Weber County family helps solve 35-year Michigan runaway mystery

Saturday , April 19, 2014 - 4:16 PM

Cimaron Neugebauer, Standard-Examiner staff

CLEARFIELD — Social media helped solve a 35-year-old case behind what happened to a runaway teen from Michigan. The answer was in Clearfield, Utah.

Now time is of the essence in trying to get the remains of the teen, who went by the name of Lee Beeler, back to his birth mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer for the second time.

“All I want is to have his remains before I start [chemotherapy] treatment and be able to have a memorial service,” the boy’s mother, Mary Hagadus, told the Standard-Examiner in a phone interview.

She searched, prayed and hoped one day her son would come home. But as a parent she was left in anguish for more than three decades until she got contact on Facebook from a complete stranger about her son’s whereabouts.

The single mother of five who lived in poverty all her life has had other battles. She fought stage-three breast cancer, but after nine years in remission it’s back. Now she says she just wants to be reunited with her boy one last time.

She believes her son was murdered, by the man who took him in off the streets, but since that man is also dead, the only justice for her is having her eldest son’s remains.

“That is all that I will get back - the remains that have been cremated.”

Police were able to document the paper trail and find her son, Clyde Lee Jourdan, had ties to Michigan, then Montana, where he got a new Social Security card under a new name of Lee Michael Beeler with the help of Robert A. Beeler, who took in the runaway and helped him eventually get to Clearfield, where he lived for only three years before his death.

Before Jourdan ran away from home for the last time in 1979 he had already made his way to Utah and met Beeler before. After three months he returned to Michigan and thanked his mom for taking him back in and said Beeler “was crazy.”

He stayed put for about a year, but after babysitting for a family friend and not getting paid, he decided to take something of theirs and sell it so he could make some money to buy treats for a party with friends. When his mom found out she made sure the police were called.

Jourdan was upset, but Hagadus told her son he needed to learn a lesson that if he stole enough eventually someone might shoot him.

She told him, “I love you enough that I would rather you be in jail than dead.”

She wishes her last memory wasn’t telling her niece to call police, but she doesn’t regret trying to teach him what she knew was right.

“When he found out the police were looking for him, that is when he took off,” Hagadus said.

She would never see her eldest son alive again.

Kathy Jones of Ogden, stepsister of Jourdan, was a driving force in helping solve the mystery.

Clearfield 8-year police detective Carey Stricker started investigating the case last July.

“Social media played a vital role in this case,” Stricker said, adding that when the case is completed it will go down as one of the most rewarding investigations of his career.

The case first gained traction in 2003 after family members started asking questions of Beeler, a convicted child molester, who originally told everyone he adopted the boy he called Lee Michael Beeler. No one ever legally adopted the boy. Beeler had his share of stories. He told his ex-wives’ children that he was an ex-cop and lost his hand while saving a child from an auger accident. When he went to prison for sexually abusing a number his ex-wives’ children, and their children, that’s when they started asking more questions about his many stories.

Jones’ mother asked, “Where did you get Lee?” He basically told her to “go to hell,” Jones said.

Beeler wasn’t telling anyone his secrets and was determined to take his lies to his grave when he died in 2012, but the family wasn’t giving up that easy. They even think Beeler was responsible for Lee’s death. News reports from fall 1982 say the car Jourdan was working on fell on him and he died from asphyxiation.

Recent investigation uncovered that there was an argument that day between Beeler and Jourdan. Stricker says it was possible Jourdan was confronting Beeler about abusing the children and tried to stand up for them. The argument escalated as the two went outside — when Beeler came back in, he told the children “Lee was dead.” The children were too young to question their stepfather or turn him in. Stricker says at one point Beeler threatened the children when they hinted at telling someone about him sexually abusing them. He said he would “kill them like he killed Lee,” Stricker said. But police don’t know if that was an admission or just Beeler trying to assert fear into the children to be quiet.

