Searchers Report Finding Evidence in Central Iowa Abduction Case

By Trish Mehaffey, Reporter

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By Aaron Hepker

WEBSTER COUNTY, Iowa - Investigators and K9s found backpacks and a purse Tuesday in connection with the abduction of Kathlynn Shepard in Dayton, according to an Iowa Department of Safety news release.

Investigators also obtained an image of Shepard from the day of the abduction on Monday. The image shows Shepard exiting the school bus. Previous reports indicated she was wearing a Vikings baseball cap but in the photo it's a Cubs cap.

The location of where the items were found is about 14 miles from Dayton and about 7 miles southeast of where law enforcement said the 12-year-old girl abducted with Shepard was able to escape and get help.

The search area is primarily rural and uninhabited terrain, investigators continue to get information from locals and frequent visitors. In particular, investigators are asking any hunters that may have placed hunting cameras in the area, to check their recorders and report any findings to law enforcement.

Law enforcement agencies are probing whether another Iowa kidnapping may be linked to the murder of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, who were abducted last July from Evansdale. Their bodies were found in December.

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, about 90 miles west of Evansdale, has been convicted of kidnapping and assault.

Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock said Wednesday they are working on "connecting the dots" right now and about 10 investigators, including FBI, DCI and local authorities, are working on that theory. However, they have "no hard facts" to make that connection at this time. They are similarities between the two kidnappings but they want to be cautious because nobody is interested in naming the wrong person.

"This isn't the first time we have investigated a connection like this," Smock said. "At this point, we want to keep the community and families informed and everybody wants closure but they also want justice. We don't want to falsely implicate him (Klunder) if he's not involved. He's no longer alive but he has family and if we get the wrong suspect, the real one will go free."

Klunder picked up Kathlynn and a 12-year-old girl around 4 p.m. Monday after 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.

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 convictions.

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 several hours later in a dumpster near Northwood, about 50 miles away.

One of the girls had signs of strangulation marks on her neck and a cut on her hand but the other child was unharmed, Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General's Office, said Tuesday. Klunder forced the girls into a trunk and placed it in a car, driving them to an area outside Northwood. A county employee then found the girls in the dumpster.

Klunder was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Floyd County Attorney Norm Klemesrud said Tuesday the sentences from both cases were run consecutively and Klunder 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.

Authorities said Wednesday additional volunteers are not needed at this time, however, they may be needed in the near future. If anyone would like to help search for Kathlynn, please call Webster County Emergency Management at 515-571-6483. Please leave a message for search coordinators indicating name and contact number, as well as any resources able to provide.

Law enforcement will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Dayton Community Center. A statement will be given by Kathlynn's family, as well as an opportunity to ask questions.
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