'The Letter' Season 2: Conversation with a killer

The family of Jordan Rasmussen gathers at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on Sunday, March 5, 2023.

The family of Jordan Rasmussen gathers at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on Sunday, March 5, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

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Estimated read time: 15-16 minutes

Editor's note: This is the sixth story in a series highlighting Season 2 of the KSL podcast "The Letter." This season explores topics like grief and forgiveness, but under very different circumstances. The podcast explores what happened after two young fathers were murdered outside an iconic Utah restaurant in 1982. The families struggle to rebuild and have to wrestle with questions that take decades to answer. Does everyone deserve forgiveness? Does it matter if there is no remorse? And if trauma can be passed through generations, can forgiveness also be passed down?

DRAPER — As Diane Rasmussen Duckworth waited for her turn to pass through a metal detector, questions she had struggled to answer for more than a decade marched through her mind.

She stood with her mother, her sisters, and her sister-in-law in a gray-walled security building at the entrance of the Utah State Prison. An emotional mix of anticipation and anxiety churned in her stomach.

She was finally going to get answers.

That's because 12 years after her big brother was murdered, they were going to sit down with the man who killed him.

"I really want to ask him these questions," she said, listing a few of them. "And I went in just thinking, 'OK, buddy, … why would you take the life of this sweet man and leave (his) three children (without a father)?'"

When Jordan Rasmussen was killed by co-worker Michael Patrick Moore on March 5, 1982, outside Log Haven restaurant, his family was stunned. How could someone who knew the quiet, kind 32-year-old accountant want him dead? And why had Moore also killed a 24-year-old delivery driver who had nothing to do with the business?

Duckworth and her family had forgiven Moore in a letter written by her older sister, Leslie Rasmussen Moore (no relation to Michael Moore), a few months before this meeting on Jan. 26, 1994. It was arranged by Jordan Rasmussen's widow — DeAnn Rasmussen Kilgore — and only one member of their immediate family declined to go: their father, Elden Rasmussen.

"He said, 'I know I have forgiven him, the Lord knows I have forgiven him, and he knows I have forgiven him, but I don't need to see the man that took my only son,'" Duckworth said of her father.

But for the women, it felt like something they had to do. Kilgore remembers how bleak it was walking through security to the visiting room where Michael Moore waited for them with a prison caseworker.

"I remember walking into that dismal place," Kilgore said, "Nothing other than gloom and doom in a prison."

As they walked through the security doors leading to the room, Leslie Moore turned to her sisters and issued a warning.

"I said, 'You know, I'm here because we need to be here," she said. "But if he says one negative thing about Jordan … I'm gonna have to just go wait in my car, because I cannot hear that."

They walked into the undecorated room where Michael Moore was already waiting. One wall of the room had large windows, but the view was a barren prison yard framed by fences topped with razor wire. In the distance, above the guard towers, the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains, where Jordan was killed, were visible.

Conversation with a killer

Michael Moore stood up and invited them to sit on the couches that faced each other. He sat in a chair between them.

"Obviously, everybody was uncomfortable," Kilgore recalled. "And he sat down on a chair, and we were in our seats. And we just did small talk to begin with."

Kilgore showed him a picture of her family — of Jordan Rasmussen with his children.

"He addressed me personally, apologized over and over again about what he had done to the family, and what he had done to my children," she said. "He said there wasn't a day go by that he did not think about my children and what he had done to them. He especially mentioned David's name saying, 'I think of David every day. And I can't imagine what it must be like for him to have somebody take his father.'

"And it was just a really good, peaceful, calm feeling."

It was a wide-ranging conversation and nothing was off-limits.

"It wasn't all 'Kumbaya,'" Kilgore said. "Feelings of the last years were expressed and the hurt and the pain and the suffering, that was all expressed."

Kilgore was feeling more at ease as the conversation progressed.

"I remember everything was really good," she said. "We got our questions answered. … But then I remember looking over at Leslie."

And she knew immediately, something wasn't right.

"Leslie has become flushed," Kilgore said. "She'd become agitated, and she just said, 'OK, this isn't right. I'm not feeling good. We shouldn't have come.'"

Kilgore was stunned.

Leslie Moore said that she was just listening, and then, without warning, she was overcome with a darkness she still struggles to describe.

"There was the blackest feeling you could ever feel," she remembers. "You could have cut that feeling in there. It was so — it was just a bizarre feeling. And I finally said to (Kilgore), I said, 'You know, I'm afraid I've got to go.' Because it was just almost engulfing. I mean, I think I was even having a hard time breathing."

Kilgore said her sister-in-law's struggle wasn't just emotional.

"It was physical. … You could tell physically, that … she was struggling," she said.

Kilgore said the feeling in the room wasn't just off. It felt truly evil.

And she has a theory about why. She believes it was the devil — or as she they call him, "the adversary."

"When the bad feelings came, I liken that to the adversary," Kilgore said. "He did not want this forgiveness to take place, he would much rather see hate and contention. He would much rather see that happen to the family. And that we live with that."

Leslie Moore agrees. In fact, all of the women in that room feel the same way about what happened.

