IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — When Michael Klunder enticed two girls to enter his pickup truck near a rural Iowa school bus stop Monday, it was at least his third kidnapping in a long criminal history in which he was ordered to receive sex offender treatment as a teenager, according to police.
Even as authorities searched Wednesday for the still missing 15-year-old, residents and some law enforcement officials questioned why the 42-year-old Klunder wasn't locked up in prison or for treatment. In 1991, Klunder kidnapped a 21-year-old woman, who escaped, and later two 3-year-old girls, who were found alive in a garbage bin.
"It's unfortunate, looking at this guy's history, that he was able to walk the streets," said Bremer County Sheriff Dan Pickett.
Authorities say Klunder committed suicide Monday, hours after he took 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard and a 12-year-old friend in Dayton, a town of about 850 that is 60 miles north of Des Moines. Police released a picture Wednesday showing Kathlynn exiting her school bus minutes before the abduction, wearing a Chicago Cubs hat.
Police say Klunder took the girls to a hog confinement building several miles away. The 12-year-old managed to escape, and police say she gave them crucial information to investigate Klunder. He was found dead of self-inflicted injuries at another rural property.
A search team recovered the girls' backpacks Tuesday several miles south of the hog building, police said Wednesday, as investigators and volunteers continued searching for Kathlynn in farm fields and barns.
"To see so much love in our community and the surrounding areas is amazing. Thank you for all of your prayers and we hope to have Kathlynn home soon," her family said in a statement.
Investigators say they are looking into whether Klunder could be linked to the slaying of two cousins, ages 8 and 10, who vanished last summer while riding bikes in Evansdale. In the 1980s, records show he lived at a residential treatment center for emotionally troubled children in Bremer County, where the cousins' bodies were found in December.
"We know he's a creep. The only thing good about him being found dead is there is no more victims," said Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals, in Mason City.
Klunder was released from the prison system in 2011, after serving less than half of a 41-year sentence he received in the two kidnapping cases in 1992. Iowa law gives inmates credit for an additional 1.2 days for every day they serve.
Department of Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta said officials declined to seek his confinement for treatment when his prison term expired because they didn't have enough evidence for a court to declare him a sexually violent predator. He said Klunder successfully completed a sex offender treatment program and did not show any "signs that there could potentially be further problems."
Once released, Klunder attended a semester at a Des Moines community college, married 33-year-old Lisa Flygstad in Florida last year, and recently bought a house with her in Stratford, records show. Klunder, 6 feet 6 inches tall and 240 pounds, had to periodically check in with authorities as a registered sex offender.
After he turned 18 in 1989, Klunder was sentenced for attempted burglary and assault. A judge ordered him to receive sex offender treatment during a prison term of up to five years. He served just over two years before being released in August 1991.
On Dec. 15, 1991, Klunder flashed his lights to get a 22-year-old woman to pull over on a highway outside Mason City and told her that her taillights weren't working. When she got out, he threw her to the ground, got on top of her and threatened that he had a knife, police say. He wrestled her into his car and turned down a gravel road, where the woman waved out the window for help to an oncoming vehicle. Klunder pushed her out of the vehicle and fled.
The next day, Klunder snatched two 3-year-olds from an apartment complex in Charles City. Klunder was angry at one of the toddlers, who was the daughter of a female acquaintance.
Klunder put the girls into a trunk and drove them to a secluded area in Northwood, about 50 miles away, and left them in a trash bin. A county worker found the girls alive hours later. A doctor later found that one girl had been choked.
"My impression is that he was of somewhat limited capacity. He didn't like how the one little girl behaved. Beyond that, I have no idea what motivated him," said Floyd County Attorney Norm Klemesrud, adding that Klunder was employed at a workshop for the disabled.
Klunder, arrested days later in Houston, pleaded guilty to third-degree kidnapping and one count of willful injury for abducting the toddlers and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. As part of the plea deal, the Iowa Attorney General's Office dropped first-degree kidnapping charges, which carry life in prison.
While the prosecutor who handled the case has retired, "we suspect (she) felt that there may have been a fighting issue as to whether there was a serious or permanent injury on the child, which was needed for a first-degree kidnapping conviction," spokesman Geoff Greenwood said.
Separately, Klunder was sentenced to 11 more years for the kidnapping and assault of the 22-year-old woman and recommended for more sex offender treatment.