The 911 call that led to the discovery of Michael Kleiman’s burning truck, and his remains inside, came from across the Hudson River.
Someone on the Rhinecliff side saw smoke rising from the woods near the hamlet of East Kingston about 2 p.m. on July 25, 2008. Firefighters began searching for the blaze, finding it 45 minutes later, on the wooded property of a former cement plant just south of East Kingston.
When the truck blew up, people who had been swimming at a nearby quarry told police it sounded like a bomb.
The condition of Kleiman’s remains and the lingering odor of gasoline told police the death was a homicide. Eight years later, it remains unsolved.
“My mother was there, home alone, when the police knocked on the door,” said Mark Kleiman, Michael’s brother. “She said she knew. She knew something had happened to my brother.”
Kleiman was a psychiatric nurse who worked with troubled kids at a children’s rehabilitation center in Westchester County. After years of living with his mom in a two-bedroom apartment in Yonkers, he bought a house on Sundown Road in Kerhonkson.
“It never really made a lot of sense,” Mark Kleiman said. “He had a pretty solitary life … His joys in life were the antique auctions. My brother loved nothing more than sitting on a box full of stuff, expecting somewhere in there to be a diamond in the rough.”
Mark Kleiman said their mother’s health deteriorated after Michael’s death, and she died six months later to the day.
“You don’t realize the impact until you look around and see how it sort of circumscribes life,” Mark Kleiman said. “Loss is something you carry. It doesn’t enter your mind all of the time, or even a lot of the time. But it’s an experience that’s imprinted on you.”
The crime was horrific. Town of Ulster Police Detective Brian Reavy said an initial task force of Ulster, Kingston and state police and the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office worked the case for the first couple of months. State police then detailed two investigators to assist Ulster for the following year. Now, state police cold-case investigators are assisting.
Over the years, Reavy said, police have investigated nearly 600 leads and conducted hundreds of interviews in the case. Still, they are unable to narrow down suspects from a pool that extends from Kingston to Middletown to Yonkers. They’ve even checked out every captured serial killer who’s passed through New York, seeking any possible connection.
What they know is that Kleiman was last seen at home on July 24, 2008, and phone records show he was home that day. Between that afternoon and 2 p.m. the next day, someone killed him, dismembered him, drove his truck to the secluded spot on the access road about halfway between Main Street and Route 32, and set his truck on fire.
Reavy said the investigation had shown that Kleiman had a small circle of friends, and socialized with them mainly in Kerhonkson, Ellenville and Middletown. Antiquing took him mainly to Sullivan and Orange counties. He had no connections to the Town of Ulster, except that his remains were found there.
Police have theories. They think the killer had local ties, and knew about the spot near the swimming hole — secluded, but half a mile from the Town of Ulster business district via Route 32 and Frank Sottile Boulevard.
They think someone might have unknowingly given the killer a ride out of the area, or to the commercial area, that afternoon.
There are more leads to work, Reavy said, and he and state police Investigator James Browne will pursue them.
Mark Kleiman said he stayed actively in touch with police for a year or so, but not much had panned out.
“More than anything else, that nobody was caught and found guilty is disturbing,” Kleiman said. “Whatever the punishment would have been, the fact that it was not solved, that individuals with that lack of any sensitivity to life are out there.”