Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.93] Within hours of Kleasen’s arrest, officers began delivering possible evidence to a lab for testing. The Texas Department of Public Safety ran the state crime lab in Austin which did most of the scientific work in the Kleasen case. Lab technicians gathered anything that looked interesting.
On November 6, 1974, Leslie Smith, a chemist with the lab, spent the better part of the day inspecting the missionaries’ abandoned Hornet, then stored at the Reveile Body Shop. The car was dusted for prints; a few were found, but nothing from Kleasen. Police had also searched Kleasen’s 1964 station wagon, impounded at the Austin Police Department quonset building, giving Smith things that might have some value as evidence.
From the Hornet, Smith collected what he thought was a very small amount of blood from the right front seat, an unknown powdery substance from the trunk, and the battery cables which someone had cut through. From Kleasen’s station wagon, he was given an automobile jack, some bolt cutters and other tools, a pair of gloves, a green plastic bag, and blanket, hair, and more suspected blood stains.
The next day Ranger Spillar brought to the lab some clothing and a section of rope, plus two wheels with tires believed to be from the missionaries’ stripped car. Over a month later Lt. Jordan would bring in three more matching wheels with tires. All the tires were collected from a shed near Kleasen’s trailer. Police had also found the license plates from the missionaries’ car in the shed.
Jordan brought four brake drums that had been removed from the victims’ Hornet. He also brought concrete blocks found at the same location along with chips of suspected concrete collected from Kleasen’s station wagon.
[p.94] The next day another policeman brought in a metal plate from a band saw at the taxidermy studio. After reading the poaching manuscript seized in Kleasen’s trailer, investigators feared the biological material caked on it might contain more than just animal remains.
Smith accompanied officers searching the taxidermy studio and grounds on November 11, and collected hair samples from the band saw. Later that day Spillar returned to the lab with head hair known to have come from both Darley and Fischer.
Still later Jordan came back with more material seized at the taxidermist’s: a Seiko watch, Fischer’s name tag, a hunting knife, a pair of rubber gloves, and another fatigue jacket. He also had mud, vegetation, and hair collected from the underside of Kleasen’s impounded Rambler. And he brought in the fingernail scrapings he’d taken from Kleasen the night of his arrest. There was also a suspicious bone fragment Jordan found in the missionaries’ Hornet. He wanted the crime lab to tell him if it was human or animal.
Every few days some officer would return to the crime lab with more materials he hoped would prove to be evidence against Kleasen. Hub caps found near his trailer, hair and suspected blood stains from the porch of the missionaries’ Mary Street apartment, bits of trash from Kleasen’s trailer with blood droplets on them, spent bullets, and more clothing. Then police brought in frozen meat found in the freezer near Kleasen’s trailer. Anxious friends of Kleasen had also returned meat he had given them, sheepishly asking that it be tested. Everyone was relieved when it proved to be deer meat.
The taxidermy studio septic tank was pumped and four bags of material brought to the lab for testing. It was thought that the hair, bone fragments, and other biological materials might include something from the missionaries. Testing could not verify any human substances from that source. The lab was also given materials collected alongside rural roads during the November 9 search by volunteers. Nothing of value was found there either.
As testing unfolded, it became obvious the band saw was going to be important. It was a big, squat, gray, six-foot Rockwell. A large circular housing topped it, containing the long blade. It looked almost [p.95] alien, like something from a low budget science fiction movie. Spillar had it loaded up from the taxidermy studio and delivered to the crime lab. Rathbone was not happy about having to give up his band saw during the busy season.
As the evidence gathering concluded, the crime lab had a variety of items. There were suspected human hair, blood, and tissue, along with other biological material. The band saw was part of this. There were automobile parts and tools collected from the two American Motors cars. And there was ballistics work to be done on the Fischer name tag and with firearms seized from Kleasen.
Two crime lab veterans, Fred Reymer and Smith, did most of the work. Smith had a degree in chemistry and had been with the DPS lab for seventeen years. He was its chief chemist and toxicologist. It was his job to analyze the composition of anything submitted to the lab. Reymer did the ballistics work.
