Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.206] For the Fischers, the most difficult struggles followed the 1975 trial. Mark and Gary’s apartment was cleaned by church members who mailed Mark’s things home. These included the University of Texas t-shirts he had bought for his brothers and sisters the day he was killed. After the trial someone mailed them Mark’s name tag, with the bullet hole, and his watch, the gift from Barbara Bakewell, with flecks of blood on it.
Melissa Fischer—“Mis” to Mark—wrote a child’s poem for her brother as part of her personal therapy. It was constructed as a dialogue between a little girl and her big brother:
“Mark, are you going on one of those missions for the church?”
“Yes, Mis, I am. Why?”
“Well, because … because I don’t want you to go.”
“Well, let me tell you something Mis. Going on a mission is part of the Lord’s plan. And I want to have a part of that plan.”
“But Mark, why … I don’t want you to go. I … I need you to protect me like big brothers should and … and Mom needs you to run to the store for her, and Dad does too. He needs help to fix the cars. Matt, Mike and Mart need you to wrestle with. Please don’t go. We all need you.”
“I want you to listen to me Mis. I know how hard it’s going to be for everyone, but I have to go, and besides its only two years. And when I come home, I’ll protect you all you want.”
“But Mark, what happens, I mean, what if you don’t come home, what if …”
“I want you to know that I’m going to miss you more than I will Matt, Mike, and Mart. You’re the best little sister in the whole world and don’t you forget that. I’m very lucky to have you.”
[p.207] Melissa went on to write that the day Mark left for his mission was “the hardest day of my life” and that she wished she “could really understand.”
“Mark, could I please have a hug but, only could we make this special just between you and me,” she wrote of the day he left.
Melissa ended her poem with “Well, Mark never did make it home. He was killed just one month after he left. I’m sure he is much happier where he is now. And his memory still remains and always will, till that final day when we will be reunited.”
Jim and Cathy Fischer had battled the angry feelings of some that they had contributed to Mark’s death by allowing him to serve as a Mormon missionary hundreds of miles away. Some strangers even sent them sick and accusatory mail over the incident.
In the months after Mark was killed, Frank McCullough had arranged for the Fischers to meet Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Mormon church who had earlier met the Darleys. Kimball had been deeply affected by the murder of these two young men and was anxious to express his personal best wishes for their parents. The Fischers also met with Vaughn Featherstone, the church official who had first warned Texas Mormons of Kleasen’s unsavory past. These meetings did not replace their son, but the Fischers were thrilled.
Less than a year after Mark was killed, their next eldest son, Matthew, announced he was ready to serve a mission. His parents were a little surprised. Their pleasure at his commitment was tempered by a fear that they could lose another child. Cathy had the hardest time letting go. But they said little of their fears. “If you want to go, Matt, we’ll support you,” they told their son. “And if you don’t want to go, we’ll support you in that decision too.” Matthew eventually served a routine mission in Las Vegas, Nevada, from 1977 to 1978, where his mission president kept an especially watchful eye on him. By 1978 Jim and Cathy’s son Mike was serving full time in Honolulu, one of six young people in the Milwaukee First Ward on missions then.
By sheer coincidence, shortly after Matthew’s Nevada mission, Kelle Darley moved to the state and attended an LDS ward where the younger Fischer had spoken of his brother in church meetings. Both [p.208] Kelle and other members of the ward were jolted to realize they shared this sobering connection.
Jim and Cathy Fischer were no different from other parents who have lost a child to murder. They grieved deeply in their own personal ways. The loss strained their marriage. Everyone in their ward had been supportive, but the deep hurt remained with the family. Finally they began seeing a counselor. It helped that he was a stranger, someone who found it easier to say things that friends and family members could not. There were times when Cathy was furious with him for the things he pulled out of them, but the process brought them closer to peace.
Because they had been denied even the closure of a burial, Cathy finally devised one of her own. She collected a few of Mark’s things—not things that were so dear to her she could not part with them, but things that she associated with him—and buried them in a private place.
Gradually the hurt subsided. The loss of a good son was always with them, but they reached a point where they could move on with their lives. They had several other good children who married and had children of their own, so there was the joy of grandchildren to envelop them.
Today Cathy and Jim can recall the exact moment when they came to forgive Bob Kleasen. A peace came over them, a calming spirit, that signaled the end of their anger. They no longer hated him, no longer feasted on their fury with him, no longer allowed him into their lives to destroy things. It was then, they felt, that Kleasen lost all power over their family.
To this day Jim and Cathy keep many things that once belonged to their son—his missionary notebook, name tag, letters to him which were returned after his murder, his high school diploma, and many others. A black and white photograph of Mark in a suit, one of the last taken of him, hangs on their apartment wall. They keep these because they will always love him.
Kelle Darley struggled as well to rid his life of Bob Kleasen. For a long time after the murders, Kleasen stalked through his worst night-[p.209]mares. Kelle finally spoke of this gaping wound in a class at Brigham Young University, confessing that he hated Kleasen for what the man had done to his family. Afterwards the teacher took him aside and encouraged him to try to forgive Kleasen, advising that he would never be able to get on with his life until he had done so. Kelle had to work hard at it, but gradually he forgave and the nightmares stopped. While he didn’t think he’d ever share a meal with Kleasen, he knew he’d never again let the man’s twisted spirit dominate his life.