When Ronald Klungness got home from work around 4:00 pm on March 2, 1996, there was nothing to suggest that it was anything other than a normal Saturday afternoon. He noticed that his wife’s car wasn’t in the driveway of their Bonney Lake, Washington home and assumed that she and their 14-year-old son, Jeffrey, had gone out for a while. The house was quiet, so Ronald settled onto the couch and dozed off.
The house was still quiet when Ronald woke up a couple of hours later. He got up and headed for the master bedroom, but was surprised to find that the door appeared to be stuck. Once he managed to force it open, he was met with a horrifying sight: his wife’s dead body was propped up against the bedroom door. In shock, Ronald quickly backed out of the room and called 911.
Deputies from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department arrived on scene and quickly searched the rest of the home, but they found no sign of Jeffrey Klungness. Unsure if he was the murderer, another victim, or completely uninvolved, they filed a missing person report on Jeffrey and sent out a bulletin for all deputies to be on the lookout for Susan’s maroon 1991 Toyota Camry station wagon.
Investigators determined that Susan had died from blunt force trauma to her head; she had been beaten to de*ath. They believed she had been sitting in her favorite chair in the living room when she was attacked, as they found a small trail of blood leading from the chair to the bedroom. It was unclear whether Susan had tried to flee to the bedroom for safety or if her k*iller had dragged her there in an attempt to hide her body.
There was some cash missing from the home, as well as a distinctive gold watch Ronald had received from work. It was engraved with his name and a message thanking him for 30 years of service at Boeing. Investigators assumed the ki*ller had taken the watch in the hopes of selling it; they alerted local pawnshops to keep an eye out for it.
The police checked the area and found out that Martin Malcolm, a family friend, had been seen at the house earlier that day. His car and Jeffrey’s car took off around 11:30 a.m., and neither of them was seen again after that. Ronald told the police that he and Susan had met Malcolm a few years before at their church, New Horizons Community, and had hired him to remodel a few rooms in their house. As Susan healed from knee surgery and couldn’t drive, he often ran errands for her because he was a close family friend.
Pierce County deputies looked for Martin but couldn’t find him because they didn’t know where he was. They said that until they had more information, Martin and Jeffrey were both being looked at as possible suspects in Susan’s de*ath. Because Martin had a violent past, Ronald was sure that Jeffrey would never have hurt his mother. But he couldn’t say the same thing about Martin.
Martin was found guilty of second-degree mur*der in 1980 for stabbing to de*ath his pregnant ex-wife. He got out of prison in 1992 and said he had changed his life. Following his regular attendance at church, he had stayed out of trouble with the law and his family had never seen him act violently. Ronald couldn’t help but wonder if they were letting a monster into their lives.
Over the course of the night, search teams looked through Bonney Lake’s many parks and wooded areas but couldn’t find Jeffrey or Martin. Around 8 a.m. on Sunday, deputies found Susan’s Camry in the parking lot of a Taco Bell in Auburn, Washington, which is about 15 miles from Bonney Lake. This was their first clue. Martin and Jeffrey were not in the car, and it was empty.
The man and teen who went missing were looked for all day without finding them. Then, at 5:30 pm, one of Martin’s friends called the sheriff’s office to say that Martin had shown up again and was ready to be questioned. But he went to the police station by himself and said he had no idea what happened to Jeffrey.
On Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Martin told police that he took Jeffrey to get a haircut in Susan’s car, but he said he took the boy home an hour later. For a few more errands, he used Susan’s car. He got back to the house around 2:00 pm. He said that Bradley wasn’t there when he went inside and Susan’s bedroom door was shut. He sat and watched TV for a while and then went to see Susan. He pushed the bedroom door open and saw her dead body when she didn’t answer it. He then got scared and drove off in her car without calling the police.
Police told Martin that his story didn’t make a lot of sense. He said he was so shocked when he found Susan’s body that he drove around in a daze until he got to Auburn, where he gambled and then met up with some friends. He said that he told some of his friends what he had seen, but no one called the police. Martin told the police that he had nothing to do with the crime and that he didn’t think Jeffrey would have ever done anything bad to his mother.
Even though Martin was helpful to the police at first, he could tell they didn’t fully believe his story. He told the police early Monday morning that he didn’t want to answer their questions and asked for a lawyer. Martin wasn’t charged with Susan’s mur*der because there wasn’t enough proof, but he was arrested for auto theft because he admitted taking her car without permission. He was locked up in the Pierce County Jail while the investigation went on.
Investigators still didn’t know what happened to Jeffrey. Martin said he dropped Jeffrey off at the house around 12:30 pm, but when he came back at 2:00 pm, Jeffrey was gone, according to Martin. Curt Benson, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, told reporters, “I don’t know what happened to the kid.” I don’t know if he’s a hurt person. I’m not sure if he means he did it. I have no idea where he is.
Ronald was still sure that his son would never have hurt Susan. People said that Jeffrey was a quiet teenager who went to New Horizons school and got extra help because he had trouble learning. He wasn’t very popular with his peers, but he was a nice kid who liked soccer and had been to a soccer banquet with his parents just a few days before he disappeared. He liked to play video games and the card game Magic: The Gathering at home. Ronald said that some of his Magic cards were missing, which means that he probably had them with him when he went missing.
After Martin talked to the police, they went back around the neighborhood to see if any of Susan’s neighbors could back up what he said. There were a few people who said they saw Martin and Jeffrey leave around 11:30 am, but no one ever saw either of them come back to the house. Martin told someone that he came back to the house at 12:30 pm and again at 2:00 pm, but there was no proof.
