Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.240] Dick Murphy had made a point of securing from Kleasen’s Buffalo City Mission buddies the address he’d asked them to ship his possessions to. The boxes were sent to a Marie Longley in Barton-upon-Humber, South Humberside, England. In 1996 I wrote to Kleasen in England but received no response. Through friends, I checked some British public records, but this also failed to provide any leads. Given his claims of poor health, I thought he might be dead, since I didn’t believe he could go long without getting into trouble again. Then in early September 1999, I received a call from Bennett Loudon, a reporter for the Rochester Democrat Chronicle. Loudon had just learned that British authorites were starting to ask questions about Kleasen.
Humberside County is a business and fishing center with around 900,000 people and about 2,000 law enforcement officers located about 150 miles north of London on the British east coast. According to Humberside police, Kleasen had been allowed to own and deal in firearms. The permitting process required disclosure of past criminal or psychiatric history. Kleasen had “given a number of narratives regarding his past history in the U.S.A.,” and police finally decided to check him out. “Much of what has been related by Kleasen … about his past has been disbelieved,” the police told Interpol. “Because of the nature of the (inquiry) and the important need to establish his suitability to hold the above position as a dealer in firearms and explosives, details of his history in the U.S.A. is requested as a matter of urgency.”
I told Loudon what I knew of Kleasen’s history and he broke the story on September 7, 1999, under the headline “Wayne convict surfaces in England.” I contacted Humberside County law enforcement, identified myself as Kleasen’s biographer, and shortly faxed them [p.241] newspaper accounts and other documents. The police inspector who took my first call seemed surprised to hear that Kleasen had never been associated with the U.S. military or the CIA. As one article with a photograph of Kleasen came across his fax machine, another officer exclaimed, “That’s him all right, he looks just the same today.”
Other reporters soon followed Loudon. Shortly thereafter, I began hearing from a friend of Kleasen’s terrified fourth wife, the former Marie Longley, who knew nothing about his real past. For the next three months, I gathered information from these and other sources and was able to construct the following narrative of Kleasen’s life since September 1990.
While in the New York prison system, Kleasen had corresponded with women he had met through a seemingly reputable Irish pen pal organization. Besides Ann-Eliza Young in Northern Ireland, he’d written women in Finland, Taiwan, and other countries. Beginning in 1986, Kleasen wrote Marie Longley, a widow his age living in South Humberside. They corresponded about once a week. Kleasen would grow impatient if she did not respond weekly. He apparently cultivated each woman as a possible partner and finally selected Longley. She was an attractive widow who had a house of her own, few family members, and a small independent income. She had enjoyed pen pals since she was a school girl and accepted Kleasen’s stories about being a college professor hired to teach New York state inmates.
Kleasen had first announced plans for a “short visit” in 1988 but delayed the trip because of “work.” He ran into problems getting a passport because he’d never repaid the federal government for repatriating him from Lebanon in 1972 or 1973, but he finally managed to borrow the money from a friend. Kleasen arrived in England a week after his parole ended in September 1990, flying out of Toronto. Marie had been led to believe Kleasen was coming for a friendly visit, but his Buffalo City Mission boxes began arriving at her house before he did.
Today Marie recalls that her impression of Kleasen was of a man who never stopped talking about himself and had no interest in anyone else. After about six weeks, she finally told him they were not suited for each other and asked him to go. He responded that he’d burned [p.242] his bridges in the United States and would not leave. At the time, he was otherwise considerate and tried to be helpful around the house. Marie remembers that she began to feel sorry for him and was finally manipulated into marrying him on January 11, 1991. Kleasen made a point of wearing his fake medals at the ceremony, including what he said was a Congressional Medal of Honor. The next day Kleasen insisted they travel to London and meet with a British immigration office to have his visa extended to a year’s residency.
