5:33 PM
Joy McCullough-Bakes, attorney Richard Anderson, April Chandler

It took a jury in Stone County less than an hour to award $7 million to the daughters of a man who has been missing from Barry County for 14 years.

Gary McCullough was married to Sandra McCullough-Klemp, who was having an affair with her current husband Kristopher Klemp, when he went missing from their home near Cassville in 1999. 

Over 20 witnesses were called during the four day trial in Galena 

McCullough-Klemps duaghter, Liehnia [Lena] Chapin, disappeared from her apartment near Steelville in 2006, however, jurors weren't allowed to hear about her disappearance or hear a taped conversation between McCullough's brother, Gary, and Chapin that was made before she disappeared.

They also weren't allowed to hear from Lena's fiance, Jason Bryant, whom she was living with when she vanished.  He says when he returned home from work in February of 2006 Sandy and one of her daughter's were moving Lena's things from their home.  According to Bryant, Sandy, who did not have a key to the apartment, told him Lena moved to Florida with a guy she met. 

Sandy and Kris Klemp have since adopted Lena's son, Colter Creek, who lived with them for two years before his mother was reported missing.

Lena and her son Colter about a year before she vanished (courtesy Brandi Petersen)

On the tape Lena admitted she put crushed up pills in Gary's food and helped her mother clean the crime scene inside the farmhouse on Farm Road 2142.

In the taped statement, Lena says her mother "spazzed out" on May 11th and shot Gary McCullough, who was 6 foot 3 and weighed 240  pounds, as he sat on a couch eating scrambled eggs.  

Chapin said when she and her sister's got home from school that day, Sandy sent everyone but her out to a field to search for babies a pet had delivered and, had her help clean the crime scene.  

Lena said Gary was supposed to be shot while he was in the woods on May 10th, but that didn't happen.  She said she knew for a fact that McCullough was dead because her mom showed her McCullough's body after she demanded to see the remains. 

Following up on information received from co-workers and family members of McCullough's, Barry County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Martin asked Sandy if there was anything she wanted to tell him when he responded to a cattle call at the farm.  "I guess I better report Gary as missing," Sandy told Martin.  She said that Gary had gone to Diamond to buy a white fighting rooster from a Mexican on May 11th and never returned.

Chapin told Albert McCullough that his brother was cut up in a bedroom of the farmhouse and his remains were moved to a burn pile on the property.  After McCullough's body was burned, the remains and several inches of dirt surrounding the burn pile were put in buckets and scattered from the window of a moving vehicle on the back roads of Barry County, Lena alleged on the taped statement. 

Defense attorneys Dale Wiley and John Lewright argued that Chapin was mad at her mother because she would not give her money to purchase a vehicle and that the the lure of money from a reward fund led to her reaching out to Albert McCullough.  They also maintain that Lena was back tracking on what she told Albert McCullough by the time the tape ended.

Gary McCullough

“They want this case tried on rumor and innuendo,”  Wiley argued to Judge Carr Woods.  "There is no legal proof that Lena is dead." 
They argued that the secretly taped statement should not be allowed into evidence because it was hearsay and Lena would not be available for cross examination.  

Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly with part of the McCullough case file

Lewright asked Sheriff Mick Epperly why his office did not conduct a follow up interview with Lena to verify the claims made in the taped statement.  "You're not claiming she wasn't available right after the statement, are you?," Lewright asked the sheriff.  "My witness isn't here anymore," replied Epperly.

Attorney Rick Anderson shot back..."Sandy nearly had a nervous breakdown over this," according to Lena.  "She [Lena] never denies anything that is on the tape."

Judge Woods agreed with defense attorneys and denied the entry of the taped statement.

Woods also would not allow the jury to hear a statement from Steven Turner because he was not interviewed after a 2012 court order to do so.  Turner, who is gravely ill, says Kristopher Klemp offered him $18,000 to purchase a new truck if he would kill McCullough.  Again, since Turner was not able to be cross examined, his statement was not allowed to be shared with jurors.

Klemp's former wife, Jennifer, told the jury that when she went to see Klemp shortly before McCullough went missing he was on the phone with someone and said "you won't be going to prison - I will."  She says he told her he couldn't deal with her "because he was dealing with his girlfriend who was pregnant with is kid and had to deal with killing a man."

She says when she picked him up about 1:45 a.m. on May 12, 1999, he was scared when came out of the woods near the McCullough property and, he had a gun with him.  She told jurors that Sandy called her to let her know that Kris had given her a ring and he was "now hers."  She testified that Sandy told her she had always wanted a son and "she would kill me and take mine."

