Authorities Investigating Possible Connection Between Abduction Cases
By Trish Mehaffey & Erin Jordan, Reporters
DAYTON, Iowa - Law enforcement agencies are probing whether a central Iowa kidnapping may be linked to the murder of two girls abducted last July from Evansdale.
About 200 officers and volunteers searched rural areas in Webster, Boone and Hamilton counties Tuesday for a 15-year-old Dayton girl investigators believe was kidnapped Monday afternoon.
Kathlynn Shepard was still missing Tuesday evening.
The kidnapping suspect, Michael Klunder, 42, was found dead Monday night. The cause of death was suicide.
Klunder, a sex offender registered as living in Stratford, Iowa, about 90 miles west of Evansdale, has been convicted of kidnapping and assault.
Black Hawk County Deputy Sheriff Rick Abben told The Des Moines Register Tuesday that Klunder had not been questioned in the investigation of the murders of Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, cousins who were abducted in July from Evansdale and found dead in December.
“We are working with state and local investigators in Webster County to see if there is any connection,” Abben said. “However, it is too early in the Webster County investigation to draw any conclusions.”
The focus of the central Iowa case at this time is finding Kathlynn, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Bill Kietzman said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “Time is obviously not our friend in these situations,” he said. “Our plan is we are going to find her alive.”
Klunder picked up Kathlynn and a 12-year-old girl around 4 p.m. Monday as they got off the school bus, officials said. The girls were taken to a rural agricultural facility southeast of Dayton at 4:30 p.m.
The 12-year-old girl escaped and found help at a nearby house. She was taken to Trinity Regional Hospital in Fort Dodge and is O.K., officials said.
The girl told investigators what happened and described Klunder’s vehicle, a red Toyota Tundra. Investigators found Klunder dead around 8 p.m. at a rural property northeast of Dayton, officials said.
Klunder had a long history with kidnapping charges.
He was convicted of third-degree kidnapping and assault resulting in bodily injury in 1992. He abducted and assaulted Lori Lee Smith, a 21-year-old from Rudd, court records state. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Klunder abducted Smith on Highway 18, east of Mason City, and then forced her into his car, according to trial testimony. Smith said Klunder pulled up behind her and flashed his headlights. She pulled over and Klunder said her lights were not working. When she got out to check her lights, Klunder told her he had a knife and pulled her into his car.
Smith said she struggled with him in the car and was thrown out when a truck turned around to help, according trial testimony.
Klunder was also convicted in 1992 of two counts of kidnapping and one count of willful injury, according to court records. He snatched two 3-year-old girls, Brittany Koster and Tricia Schmitt, as they played outside at their babysitter’s apartment in Charles City. The girls were found unharmed several hours later in a trash bin in Northwood, about 50 miles away. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Floyd County Attorney Norm Klemesrud said Tuesday the sentences were run consecutively and he was released in 2011 according to court records. The charges involving the kidnapping of the 3-year-olds originated in Floyd County but transferred to Bremer on a change of venue. The other kidnapping was prosecuted in Cerro Gordo County.
According to Iowa Department of Corrections, Klunder started work release in 2010 and was discharged Feb. 25, 2011. He served about 19 years and remained on the sex offender registry after release.
Hamilton County Assessor’s records show Michael and Lisa Klunder purchased a house at 924 Byron St., in Stratford, Feb. 25 for $46.000.
Lynn Schlief saw a half dozen law enforcement vehicles arrive at the residence Monday night.
“We had no idea what was happening,” she said.
Schlief was visiting her son, Gary Schlief, who lives across the street from Klunder. Two women came out of the house when police arrived, but neighbors did not know who they were, Lynn Schlief said.
Kathlynn is described as 5 feet 6 inches tall and 160 pounds with blond hair, blue eyes and braces. She was last seen wearing jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt and a Minnesota Vikings baseball cap.
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