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Posted 10 Sep 2001   For week ended September 07, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 09Sep01

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 missionaries.

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

See also:

Coverage of Robert Elmer Kleasen

Evil Among Us
More about Ken Drigg's "Evil Among Us: The Texas Mormon Missionary Murders" at


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Evil Among Us
More about Ken Drigg's "Evil Among Us: The Texas Mormon Missionary Murders" at

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information