DEAD TO RITESWAS JIM KLEBER, ACCUSED OF MURDERING HIS WIFE, ABOUT TO GIVE UP HER GHOST?

Eighteen months ago Jim Kleber, long suspected of killing his wife, Lois, in 1992, seemed on the verge of confiding what her family wanted, yet feared, to hear: where he'd hidden her body. "I just want to do the right thing," Kleber told an Arvada police investigator. Now, however, his body riddled with cancer, Kleber has grown immune to tearful entreaties and proffered plea agreements.

That tantalizing conversation on February 2, 1994, in Kleber's jail cell is outlined in a report made public only last month. In the report, Arvada police detective Scott Buckley wrote that he had told Kleber any plea bargain would mean "he would have to give me something in return. He said he understood that. I advised him that I was referring to Lois, and he said that he understood."

Before leaving Kleber that day, Buckley asked Kleber about his dead wife, referring to her body and its location in oblique terms. Wrote Buckley, "I asked Jim if, hypothetically, someone was to tell someone else where something was, if that place could be found by just giving directions. He said that it could. I then asked him if it would be easier if that person was to actually show where that item was, and he said that it would be easier. I asked him if locating that item might be hampered by the type of weather that we had seen in the Denver area, and he said yes."

Buckley departed feeling that the case (profiled in Westword in December 1992) would soon be solved. Two days later, however, Kleber waived his preliminary hearing, and there were no further discussions of a plea bargain. When, months later, Kleber again changed attorneys, the possibility of a deal seemed even more remote.

But six weeks ago, say members of Lois's family, they learned that Jim Kleber was dying and might not live to see his November 13 trial date. They then began in earnest to find a deal they could live with. In meetings with Adams County prosecutors, they agreed to bargain for Kleber's soul and Lois's body. Kleber would be offered the right to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge. In return, prosecutors would stand silent on prison terms, opening the possibility for a sentence of time served.

The deal was offered to Kleber through his attorneys a month ago. Buckley and Lois Kleber's family say he has rejected the offer. "His attorneys say he wants to go to trial," says Buckley.

"He maintains the position he doesn't know what happened to her," says Lois's son Walter Anderson. "He has control of the situation, as sad as that is." (Kleber's attorney, Robert Hicks, could not be reached for comment.)

Lois Kleber, 59, vanished from her Arvada home early on the morning of July 1, 1992. She had always been so dependable and regular in her habits that when she didn't appear for work on time that morning, her co-workers and family members almost immediately set up a search and set off an alarm.

Jim Kleber, her husband of nearly twelve years, would later tell police that the last he'd seen her, she was pedaling her bike in the direction of work, just as she'd always done. But as police and her family (including seven children) began descending on the couple's Arvada home, they found evidence that pointed to murder.

There was blood on the bed, and Lois's bike was found locked in the trunk of her car. Her keys were found inside Jim's toolbox. Her fanny pack (which Jim said she'd been wearing when she rode away) was tucked away in a closet.

Lois's tight-knit family was as driven to find clues as were the police. It was the family who found much of the evidence on which detectives and prosecutors have hung their case.

It took until the fall of 1993 to convince the Adams County District Attorney's office to arrest and charge Kleber with the first-degree murder of his wife. He has continued to maintain his silence and his innocence, even as his health has deteriorated.

As Kleber awaits trial, the family has continued its own search for Lois. Two weeks ago, Anderson, Lois's brother Frank Merritt and a third relative spent a week around Boreas Pass near Breckenridge searching mine shafts and gravel pits for her body.

The family has a gravesite for Lois--she picked it out herself years ago. The only trouble is, she bought a double site and a gravestone to go with it. She even had the stone carved with her and Jim's names on it. Two weeks ago the family removed the headstone.

"She was trying to get a divorce before he killed her," her son Frank says. "I'll be damned if he'll be buried next to her.

 
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