on the cover:
The first hint Irene had about her new husband, Robert E. Kleasen, was when she found him in the bathtub smearing his naked body with the entrails of a freshly gutted deer. She bolted—as the two young missionaries who had dinner at his trailer in Austin, Texas, in 1974 should have done.
In recounting the events of that autumn night, author Ken Driggs contemplates the human cost: innocent lives and the collective pain of their families and extended communities, as well as the tragedy of Kleasen’s own troubled life. Released from death row on a technicality after serving two years, Kleasen was sentenced in June 2000 to three years in Britain on separate charges and now faces extradition to Texas. For Driggs, this raises legal and moral issues about what should be done with such individuals, and what the rest of us should do to protect ourselves from them.
about the author: Ken Driggs is an attorney specializing in death penalty cases, currently in Georgia. He holds degrees in journalism (University of Florida), law (Mercer University), and legal history (University of Wisconsin). He has worked on two U.S. presidential campaigns and as press secretary to a Florida speaker of the house and speech writer for a Florida governor. He has published in the Journal of Church and State, Georgia Historical Quarterly, Setson Law Review, St. Thomas Law Review, and the Utah Historical Quarterly. His professional affiliations include the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Mormon History Association.
Cover design by Ron Stucki
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∞ Evil Among Us: The Texas Missionary Murders was printed on acid-free paper and was manufactured in the United States of America.
05 04 03 02 01 2000 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Evil among us: the Texas Mormon missionary murders / by Ken Driggs.
ISBN 1-56085-138-4 (pbk.)
1. Kleasen, Bob. 2. Muder—Texas—Austin—Case studies. 3. Mormon missionaries—Texas—Austin—Mortality—Case studies. I. Title.
HV6534.A8 D75 2000
[p.v] About a year after arriving in Texas in 1993 as an attorney, I chanced upon newspaper reports of the incredibly brutal 1974 murders of young Mormon missionaries Gary Darley and Mark Fischer. I recalled hearing about them years earlier in my own LDS congregation when the news first broke, and started investigating the case with an eye toward an article or two. The more I dug, however, the more compelling and heart-rending the story became. Stories, actually, of alleged murderer Bob Kleasen’s mental illness and pathetic life, of well-meaning Mormons responding to troubled new converts, of loving families dealing with unimaginable loss, and of a tortuous death penalty case.
In the mid-1970s death penalty law in the United States was unsettled. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court had invalidated all death penalty statutes because of the gross racism in how they were applied. Nearly every state was then attempting to enact new constitutional statutes which the Court was just beginning to rule on. This was the situation when Kleasen was brought to trial for killing Darley and Fischer.
Even though there seems to be little doubt Kleasen was the killer, his conviction was reversed on appeal and he was never retried. As a lawyer who specializes in death row cases, I was particularly interested in how the criminal justice system responded to such a situation. All of this clearly added up, I felt, to a story worth reading.
What follows isn’t intended to support the death penalty. Personally, I’m opposed to all executions. Nor is it an indictment of the American criminal justice system. In some ways, I realize, justice was frustrated in this case. However, it also illustrates how cases can work out in the real world of criminal law. And while I believe Kleasen was a murderer and, like everyone else, would prefer that he be locked up, I [p.vi] found considerable evidence of the forces that shaped him. I believe that understanding these forces—however much we may want to ignore them or tell ourselves they could never affect us—may help to prevent future Kleasens.
As with many religious and cultural communities, Mormons sometimes have a language of their own and concepts peculiar to Latter-day Saint life. I have attempted to explain these terms and beliefs for non-Mormon readers. Mormonism is more than a religious denomination; in many ways, it is close to an ethnic community.
Much of this book is drawn from Texas, New York, and federal court transcripts. Additional information comes from extensive newspaper coverage of Kleasen over the years. Quotations from those sources don’t always translate neatly into writing, so I’ve occasionally taken the liberty of slightly rewording some to make them read more smoothly. In every instance, however, the plain meaning of the quotes has been preserved. Whenever the quotation is ambiguous, or its language is critical, it is used exactly as found.
