On July 25, 2008, police and firefighters responded to a report of a vehicle fire 1,000 feet down a narrow, weed-choked lane connecting Route 32 and First Avenue at the site of the former Hudson Cement plant. When they arrived, they found a gray 2004 Nissan pickup truck engulfed in flames. Inside the cab, emergency workers made a horrifying discovery.
It would take police two weeks to positively identify the badly burned body in the truck as 56-year-old Kerhonkson resident Michel Kleiman. Eight years later, Town of Ulster police are still trying to answer another piece of the mystery — who killed him. On July 25, eight years after the murder, police issued a Facebook post and press release calling for the public’s assistance in solving the cold case and revealing new details about the crime.
“People’s lives have changed since then,” said UPD Detective Brian Reavy. “We wanted to try to generate some discussion about this case and maybe somebody who couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to us at the time will come forward.”
At the time of his death, Kleiman was splitting his time between his mother’s house in Westchester, where he worked double shifts as a nurse’s aide at a facility for mentally ill children, and his own home on a quiet rural road in Samsonville. Kleiman’s brother, Mark, described him as a shy, but friendly man who spent his free time making the rounds at auctions and antique stores seeking out Disney memorabilia, comic books and other items that attracted his interest. Police say he also frequented area swimming holes.
The discovery of Kleiman’s body inside his truck touched off an intensive investigation. Teams of police and park rangers scoured the woods and swamps around East Kingston looking for clues. Police set up traffic checkpoints around the area looking for potential witnesses. At one point, detectives reached out to the LGBTQ Center of the Hudson Valley, leading center officials to send a mass email warning of an anti-gay killer on the loose. Then-UPD chief Paul Watzka would say a few days later that detectives were simply covering all bases and that there was no evidence that the death was a hate crime. Kleiman’s family offered a $10,000 reward for the killer while detectives interviewed and re-interviewed some 200 people and followed up on 600 leads. At the time, police said little about the investigation except that they believed Kleiman knew his killer or killers and was murdered elsewhere before being dumped with his truck in East Kingston.
“There have never been any suspects, there have been people of interest,” said Reavy. “Some of those have been cleared and some we can’t clear.”
Reavy said cops had never stopped working the case, but the department had decided renew its efforts following the June acquittal of Kingston dentist Gilberto Nunez on murder charges. Town of Ulster detectives spent years pursuing the case against Nunez in the November 2011 death of his friend Thomas Kolman. Reavy said the conclusion of the Nunez case had freed up investigative resources to redouble efforts to find Kleiman’s killer or killers.
Police are asking the public for help cracking the case. Specifically, they’re looking for people who may have unknowingly given the killer a ride from East Kingston or the Town of Ulster business district sometime between 1-4 p.m. on July 25, 2008. Cops are also seeking anyone who exhibited strange behavior or increased drug and alcohol use in the days after the crime, showed unusual interest in media coverage of the case or abruptly left the area in late July 2008. Police are also releasing for the first time information about Kleiman’s jewelry in hopes that it might be found and lead them back to the killer. Police say they’re looking for anyone who may have bought or sold a silver ring with the blue stone that Kleiman wore, but was not recovered at the crime scene. Kleiman also sported an older-model Rolex wristwatch, a small diamond earring and a silver horseshoe-shaped pinky ring.
Anyone with information is asked to call Town of Ulster Police at (845) 382-1111 or the department’s anonymous tip line at (845) 336-3784. Tips can also be submitted by email at www.ulsterpolice.com or conventional mail addressed to 1 Town Hall Drive, Lake Katrine, NY 12449.