In the lab Smith inspected a fatigue jacket and trousers collected by game officer Frank Henzy from a large metal can outside Klea- sen’s trailer. The chemist could see what he thought were very small blood stains, some hair fragments, and a substance that looked like tissue or possibly wood fibers. Testing verified that the stains were blood, both human and animal. He used what is called the antihuman precipitant test in which a sample of evidence is brought into contact with an antiserum. A chemical reaction indicates if the sample is human protein or not.
Such tests can be run for animal material as well as for human. Smith also tested for deer and bovine blood, finding both on Kleasen’s clothing. There was not enough human blood to test for type so he couldn’t say anything beyond its being human. The tissue substance also contained human protein or possibly more blood. The hair was human as well.
Known hair samples from both Fischer and Darley were then compared with the three individual strands found on Kleasen’s fatigue jacket. Such hair comparisons are done under a low-power micro-[p.96]scope first to determine if they are human or animal. Those found to be human are then mounted and examined on a high-power microscope for basic characteristics. Such inspections can differentiate between head, body, and pubic hair. It can be sorted by race. Coloring, both natural and artificial, and the condition of the hair also help in identification.
It’s not a perfect system, but valuable. One critical factor for positive identification is the opportunity for hair from a victim to end up where they were found. Are there other indications the victim was where the samples were found, and when? Or a suspect’s hair if they are gathered at a crime scene other than places where the suspect regularly visited. A suspect’s hair on the body of a victim, such as on his clothing or under his fingernails, can be important. But this was for detectives to gather, the crime lab can’t often address that. In Smith’s opinion, two strands of the head hair found on the jacket came from Gary Darley and one from Mark Fischer.
The band saw was now in Smith’s lab. He removed samples of biological material from inside the housing, on the rubber tension wheels, and from the blade channel area. Much of the material was sawdust and small wood chips. This caused lumps or wads with plenty of mass for collection and examination. Both animal, deer mostly, and human hair were found in every sample Smith took off the band saw. All the human hair matched Darley’s or Fischer’s. Smith didn’t find any human hair which could not be attributed to one of the victims.
All the hair was in fragments; only two included root structures. The hair was broken and splintered as opposed to clean cuts. Smith concluded that the hair had been chopped up with a relatively blunt instrument like a band saw blade. He also felt that the object to which the hair was originally attached was held in the band saw rigidly enough for the blade to get a good bite on it. The hair could not have been thrown into the blade loose and left these kinds of cuts. Most of the hair Smith recovered came from the immediate area of the blade.
This was not body or finger hair. It was definitely head hair and could only come from the scalp. It was not the result of some non-fatal accident by someone working in the taxidermy shop.
When he ran tests to determine if there was human tissue or blood, [p.97] he kept coming up positive, but again he could not get a specific blood type. Considering that the human material he was finding appeared to be muscle, fatty tissue, and bone, there should have been a lot more blood than appeared to be the case. Smith concluded that two entire bodies had not been dismembered on the band saw. Had that been the case, he would have found body and pubic hair, plus a lot more human tissue from large muscles and blood. Only the heads had been cut on the band saw.
The human body is, for the most part, tied together by muscles and tissue. It can be disassembled with a hunting knife by someone with minimal skill. Someone who knows how to break down an animal carcass can do the same with a human being. An experienced hunter who dresses his own kill would certainly know how. The one exception is the skull.
When Smith tested the metal plate removed from the band saw, he again found human blood stains and fragments of human head hair. The hair again matched that of Fischer and Darley. He also found a single cut hair fragment on the plate that apparently came from Kleasen. He compared under a microscope the tissue gathered from the band saw with that found on Kleasen’s pants. It appeared to be the same material.
Smith later prepared samples of the hair and tissue from the band saw for an FBI crime lab outside Washington, D.C. Much later another set of samples was collected for Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk, the Harris County medical examiner in Houston.
The Seiko watch appeared to have faint flecks of blood on the band. When Smith looked at them under a microscope, he was positive. Testing again verified that it was human blood. The second watch, a Voumard, also had what looked like small amounts of blood on the back near where the wrist band was fastened. Again testing confirmed this.
