Relatives and friends of a family murdered in a Castor-area farm house in December 2013 have been left reeling after RCMP revealed that one of the two men charged in the deaths is the son of two of the victims and brother to the third.
Jason Klaus, 38, was charged on Friday, Aug. 15, with three counts of first degree murder and one count of arson in the Dec. 8 deaths of his parents, Gordon, 61, Sandra, 62 and his sister Monica, 40.
Also facing the same charges is Klaus’ “friend and associate,” Joshua Frank, 29. In addition to the four charges, Frank also faces a charge of injuring or endangering an animal for shooting and killing the family’s dog, Keela, which was found outside the burning building.
RCMP Insp. Tony Hamori held a press conference in Calgary on Sat., Aug. 16 to announce the charges, and though he didn’t disclose much, the details he did reveal indicated the family was targeted by the two accused, and that the murders and fire were planned in advance.
The nine-month investigation was kept going, in part, due to the plethora of tips that came in from the surrounding community, Hamori indicated as he took a moment to thank the public for their support.
Though the police have remained silent since a February appeal for people to come forward with information, Hamori revealed that the surviving member of the Klaus family and Frank both ended up on the investigators’ radar fairly early into the investigation.
“The investigative process led us to them,” Hamori said. “Both of them surfaced quite early in the investigation. Jason Klaus was deemed to be a suspect quite early in the investigation. Joshua Frank became a suspect a little bit later on in the timeline.”
Hamori said there was no reason for police to believe that organized crime was involved in the arson and murders, and noted that Frank had no past criminal record. He was unable to say if Klaus had a previous record as he did not have the information available.
“We are confident we have the two people who are responsible for this crime, and we’re not looking for any other suspects,” Hamori said. As for Klaus and Frank, Hamori said that, “All I’m prepared to say at this time is that they’re friends and associates, and that they’ve known each other for a while.”
On July 26-27, a dive team from B.C. came in at the RCMP’s request and searched the Red Deer River near Big Knife Provincial Park in search of evidence. The dive team scanned the area for two days before successfully recovering a “key” piece of evidence, though Hamori could not reveal what police divers found on the river bottom.
“I would say it’s very significant,” Hamori conceded. “It was a key piece of evidence in the crime.”
The news has been especially difficult for the grandparents of Klaus, who lost their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in the fire, according to a friend close to the family. Lowell and Janette Berry, from Halkirk, declined to make a comment at this time, as did family of Joshua Frank.
Klaus was arrested at the Stettler residence of his deceased sister, Monica, in the afternoon, police said. She lived in one of Stettler’s trailer parks. Frank was arrested at his brother’s Castor residence, Hamori said, later that day.
Though police have previously stated it was believed Sandra’s body had been lost in the fire and that she was, too, a victim of homicide, Hamori’s words eliminated hope that she would be found alive.
“(Sandra’s) remains were never found,” Hamori confirmed. “It’s our belief that her remains were consumed in the fire. The fire was quite intense at the time it happened.”
The farmhouse where the fire was set had a quantity of coal in the basement, as the home was heated by a coal furnace. The fire burned extremely hot, hot enough to cremate a body.
It also made it difficult for fire crews and police to access the ruined building after the fire was extinguished, because it remained hot and unstable for several days. The water used to put out the fire later led to a thick layer of ice being present on much of the crime scene.
Both Klaus and Frank are scheduled to appear in the provincial court in Red Deer on Monday, Aug. 18.
“In that fire, three victims lost their lives,” Hamori said. “On behalf of the RCMP, myself and the investigative team, we express our condolences to the extended family and friends of the victims in this fire.”