And Leslie Moore said that almost as suddenly as the darkness engulfed her, it receded.

"Honestly, I have to testify there was like a light of Christ that came into that room," she said. "And I know personally, the adversary did not want us to forgive him. And when we had that exuberant feeling that we did, that's when everything was a transition. And we were able to embrace him, and we were able to just release everything that we had as hostility. So that was a real blessing."

After two hours, prison officials said their time together was over. They started to say their goodbyes, when middle sister Duckworth walked over to Moore and wrapped him in an embrace.

The Wasatch gate at the old Utah State Prison in Draper is pictured on Aug. 15, 2022.
The Wasatch gate at the old Utah State Prison in Draper is pictured on Aug. 15, 2022. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"It pretty much even shocked me to know that I was hugging him when we left," Duckworth said. "And that I felt compassion for him, and I just continued to feel sorry for what he had gone through."

As they walked back through the prison's gauntlet of security, they thought about what had been happening to all of them. They considered how much had changed in just the last few months. But how could they ever explain it all to someone else?

Even some of their spouses didn't understand what happened after that 1993 parole hearing and Leslie Moore's letter to Michael Moore.

"In our own family," Leslie said, "I think there were skeptics that are going, 'Are we sure that he's not pulling a ploy or something, you know?'"

And if their husbands struggled with it, imagine how strangers might react. So they decided, almost without discussion, to keep it safe in their little circle.

"We didn't dare share with the public," Duckworth said. "Because they would have thought we were nuts."

Leslie Moore said that concern about what others might think only grew when they learned her parents were considering something totally unexpected.

"They said he'll need someplace to go" if he was ever released from prison, Leslie Moore said. "And so they said, 'Why don't we just have him come and stay with us until he can get everything arranged?' … And then I remember my mom saying, 'Well, now, that's not going to work because people are going to think we're insane.'"

But that's how completely things had shifted for Jordan Rasmussen's family. A man they'd once hoped would face a firing squad was now a man they wrote to, confided in and prayed for.

But there were people who understood how they felt — people who'd worked or volunteered with Michael Moore inside the prison. Not only did they believe Moore had sincerely changed, they thought he deserved a second chance at freedom. And some of them even took up the fight on his behalf.

Life behind bars

Among those was the man who ran Utah Correctional Industries — Dick Clasby.

"I first noticed him in our print shop," said Clasby, who retired after nearly four decades with the Utah Department of Corrections. He said Moore worked his way up from a job as a janitor to essentially running the print shop.

"The (staff) shop supervisor … would talk about how good he was," Clasby said. "He was a brilliant kid, and he could carry on a good conversation. He worked hard in the print ship. Everybody he worked with was pleased with what he was doing."

Clasby said Moore was creative, ambitious and never content with the status quo. Not only did he avoid disciplinary write-ups, he helped officers with some situations that threatened to turn violent between inmates because of his language and negotiation skills.

"There was a problem in the print shop several years ago, where there was some racial tension in there," Clasby said. "And he used his Spanish, and he calmed them down. Now I didn't see it, but that's what I heard."

Moore quickly climbed the ranks thanks to his aptitude for computer programing and accounting. His skills eventually made him indispensable to Utah Correctional Industries because he could do things for prison officials that would have cost them thousands of dollars if they had to pay market prices.

"He would earn the highest that we would pay a nonprivate sector inmate," Clasby said. "So it would be $1.75, $2 an hour. And then he would work a lot of hours."

Moore wrote letters to the Rasmussens where he told them how a volunteer encouraged him to invest whatever money he made in the stock market. He followed that advice and ended up with thousands of dollars in savings.

Clasby said Moore innovated job opportunities for himself and others, but sometimes his emotions — and his ego — tripped him up.

"He was so smart, just so smart," Clasby said. "And he knew it. And he was emotional. He would get down if somebody questioned his intelligence or, or something happened to him."

Jack Ford was the spokesman for the corrections department and said Moore was "a model inmate."

"I'd go over and talk to him," said Ford, who actually covered Moore's murder trial in 1982 for KSL. The two never discussed the killings — or his trial. They became quite friendly.

"He had a small little tiny cubicle, where he managed the books for all of Utah Correctional Industries, which was making money for inmates and for the prison," Ford said. "It wasn't like he had free run of anything, but he made more than most inmates. And that made some inmates jealous."

That jealousy would show up a few years later in some false allegations against Moore. And while he'd eventually be cleared, Moore was so stung by how he was treated, that he mentioned it in letters and a subsequent parole hearing.

A bouquet of yellow daisies, Jordan Rasmussen’s favorite flower, is placed at his grave at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023.
A bouquet of yellow daisies, Jordan Rasmussen’s favorite flower, is placed at his grave at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023. (Photo: Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

But that situation was the exception. Moore had an impeccable disciplinary record.

That fact alone was rare. But the support he garnered from staff, volunteers, and now the families of his victims was almost unheard of. And Moore seemed determined to use all of that to win a second chance at a life outside the prison walls.

