“But for the shooting of the family dog, Keela, the deaths of Gordon, Sandra and Monica Klaus may never have been investigated as a homicide.”
Those are the first words Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Eric Macklin wrote in his 38-page judgment that made Jason Klaus and Joshua Frank triple murderers.
When firefighters raced to the Klaus family farm around 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 8, 2013 they could not miss the dog’s corpse lying about 10 metres from the house. A two-thirds-full jerrycan full of aviation gas was also sitting nearby.
Frank, who shot the dog after it came at him outside the Klaus home, later told an undercover police officer he regretted not throwing the dog’s body on the fire.
“He clearly recognized that the dog, being found with a bullet wound to the head, led to further investigations into the incident,” says Macklin.
Why the jerrycan was left out is not clear. Macklin suggested that perhaps “out of fear and panic caused by having fired shots outside which he feared could be heard by neighbours” Frank rushed off without returning the jerrycan to a nearby Quonset.
Suspicious aroused, RCMP homicide detectives began investigating immediately.
Klaus first spoke to police the day of the fire and over the ensuing months he would have dozens of contacts with investigators, some of them bizarre.
He would bring scraps of what he thought were bone or a bullet fragment to investigators and criticize them for not doing a better job of searching the ruins of the family farmhouse.
Incredibly, Klaus would drop detailed hints about what happened or where to find evidence, claiming the information came from his sister’s spirit, or in one case, a mysterious figure who looked like Aunt Jemima.
Klaus and Frank would admit their role in the killings to undercover police officers involved in a Mr. Big operation about seven months after the murders.
Once in custody, the two spun a number of stories to explain their innocence and the other’s guilt. Each took the stand in their own defence at trial and told another story about what happened that night.
One Crown prosecutor called Frank’s testimony Version 7. Both men said they were lying when they told police of their involvement in the murders during questioning after their August 2014 arrests and during the Mr. Big operation.
How Klaus went from disgruntled farm boy to a man who plotted the murder of his parents and sister, and found a cold-blooded accomplice to pull the trigger, will, perhaps, never be explained.
Klaus insisted in court that he and his family were close, that he dearly loved his mother and sister and that his father was his best friend.
But a much darker picture emerged in the trial. Klaus, who worked on the family farm, admitted to confrontations with his father over the years and was resentful he had to ask for money and permission to do things such as snowmobiling.
A drug user and problem gambler, Klaus had forged cheques on his father’s farm account worth between $14,675 and $18,875. Knowing that the thefts would soon be discovered, Klaus feared getting written out of the will and kicked off the farm.
“It is reasonable to infer from the evidence that he thought the deaths of his family members wold resolve some of his immediate problems and set a different course for his future,” wrote Macklin.
Frank, who was a destitute drug user living for free in Castor’s Cosmopolitan Hotel, did the murders because he needed the money.
“It is reasonable to infer that he saw Mr. Klaus as someone with money who was willing to part with some of it if he would do him the favour of eliminating his family,” said the judge.
In the days and weeks after the fire, other family members had no idea Klaus — who was to all observers a devastated and grieving son — was hiding a terrible secret.
The outpouring of support was huge. Monica’s employer gave him $10,000 no questions asked to help out. An aunt estimated she gave him around $21,000 in cash and other aid after the deaths. Many others also helped out.
In an emotional victim impact statement, a niece of Klaus’s voiced her bewilderment that a once-loved family member could kill so callously.
“I still can’t explain how I was so wrong about you,” she told Klaus, who sat expressionless in the prisoner’s dock.
The ordeal is not over yet. On Jan. 22, defence lawyers will argue why Klaus and Frank’s sentences should not be consecutive, a ruling that would mean they are not be eligible for parole for 75 years, instead of 25.
Then, there could be appeals.