Year after Casper murder-suicide, questions linger

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — When police arrived, they found father and son lying foot-to-foot on the floor of classroom 325. Their bodies had fallen between two rows of desks, the legs of the younger man resting over his dad’s. Blood seeped from wounds in their chests.

Everywhere were signs of struggle. Shattered pieces of a coffee mug on the floor. A bloody handprint on a wall near the bodies. A compound bow by the teacher’s desk.

The officers knew at once Jim Krumm was dead. A Bowie knife protruded from the professor’s body. Police focused their attention on his son, Chris, who was still gasping for air. His eyes were open, fixed first on the ceiling, then on one of the officers.

The officers called for help, but heavy radio traffic hindered communication beyond the third floor of Casper College’s Wold Physical Science Center. Medics arrived and tried to save Chris. They secured him to a backboard, put a tube down his throat and poured a clotting agent into his cuts. It was too late. The 25-year-old died on the floor of his father’s classroom, bleeding from 10 self-inflicted stab wounds.

Police hustled terrified students and teachers out of the building. Officers went room to room, searching for possible accomplices. There was no one else.

The officers didn’t know Jim was actually Chris’ second victim of the morning. They were still determining his identity. One saw a filet knife tucked inside Chris’ right pants pocket. Next to it was a folded, two-page letter.

The officer opened the note — a first hint at the madness that resulted in three deaths.

“You should not have allowed my father to breed .” it began.

Two weeks before his death, Jim met with Elise Butler, a 25-year-old computer science major. It was advising day for the fall 2012 semester and she was his last appointment of the afternoon.

They discussed her trigonometry studies, but the conversation turned to Elise’s mother, who was ill with cancer. Jim’s wife, Carol, died of cancer in 2005.

I know what you’re going through, Jim told his student. You can get through it.

“It meant a lot to me, that he was willing to share his personal life situation with me, to make me feel better,” Elise recalled. “I know I left there feeling so relieved.”

Jim cared about his students and they knew it. They felt the same. They appreciated his easygoing personality, his insistence they call him “Jim” rather than “Professor Krumm.”

Instantly likeable, one student called him.

By then, Jim had taught at the college for more than a decade. Computers were his passion and he shared it with others. Elise was studying English when she enrolled in his class. On the first day, he announced his intention to convert all his students to computer science majors by semester’s end. Elise was sold by the time class let out.

“He just loved teaching so much,” she said.

Jim belied the stereotype of the tech geek. A heavy-set 56-year-old with wavy, brown hair, he painted and played guitar, sailed at Alcova Reservoir and off the coast of Florida. He loved traveling and took a special interest in Danish ruins, said his younger brother, Mark.

“He was kind of like a Renaissance man,” Mark said.

Jim had one child with Carol, a son they named Chris. The two enjoyed a good relationship for much of their lives. They experienced the typical ups and downs, but those who knew Jim say it was obvious he loved Chris.

“People have told me since that Jim had some worries,” said Bethany Colyar, a computer science major who studied under Jim. “But to me, it seemed like they had a normal relationship. He bragged about him.”

After Carol’s death, Jim found love again. He began a relationship with Heidi Arnold, a math instructor at the college. They moved in together in a house not far from the campus.

Investigators spoke with Jim’s colleagues and friends after the murders. They asked about his son. One college instructor told them Chris Krumm was living in Florida and experiencing some problems.

She was half right. Chris had run into trouble, though he was actually living more than 1,000 miles to the north in Vernon, Conn., a town of roughly 30,000 that bills itself as the “crossroads for opportunity.”

Chris, a frumpy man with a thick build and a bowl cut of dirty blond hair, was working as a groundman, helping to string lines for the local cable company. It was for him the latest in a series of increasingly disappointing jobs, and surprisingly blue collar for someone with a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

Chris had achieved considerable academic success in his 25 years. He graduated from Natrona County High School in 2005, and within four years, had earned himself degrees from Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines — the latter ranked among the nation’s top 100 colleges.

People used words like “brilliant” and “borderline genius” to describe Chris. He was not only gifted, but driven, said Anna Wilkinson, his chemistry teacher at Natrona County High School. He loved math and science and would sometimes stay after class to talk with her.

“He was very hard on himself,” said Wilkinson, whom Chris continued to visit while he was in college. “He wanted to do the best he could.”

Chris struggled connecting with peers. Wilkinson doesn’t recall him having friends in high school. He spent little time on his appearance — usually dressing like he’d just rolled out of bed — and had difficulty opening himself to others.

“If you did talk to him, he would not look you in the eye,” she said.

Chris held at least five jobs after earning his master’s. None lasted longer than a year.

After graduating from the School of Mines in 2009, he returned to Casper, making pizza while living with Jim and Heidi at their home on Hawthorne Avenue. Then he got his first big job: mapping out power lines for Western Area Power Administration.

Things started to fall apart almost at once. He lasted seven months before being fired.

Chris next found work with Dennis Group, a Massachusetts company that performed engineering and other jobs for the food and beverage industries. This time he lasted three months.

“He had problems completing tasks on time, and accurately too,” Mark, Jim’s younger brother, said. “These were engineering jobs, where you are expected to do both.”

Chris decided to become a lineman so he could learn the energy industry from the ground up. He found a job with PAR Electrical, but made it less than half a year.

As Chris struggled, a rift developed between father and son. Jim encouraged Chris to seek help. The young man refused.

While at PAR, Chris cut off contact with his family for three months. He wouldn’t tell them where he was living, even when Jim wanted to travel back East for a visit.

“He probably felt incredibly discouraged about his life,” Mark said. “I think he felt he was disabled and this disability was going to stop him from ever being successful. I think he saw the dreams he always thought would come true come to an end.”

