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Tom Kueter

Real Name: Thomas Anthony Kueter
Nicknames: Tom
Location: Rapid City, South Dakota
Date: June 28, 1994

Case[]

Details: Twenty-nine-year-old Tom Kueter lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, with his wife, Nancy, and two children. He died under mysterious circumstances on June 28, 1994. His family believes he was murdered. The police say he committed suicide. If so, it is certainly one of the most unusual on record.
Tom was a forklift driver at Forest Products Distributors, a wood processing plant on the outskirts of Rapid City. It was around 8:30am on that peaceful summer morning, just after the shift change, when two workers found Tom’s body in the plant's yard. His head had been crushed beneath the rear wheel of his forklift. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) originally treated his death as an industrial accident.
However, the police investigation soon pointed to a chilling scenario. The authorities believe that while Tom was working alone, he loaded at least a ton of lumber onto the forklift, set it on an incline, jumped from the cab, and positioned himself perfectly in the machine’s path. But why would he kill himself? Some say his suicide is connected to the mysterious disappearance, five days earlier, of a thirty-year-old woman named Tina Marcotte.
Tina was originally from Manchester, New Hampshire. She and Tom were casual friends who once worked for the same employer, Black Hills Molding, a wood processing plant. Now, they are forever linked in mystery. During a bizarre five-day period, one turned up missing, the other turned up dead. It all began early Friday morning, June 24, 1994. Tina worked the late shift grading lumber at Black Hills Molding. Her shift ended at 12:30am. Shortly afterwards, she phoned her best friend, Vicky Riddle. Vicky, who was already asleep, woke up when the phone rang.
According to Vicky, Tina was very upset. She said that she had just finished her shift when she discovered that one of her car’s tires was flat. It was so flat that she could not even drive on it. Vicky told her that she would give her a ride home; she just needed a few minutes to get dressed. Before Vicky had the chance to get ready, Tina told her that a car had pulled up. She went out to see who it was. Vicky waited for a few minutes while Tina went to talk to the person.
When Tina returned to the phone, she told Vicky that she did not have to come anymore. She said, "Tom’s here, and he’s going to give me a ride home." Vicky asked who Tom was; Tina said that he used to work with her. Vicky and Tina said their goodbyes. It was the last time anyone spoke to Tina. Initially, no one even reported her missing. Patrick Gleason, her live-in boyfriend of eleven years and the father of her three children, thought that she would soon return. He also worked at Black Hills Molding with her.
On Saturday morning, Vicky called Tom Kueter and told him about Tina's phone call. He denied giving her a ride home. Later that morning, he and Patrick showed up at Vicky’s house. She says that Tom became defensive when she mentioned Tina’s phone call. She told him that, as far as she knew, he was the only "Tom" that used to work with Tina. He tried to dismiss Vicky, saying that she was drunk, and "wouldn’t know Tom from Ron." However, she insisted that Tina said that it was "Tom that used to work here." Finally, he admitted that he was the only "Tom" that he ever knew that worked there. Vicky noticed that he was glaring at her and not acting himself.
Patrick listened patiently, then asked Tom if he was "messing around" with Tina. Tom said he was not. Patrick says that Tom’s reaction did not seem right to him. He says that if Tom was accused of something he did not do, he would have started fighting with Patrick. Patrick says, "that was the type of person he was."
Patrick says Tom suggested that they go together to report Tina missing. They did so at 11am that morning at Rapid City Police Department headquarters. But when police went to check on her car, they discovered that the tire had most likely been slashed with a knife. Based on the shape of the puncture mark, they believe that somebody stuck a knife in the sidewall of the left front tire. This suggested foul play, perhaps murder.
Tom was asked by police to come in for an interview; he voluntarily agreed to come in. He denied giving Tina a ride or even being in the area of her workplace. He said he could "pass a lie detector test" about it. He stated that he played in a softball game that night, Thursday, June 23. At 11pm, he gave a friend a ride home. He claimed that as he was driving home, his car, a bronze 1975 Pontiac LeMans sedan, broke down behind the Sooper Dooper grocery store on East St. Patrick Street. He spent approximately three or four hours fixing the engine and carburetor under a streetlight.
Tom never called Nancy that night to say he had been delayed. He finally arrived home at around 3:30am and told her that his car had broken down. She told police that when he got home that night, he immediately washed and soaked his clothes, including his softball uniform. He told her that he wanted to wash out dirt and grease that got on him while fixing his car. On Sunday, he washed his shoes and shoelaces. Police believed that this was suspicious. However, Nancy said that he often did that. During his interrogation, he pointed out exactly where his car had broken down. Police later canvassed the neighborhood but could find no one to confirm his alibi. In fact, three witnesses told police that they would have seen the car if it had been there.