Kristopher Klemp

In June of 1999, then prosecutor Stephen Hemphill charged Klemp with conspiracy to commit murder.  Those charges were dropped prior to preliminary hearing because Hemphill anticipated Klemp's lawyers would not waive the hearing.

Instead of tipping his hand and showing defense attorneys the evidence that was compiled against their client, Hemphill dismissed the charges so investigators could continue to compile evidence in the case.

Jeff and Nikki Allen told jurors that after Gary caught his wife in a truck with Kristoper Klemphe had had enough and began moving things out of the farmhouse and into their residence.  Nikki Allen says Sandy slapped her during a confrontation at the Allen property.  Police were called and Sandy eventually pleaded guilty to an assault charge connected to that confrontation.

A former co-worker of Sandy McCullough's testified that she lent her a steam cleaner around the time that Gary went missing and she never returned it.  After authorities got involved, Sandy replaced the steam cleaner with a new one because she couldn't find the other one, according to the woman.

Brandi Petersen

Brandi Petersen told jurors that after her sister Lena, who had allegedly been involved in a sexual relationship with her stepfather, confided in her what had happened to Gary she told her mother and Kristopher Klemp that she was going to authorities with the information. Lena was "enraged" that Brandi had broken her confidence and assaulted her, according to testimony.

Brandi, who was 16 years-old at the time, was injured in the assault and needed stitches to close a wound on her finger. Petersen told jurors that on the way to the hospital Kristopher Klemp stopped the vehicle and began chasing her with a gun.  After she begged for her life, Sandy McCullough-Klemp told her husband "don't kill my baby."  She never made it to the hospital to be treated for her wound.  She also told jurors that her mother kicked her out of the house when she was a teen after she told her that Kristopher Klemp "was making passes at her."

Petersen and another sister, Robin Shoemake, testified that they witnessed Kristopher Klemp drive from an area adjacent to the burn pile the day McCullough went missing.  Petersen says she saw a piece of a red flannel shirt near the smoldering burn pile shortly after Klemp left the "corral."

Shoemake says she saw her mother and her lover dragging something "long and heavy" out of the farmhouse in the early morning hours of May 12, 1999....and it wasn't furniture.

McCullough farmhouse before it was leveled

Both girls testified that they saw the truck that McCullough was supposed to have taken to go to Diamond to buy the fighting rooster parked along a tree line on a hill on the property.  When they told Sandy about the discovery she told them, "What are you talking about.  I don't even want to hear it."  The girls said the truck was gone the next day. 

The sisters told jurors that their mother gathered all five girls around the family table and told them if anyone asked about Gary to tell them he went to buy a rooster and they had spaghetti for dinner the night he went missing.  

They both said Kristopher Klemp moved into the house and marital bed the night Gary disappeared.

"She [Brandi] can't even get their timelines right, your Honor," Wiley said.  "She can't get any of the dates right or when she last saw her mother.  Then she suddenly realizes she saw her again when she needed money for a trailer.  That’s what these girls do.” 

Deputy Martin said the truck was discovered on May 15th on a dead end road in Pulaskifield and it was towed to the Barry County Sheriff's office. There were beer cans in the back of the truck and when Sandy saw them, she said, according to Martin, "Those weren't in there yesterday....I mean last week."

Original missing poster

When Martin asked Sandy for permission to search the house and property for clues to her husband's disappearance on May 14th she told him that wasn't necessary because she had already done that and had contacted family members of her husband.  Several of McCullough's brothers and their mother said that was simply not true.

Sandy did eventually allow investigators on the property on May 15th.

When Wiley cross examined Martin about a positive hit of luminol on the burn pile and one speck of blood found in the bedroom he said he wasn't sure if it was a false positive and that only animal bones were found in and around the burn pile.

He told jurors that Sandy agreed to take a polygraph "if Gary's remains were ever found."

Several of Gary McCullough's relatives testified and told jurors that while Albert was upset with Gary for "stealing" Sandy from him, it wasn't a motive for murder.  "He [Albert] was probably glad to be rid of her," one of them said.

Wiley told jurors that investigators and family members had tunnel vision while they investigated McCullough's disappearance.  He questioned why none of them had gone to Diamond or anywhere else to investigate whether McCullough could have gone missing while he went to buy the rooster, as Sandy alleged.

Sandy McCullough-Klemp and Kristopher Klemp didn't show up at all for the four day trial, which in actuality was pretty brilliant trial strategy.  If they had shown up, they would have had to take the stand if they were called in the civil trial.

