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."Next Page >
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