This book would have been impossible without the help of many people, some of whom were kind enough to revisit old, often unpleasant memories. I conducted about fifty interviews of varying lengths. For most, recalling events twenty years in the past in great detail was difficult. In many instances recollections didn’t always square with the existing documentary record. Whenever such conflicts were present, I chose to rely on the contemporary written record. Periodically, some of the people I spoke with still feared Kleasen or had other reasons for not wanting to be identified. In other instances I felt that some of the parties who couldn’t be located wouldn’t have wanted to be identified by their real names. For these reasons I’ve used several fictional names in the book. Each of these instances is identified.
Several Austin Mormons who knew Kleasen offered invaluable insights, along with a few former LDS missionaries who served in Texas and New York. Frank and Norma McCullough, Eddie Davis, Bruce and Ruth Smith, Richard and Lynn Odell, Caleb West (not his real name), and Larry Doty provided important background into Kleasen’s Mormon involvement. Lance Chase, now on the faculty at [p.vii] Brigham Young University in Hawaii, supplied helpful information on Mark Fischer.
In New York several individuals who tracked Kleasen both before and after the murders went out of their way to help. Veteran Wayne County probation officer David Williams prepared thorough PreSentence Investigation Reports on Kleasen. As a result, he was able to supply history critical to this book. New York parole officer Richard Low provided useful insights and documentation. Wayne County public defender Ron Valentine was another helpful interviewee. Retired Buffalo City police officer and district attorney investigator Dick Murphy spent years gathering information on Kleasen which he generously shared. The New York aspects of this book could not have been written without Murphy’s generosity.
Veteran Buffalo civil rights lawyer David Jay, who represented Kleasen from 1988 to 1990, was gracious and candid. Several administrators and residents of both the downtown Buffalo City Mission and Lafayette Hotel also willingly talked about a man whose friendship might have embarrassed many people. I appreciate as well one of his unwitting pen pals, Ann-Eliza Young (not her real name) of Northern Ireland.
Retired Austin police lieutenant Colon Jordan spent hours going through records in his possession and reflecting on the 1974 murder investigation he coordinated. Texas wildlife officer Max Hartman, now a state magistrate-judge in Fredericksburg, was helpful in interviews as well, as were Texas game officer Norm Henk, retired FBI agent Joe Butler, and former Austin police officer Doug Ferris.
Several of the Austin attorneys involved with the murder case provided helpful interviews and/or documents. In particular, Pat Ganne and David Bays, junior members of Kleasen’s 1975 trial defense team, were generous with their time. Former assistant district attorney Charlie Craig provided invaluable interviews. Phil Nelson, who is still with the Travis County district attorney, and Richard Banks, formerly a Travis County prosecutor and later an assistant United States attorney in Houston, were helpful as well. Travis County district attorney witness-victim assistance counselor Bobbi [p.viii] Neyland wasn’t part of the Kleasen case but provided important insights into the expected experiences of the surviving parents of murdered children.
Very late in the writing process, I also received help from Kleasen’s fourth wife, Marie Longley, from Vera Fawden, and from her son Joe Fawden. To the extent they were allowed under British law to discuss their ongoing investigations of Kleasen, several Humberside law enforcement officers made contributions to this book as well.
I spent many days in the clerk’s office of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals studying the lengthy appellate record of the 1975 capital murder conviction. The CCA, as it is known to Texas lawyers, is the state’s highest court for criminal matters. (There is a Texas Supreme Court for civil law matters.) Every person in that office went out of his or her way to assist me. Presiding judge Mike McCormick took more than a passing interest in the project and made himself available to bounce ideas off as well as to help locate Texas participants in these events. Clerk of the court Troy Bennett, chief deputy clerk George Miller, and deputy clerks Abel Acosta, Faye Koenig, John Brown, Belva Myler, Louise Pearson, and Greg Ross all helped at one time or another. I thank each for his or her many courtesies. Likewise, the staffs at the Blanco County and Travis County, Texas, courthouses, as well as at the Erie County, New York, courthouse, were consistently helpful. The Austin History Center provided a number of photographs from 1974, 1975, and 1978. These originated with the Austin American-Statesmen. This resource added considerably to the book.
