You may have seen the ridiculous film by the same name although it is entirely fictional and bears no similarity to the true chainsaw massacre. Leather face however was based on a real-life psychotic named Ed Gein. He wore a human scalp and face but not because he had a disease. He was just nuts. Gein was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill, the transgender wannabe, in Thomas Harris’ novel The Silence of the Lambs (which, by the way, is a much better read than it is a film). This blog reveals the factual and somewhat banal account (compared to the film) of the real Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Travis County – Texas – October 28, 1974. Two young Mormons, 19-year-old Mark Fischer and 20-year-old Gary Darley, were on a typical Mormon mission. They were out to save souls and spread the good word about the Lord Jesus Christ. There are people in this world who will gladly die for their religion. These two young men didn’t know they were about to make good on their promise.
Once they landed in Travis County, Fischer and Darley didn’t take long to befriend an unusual man named Robert Elmer Kleasen. Born in 1934, Kleasen was a loner with no friends. When he met the Mormons he was happy to allow them to “witness” for him (no, not for a crime, but for religious reasons). The three men discussed Mormon beliefs that included (1) Jesus (2) the Gospel and (3) Scriptures. It was all very touching and very civilized. The Mormon missionaries had no idea that preaching about the afterlife would prove to be quite an irony.
During the missionary meetings, Kleasen served the young men venison for dinner (or something like it). The young men were appreciative and believed Kleasen was truly inspired by their beliefs. Alas, it was not to be. Suspicious in Travis County grew about Kleasen’s intentions because of his strange behavior and because of a conviction for illegal poaching. The local church asked the missionaries to stop witnessing for Kleasen. The young men agreed. However Fischer and Darley already had a meeting scheduled with Kleasen. They told the church elders they would inform Kleasen at that time that they couldn’t minister for him any more. That was the last time Fischer and Darley were ever seen alive.
There was talk about the Mormon boys and what had happened to him. However time went by and nothing came of it. Police eventually arrested Kleasen on a shooting case from New York and obtained a search warrant for his property. I cringe thinking of what they found inside that hovel, which was once used as a taxidermy shop. Isn’t that perfect? The two young men were dead, but not via chainsaw. It was believed they had both been shot with a pistol. And their bodies weren’t cut to pieces with a chainsaw but instead a bandsaw, which is rather like a chainsaw but it is built into the floor. Ick. Had the tool been adequately identified the film might have been named The Texas Bandsaw Murder. Weird.
Police discovered Fischer’s bloody watch and bullet-punctured name tag in Kleasen’s trailer but bodies never were found. Investigators also discovered blood and tissue on the bandsaw. Prosecutors at Kleasen’s 1975 murder trial alleged he dismembered the victims and buried the remains. He must have done a very good job since they never found hide nor hair (if you’ll excuse the expression) of either man again.
Weirder still, in 1976 Kleasen was convicted of the murders and put on Texas death row, but incredibly the verdict was reversed two years later when the search warrant used to access Kleasen’s property was found to be deficient. They probably used the word chainsaw, like the movie.
Kleasen served time in New York for the previous shooting. While in prison he began a pen-pal relationship with Marie Longley from Barton-Upon-Humber, Humber, England. He told Longley that he was a warden at the prison and that was why his letters were postmarked from a New York prison. She actually fell for it. It just shows you that people were conning victims across the world long before there was an internet. When he got out of jail in 1990, he moved to England and married the very patient Longley. It was probably the worst mistake she ever made. Eventually Kleasen would control Longley’s every move and make her into a house slave. She was terrified of her husband.
When he was first released Kleasen after serving 13 years he went to the Buffalo, New York mission. So Fischer and Darley had made their mark on Kleasen after all. Police had to be stationed outside the mission for Kleasen’s protection. Can you believe that? He was only permitted to congregate with the other people living in the mission during church services prior to eating. The local Buffalo TV channels updated the story every night on their news broadcasts. There couldn’t have been much to update; maybe the New York mission menu.
When local authorities became aware of the massive gun collection and legal problems Kleasen developed in England, they prosecuted. He was given a three-year prison term in 2000 for possession of illegal firearms and munitions and began to serve time in an English prison. His wife found out about his criminal background and at one point, Kleasen threatened his wife if she ever tried to leave he would kill her. Being to scared to leave she stayed only to come up with an escape plan with a close friend. However she would never need to use it.
In 2001 Kleasen faced extradition to the US after DNA analysis and other forensic tools were used to obtain new evidence. Kleasen fought extradition, due to England’s objection to the death penalty. Texas promised not to seek the death penalty, but England was unsure that they would honor their assurances. Before he could be extradited, Kleasen preempted Texas’ attempts to (probably) kill him. He died on April 21, 2003 of heart failure. He was 68 years old.
Ken Driggs wrote a book about the murders, Evil Among Us: The Texas Mormon Missionary Murders. The Hollywood film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre bears no resemblance to the actual story whatsoever. But after a ban was lifted in several states, it did pack theatres.
It’s a freezing cold winter’s day in Toronto, Canada. I think I’ll go saw down a tree with a chainsaw and throw another log on the fire. Cheers!