Chris could not stay employed. His family searched for answers why.

They wondered whether Chris might have what is commonly called Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism. People with the disorder tend to avoid making eye contact and have a hard time understanding body language. They might lack empathy or seem emotionally flat. And they’ll often fixate on one or two subjects.

Chris certainly met some of the criteria. He had trouble connecting with people and he obsessed about things like electrical power. People also noticed odd behaviors, like the time he moved his bed into the living room because of a cricket noise. Relatives later determined the chirping was actually a smoke alarm that needed new batteries.

No one knows if Chris really did have the disorder. Police and family members don’t believe he ever sought help or received a diagnosis. And there were parts of Chris that didn’t fit neatly within the Asperger definition.

People with the disorder are often diagnosed early in life. While it’s not unheard of, it would be unusual for a 25-year-old with the syndrome to make it into adulthood without a diagnosis, said Dr. Stephen Brown, a Casper psychiatrist and medical director at Wyoming Behavioral Institute.

“The vast majority are going to be picked up in school, if not well before it,” said Brown, who spoke only generally about the disorder.

Chris also committed two murders before his suicide. People with Asperger syndrome aren’t any more predisposed to violence than someone without the disorder.

“A lot of people with autism don’t catch the feelings of sadness and anxiety,” Brown said. “It might come out as anger. But it is not something that is likely to come out as directed violence toward someone.”

Whatever the case, Chris researched the issue and concluded he did have Asperger syndrome. He was also convinced his father had passed the disorder to him. Sometime in the last year of his life, he sent an email to his family asking for an apology from Jim.

In the suicide letter he carried in his pocket, he insisted Jim should never have been allowed to father children.

“At 25 years old, I could really be somebody by now,” the note read. “Yet despite having a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering I have not been able to solve the novel problems I need to solve at work .”

He went on to catalog his dismal career. Then he turned inward. “I have never had a love life and have always had to subsist as a sort of bottom feeder,” he wrote. “I am extremely bitter and frothing with hatred toward my father.”

Four days before the murders, Chris had an especially bad day at work. He accidently smashed the window of a work truck while putting back a ladder at the end of his shift.

He arrived at 6:15 a.m. the following morning — his normal start time — and told his boss he was quitting because he had problems driving the truck and watching the foreman at the same time.

Accidents happen, the manager said. He offered to find him another job in the company. Chris wasn’t interested. He told the manager he was heading to Colorado to be a clerk at his aunt’s store. The manager told him to stay in touch. A job would be waiting for Chris if he changed his mind.

Chris got into his Subaru Forester and headed toward Wyoming.

Chris took three days to drive the 2,000 miles from Vernon to Casper. He brought along a compound bow and a quiver of arrows.

Based on evidence found at both scenes, police developed a scenario for the crimes. It begins with Chris breaking into his father’s home sometime on the morning of Nov. 30, 2012, a Friday. He surprised Heidi and chased her to the curb outside, where he stabbed her repeatedly. Then Chris went back inside, possibly to tend to a cut on his left hand suffered in the attack.

From the house, it would have only taken him a few minutes to reach the college. He parked near the Wold Physical Science Center and walked inside carrying the bow and quiver under a blanket.

Chris made his way to the third floor, dropping the quiver and blanket in the hallway outside classroom 325. He wordlessly entered with the bow drawn and fired one shot at his father from a distance of about four feet. Witnesses offered varied accounts about what, if anything, Jim said just before the attack. In the police account, Jim told his son: Chris, this is not the place.

The arrow struck Jim above the left ear. Chris then stabbed his father with the Bowie knife. When the professor fell, Chris turned the blade on himself. Then he stabbed his father one last time, the blade still resting in Jim’s chest when police arrived.

In the photograph, father and son lean against the wooden rails of a bridge, smiling at the camera. Jim stands in front, squinting. Chris is just behind, a relaxed grin on his face. The Wyoming sun lights the backs of their heads, almost giving them halos. There are trees in the background and clumps of snow covering the dirt.

The Krumms chose the image for the shared obituary of Jim and Chris. Then they enlarged it for display at an August memorial in Casper. The lives of both men were celebrated at the service.

Many questions will never be answered. Did Chris drive to Wyoming with the intention of killing his father? Or did he intend, as he told his co-workers, to work for his aunt, only to change his mind somewhere along the road to his end? Why kill Heidi? Why kill anyone?

“How do you make sense of something that is insane?” asked Mark. “That is the whole issue. You can’t make sense out of insanity . there are no answers when insanity is involved.”

If there is any certainty, it is the family’s belief that, to the last moments of his life, Jim would have gladly taken back his son. Jim would have found it in himself to forgive Chris.

His family found a way as well. That’s what Jim would have wanted.

“Jim really had that ability to forgive,” Mark said. “It was never going to be an issue for Chris to come back, but Chris had this disconnect. He went … he went mad. There is no other way to put it.”

A police officer told the family the man who committed the murders was not the same Chris they knew. He was not the child they watched grow. He was not the student who collected two degrees.

Mark views the killings as the sad result of untreated mental illness. He’s convinced that with care, Chris would have eventually worked through the issues in his life. He would have developed coping skills. If anything positive can come from the tragedy, it would be that it encourages others to seek treatment.

Instead, Chris chose to recede further within himself, to rage against his father and the Asperger syndrome he might not have even had.

“He was ill, very ill,” Mark said. “He needed to deal with that. Unfortunately, he didn’t and what happened was the death of three very wonderful people.”

___

Star-Tribune staff writer Megan Cassidy contributed to this report.

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

blog comments powered by Disqus