Alberta family murdered and burned: Four years later, friends still wonder why

Alberta family murdered and burned: Four years later, friends still wonder why

CASTOR, Alta. — More than four years after three members of a central Alberta family were murdered, the biggest question still remains unanswered for their friends — why?

"Still my question is, and will always be my question, what gets so bad in your life that makes you want to kill your whole family — and actually do it?" Philip Pals, a long-time family friend of Gordon, Sandra and Monica Klaus told the Red Deer Advocate. "I think that's the question on everyone's mind — why?

"That will never be answered, will it?"

Jason Klaus — Gordon and Sandra's son and Monica's brother — and accomplice Joshua Frank were sentenced last month to life in prison on three counts of first-degree murder for the December 2013 killings. 

During the trial, court heard that Jason Klaus had a cocaine and gambling addiction and forged cheques on his parents account. He offered Frank money to kill the family. Frank told police he killed them because he was scared Jason Klaus would shoot him if he didn't.

Two of the bodies were found in the family's burned-out farmhouse near Castor, Alta. Sandra Klaus's body was never found, but police believe she also died in the house.

Tammy Spady grew up with Jason Klaus and worked with him for eight years. She had no inkling he could be capable of murder.

"It was actually quite shocking to all of us," she said. "It was not a family where you ever saw it coming."

Spady's parents, Cliff and Karen Jordahl, considered the Klauses their closest friends. Karen Jordahl shared the same birthday as Sandra Klaus and they always celebrated it together. Gordon Klaus gave the toast at Spady's wedding.

"I grew up with them. They were good family friends," said Spady, whose family runs CJ's Canteen and Castor Liquor Store.

"(Jason) worked hard for his dad. Then he worked off the farm at the UFA."

Growing up, there were no brushes with the law or other obvious problems.

"He was just a normal kid and played hockey. It was a close-knit family. They did everything together, hunted, fished, camped."

Just as shocking was the involvement of Josh Frank, whose family is well-known in the community.

Spady said she met several times with RCMP major crimes investigators. The first time, she was convinced it was not possible Jason Klaus was involved. But over time and after several meetings with police, she said his guilt could not be questioned.

There had always been a Jekyll and Hyde side to Jason Klaus, she said. He would do anything to help someone, but he could also lie without showing it. 

Court heard how Jason Klaus told numerous stories about the deaths to friends and investigators, including officers who approached him as part of an undercover sting.  Testifying in his own defence in court, he denied involvement and gave another version of the events on the night his family was killed.

In his judgment, Red Deer Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin suggested Jason Klaus was driven by fear his fraud would be found out.

"He was desperate and he believed his family would terminate his employment on the farm and cut him out of any inheritance he may have expected," Macklin wrote.

For Frank, the motive was "greed for money, pure and simple," said the prosecutor. "He saw an opportunity for easy money and he took it."

At first, many in the community figured that the family's coal-burning furnace was likely to blame for their deaths. It would be eight months before Jason Klaus and Frank were arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

"After finding out those things, it was very heart-breaking, very hard," Cliff Jordahl said.

Since the convictions, few talk about the case around town, said Barrie Kilner, who moved to Castor about 18 months ago and sensed the community was divided over the murders.

"You know what? I haven't heard a word since the verdict. No one says much at all."

Kilner feels for the families involved.

"It's got to be difficult coming to town and holding their head up knowing their relatives are sitting in jail."

— with files from The Canadian Press.

Paul Cowley, Red Deer Advocate, The Canadian Press