Police never investigated the case as anything suspicious at the time, even though Lee laid dead under the car for hours before neighborhood children discovered him and called 911. Police records from that long ago have also been long since destroyed.

Jones said after her mother died she found some old letters in the home she was cleaning out that indicated Lee Michael Beeler was actually Clyde Lee Jourdan.

They took the case to Ogden police in 2003 but had no luck finding his real family. Hagadus said Jourdan was not listed as a missing person by police in Michigan because officers told her he was a frequent runaway and soon he would be 18 and could go where he pleased. So when police leads dried up, social media helped jump-start the case again in 2013.

Through Facebook and other online tools, Jones located Jourdan’s family in Michigan. It brought some closure, but a lot of pain.

Jones said it broke her heart to tell them the only news she had for them was bad news.

“We loved him as a brother, but he doesn’t belong to us,” Jones said. “He needs to be with his family.”

She says it makes her “physically ill” to see Jourdan’s last name associated with Beeler because of what he did to so many children. She said if nothing else can happen, “at least take that last name [of Beeler] off his gravestone.”

Jourdan will be remembered by his family in Utah as a jokester.

Amanda Cluff, Jourdan’s stepsister, said he was fun and would always tease her when she had ringlets in her hair that she looked like Cindy Brady from “The Brady Bunch.”

She said he was ultimately a peacemaker and a mild-mannered man.

Hagadus said her son wasn’t perfect, but will always be remembered as someone who loved his mother. That’s one of the last things he told her.

“I don’t know why I run away, I just do,” he wrote his mother in a letter she still has from when he was in a youth detention center. “You are not a bad mother, and I love you.”

Jourdan was adventurous and couldn’t be tamed.

“He was just like Huckleberry Finn, no matter where they put him, he would find a way out,” his mother said.

He did get into trouble sometimes, but he always tried to defend other people and he wasn’t the one causing the fights. Since his birth father was abusive Jourdan always tried to be the opposite.

His favorite thing to do was to fish.

“He could catch fish with just a piece of string and a safety pin, he’s done it before,” Hagadus said. “He was a fish-charmer.”

With the persistence of family on both sides of the nation and police, answers came.

By pulling together a tangled web from the Social Security Administration, the state medical examiner’s officer and family in Utah and Michigan, Stricker was able to bring a close to 35 years of deceit and mystery.

He credits the family with the break in the case.

“Without their support or their help in the case this would probably never have been solved,” Stricker said.

“We are 99.9 percent sure it is him, buried in our cemetery under a different name.”

Right now the case is in the hands of the Clearfield city attorney as he wades through the legal process of getting a court order to exhume the body and bring Jourdan back to Belding, Mich., a small town one hour northwest of Lansing, possibly in the next month or two.

Hagadus, who is retired and now lives on a fixed income, has been frustrated that the exhumation motion has taken so long to file and says in November the attorney said he would file it next week.

One reason for the delay, Clearfield hasn’t ever dealt with a body exhumation in recent history, according to police. Also there isn’t anything in the law for dealing with the unusual case since it is not criminal in nature. The city is trying to help Hagadus not out of a legal requirement, but because it is the “right thing to do,” according to Clearfield City Attorney Brian Brower. It’s surely not a circumstance that the Utah Health Department or other Utah state agencies have previously dealt with, Brower said, noting that the case is a unique civil issue, not criminal.

He said he has drafted at least a half dozen affidavits in the case. The final affidavit is awaiting a signature from Jourdan’s birth family in Michigan. When that is received it can be filed to probate court in as little as a week. The main reason for the extended timeframe is because the city has been working “carefully and methodically” to make sure they present the petition for exhumation to the judge only once and at the least amount of cost required.

Brower said they have already been able to find ways to cut costs by finding a crematorium that will do the work for half the price and presenting a case that won’t also require expensive DNA testing.

“Our goal is to see that we are doing this at as little cost to this mother as possible.”

Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews.

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