A lawyer revisits a 25-year-old crime in a Mormon community in Austin, Texas, to raise complex questions about mental illness and legal insanity.
One evening in October 1974, Gary Darley and Mark Fischer, who were just starting their evangelical Mormon mission, set out to “fellowship” with a cantankerous recluse named Robert E. Kleasen. No one ever saw them again. Their nametags were found on the property where Kleasen lived in a stolen trailer, each with tiny holes that appeared to be made by a bullet. Their car, stripped of its wheels, turned up at an apartment building. The tires were located in Kleasen’s shed and his story about whether or not he expected the young men that evening was inconsistent. Inside his trailer were several items of interest: a Seiko watch stained with blood, keys that opened the missing men’s car and apartment, and a typed manuscript about how to dispose of deer carcasses. Had he cut them up? That appeared to be the case, as hair samples taken from the blade of a taxidermy band-saw proved to be human. Not only that, but Kleasen had a serious psychiatric record. He told whopping lies about his CIA affiliation, and his aggressive paranoia—which inspired the purchase of numerous firearms—should have been a red flag. He had a record of assault and had once said to a friend, “No body, no case.” Nevertheless, there was sufficient evidence to bring him to trial in a case that would test the new regulations about capital punishment. Kleasen was convicted and sentenced to death, but an appellate court dismissed the search and overturned the conviction. Today Kleasen lives in England, where he has been incarcerated for other crimes.
Inconclusive and lacking narrative tension, Driggs’s tale makes surprisingly little of its dramatic potential.