Within weeks, Kleasen reverted to his old habits. Shortly after their marriage, he tried to get a job teaching at Hull University but was turned down. He did secure temporary jobs as a security guard in a food store and as a joiner, but never worked for long. He began borrowing money from Marie for tools and other wants. He felt she had an obligation to support him and ran up substantial household debts. Marie had to work as a cleaner to keep them afloat. Kleasen’s temper again surfaced, and, just as in his previous marriages, he became increasingly violent and controlling. In 1994 he beat Marie then refused to let her go to a hospital for treatment. She discussed divorce several times, but he wouldn’t consider it. During one especially angry confrontation, he told her, “If you try to leave me, I’ll hunt you down and kill you.” Marie stayed, and gradually resigned herself to a miserable marriage, believing that Kleasen could always convince others he was the offended party deserving of sympathy.
Marie’s few friends regarded Kleasen as a bore and a braggart. Kleasen ran many of her friends off, leaving her increasingly isolated. Marie came to see what she believed were the symptoms of a paranoid mental illness in Kleasen. She lived upstairs, he downstairs. Sometimes Kleasen told his pen pals she was a maid. She left the house only for domestic chores and to walk Ri, her golden labrador retriever. The dog had been abused by a previous owner and rescued by the couple, but when Ri proved to have no desire to hunt, Kleasen lost interest in it.
With the Atlantic Ocean seemingly insulating him from the truth of his own life, Kleasen again claimed a fantastic past. Over the years, he told anyone else who would listen that he was the son of the archduke of Rotterdam and that his parents had owned paint and art stores [p.243] in Buffalo. He was raised speaking German and did not learn English until age nine which made his life in the Buffalo school system miserable. He told his new wife that his strict parents had forced him to participate in the “Hitler Youth in America” during his childhood. He claimed that during World War II his parents would retreat to the attic of their Buffalo home to listen to radio broadcasts by “Uncle Adolph.”
At age eighteen, he said, he began working on an assembly line at a Bell Aircraft plant near Niagara Falls. (Kleasen had briefly worked as a file clerk there but had never been on the assembly line.) His genius was quickly recognized, he claimed, leading to a job as an assistant to rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and test pilot “Chuck” Yeager in New Mexico. He claimed to have been the youngest person in the United States with an FAA pilot’s license. Kleasen said he was a captain in the air force and flew combat missions during the Korean War, practically winning the Battle of Inchon single-handedly and earning the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, he began flying U2’s for the CIA. When a U2 pilot was shot down by the Soviets in 1960 and exchanged for a Russian spy two years later, Kleasen claimed it was he who escorted the pilot back to freedom in a divided Berlin. Later his CIA assignments had him conferring with Chairman Mao Tse-tung in Red China. He claimed to have worked with U.S. presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon, and said former president Lyndon Johnson had been a hunting partner in Texas.
When he decided he didn’t like his Chinese assignment, Kleasen claimed he returned to the United States and enrolled as a college student in Buffalo where he was actually a CIA operative spying on the peace movement. While a “student,” and while married to his first wife, he was promoted to CIA “Sphere Chief” in charge of all Latin American operations. It was during this period that he converted to the cause of peace and became an embarrassment to the CIA. From that point on, Kleasen said, the CIA was responsible for all the miseries in his life.
Some people in England believed him. Kleasen was invited to speak about his flying career to a Rotary Club and to local women’s groups. He was interviewed on a local radio program about his life and on another occasion was asked to give awards to a youth Air Training [p.244] Corps which he was happy to do while wearing his Congressional Medal of Honor. A few law enforcement officers even consulted with him on firearms and ballistics matters.
In 1993 he cultivated a young man named Joe Fawden (not his real name). When the youth showed no interest in guns or hunting, Kleasen dropped him, but his mother, Vera Fawden (not her real name), became a close friend of Marie’s. Fawden was the daughter of a psychiatric nurse and had taught special education. She saw in Kleasen’s spelling indications that he was dyslexic. Ultimately it would be the Fawdens who rescued Marie from Kleasen’s influence.
Armed with his marriage to a British citizen, Kleasen took advantage of generous public health coverage to have major surgery on his knees, claiming they had been shot up in the Korean War. He then secured British disability benefits which he enjoyed for years. These included a car and a monthly cash allowance. For a few months after arriving in England, Kleasen conspired with an accomplice in the United States to continue collecting social security disability benefits which he was not entitled to. When he reached retirement age, Kleasen began to collect regular social security benefits, and by 1997 was apparently drawing $400 a month from that source.
