By Kent Larsen
A Chance for Justice; A Certainty of Pain
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN -- The family of Elder Mark Fischer is bracing
for its 27-year-old wounds to be opened again this Fall when Austin,
Texas prosecutors once again try to put away the man thought to have
murdered their son and his missionary companion, Elder Gary Darley.
Robert Elmer Kleasen will face two counts of murder in the deaths of
Elder's Fischer and Darley, who disappeared after they were scheduled
to meet with Kleasen in October of 1974. Fischer's mother, Cathy
Fischer is planning to travel to Austin for the Trial, but she knows
that the trial can only give justice, not the sense of closure that
comes from a burial.
The two missionaries disappeared on October 28, 1974, the night they
were scheduled to have dinner with Kleasen despite the suggestion
from a local bishop that they stay away from him. After several day's
of searching for the missionaries or their remains, investigators
called off the search saying they had recovered enough evidence from
searching Kleasen's trailer home to conclude that the missionaries
had been murdered.
Subsequently, investigators discovered that Kleasen had a very
violent past, including a shooting incident in New York state and
firearms violations there. He was convicted of Elder Fischer's murder
in 1975 (he has never been tried in the murder of Elder Darley), but
an appeals court overturned the conviction two years later, ruling
that the search of Kleasen's home was illegal and that key evidence
had to be excluded.
However, New York prosecutors were able to convict Kleasen of weapons
charges and he spent 10 years in federal prison. He disappeared after
his release, evenutally appearing in England, where he was again
arrested and convicted on weapons charges.
Now, with Kleasen's release on parole scheduled for November, Austin
prosecutors have determined that new DNA technology allows them to
reopen the case. They recently indicted Kleasen and have asked that
he be extradited to Texas to stand trial for the murders of both
But the Fischer family has mixed feelings about the prosecution.
While the trial holds out the prospect of justice, it will also force
them to relive the feelings they have about Elder Fischer's murder.
Because neither Elder Fischer nor Elder Darley's bodies have ever
been recovered, the family feels they haven't had closure, "If we had
a cemetery to go to and some place to cry or to laugh or to talk or
something, that would make a big difference," said Cathy Fischer.
"We still won't have that."
Because the United Kingdom won't extradite anyone that could suffer
the death penalty, Texas prosecutors won't seek that sentence, but
Fischer's sister, Melissa Pietrzak, who was 13 at the time of the
murder, says that even a life sentence will give some sense of
justice, "I'm happy that they're finally stepping up and taking
responsibility and saying, 'Let's put him away so he can't hurt
anybody else,' " she said.
But to get there, the family must endure the trial. Cathy Fischer
says that the first conviction was difficult enough, "Some days I
would pray in the morning, asking the Lord to take me through the
day," she says. "And I would pray at night, asking for a good night's
sleep so I could go on for another day."
She expects that this trial will also be difficult. "It is troubling
for us. It's something we've come to put in the back of our minds and
now it's just brought up all over again. It does hurt." While she's
glad for the trial, she knows that it will still not give the closure
she seeks, "I'm glad that he's going to be retried, but it's not
going to have the closure with it because we have no body to bury,
and we had no body to bury. It's not going to change anything."
Retrial to renew family's suffering
Milwaukee WI Journal-Sentinel 5Sep01 P2
By Tom Held and Mike Johnson: Journal Sentinel Staff
Coverage of Robert Elmer Kleasen
More about Ken Drigg's "Evil Among Us: The Texas Mormon Missionary Murders" at Amazon.com