30-year-journey: Mom wants lost son's remains from Utah
Mary Hagadus is eager for her son's remains to be returned to her in Michigan by the end of the month. In September, Mary is scheduled to undergo radiation treatment for breast cancer, and she wants to have the memorial service before then.
The service will be down by the Flat River, which winds southward like a wet snake through Belding, Mich. As a boy, Mary's son Lee used to fish the Flat for smallmouth bass and rainbow trout, using nothing but string and a safety pin.
"He'd catch fish no matter what he used," Mary recalled. "It was like the fish just came to him."
It's a distant memory, like all her memories of her son. Mary hasn't seen him since 1980. That was the year Lee ran away from home for the last time. He was 17 years old.
Lee made his way to Utah, where he died in 1982, possibly killed by a man who was later convicted of sexually molesting a child. Since his death, Lee's body has been buried in Clearfield City Cemetery under a false name. More than three decades passed before Mary discovered what became of her son.
Clyde Lee Jourdan, the boy everyone called Lee, was always running away. Lee's parents divorced when he was 4, and his mother worked long hours, sometimes at two jobs. Lee and his four younger siblings didn't have much structure in their lives.
Pamela Born remembers the first time she ran away with older brother Lee. She was in fifth grade, and the two trekked 40 miles southwest along the tracks of the old Pere Marquette Railway to their father's house in Alto, Mich.
"It was fun," Pamela said. "It was adventurous."
But Lee's roaming took him much farther than Alto, remembers his sister Angie Madura, who was younger than Lee by a year.
"He went to Kentucky, Chicago, Virginia. And one time he said he went to Florida, though I don't know if he ever did," Angie said. "He had run away before and been gone for a year or two years, but usually he would contact somebody with a letter or something."
And he'd always come home to Belding.
In 1979, when Lee was 16, he called his mother from Utah. He said he was safe and living with a man who had picked him up hitchhiking. Then Lee handed the phone to a man who called himself Bob Beeler.
Beeler gave Mary a phone number for the "Utah State Police." Call that number, he said, and they would confirm he was a "good guy," that he sheltered runaways and counseled them until he could persuade them to return home.
According to Mary's sworn affidavit, submitted July 8 to Judge David Connors in Utah's 2nd District Court as part of an exhumation request, she called the number and the person who answered said that "Mr. Beeler was in fact a well-known and well-respected man who worked with runaways." Mary now suspects she may not have been talking to a bona fide police officer.
The letter • In 2003, Robert Alvin Beeler pleaded guilty to two counts of forcible sodomy stemming from allegations that he engaged in a sexual act with a 5-year-old boy, whom Beeler also threatened with a loaded gun, according to court records. On Aug. 19, 2003, a judge ordered Beeler to serve five years to life in the Utah State Prison.
Beeler had just been sentenced when his stepdaughter, Kathy Jones, found a letter filed away with other long-forgotten papers in her mother's house in Ogden that raised questions about Lee's true origins. The letter was written by her stepbrother, whom Kathy had known as Lee Beeler. It was dated April 26, 1982, less than six months before Lee died.
In the letter, which was never sent, Lee asked Michigan to send him his birth certificate so he could maintain employment in Utah. The letter indicated he was born Aug. 13, 1963, in Greenville, Mich., that his mother's name was Mary and his father's name was Clyde. All this seemed odd to Kathy, but even stranger was that the letter's writer identified himself as Clyde Lee Jourdan, not Lee Beeler.
Kathy and her mother, Jeanette, had always known that Lee wasn't Robert Beeler's biological son. Beeler had told them he'd adopted Lee after picking him up hitchhiking when Lee was just 12 years old.
"That was a lie," Kathy said. "Everything that ever fell out of his mouth was a lie. So we didn't know."
Jeanette contacted Beeler in prison and told him of the unfamiliar surname on Lee's letter. When she asked Beeler where Lee came from, Kathy said, "he basically told my mom where she could go and what she could do when she got there."