In 1995, he got an unexpected parole hearing thanks to a lawsuit filed by other inmates regarding the Board of Pardons' policies. He was among those inmates who received a hearing based on those new rules.

And even though the board denied his parole after a 1993 hearing, he had a new reason to believe things might be different this time.

Unlikely advocate

Elden Rasmussen never wanted to meet with Michael Moore. But on June 2, 1995, he asked the Board of Pardons if he could speak on behalf of the man who had murdered his only son.

"I have been to this hearing before," he said. "My daughter in-law DeAnn and my daughter Leslie gave beautiful descriptions of the feelings we have at the loss of Jordan. … The day that this happened was the most painful day of my life. I first wanted his life, and I was upset when his attorney got him off the death penalty … to a life sentence."

But he said he'd learned of Moore's remorse and of the changes he'd made in his life. He said he believed his son wanted him to extend mercy to the man who shot and killed him.

"Jordan has forgiven Mike for doing this," Elden Rasmussen said, adding that he'd struggled to follow what he believes is his son's example. "(Moore's) father has wanted to talk to me on several occasions. Once we met accidentally in a grocery store. And he wanted to talk and … tell me what Mike was doing. And I did not give him a decent time of day."

He said Michael Moore's apology in the 1993 hearing touched his heart.

"I can't be as big as my son, but I too have this feeling," Rasmussen said. "And I felt sorry for Mike, as I've heard him bear testimony and go through this story. And I know what he's lived with. … I forgive him. My wife forgives him and I think all my daughters do."

He said he didn't think Moore was dangerous or that he'd commit new crimes if released.

"I do know that Mike has not committed other crimes other than this one," Rasmussen said, his voice catching momentarily. "It was a horrible one. I … feel that he would not do this again, that he has learned his lesson on that score. I would trust him; I know he would not hurt my family. … And I have confidence that he would be a worthy citizen again. … It's just unfortunate that this happened."

Board of Pardons member Don Blanchard praised Elden Rasmussen for his generosity in forgiving Moore. He thanked him for sharing his feelings.

Blanchard asked Moore if he'd read the case files they shared with him. He said yes.

"I read everything in that packet," he said. "And then I started to read my confession, and it was the most horrible thing I've ever read."

He said he couldn't even finish reading it.

"​​The Rasmussen family is the neatest family I've ever met," Moore said. "My efforts were to be repentant in here and they offered me forgiveness. … It's the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced — to be able to apologize to the family, and to have them accept my apology and forgive me. It's a testimony I'll bear forever."

A courtroom sketch of Michael Patrick Moore during his 1982 murder trial in Salt Lake City.
A courtroom sketch of Michael Patrick Moore during his 1982 murder trial in Salt Lake City. (Photo: KSL-TV)

Even though the family of Buddy Booth wasn't at the hearing, they'd made their opposition to early release known to the board. Moore said he'd been trying to get in touch with Booth's family, and he hoped someday to be able to apologize directly to them, as well.

And then, for the first time, he said he was an alcoholic starting at age 18. He said he'd had a difficult, even violent, relationship with his father. He said he'd been trying to address it in therapy, and he discussed it in psychological evaluations prepared for the parole hearing.

This was the first time he'd mentioned any issue with his father, who was one of his most vocal advocates, pleading with the jury at his trial to spare his life, and asking the Board of Pardons to consider him for parole in those earlier hearings.

But in this hearing, Moore told Blanchard his father has disowned him, an assertion that Blanchard challenged.

"I don't think that he has cast you out, nor totally set you aside," Blanchard said. "He appeared at your initial hearing, pleaded on your behalf. He's written in on your behalf, expressed some concerns about some miscommunications. Maybe there were some real tragedies in your life before. Maybe there was abuse at his hands. I don't know that. … But I don't know that he's disowned you."

Moore responded, "That's been my impression. He hasn't spoken to me since my last board hearing. And the comment was that I had embarrassed him. And that was the end of it. And he wanted nothing more to do with me."

Blanchard and Moore discussed why he killed Booth, and he returned, at least in part, to the conspiracy theories that he seemed to abandon in his 1993 parole hearing.

After his discussion with Moore, Blanchard ended the hearing. Two weeks later, Moore was informed that he'd been denied parole — for a third time. Another hearing was scheduled for 2004.

He was deeply disappointed, and he shared that in letters to the Rasmussens. But he didn't give up. Instead, he wrote letters to the Booth family, and asked the Board of Pardons if they'd forward them on his behalf.

They did that. And Buddy Booth's widow, Carla Maas, wrote him back.

What Leslie Moore's letter put into motion continued to ripple through lives in ways none of them expected — or even knew about. And it would lead to an unexpected advocate — and Moore's best chance at actually earning parole.

Follow for free on your favorite podcast app or at theletterpodcast.com. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts for exclusive bonus content, available with each new episode on Tuesdays.

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Amy Donaldson
Amy Donaldson is an executive producer with KSL Podcasts. She reports, writes and hosts “The Letter” and co-hosts “Talking Cold.” She spent 28 years as a news and sports reporter at the Deseret News.


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