church outside the Rocky Mountain West. It was first organized in 1899 with just seven members. It became a ward in the newly organized Milwaukee Stake in 1963.)
From the beginning Mark shined. He was unusually mature as a youth and earned a reputation among adult Mormons as obedient and teachable, as dependable and willing to take charge. He took his lay priesthood ordinations seriously and threw himself into all the church activities he was offered. He looked forward to serving a mission himself. He worked and saved money for it. He learned the teaching discussions missionaries used with investigators. He was instrumental in converting his girlfriend, Barbara Bakewell, to the Mormon faith. In June 1973 Mark, then seventeen, graduated from Milwaukee Boys’ Vocational and Technical School. He worked for the next year while awaiting a mission call.
Lance Chase was Mark’s church seminary teacher through high school and also served as second counselor to Bishop Vogl. (Chase later taught history at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.) To him, [p.110] Mark was an exceptional young man. Mark believed fervently in his family’s new faith, he was passionate and articulate when talking about it. There never was any doubt he would go on a mission. He had already served as president of the Mormon high school seminary and as an Explorer advisor in the church’s Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. This was consistent with the rest of his family. His father was a Sunday school officer, his mother was the Junior Sunday School Coordinator, his little sister Melissa was an officer in the young girls’ organization Mormons call the Beehives, and his younger brother Michael was secretary of the Aaronic priesthood teachers quorum.
Four months and ten days before their son’s murder, the Fischer family visited the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City and were sealed as an eternal family unit in a religious ordinance unique to Mormons. The missionary who had baptized the family in Wisconsin was living in Bountiful, Utah. He volunteered every Tuesday to work in the temple, but on this date felt compelled to work on Friday as well. Once there, he heard voices he recognized, those of the Fischer children who led him to Jim and Cathy. It was a happy and unexpected reunion for all. Mark told friends the sealing ordinance had been the high point of his life.
Fischer’s mission call came on August 1, 1974, just weeks before his nineteenth birthday. Bishop Vogl extended the mission call on behalf of church leaders in Salt Lake City. Fischer would be one of eight young full-time missionaries serving from the Milwaukee Ward that year. Everyone in the family was excited about this opportunity. His decision to proselytize in the Texas San Antonio Mission made his parents proud, but he was already a model son in a family of outstanding children.
Church general authority Hartman Rector, Jr., himself a convert, came to Milwaukee to speak at a stake conference just days before Mark left. On August 25, 1974, Mark brought a blue wire-bound notebook to conference to record his thoughts. He wrote, “We have to love people in order to teach them. We have to love everyone like God loves us.” On missionary work he wrote, “Sharing the Gospel requires living the Gospel.” Rector went on to say, and Mark recorded, “we [p.111] should be honest in all things. … He asked why we should always go the second mile and then said because the second mile has all the blessings!”
As Mark prepared to leave, he talked to each of his younger brothers and sister, giving them family assignments. He told seventeen-year-old Matthew to wrestle with the younger children until he returned because it was something Mark had always done. Mark and Matthew were especially close. Mark told his brother Michael, who was fourteen, to watch out for his parents, to take care of them. He told his sister Melissa, twelve, and the youngest, eight-year-old Martin, to take care of his things while he was gone.
Mark’s girlfriend wanted to give him something to take on his mission and settled on a Seiko watch from a J. C. Penney’s store in Milwaukee. Mark had slender wrists, and Bakewell had to return twice to the store to have the band adjusted. She eventually had to have two links removed from the metal band. “I told him they were in case his wrist got bigger or something.” Mark took the extra links with him on his mission.
Two days before Mark left, his cousin Susan Fischer came to his house to cut his hair. Mark scooped the trimmings up from the floor and put them into an envelope. That night he went to his girlfriend’s for a spaghetti dinner. He jokingly gave Bakewell the envelope of his hair. She put it into a dresser drawer where she kept mementos of their relationship.