So Kathy brought the letter to the Ogden police. She told them her stepbrother might have family members in Michigan looking for him unaware he'd been in Clearfield City Cemetery since 1982, buried beneath a headstone labeled "Lee Beeler."
Ogden police tried to locate a missing-person report from Michigan for Clyde Lee Jourdan, but there wasn't one, so they declined to investigate. If Lee Jourdan wasn't missing, who could be looking for him?
The gun incident • In 1979, three months after Mary Hagadus spoke to Robert Beeler, Lee called his mother to say he was coming home from Utah. She picked him up at the bus station in Grand Rapids.
Lee didn't want to talk about the man he'd been living with.
"He just told me Robert was crazy," Mary said. "He said he was glad I let him come home. I said, 'I'll always let you come home. No matter how much we argue, you are always my son, and I will always love you.' "
A year later, Lee stole a gun from a relative and sold it. When he learned police were looking for him, he fled.
The months went by, until one day, in 1981, Mary got an emergency message at work: Lee had called and left a message with the Belding police.
Mary rushed to the police station to call Lee back, but the phone for the number she was given was disconnected. She tried calling the number she had for Robert Beeler, but was told he had moved. Mary couldn't look him up; she didn't know how to spell his name because Lee had mispronounced it.
There was no way to talk to Lee. Mary would have to wait. Surely he would call again.
The eternal peacemaker • In the late 1970s, Kathy Jones' mother moved the family in with her boyfriend, Robert Beeler. They lived in a small house at 638 E. 1000 South in Clearfield.
Living with Beeler was a nightmare, Kathy recalled.
He drank furtively and was often violent. But as horrible as Robert Beeler was, Kathy loved his adopted son, Lee.
"We had a lot of fun. We'd go fishing. He was always joking around," she said. "I loved him as a brother."
When Beeler attacked the girls, Lee tried to defend them. He was, as Kathy put it, "the eternal peacemaker."
On Oct. 7, 1982, Beeler, then 37, and Lee, 19, had been arguing back and forth all day. At some point, Beeler, seething with rage, slapped Kathy's little sister in the face, "for no reason at all, which was common," Kathy recalled.
Lee told Beeler to back off. "Leave her alone," he shouted.
Lee and Beeler stormed out of the house, still fighting. A short time later, Beeler returned and told the girls Lee was dead. He said it without emotion, Kathy recalled, as if observing that it had begun to rain.
Hours later, some neighborhood kids saw Lee's feet sticking out from under a car in the driveway. Beeler told police the car had fallen on his son. Investigators did not suspect foul play. But Kathy does.
"My theory of what happened is that Robert was beating him up," she said, "so Lee crawled under the car to get away, and Robert dropped it on him."
Beeler's story of an accidental death is just not credible, Kathy said. Lee was always working on cars, and he was a stickler for safety. Mary also doubts Beeler's account; her son had been changing car tires since he was 9.
Shortly after Lee died, according to records later obtained by police, Robert Beeler called the hospital and asked that an autopsy not be performed, but the medical examiner had already found that Lee had died of "traumatic asphyxia."
Clyde Lee Jourdan was buried in Clearfield City Cemetery under the name Lee Beeler. This phrase is engraved at the bottom of the headstone: "BELOVED SON OF ROBERT BEELER."
In the ensuing years, Beeler wielded the power of fear over family members. If they disobeyed him, Kathy recalled, he told them he would kill them like he had killed Lee.
The search • Meanwhile, Lee's family in Michigan kept searching for him.
In the 1990s, the family began to avail itself of the new search tools made possible by the Internet. They called up 15 Lee Jourdans. "Two were dead," said sister Angie, "and the rest said they had no clue what we were talking about."
While they were looking for Lee, Kathy Jones was looking for them. After the Ogden police declined to take up the case in 2003, Kathy pursued Lee's family off on and for a decade.
