Investigators hope to decide next week whether Klunder involved in Evansdale murders

Say they'd want solid evidence before advancing investigation

Michael Klunder
Michael Klunder

The Evansdale Police Department hopes to decide by next week whether Michael Klunder, a registered sex offender who abducted two central Iowa girls last week before hanging himself, was involved in the murders of two cousins last year.

A dozen investigators are retracing Klunder’s steps since July, when Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, were abducted while they were riding bikes near Evansdale, said Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock.

The girls’ bodies were found in a Bremer County wildlife preserve in December. No one has been charged.

“If Klunder is the responsible party, we want to have evidence to back it up,” Smock said.

Klunder, 42, of Stratford, abducted two Dayton, Iowa, girls May 20 as they got off the school bus. One girl escaped, but 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard is still missing. Klunder hanged himself the evening of May 20. Investigators found Kathlynn’s blood on his body, truck and at the hog confinement facility where he took the girls.

Klunder’s name had not previously come up in connection with the murders of Elizabeth and Lyric, officials said. But two similar abductions in rural Iowa in less than a year caused investigators to consider Klunder, who spent much of the last 25 years in prison for kidnapping and assault convictions.

Investigators are now looking through old evidence, reports and information about Klunder, including his cell phone records, Smock said. He declined to provide more details about what information is being reviewed.

“We don’t want to reveal information that jeopardizes our investigation,” he said.

Investigators have kept secret whether DNA evidence was found with Elizabeth's and Lyric's bodies.

If the killer's DNA was found, it would be standard procedure to compare the profile with a national database of DNA of known offenders. As a registered sex offender and felon, Klunder’s DNA is included in that database.

“This is speculation, but if the DNA from our case matched up with this guy, we would go forward no matter what was happening,” Smock said.

Even if Elizabeth’s and Lyric’s killer left DNA, it might have degraded by the time the bodies were found, said Norah Rudin, a forensic DNA consultant who lives in Mountain View, California.

“It depends on whether the DNA is inside of the body, outside the body or on clothing,” Rudin said. “With the passage of time and with the elements and bacterial growth, it reduces the chance (of finding DNA). I don’t know when it goes to zero.”Klunder was convicted of kidnapping two 3-year-old girls in 1991 and assaulting a 21-year-old woman the same year. He served 19 years in prison for those non-fatal crimes and was released in 2011.