While Mark awaited his mission call, his mother, Cathy, was one day overcome with emotions about her oldest son leaving. She wished he could stay, but knew of his dedication and never said anything to him. She believed it was his duty to serve.
On September 18, 1974, the family, full of pride, took Mark to the airport to begin his mission. His father flew with him to Salt Lake City where he bought Mark a supply of basic black Bic pens at the University of Utah bookstore.
Finally Mark and his father, Jim, had to part. As with any parent, it was difficult to say good-bye and watch his son stride off into manhood. After a lingering farewell, Mark finally told his father, “Dad, I [p.112] have to go now. I have a mission to serve.” Jim never saw his son alive again.
That night Mark wrote in his notebook, “My first day away from home. Seems my prayers have been answered. I’ve been blessed not to miss home too much. … I sure hope I can be a successful missionary.”
Once in the Mission Home, Mark went through the intense training period with 257 other new missionaries who would disperse to fifty-eight separate missions. He recorded the instruction of various LDS leaders in his blue notebook. “We are personal ambassadors of Christ,” he wrote the first day. “The next two years are the Lord’s. Give him your best. We won’t convert, the Holy Ghost converts.” Also that first day: “Never leave your missionary companion. Your companion is your shield and protector.” A few days later: “Procrastination is the thief of eternal life.”
Church leaders urged Mark and the other new missionaries to “be yourself,” to be positive, and to fellowship investigators. In particular they were urged to use Family Home Evenings as a missionary setting for investigators. Then church authority Hartman Rector addressed the missionaries, the second time for Mark in a couple of weeks. Rector followed general authority LeGrand Richards and was in turn followed by A. Theodore Tuttle. “Bear witness all the time,” Rector urged. “Act like what you are, young men of God. Teach by how you live and act.”
Just before Mark flew to Texas to begin his mission, LDS church president Spencer W. Kimball and counselors Marion G. Romney and N. Eldon Tanner addressed the new missionaries. Part of Kimball’s message was especially appropriate. “Younger brothers, watch what you do,” he said. “If you faithfully serve a mission so will your brothers. We build our lives by our attitudes. We are judged by the adversities we overcome. With privilege comes obligation.” They were urged to eat right, to get adequate exercise, and to be conscious of their personal hygiene. They were instructed on how to handle their missionary cars, how to avoid accidents, and what to do if they had one. They were told that rank-and-file missionaries like Mark would be limited to 1,000 miles a month on the cars.
[p.113] Mark later called his family three times after leaving Milwaukee, once each from Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and Austin.
After Mark and a new crop of fresh missionaries arrived in the field, they were again instructed by Texas Mission president Loveland. “Never misrepresent yourselves,” he urged. “Teach with the spirit of truth. … Make people sure you care about them.” Loveland recognized Mark as one of the “best” young men under his service. “I will always remember my first interview with him the day he arrived. It was evident he had been planning to come on a mission for years,” he recalled.
Once he settled, Mark wrote his family and girlfriend weekly. At first he was homesick and once wrote his parents asking for a family picture “so I can show these Texans what a real family looks like.” He wrote how much he loved his family and how much he appreciated their supporting him.
For their parts, everyone in Mark’s family wrote back steadily. One of their greatest heartbreaks came when their letters began to be returned as undeliverable after Mark and Gary disappeared.
Mark was quickly caught up in the spirit of missionary work. “Boy, I thought I was mature,” he wrote in another letter. “I’m just beginning to catch the vision of the missionary program. Not only does it lay the spiritual foundations for the rest of my life, but it is teaching me to be responsible and in many ways preparing me for a family life. You know, I never thought I’d like a job where you work six days a week, 24 hours a day. But I sure love this one. Of course, I’ve got the best employer you can have.”
His last letters were written Monday, October 28, and received by his family and Bakewell on Thursday, the 31st.
Both Mark and Gary had been serious, mature, and committed to their religion. Serving missions was the culmination of their personal ambition and family hopes.