Lab scientists also considered the non-biological materials gathered in the investigation. The white, granulated substance removed from the trunk of the Hornet was less obvious. It was of particular interest because it looked like the same substance on the car jack found [p.98] in Kleasen’s car. It turned out to be powdered laundry detergent. The same laundry soap was found on one of the five tires stored in a shed outside Kleasen’s trailer which had apparently come from the missionaries’ car. Smith could not make a positive match but was ready to testify that by all appearances the same substance had been found in all three locations.
Then Smith went to an Austin American Motors dealership and asked them about car jacks in new cars. He found that the factory issue jacks were essentially identical with that seized from Kleasen’s car, right down to the unusual white grease that American Motors used to oil the shaft and threads. Most other automakers used a brown or black grease in their cars. This strongly suggested that the jack had been removed from the missionaries’ year-old Hornet. Smith thought the jack also looked as though it had never been used.
Smith tried to match the four brake drums to the five wheels with tires. The size, mounting holes, and general configurations were consistent. There were also matching wear indentations. He concluded there was an exact match on four of the wheels to an individual brake drum. They had come from the missionaries’ car.
In addition, soap powder was on one wheel, apparently the spare. It too had markings matching one of the wheel drums, indicating it had been mounted at some point. If it was the spare from the missionaries’ trunk, laundry they had loaded in the trunk may have at some point spilled out onto both the tire and jack.
In order to get a more precise match on the recovered tires and the brake drums, Smith set up a photographic comparison. Crime lab photographers shot the wheels and brake drums at a 90-degree angle in a special “view box,” then produced actual size negatives with x-ray film. When negatives of the wheels were laid over those of the brake drums, there was an exact match. Smith was already convinced the wheels and brake drums matched, but this experiment clinched it. There was no doubt the wheels in Kleasen’s shed had come from the abandoned and tireless Hornet found in south Austin.
The bolt cutters proved interesting but not as conclusive as the wheels. The battery cables in the missionaries’ car had been cut in [p.99] two, but the battery was bolted down at the base so it could not be easily removed. The lab had both the severed cables removed by Smith from the car and the bolt cutters seized from Kleasen’s car by police. The hope was that the cutting tool could be matched with marks on the cables.
The lab found almost pure copper fragments and a black rubber material in the jaws of the bolt cutters that were consistent with the battery cables. They used the bolt cutters to cut other sections of the recovered battery cables. They compared the cuts and removed the residue left on the blade to see if it matched what Smith had first discovered. The cuts seemed to match, but there were no imperfections or specific marks on the cutter blades he could refer to for a positive identification. The individual strands of wire that made up the battery cables were not large enough to hold the kind of microscopic markings needed for identification.
All the crime lab could conclude was that the general cut pattern on the cables was consistent with Kleasen’s bolt cutters. No one could say the cutters had not been used to try to extract the battery. The residue on the cutters after the test cuts seemed to match, both in how it appeared after being mashed during the cutting and in composition. This was enough for Smith and Rymer. They were confident Kleasen’s bolt cutters had been used to snip the battery cables in the missionaries’ car.
Smith couldn’t offer much help with the concrete block and chips he was given. He concluded they were of a slightly different type of manufacture—the density and color of the concrete and filler were not the same—but they still could have been made at the same plant during different runs. The fragments he was given were too small to allow any meaningful comparison with the single complete block.
The ballistics section was in the hands of supervisor Fred Rymer who had thirty-four years’ experience in the lab. He was a recognized authority on the identification of firearms and bullets and testified up to forty times a year. He would need that experience because this time he was asked to perform a different kind of examination. Besides the Fischer name tag and firearms seized by police, Rymer also examined [p.100] the bolt cutters and battery cables for a connection.
Rymer received the name tag in a November 6 batch of evidence and began by putting it under a microscope. The slightly elliptical hole had every appearance of having been made by a bullet. It appeared to be an entrance hole, but it was clean, there was no splintering or plug forced out of the back as the bullet passed through. There were carbonized deposits and what looked like little particles of lead on it, what he called a lead swipe or grease ring. Rymer thought he could almost pick up the land and groove impressions of a fired bullet.
