IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Investigators have discovered the blood of a missing 15-year-old Iowa girl on the truck of a registered sex offender suspected of kidnapping her Monday, diminishing the chances of finding her alive, a lead investigator said Thursday.
DNA testing confirmed that the blood found on the tailgate of the truck and in a hog confinement facility where 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard was taken after she was abducted belonged to the girl, said Bill Kietzman, special agent in charge of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Kietzman said the amount of blood found was enough to show that she suffered some injuries, and with three days having passed since she disappeared, those developments do not work "in our favor."
"We are not giving up hope that we can find Kathlynn. Our intent is to find her and bring her home to her family. Clearly this evidence diminishes our hopes that we're going to find her in a safe manner," he said at a news conference.
Kathlynn and her 12-year-old friend were kidnapped while walking home from school in Dayton, a rural area about 60 miles north of Des Moines. The two had just stepped off their school bus when the suspect, Michael Klunder, lured them into his truck by offering to pay them for mowing lawns and to give them a ride home so they could ask their parents, Kietzman said.
Instead, he took them to a hog confinement building where he worked and tied the girls' hands with zip ties at an office inside the building. During the kidnapping, Klunder displayed what appeared to be a gun but was actually a "lethal weapon" used to euthanize livestock, Kietzman said.
The investigator said Klunder took Kathlynn to a different part of the building, and the 12-year-old girl was able to free her hands and escape. The younger girl grabbed the weapon that Klunder had left behind and ran through the woods, eventually finding a farmer and calling 911. Police then started looking for Kathlynn, a high school freshman.
Klunder, 42, was found dead hours later at another rural property, where his truck was also found. Authorities said he committed suicide; an autopsy completed Wednesday determined the cause of death was hanging.
Klunder was released from the state prison system in 2011 after serving 20 years for two kidnapping convictions in Iowa dating back to 1991.
Police said he persuaded a 21-year-old woman to pull over on the side of a highway near Mason City by flashing his lights and telling her one of her taillights was broken. When she got out, he used force to get her inside his vehicle, drove down a rural road and tried to assault her.
The next day, authorities said, he snatched two 3-year-old girls from a day care at an apartment complex in Charles City, put them in a trunk, and dumped them in a garbage bin 50 miles away, where they were found alive hours later. Klunder was arrested after fleeing to Texas.
Now, police are looking into whether Klunder had any connection to the slayings of two cousins who disappeared while riding their bikes last July in Evansdale, about 90 miles from Dayton. The bodies of the girls, 10-year-old Lyric Cook and 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins, were found in a wooded area in December.
"I really hope that it's him. My fear all along was that this person was out there and could harm another child. Now we have another missing little girl, and I really do hope that it's him," said the cousins' aunt, Tammy Brousseau.
Klunder got married last year to Lisa Flygstad, 33, and the two recently purchased a house in Stratford, near Dayton. Kietzman said Klunder's wife has been cooperating with investigators and had no involvement in the kidnapping.
The Iowa Department of Corrections said Klunder completed sex offender treatment, and authorities declined to seek his continued confinement when his term expired because they did not have enough evidence to consider him a sexually violent predator. His 41-year prison term was cut short under Iowa law, which gives inmates an additional 1.2 days credit for every day served.
"It seems that he chooses females, but the age range doesn't seem to matter. The little toddlers were only 3. The other woman was 21. These girls were 15 and 12," Brousseau said. "Our girls were 8 and 10."
But the kidnapping allegations and suicide have stunned Klunder's family, said Ron Ohotto Sr. of Mason City, whose son is married to Klunder's sister. Ohotto said he met Klunder last year at a child's birthday party and "he seemed like a pretty nice guy to me." He said relatives thought Klunder was turning his life around after prison.
Kietzman said police were still trying to track Klunder's movements after the kidnapping, and asked anyone who may have seen his pickup truck to come forward. He said the area being searched has expanded to 10 miles west and northwest of where Klunder's body was found because new information showed he may have been there. He asked farmers in the area to search their own sheds, barns and other buildings for Kathlynn.
Thursday's search involved 140 law enforcement officials and an additional 100 volunteers and more people would be needed Friday, Kietzman said, adding that investigators remained in close contact with Kathlynn's family.
"They are still hopeful. They are still in prayer and hope that things work out the best," he said. "But they understand that these are very important facts that we've given them."