Investigators regroup in search for missing teen

Investigators searching for a missing 15-year-old Iowa girl met Tuesday to refocus their efforts as they examine the movements of the registered sex offender suspected of kidnapping her last week.

Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar said investigators from local, state and federal agencies “combined all of our notes, tips and leads” during the meeting, which was called to refine the scaled-back search for Kathlynn Shepard. Search efforts continued Tuesday in rural central Iowa but were hampered by heavy rains that left ditches and farm fields flooded and the Des Moines River at a high level, he said.

Analysts are trying to pin down the “definitive path” that Michael J. Klunder traveled after he abducted Shepard and her 12-year-old friend while they were walking home from school on May 20 in Dayton, a small town about 60 miles north of Des Moines, Dunbar said.

“We are trying to narrow down the path that he took after the abduction,” Dunbar said.

Police said Klunder lured the girls into his vehicle and took them to a hog confinement building where he worked, tying the girls’ hands with zip ties. The 12-year-old girl was able to break free and run through the woods to safety when Klunder took Shepard to another part of the property. Klunder was found dead hours later after hanging himself at another rural property.

Investigators said last week that Shepard’s blood was found on the grounds of the hog facility and on Klunder’s truck, dampening the hopes of finding her alive.

Hundreds of police and volunteers searched 220 square miles in three counties for Shepard, before the search was scaled back over the weekend. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation thanked volunteers late Friday for their effort but said the focus now was on “rough terrain” that required smaller groups of trained law enforcement to search, including an area between where the girls’ backpacks were found and the hog confinement facility.

Dunbar said investigators planned to recheck areas that had already been covered and were also exploring new areas in the region. He spoke as he was driving to check an area about 12 miles west of Dayton, based on one of many tips received by police that continue to pour in.

Klunder, 42, was released from prison in 2011 after serving nearly 20 years for the 1991 kidnappings of a 21-year-old woman he tried to assault and two 3-year-old girls who were kidnapped and left in a Dumpster. He had recently been married and bought a house in Stratford, near Dayton.

As a registered sex offender, he was required to check in with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office twice a year. Hamilton County Sheriff Denny Hagenson said Tuesday that Klunder had done so and seemed to be living a normal life.

“We visited with his neighbors, and everybody thought he was a nice person. They were so surprised to hear about it,” he said. “Some of them didn’t realize the troubles he’d been in, in the past.”

Hagenson said his office was also receiving tips, including one he was checking Tuesday about buzzards circling over a carcass in a farm field. He said he suspected it was likely a dead animal, but, “It might be something strange like that, that comes up. Any call that comes in, we go check on.”