Inside the hole he also saw what looked like two grains of nitrocellulose powder, what is commonly called smokeless powder. Rymer estimated these deposits would have been left if the name tag was fired at from a range of five to ten feet. This estimate was questionable given that Kleasen loaded his own ammunition and no one was sure how much powder he used. Rymer could see that the bullet had struck the name tag at some angle but exactly what he could not tell.
The lab then secured a dozen identical plastic name tags from assistant district attorney Spencer for test firing. They used a series of .22 rimfire cartridges hoping to match the apparent bullet hole in Fischer’s tag. Rymer tested .22 shorts, a lower velocity round which contains less gunpowder, .22 longs, and .22 long rifles. All are generally considered lower velocity rounds. Not all .22s are exactly 22-hun- dredths of an inch in diameter. Depending on the type of round and manufacturer, they vary from .217 to .221.
Rymer also tested with .25- and .32-round ammunition. All were shot straight on or with 15- to 30-degree angles and from distances of twelve to eighteen inches. His firing angles were arbitrary. Rymer used commercial ammunition for his tests, even though Kleasen loaded his own. Rymer knew he couldn’t reproduce the effect of a bullet striking the name tags on a human chest, he was simply trying to get an elliptical hole like the one on the Fischer name tag. None of the tests he conducted exactly duplicated the hole in the missionary’s name tag. Finally, there are several different types of gunpowder, but Rymer made no attempt to test the tiny grains he discovered to see what kind they were.
[p.101] Rymer first reported back to the Austin police department in a letter dated December 16, 1974. The lab’s examination could not establish that the bolt cutters seized from Kleasen were used in the attempt to remove the battery from the missionaries’ abandoned car. But the hole in Fischer’s name tag was a different matter. “The hole in the name plate does have the appearance, in our opinion, of a possible bullet hole and if it be a bullet hole, it appears, in our opinion, to be closer to a .22 caliber than any other,” he wrote. He would later receive two of the firearms seized from Kleasen. Agent Littleton gave him the .22 Hornet rifle and a .22 Ruger revolver on February 20 after the preliminary testing was complete. Rymer used both in more tests, including the high velocity .22s such as the Hornet.
Rymer considered all the test results and gave an educated guess based on his thirty-four years as a ballistics examiner. He was confident it was a bullet hole. It was closer to .22 caliber than anything else, and it likely came from a high velocity bullet. The holes left by low velocity bullets during his testing looked different, knocking out more of a plug from the back of the name tag. Kleasen’s Ruger knocked out such a plug, leading Rymer to conclude it was not used on Fischer’s name tag. That hole was much cleaner, the bullet cutting right through. But the hole left by the Hornet rifle came much closer to that in the recovered name tag.
Rymer believed the little grains of powder imbedded in the hole suggested a close shot, closer than ten feet and maybe five. Anything farther away wouldn’t have produced powder residue like that, he thought. Rymer subsequently provided prosecutors with two sample name tags shot with .22 long rifle, low velocity weapons; one from a .32 revolver; another from a .25 automatic pistol; and two fired upon six times from the Hornet rifle.
The biological samples Smith had forwarded to the FBI were tested under a new cutting edge science called neutron activation analysis, or NAA, by FBI scientist Michael Hoffman. NAA was first used in the courts in the 1960s, and was an extremely precise and sensitive test to identify the composition of small samples, such as a single human hair. It did not use up the tested sample, a disadvantage with most [p.102] other crime lab tests. Not only could it identify the substance, it could make a precise match with known samples. Its disadvantage was that it was very expensive, in part because it required a nuclear reactor. It could also be very complicated to explain just as DNA evidence often is today. NAA testimony ran the risk of confusing a jury, especially with an effective cross examination.
In NAA known and unknown samples are subjected to neutron bombardment in a nuclear reactor. This causes an atomic reaction which emits gamma rays. These gamma rays are then counted by means of gamma ray spectrometry and compared. Through this process, the unknown sample can be precisely identified and compared with known samples.
The FBI lab ran the known hair samples from the missionaries through this test together with samples removed from Kleasen’s clothing and band saw. It was expensive work, but prosecutors hoped it would remove all doubt as to whom the unknown hair samples had come from.