Kathy's mom, Jeanette, divorced Beeler in 2007 and died in Mississippi in 2011. In December 2012, the day after Christmas, Beeler died in Ogden after having been paroled from prison earlier that year.
After Beeler died, Kathy and her sister, Amanda, found an online record for Lee's father, Clyde Leroy Jourdan, in Michigan. He was already dead, but a list of relatives revealed he had a daughter named Vicky. Kathy found Vicky on Facebook and sent her a message explaining Lee's letter. Vicky, who had the same father as Lee but a different mother, put Kathy in touch with Pamela and Angie.
"She said she had information about my brother," Pamela said. "It seemed a little far-fetched."
But Kathy's description of Lee's appearance and personality were eerily familiar. "She told me all this stuff, and it was pretty spot on," Angie said. Then Kathy sent them the only photograph she had of Lee, one Robert Beeler had taken of him in his casket. That's when they knew their brother was dead.
The sisters called their mother, Mary, and told her what they had learned.
"It just totally tore me up," Mary said. "I always wanted him home, but I wanted him alive."
The investigation • Detective Carey Stricker of the Clearfield Police Department received his first phone call from Mary Hagadus on July 12, 2013. She said someone named Kathy from Ogden had called her to say her son Lee was murdered in 1982 and buried in Clearfield under the name Lee Beeler.
"She was pretty emotional, really torn up to be bringing up old memories and reliving it all," Stricker recalled. "She believed it may be legitimate, but she didn't know this Kathy and didn't know why he would be buried out here under a different name."
Stricker worried someone was playing a cruel prank on the woman, but that changed when he drove up to Ogden and met Kathy Jones.
"Within a day after I interviewed Kathy, I thought it was real," Stricker said.
For the next few weeks, Stricker spent most of his time working the case.
First, he pulled Lee Beeler's death certificate from the Utah Department of Health and saw that a woman named Shirley R. Anderson was listed as Lee's mother. Shirley, who turned out to be Beeler's first wife, was still living in Layton. Stricker drove down to meet her.
"She said she was not the biological mother," Stricker said, "that her husband found this kid hitchhiking."
During that interview, Shirley told Stricker that during the three years she lived with Robert Beeler, they were intimate only once, and that the neighborhood boys were always over at their house.
Stricker also discovered that, in 1980, Beeler had persuaded someone from the Social Security Administration in Montana to issue Lee a new Social Security number, though Stricker never found any documents suggesting a legitimate adoption had occurred.
Finally, Utah law required Beeler's next of kin be permitted to challenge a court order to exhume Lee's body, so Stricker went looking.
"He had nobody," Stricker said.
On Aug. 29, six weeks after he'd first spoken to Mary Hagadus, Stricker submitted his report to the Clearfield city attorney's office. Thus began a yearlong process to exhume Lee's remains and send them home to Belding.
Homecoming • If all goes according to schedule, Lee's family should have his remains back this week. This weekend, Angie and her husband are driving 1,600 miles from Michigan, and they've booked a room in a Clearfield hotel through Monday. They plan to have Lee's remains cremated and then take them home to Michigan.
"It appeared to us that Mary Hagadus has been wronged, and we're doing everything we can within our power to try to set things right as best we can," said Clearfield City Attorney Brian Brower, who recently succeeded in getting Judge Connors to sign the exhumation order. "It's becoming more urgent, given her present health condition."
In September, Mary, 70, will begin a six-week round of radiation treatments for her second bout of breast cancer in nine years.
"Some days it's really hard," Mary said. "You do have pain with it, but the main thing is, it really wipes you out."
After the memorial service, the family plans to plant a tree in Pamela's yard, where Lee's ashes will reside in an urn. Mary will affix a plaque to the tree.
"I'm going to put Clyde in small letters, and Lee in all caps, and then Jourdan again in small letters. He loved the name Lee," Mary said. "Then I will put: 'In loving memory, our beloved son and brother.' "