Undeterred by that hurdle, Anderson entered their 2007 depositions into evidence.  They each invoked their 5th amendment right to self incrimination when they were asked if they had anything to do with Gary's disappearance or presumed murder.  

Sandra [Sandy] McCullough-Klemp

Some of the questions in Sandy's deposition:

Did you kill Gary---Is it true that you shot Gary while he ate eggs---did you cash his Income tax check after he disappeared---when did Kristopher Klemp move in---were you with or in Kristopher Klemp's company on May 11, 1999--were you aware of Kristopher Klemp being picked up near your marital home on May 11--are you aware of any reason for there being blood in your home--did you speak with any of Gary’s family about him being missing----did you conspire with your current husband to kill Gary---did you or Kristopher Klemp offer Steven Turner money to kill Gary----did you have a cell phone in May of 1999---who was your cell phone provider.

April McCullough says Sandy had been "mean" to her when she went to live with her and her dad and he eventually gave her permission to go live with her grandparents. She said she has not heard from her father since the day he went missing.

"I looked forward to the summer," Joy McCullough-Backes told jurors.  That was because she got to spend six uninterupted weeks with her dad.  "I learned how to be a hard worker and an honest person from my dad.  

Missed summer have turned into missed life events that were mean to be shared with her dad, McCullough-Backes told jurors.  "My dad wasn't there to walk me down the aisle."  He also wasn't there for the birth of his granddaughter, London.

In Anderson's closing he told jurors "We've done what we could to bring the evidence to you."

Wiley told them them. "Theirs is a story with no corrorboration.  

"The problem with this case is not what's said...it's what's not seen." said Wiley  "There’s more than one act of being a magician here.  One is scrubbing a crime scene so clean that there wasn’t any evidence left two days later --- and making a body completely disappear.

On rebuttal Anderson said, "Gary McCullough lived in that house for 3 years and not one hair and none of his DNA was found in there….you’ve got to be kidding me.

Lewright told jurors he believed the "white elephant" was that his client had taken the 5th several years after McCullough's disappearance.

53 minutes after they began deliberating the baliff announced the jury had a verdict.  The jury foreman said Sandy McCullough-Klemp should pay $4 million dollars to Gary McCullough's daughter's for his wrongful death.  The same punishment was assessed against Kristopher Klemp.

"Obviously for 14 years we’ve tried to get some kind of answer, so we’re very, very happy to have some semblance of closure," McCullough-Backes said after the verdict.  "I am so excited for this….it’s a new beginning.  Maybe now we can convince the prosecutor to try the defendants in this trial for my dad’s murder."
She said it was something more than money they were after--they wanted to hear a jury say they believed Sandy McCullough-Klemp and Kristopher Klemp are responsible for her father's disappearance.  "This was a great ruling for us, but it’s not going to bring my dad back.  Money isn’t everything.

The jury awarded $1 million in actual damages against the plaintiffs to the McCullough daughters for the death of their father.  The punitive damage award of $3 million against each defendant was to deter them and others from committing future crimes.


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CountryGirl said...

Why aren't these people in prison?

Anonymous said...

That was my exact same thought CountryGirl, It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened to their father. Even though most of it was hear-say, it seems pretty cut and dry to me. I guess the old theory does stand true, there was never a murder without a body.

Cathy L. said...

So the daughter who is missing - her son was adopted by the crazy mother and her now husband?!!! Is that correct?

Kathee Baird said...

@ Cathy L....that is correct.


Cathy L. said...

Wow, that is crazy! Thank you for your blog, Kathee!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe they havent tried sandy and her husband. I Wish there could be a huge search party for Lena and go through property like a fine tooth comb around the area she was last seen. Sounds like Drew Peterson "she ran off to Florida with another man." Sorry but I doubt Lena would just abandon her son, fiancee and belongings. I bet money Lena suffered the same fate as Gary and by the hands of her own mother and her lover! I feel bad for Lenas son living with those people. Maybe if they conduct searches they can find something and hopefully Sandy got sloppy and in a hurry and left some evidence this time.

Anonymous said...

Who did she marry?

Anonymous said...

Did the police process the truck after they found it in Pulaskafield for DNA, fingerprints.... what about the beer cans? Any traffic cameras, gas station cameras between the two places? Where is the vehicle now? At the apartment where Lena was last seen, who was the person who burned it down by allegedly smoking in bed? Any traces of luminol there? Any bone fragments there? What about the roads near the scene of Gary's death. Were they all walked or scanned for bones? What about the well that was filled in, surely it could be located with a ground scanner and excavated.