The police thought that Jeffrey was the only person who could confirm Martin’s account of what happened that day. However, as the days went by and the teenager was not seen, they began to think that he had also been ki*lled. Curt Benson said, “We’ve talked to two of his three closest friends, and none of them have seen him.” It’s possible that foul play happened.
A huge search for Jeffrey began with the help of police and dozens of volunteers. People in Auburn and Bonney Lake, as well as rest stops and gas stations along Washington 410, which went through King, Pierce, and Yakima Counties, were given missing person posters. A few people told them about possible sightings, but none of them could be confirmed.
A National Guard helicopter with heat-seeking radar was used to look for Jeffrey on Wednesday, but they didn’t find any signs of him. Investigators kept talking to anyone who had anything to do with the missing teen in the hopes that someone would know where he was. “We’ve talked with more people,” Curt Benson said. Our goal is to learn as much as possible. Jeffrey, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be anywhere to be found.
Ronald told the news media that Jeffrey had nothing to do with k*illing his mother. “It would shock me if he was…”Someone is holding him somewhere and won’t let him go. He still had hope that his son was alive, but it was getting harder to stay positive as time went on and he hadn’t heard from him.
Stan Florez, the pastor of New Horizons Church, talked to Martin in jail and was sure that he had nothing to do with Susan’s de*ath. Stan says that he told Martin that he could only help him if Martin told the truth. Martin said that he did not k*ill Susan. “He told Stan, ‘No, I didn’t do it.'” He said it with sincerity and clear thought. He didn’t think twice.”
The police weren’t so sure. Prosecutors asked Pierce County Superior Court Judge Tom Sauriol to set Martin’s bail for the auto theft charges at $50,000 because they thought he would leave the area if he was freed. Judge Sauriol agreed. Since Martin couldn’t pay bail, he stayed in the Pierce County Jail while the search for Jeffrey went on.
About fifty volunteers searched different parts of Bonney Lake on March 7, 1996, hoping to find clues about where Jeffrey was. First, they focused on a forest area close to Washington 410. Next, they searched the thick brush behind a shopping center. They looked for a long time but couldn’t find anything. Pastor Florez, who helped plan the search, said, “I told the group that we should expect the worst and hope for the best.”
There was another huge search on March 9, 1996, but no one found anything. The searchers went home again. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said they were giving up looking for Jeffrey because they had found no more places to look.
After pleading guilty to taking Susan’s car without her permission and getting time served, Martin got out of jail on April 16, 1996. But detectives were still sure he had something to do with Susan’s de*ath. Police spokesman Curt Benson told reporters that Martin was still “a strong person of interest because of his suspicious activity during the incident.”
Martin refused to talk about the mu*rder because his lawyer told him not to. He said he had no idea where Jeffrey could be. Curt Benson said that the police were worried about Jeffrey’s safety. “We think he may very well be a victim himself, since he hasn’t been seen in a long time and doesn’t seem to have any support structures that could have kept him alive during that time.”
On April 23, 1996, Ronald announced that he was offering a $500 reward for information leading to the return of his missing son. Although he admitted that he knew there was a chance that Jeffrey had been k*illed, he hoped he was alive somewhere. “Every time I hear a telephone at work I think it might be him calling.” He followed up on every tip he received, traveling as far as Seattle after someone reported seeing the teenager there. He returned home alone and disappointed.
As the investigation reached the three-month mark, detectives still considered Martin to be “a firm person of interest.” They also released some new information to the public, announcing that they had surveillance footage of Martin using Susan’s ATM card at a local bank drive-thru shortly after he and Jeffrey were seen leaving the house. The video showed Martin driving Susan’s Camry, but there was no sign of Jeffrey in the car with him. A woman who was in the drive-thru line behind Martin told detectives that she believed there was a second person in the backseat of the car, but she wasn’t certain.
Ronald told investigators that he and Susan were aware that Martin had financial troubles; he often did odd jobs for them as a way of earning money. “He was far in debt…he wanted to use our car, but he wouldn’t put any gas in it. He wanted to do some stuff for us so we would pay him.”
Detectives believed that the motive behind Susan’s murder could have been financial. About $700 was missing from the home; Martin had also taken $300 out of Susan’s bank account using her ATM card. This fact provided circumstantial evidence that Martin might have been the ki*ller, but investigators needed more to build a case against him. They were desperate to find Jeffrey, aware that if they tried to charge Martin with murder, his defense would likely be that Jeffrey was the real k*iller and he was an innocent man. It made no sense to those who knew the family, but it could give a jury enough reasonable doubt to acquit Martin.
Months, then years went by. Jeffrey remained a missing person and Susan’s murder eventually became a cold case. The general consensus among detectives is that Jeffrey was a victim of foul play, but his body has never been found. Investigators remain hopeful that someone will one day come forward with the information they need to finally solve the case and obtain justice for both Susan and her son.
Jeffrey Allen Klungness was just 14 years old when he vanished from his home in Bonney Lake, Washington in March 1996. Due to the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, detectives believe that Jeffrey was most likely a victim of foul play but admit there is a remote possibility he is alive. Jeffrey has blue eyes and brown hair, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 155 pounds. Jeffrey is dyslexic and has a speech impediment, and he was last seen wearing green pants, a green short-sleeved shirt, and sneakers. If you have any information about Jeffrey’s disappearance or his mother’s murder, please contact the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department at 253–287–4455 or the Tacoma Police Department at 253–591–5959.