I invested considerable effort in gathering public government and law enforcement records on Kleasen. My thanks to the Texas Department of Public Safety and its crime lab; the Freedom of Information Act offices of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the U.S. State Department; and the Central Intelligence Agency for records, confirmations, and denials they provided.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints History Department in Salt Lake City, Utah, has an invaluable file on Kleasen’s involvement with the Mormon church in both Denmark and Texas. Its archives also contain useful local records on the Texas San Antonio [p.ix] Mission and the Austin First Ward (congregation). (As one non-Mormon interviewee said, “Them Mormons, they never throw anything away.”) Steven Sorensen, Ronald Barney, William Slaughter, Larry Draper, Linda Haslam, April Williamson, Ronald Watt, and Richard Davis, along with others, steadily assisted me with this and other writing projects.
Sunstone magazine of Salt Lake City published a lengthy article drawn from this book in its December 1997 issue. I appreciate its interest and in particular managing editor Eric Jones’s efforts. That article brought several letters from individuals who had firsthand knowledge of these events which added to the book. Among those was retired University of Wisconsin and Brigham Young University law professor Edward L. Kimball, whose help is much appreciated.
Very special thanks to James and Catherine Fischer of Milwaukee. They are the parents of Mark Fischer who had just begun a mission for the LDS church when he was killed. Mark’s brothers Matthew and Martin and sister Melissa were also open with their experiences.
The family of the second victim, Gary Darley, was equally gracious. Gary’s father David K., his older brother Kelle Darley, and other members of their large family were ready to share their memories. Kelle in particular provided case records and Gary’s missionary journals which were indispensable in telling this story. Unfortunately Gary’s mother, Jill, passed away in 1994.
I am painfully aware that this book forced both families to relive what has to be the most difficult experience any relative can ever be confronted with. Their tears left me with more than a little guilt about reopening this chapter in their otherwise happy lives. I hope this book will in some small way add to their positive memories of good sons.
Friends at the offices of my former employer, the Texas Resource Center in Austin, helped me in ways they probably don’t appreciate. In particular I want to thank Eden Harrington who brought me to Austin where this book was an unintended by-product. Grace Adame translated some Spanish language materials that filled in details. They and a few others there also helped to make this book possible.
Mike and Tracy Graff, friends from the Round Rock Ward of the [p.x] LDS church just north of Austin, read through drafts and made a number of useful suggestions. Their questions and insights greatly improved the book.
The events in Great Britain set out at the end of this book came to my attention while I was a senior staff attorney at the Atlanta-based Multicounty Public Defender’s Office. At times this last-minute work was an inconvenience for that office, and I would like to thank my co-workers for their tolerance, especially Mike Mears.
Finally, I appreciate the members of my own family for their steady support. My parents, Don F. and Dorothea Heiserman Driggs, of Tallahassee, Florida, my brother Randy, who is a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, and my sister, Patricia Knight, of New Hope, Pennsylvania, all helped me overcome financial binds, writer’s block, stress, and frustration. My sister in particular never let me get discouraged about the project or trip over the many hurdles.
[p.xi] The early to mid-1970s was a time of paranoia in American history, and the events described in this book are probably best understood in the context of those tumultuous years. Certainly, Bob Kleasen seems a creature manufactured by the worst of that era.
The Vietnam War was raging, and in May 1972 a lunatic shot and paralyzed race-baiting U.S. presidential candidate George Wallace. Later that same year Watergate erupted; House impeachment and Senate investigative hearings followed the next year. Arab terrorists shocked the world with the slaughter of eleven Israeli participants in the summer Olympics in 1973. Patty Hearst was kidnapped by domestic terrorists the following February, then resurfaced as a bank robber working with them. Richard Nixon proved himself a crook and resigned in disgrace on August 9, 1974. Early the next year, another congressional committee began to investigate abuses by both the CIA and the FBI. Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in July 1975. Two months later two different crazies tried to assassinate U.S. president Gerald Ford less than three weeks apart. Utah murderer Gary Gilmore demanded execution and was shot by a firing squad on January 17, 1977. Elvis Presley died of a drug overdose later that August.
Perhaps the times demanded that Bob Kleasen come into existence. His acts insured that a peaceful Mormon community would not escape the violence of the era.