FILE - This file photo provided by The Iowa Department of Public Safety shows Kathlynn Shepard, 15. Authorities announced early Saturday, June 8, 2013 that they have recovered a body believed to be Shepard, who was kidnapped by a registered sex offender while walking home from school.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
BOONE, Iowa — Authorities announced early Saturday that they have recovered a body believed to be a 15-year-old Iowa girl who was kidnapped by a registered sex offender while walking home from school.
High school freshman Kathlynn Shepard has been missing since May 20, when she and a 12-year-old friend were lured into a pickup truck that police believe was driven by Michael J. Klunder. The younger girl was able to escape after he took them to a hog confinement facility, but Kathlynn was never found.
Gerard Meyers, assistant director of field operators of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said fisherman found the body Friday night in the Des Moines River near Boone, concealed by debris.
Boone County sheriff’s deputies then recovered the body. An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday morning.
“We’re fairly confident the unfortunate circumstance this evening was the recovery of Kathlynn,” Meyers said at a news conference in Boone.
Hundreds of officers and volunteers had searched for Kathlynn, but hopes of finding her alive were dampened when testing confirmed that blood found on Klunder’s truck and at the hog building was Kathlynn’s.
The girls had just stepped off their school bus and were near their homes in Dayton, a small town about 60 miles north of Des Moines, when Klunder asked whether they wanted to make money mowing lawns, police said. He promised he would take them for a ride to ask their parents, but instead drove them several miles away to a hog confinement building where he worked.
“We were robbed of some innocence in this whole thing,” said Webster County Sheriff James Stubbs. “We’ll never quite be the same. Hopefully time will heal some of those wounds, but the awareness is a lot higher than it was before.”
Klunder — who spent two decades in prison on kidnapping convictions — took the girls to an office, where he tied their hands with zip ties, authorities said. The 12-year-old told investigators she was able to free her hands when Klunder took Kathlynn to a different part of the property, and that she ran through the wooded area to safety. She eventually found farmers and called 911.
Authorities found Klunder dead hours later, after the 42-year-old committed suicide by hanging himself at another rural property.
Meyers said zip ties found on the body recovered Friday were consistent with those Klunder used on the 12-year-old, and the clothing on the body matched what Kathlynn had been wearing the day she was abducted.
Klunder had been released from prison in 2011, after serving 20 years for convictions in two separate kidnappings in Iowa, on back-to-back days in December 1991.
In the first, police said he lured a woman on a highway near Mason City out of her vehicle by claiming she was missing a taillight, and then forced her into his car and tried to assault her. In the second, he snatched two 3-year-old toddlers from a Charles City apartment complex, put them in a trunk and left them 50 miles away at a secluded garbage bin, where they were found alive hours later.
Police are also looking into whether Klunder is responsible for the kidnapping and slaying of two cousins who vanished while riding bikes in Evansdale, about 90 miles from Dayton. The bodies of the girls, ages 10 and 8 when they vanished, were found in December in a wooded area in Bremer County, where Klunder once lived in a home for emotionally troubled youth.