His gun fetish, restricted by incarceration and parole supervision since 1974, remained as well. Among the possessions he had shipped from Buffalo were books on firearms, all stamped as property of the Buffalo Public Library. As soon as he was legally able, Kleasen applied for and received a permit to own a firearm. Armed again, he joined a local gun club called the Wildfowlers Association which required an initial year of probation. The next year, 1993, he received a permit for another firearm.
In 1996 Kleasen received a permit to deal in explosives and firearms. In each instance he was required to fill out applications which asked about his past criminal history. Kleasen represented that he had none; he also boasted of holding a doctorate in education. As Kleasen had hoped, the permits were issued with little or no background check. He took the business name of Kleasen’s Rifling Services in spite of the fact he had none of the necessary equipment to service firearms and [p.245] had to farm out his own guns for such work.
One condition of his dealer’s permit was that the guns be kept in a building with security protections specified by British law. Kleasen wanted to keep his guns in Marie’s 200-year-old home. Such old historic buildings are protected by English preservation requirements. This meant the necessary alterations could not be accomplished without damaging the building’s historical and architectural integrity. Kleasen was undeterred. He persuaded police to water down the required security in his case, then set about wrecking the inside of the home to accommodate his guns.
At Marie’s home, Kleasen would clean and baby his guns by the hour. In a chilling reprise of the experience of some Texas Mormons, Marie would often look up to find him sighting down at her head. It was intended to intimidate her and it succeeded.
Kleasen joined various other local gun clubs where he bragged about his past as a decorated war hero, CIA operative, Olympic marksman, and educated gentleman. Kleasen’s anger was always close to the surface, especially if someone dared to question his claims. One 1993 confrontation with another gun club member was reported to the police after Kleasen threatened him with a gun. The incident resulted in Kleasen’s being kicked out of his first gun club as well as being fined a year-long peace bond. In fact, Kleasen made himself so obnoxious that he was expelled from one gun club after another.
Soon a legitimate British firearms dealer, Tony Fox, checked with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in Washington, D.C., to verify Kleasen’s story. The society responded that “Mr. Kleasen is not a Medal of Honor recipient” and asked if he possessed such a medal. If he did, they wanted it back. Joe Fawden later also found evidence of Kleasen’s U.S. criminal convictions, while Fox demanded that Kleasen resign from their gun club, which he did. Fox went to the police, who began their own investigation which eventually reached Interpol.
As Kleasen’s fantasy life unraveled, he slid into what sounds like another clinical depression. He spent nearly all his time in Marie’s house. He refused to bathe or clean himself. His wife remained a fastidious housekeeper and kept his clothing and linens clean in spite of [p.246] his bad hygeine. Kleasen also concealed firearms, knives, and a blackjack throughout the house.
On April 27, 1999, Marie returned home to find several police vehicles parked outside. The officers showed her documents confirming Kleasen’s U.S. convictions. Inside Kleasen sat sobbing with two officers beside him and others searching the house. “They’re taking my guns away,” he cried. Kleasen begged to sit on a favorite couch where he had weapons concealed within reach; the police told him to stay in the kitchen. They collected forty-four guns including a Thompson sub-machine gun and ammunition. Kleasen was ordered to present himself at the police station for questioning, but it was weeks before he appeared. After the confiscation of his guns, his wife recalled him crying and moaning repeatedly about the loss of his “children.”
At this point, Fawden asked her son, a computer whiz, to investigate Kleasen on the Internet. At one point in the past, Joe had volunteered to secure photographs of the fighter planes Kleasen claimed to have flown in the Korean War. Instead of being pleased, Kleasen had exploded. This time Joe found Kleasen on New York and Texas websites listing criminal convictions as well as a December 1997 article I published about him in Sunstone magazine.
Fawden brought Marie the findings and, after several hours of pleading, persuaded her to leave. Five days later, on September 28, 1999, Marie packed a few possessions and crept out of the house with Ri to Fawden’s waiting car. Kleasen was rarely up before mid-morning. A neighbor reported Marie missing and the police began to investigate, finally locating her at Fawden’s where she recounted her ordeal. Once Marie was safe, Fawden contacted the LDS mission office in London to warn them of Kleasen’s presence.
