Robert E. Kleasen, a Buffalo native whose release on state parole here in 1988 caused an uproar after he had spent time on death row in Texas for the dismemberment of a Mormon missionary, has surfaced in England as a licensed firearms and explosives dealer.
And in a country where guns are highly restricted and private ownership is relatively rare, English officials are starting to become nervous about Kleasen's background.
They are learning about a past that includes documented psychiatric problems here and elsewhere, his murder conviction in Texas overturned on a technicality, his conviction for shooting a man in Wayne County and his five-year federal prison term on weapons charges after a $300,000 cache of weapons in his home yielded four machine guns and two sawed-off shotguns, all illegal.
"There is some concern over his past history as he has given a number of narratives regarding his past history in the USA," police in Humberside, England, wrote in an inquiry sent by Interpol, the international police agency.
Kleasen, 65, left Buffalo in 1990 after finishing a controversial parole that began two years before when state parole officials first tried to send him to Wayne County and then Rochester but gave up after protests in both communities.
The state then sent Kleasen to his hometown of Buffalo to serve his parole, but by that time police and community leaders had learned of his pending arrival, and he was met by round-the-clock guards who monitored his every move.
If police expected a hardened ex-con from Parole Board descriptions that said he suffered from "pent-up hostility and a great potential for extreme violence," they had to be surprised by Kleasen's appearance when he arrived. He weighed nearly 300 pounds, had a bad heart and walked with a cane.
But he also arrived with enough past criminal baggage that county officials filed an immediate suit against the state Parole Board, trying to force his removal.
That lawsuit failed, as did Kleasen's suit against County Executive Gorski and then-Sheriff Thomas Higgins. He sued them for $2.5 million in U.S. District Court, claiming the two had fanned "white-hot public opinion" about him to force his ouster.
After Judge John T. Curtin threw out the suit in 1990, Kleasen continued living in the Lafayette Hotel downtown until his parole was completed.
"We knew he went to England," his attorney in the civil case, David G. Jay, said after being told of his new address, "but how he got there, I don't know."
Officials in England apparently did little to check out Kleasen's background before they issued him firearms and explosive certificates that allow him to act as a dealer.
Part of what he told English authorities was that
he has a doctorate in education. Authorities here had documented Kleasen's sociology degree from the University at Buffalo but no higher education.
According to the Interpol request, sent to the Wayne County court clerk on Aug. 16, Kleasen was issued his dealer's certificate by the Humberside police and lives in the community of Barton upon Humber.
"Much of what has been related by Kleasen about his past has been disbelieved," the Humberside police said in the request to Interpol, a copy of which was obtained by The Buffalo News. "Because of the nature of the (inquiry) and the important need to establish his suitability to hold the above position as a dealer in firearms and explosives, details of his history in the U.S.A. is requested as a matter of urgency."
Had they checked into Kleasen, British authorities would have found he was first arrested in Buffalo at the age of 18, when he stepped on a nail and was taken to what was then Meyer Memorial Hospital for treatment. Irritated at how long he had to wait, he started yelling, left the hospital and returned with a shotgun, firing a shot over the head of a nurse. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital.
In June 1970, he found a man hunting on his mother's property in Wayne County and shot him in the foot. A search of his home revealed 126 rifles and shotguns, 32 handguns and the illegal machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. He was a federally licensed firearm dealer at the time. He was charged with assault by the state and with firearms violations by the federal government but fled the state after his conviction.
Three years later, he was convicted in Texas of killing a Mormon missionary and dismembering his body with a band saw, but the conviction was overturned because of a defective search warrant. Because authorities lacked evidence without the warrant, he was never retried, nor was he tried for the murder of another missionary who disappeared at the same time.
Kleasen was returned from Texas to New York, where he served his federal firearms sentence and then the state term for the earlier shooting, and was released on parole in Buffalo.