Was Missouri's Lena Chapin killed by mom as she witnessed stepdad's murder? Or was it because of Lena's son?
'Missing Witness', an episode of Netflix's 'Unsolved Mysteries', talks about Sandra 'Sandy' Klemp and the disappearances in her family
SALEM, MISSOURI: Seems like a mother had two motives behind making one of her daughters disappear — the victim knew that her mother had killed her stepfather as she was the one who helped her clean up the crime scene. Also, the victim had a son that her mother was obsessed with.
One of the six episodes of Netflix's 'Unsolved Mysteries' titled 'Missing Witness' talks about the harrowing string of disappearances in a family that might have been double murders committed by one woman — Sandra 'Sandy' Klemp. Her third husband, Gary McCullough, went missing on May 11, 1999. Years later, on Valentine's Day, 2006, her daughter Lena Chapin went missing. To this day, Sandy has refused to cooperate with the authorities on the whereabouts of any of the missing people of her family.
Who was Sandy Klemp?
Two of Sandy's daughters, Brandi Petersen and Robin Shoemake, and one of her ex-husbands have discussed in detail about Sandy in the documentary.
Brandi said that although they saw pretty hard times growing up, Sandy always made sure that they had food on their plates. "My mom was a good mom growing up. she was very straightlaced. Never done a drug, smoked a cigarette, alcohol, nothing. My whole life. She just wasn't like that. She would always tell us, every single night, 'God bless you and love you.' Every night. That's the mom I remember and I miss that mom so much. But... what can you do?" she said.
She added that her mother was not one to settle down with a guy for life. "She used her sex appeal a lot and that's a lot of the reason why men gravitate toward her. And she never did stay with one particular man for more than two years. And she always went after the married ones or one that had brothers." Her third husband, Gary, turned out to be the brother of her second husband, Albert McCullough. Albert and Sandy were married on November 17, 1994. She left him for Gary on May 22, 1996. In December of that year, she got married to Gary.
"When I was married to Sandy, the first two or three years wasn't too bad but then she got to fooling around and I didn't know who it was and it ended up being Gary," Albert said. "My brother. Me and him had a little fistfight down there on the ridge and he beat the tar out of me and I beat the tar out of him. I had him pinned down there at one point and Sandy walked up behind me and hit me on the back with a damn stick. Knocked the breath out of me. But I finally talked to Gary and told him, I said, 'Man, I am done. That girl ain't nothing but trouble. You better leave it alone.'"
Months prior to the day Gary went missing, Sandy had already begun an affair with the man who would eventually become her fourth husband, Kristopher 'Kris' Klemp. Prior to his disappearance, Gary's friend Jeff Allen said that Sandy tried to kill Gary with a gun. Luckily, the firearm did not go off when she tried to shoot. By that time, Gary had allegedly become aware of his wife's affair and was planning to file for divorce.
While none of Sandy's daughters except Lena came to know of the fact that she had killed their stepfather, Robin said that she remembers her mother and Kris carrying Gary's body out of the house on the night of May 11, 1999 — the day he disappeared. "That night mom told Lena to make sure that none of us came out of the bedroom. Lena had fallen asleep in front of the door. And even as young as I was, I still remember something wasn't right. And in our room, there was a window and I see mom and Kris struggling, trying to pull something big. I mean it was Gary no doubt but he was wrapped up in something. I mean you could see the boots that he had on. It scared me," she said.
Sandy did not report Gary missing until two days later and that too because some deputies had shown up at the ranch for a cattle call. “We first heard Gary was missing when a couple (of) deputies went to respond to a cattle call,” Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly told Salem News. “A couple of cows got loose where the McCullough family lived. While the two deputies were there, his wife Sandy (Sandra) came up and said, ‘Well, I guess while you’re here I should go ahead and report Gary missing.'"
She also seemed least bothered about finding her daughter when she went missing in 2006, leaving behind her son, Colter. The only account of her disappearance that Sandy came up with was that she had fled with a boy to Florida — despite the fact that Lena was already engaged to someone else at the time. "I was able to talk to cops and I told them that I knew my mom had done it again. I knew she had done something. I posted missing person flyers of Lena around Salem. But I found out my mom was paying my little sister five dollars apiece to take 'em down. Why would someone pay to have their daughter's missing person posters taken down?" Robin said.
Brandi said she confronted her mom over the phone and accused her of being involved in Lena's disappearance. Sandy denied the accusation. She said that she told her mother, "I am the one who's gonna find out. Whether its Gary or Lena... and make sure you rot."
One of the officers who investigated Lena's disappearance said that he believed that there were two primary reasons behind Sandy's involvement in it. "Based on my interviews with Brandi and Robin, I believe Sandy had two motives for making Lena disappear. Lena helped make Gary disappear. She had first-hand knowledge of what happened. And if Lena talked, what that could potentially do. Also, Lena had a son, Colter, that Sandy desperately wanted. So much that Sandy would, by accounts, make him call her 'mom'," he said.
On June 26, 2003, three years after Gary went missing, Lena confessed to Albert that she knew for a fact that her mother had killed his brother. Her confession was recorded by Albert. Although it was never played in court during the wrongful death suit filed by Gary's daughters against Lena, Sandy, Kris, as well as Kris' former wife, Jennifer Lee Brattin-Klemp back in 2012, it was played for everyone to listen in the documentary.
"He was sitting on the couch, eating scrambled eggs. She walked out and shot him three times in the head. Two, maybe three times... and she couldn't hack it until we got home. And she wrapped him up with plastic stuff and hay strings... she dragged him to the bedroom. She locked the door and we got home. Mom made me stay in the bedroom. She didn't want me to see him. But I'd already seen him. 'Cause I looked through the door. I didn't believe it and I wanted to see. She took him, she put him in the truck and she left," Lena said in the recording. She also helped wipe clean the murder scene with bleach upon being directed by her mother.
When asked if there is any evidence of his murder left, she said, "There's nothing whatsoever left. He was burned, completely burned. And everything that was left at the burn pile was put in buckets and spread all over... I burned the tip of my fingers picking up ashes and bones. I know it makes me sound like a bad person but what was I supposed to do?"
Although Sandy eventually made Lana walk back on her confession, she was always scared that she might testify against her if an opportunity like that arose. As a result, investigators believe she wanted Lena out of the way. Another reason was Lena's son. Years before she disappeared, Sandy had wanted legal guardianship over Colter. However, Lena refused to consent, saying it would happen "over my dead body". She also planned to move away with her son to Arkansas.
"When my mom found out Colter was a boy, like everything changed. She started becoming more obsessive and possessive. She started taking over control of Colter because she's always wanted a boy. She had six girls. She wanted Colter to be hers. And she had it in her mind that she was Colter's mom," Robin said.
Brandi said: "My mom, she knew that if Lena was gone, she would finally get the rights to her son. So when Lena went missing, my mom filed abandonment charges. Lena wasn't there to defend herself... so she got it, she got what she wanted." Sandy has been awarded Colter's custody.
Since no bodies of either Gary or Lena were ever discovered, Sandy was never charged with murder. However, the civil jury unanimously awarded $7 million in damages to Gary's daughters in the summer of 2013, as part of the wrongful death suit.