Armed with Kleasen’s U.S. criminal history, the police returned on October 5. A search of his home produced two unregistered .22 handguns, one with a silencer. A firearms dealer who knew Kleasen had the weapons called them “assassination pistols.” Kleasen was then arrested on four charges: obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception, roughly a fraud charge with a maximum prison sentence of five years; possession of prohibited firearms and ammunition with a maximum [p.247] sentence of five years; being a prohibited person possessing firearms and ammunition, with a maximum sentence of five years; and threatening to kill his wife Marie, which carries a possible ten-year sentence. The British don’t make the same distinction between misdemeanor and felony charges that the United States does, but all four counts roughly translated to felonies and carried maximum individual sentences of five to fifteen years in prison.
In spite of his history of flight to avoid prosecution, Kleasen was released on what amounted to a personal recognizance bond with the requirements that he report to the police department regularly and not contact witnesses. This included Marie who was in hiding with the Fawdens. Kleasen continued to reside in Marie’s home, and police kept a close watch on him. One visitor to the home said it was a “wreck” and that Kleasen looked like “a caged animal.”
Shortly thereafter the British Home Office served notice of its intention to deport Kleasen at the conclusion of his prosecutions and possible incarceration. Kleasen had secured resident alien status with his marriage to Marie but this did not prevent him from being deported.
In the meantime, Marie divorced him but declined to pursue allegations that Kleasen had threatened to kill her. She was terrified that he would try to carry out his threats especially since he remained free on bail.
In mid-March 2000, Kleasen’s fabricated world came to an end. He reluctantly entered a guilty plea to four of the firearms charges against him. The judge warned him not to interpret his release on bail as assurance that he would not be sentenced to prison. The British press is prohibited from discussing a case prior to a guilty verdict, but with his plea Kleasen became a sensational news story, with headlines screaming “Secret of Death Row” and “Public Concern that ‘Anyone Can Come to England.’”
One gun club member told reporters that his group came to call Kleasen “Odd Bob.” Kleasen, he continued, “had a very colorful manner. The man had delusions; first of all he had an obvious obsession with guns and he used to remark about his work in various American CIA-type organizations. I don’t think he is the weak old frail man he [p.248] appears to be in court.”
Still free on pre-trial release, Kleasen tried to persuade friends to help him slip out of the country. He was caught late one afternoon at the King George Docks in Hull and taken into custody. Police found more prohibited ammunition in his possession and new charges were leveled against him.
Grimsby Crown Court Judge Michael Heath is, according to one observer, “no softie.” He too was unpersuaded by Kleasen’s claims that he was merely sending his possessions to the continental mainland. Kleasen was ruled a flight risk and he landed in jail.
Meanwhile, as one British newspaper headline put it, “Alarm bells rang at the highest level.” Kleasen’s case was discussed in the House of Commons where promises were made to tighten British gun laws and immigration policy.
On June 2, 2000, Kleasen appeared in Heath’s courtroom in a wheelchair. The judge ordered him to walk to the dock. Kleasen then fired his barrister, repeating a life-long pattern of trying to manipulate the judicial process. After two hours with another barrister, Kleasen returned to the courtroom to face sentencing. When asked what explanations he had to offer, Kleasen again claimed to be a retired CIA supervisor and U2 pilot, to hold a Ph.D. from the University of Buffalo, and to be misunderstood by his accusers. His barrister advised the court: “He was abandoned in ill health and in desperate mental condition because of depression.”
Judge Heath sentenced Kleasen to a series of two- and three-year concurrent sentences with credit for the six weeks he had already served. He could have been sentenced to ten years each on two counts and five years each on the others. The judge observed, “You have displayed utter contempt and disregard for the laws governing firearms in this country. I consider you still to be an intelligent and devious individual likely to commit further offenses.”
Kleasen first underwent psychological and risk evaluations before going to prison for the remainder of his sentence. With good behavior, he could serve about two years, after which he will be deported to the United States.