Investigator Dean Guthmiller of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department says that things were not "adding up" in relation to Tom’s story. This led him and the other investigators to believe that Tom was almost definitely involved in Tina’s disappearance. They learned from Tom's coworkers that he had a "darker side." He reportedly did not get along well with them and was often angry or "moody" while working. Being 6'0" tall and 185 pounds, he was also considered "physically intimidating." He also had a criminal record; he had previously been convicted of burglary and simple assault. Furthermore, investigators discovered that he had previously abused alcohol and drugs.
On Monday, three days after Tina disappeared, police interviewed Tom at the lumber yard. They told him he was a suspect in her disappearance. They asked him if he was having an affair with her; he denied it. They also told him that blood had been found in his car and they were testing it to see if it was Tina's. The next morning, he was dead.
Police looked into the possibility that Tom's death was an accident. It was discovered that the forklift's parking brake was inoperable. OSHA later fined Forest Products Distributors $1,750 for several safety infractions. However, investigators believed that the forklift would have rolled too slowly down the incline to accidentally crush Tom, as he was an "agile man" and an "expert operator." In fact, he had undergone special training less than two weeks before his death. Mechanical failure was also ruled out.
Investigator Guthmiller says that in his opinion, Tom took his own life because he was very overwhelmed by the investigation into Tina’s disappearance, was worried that they were closing in on him, and needed a way out. He believes that Tom attempted to make it look like an accident in order for his family to receive some sort of insurance benefits. Investigators re-enacted the suicide scenario on videotape, using 2x4s to simulate Tom's body. The forklift ran over the lumber. The coroner ruled his death a suicide. From the beginning, Nancy has disagreed with their ruling; she says that he would not have left her and their children. She says that she will never believe that he committed suicide.
Nancy hired attorney Rich Bode and private investigator John Kolbach to look into Tom's death. Kolbach does not believe anyone would choose the "excruciating" type of death that Tom did. He and Bode said the recreation done by investigators did not prove that the forklift would run over a body. They interviewed dozens of people connected to the case and also hired Dr. Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist. He says that he rejects the idea that Tom’s death was a suicide because of the lack of suicidal behavior, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal emotions, that went into his life in the four days prior to his death. He concluded there was no evidence to show that Tom felt guilty about Tina's disappearance or was depressed enough to kill himself. Coworkers said that he acted normally on the day of his death. Nancy says that police searched for a suicide note in their home; however, nothing was found.
Nancy is convinced that someone, identity and motive unknown, attacked Tom in the lumber yard, then crushed him beneath the wheels of his own forklift. She believes that he was murdered; she wishes that the police would investigate his death more, instead of closing the case. She says that there are leads in his case and the police have not followed up on them. One lead was discovered by Bode; he interviewed one of Tom's coworkers, who said that another coworker offered him $500 to break Tom's legs over a work dispute. The man said that the same coworker later bragged about hitting Tom over the head and putting him under the forklift. Police, however, have stated that they do not believe the man's story.
Investigator Guthmiller says that there were no drag marks to indicate that anybody had dragged Tom. He notes that Tom weighed almost 200 pounds; it would have been difficult for someone to carry him. Also, there were no signs of a struggle in the area. As a result, Investigator Guthmiller does not believe the murder theory.
But the police do believe that Tom murdered Tina. They speculate that on the night she disappeared, he showed up unexpectedly outside of her office. He intentionally slashed her tire to keep her from leaving. Investigator Guthmiller does not believe that Tom’s appearance at the office at 12:30am was a coincidence. He thinks that it was planned. He thinks that Tom was out there waiting for Tina when she got off work. He believes that the only thing that failed in Tom’s plan was that she was on the phone when he drove up.
According to the police theory, after Tina got into Tom's car, he made sexual advances toward her. When he was rejected, the result was murder. Nancy, however, says that the police have no evidence to link him to Tina’s disappearance. She says that nothing was found in his car that linked him to Tina (she claims that the "blood" found in the car was actually Kool-Aid), and no witnesses placed her in his car that night. She believes that Vicky may have been mistaken about what Tina said in the phone call.
Nancy claims that, prior to Tom's death, he told her several times that someone was trying to frame him for Tina's disappearance. However, he said that he did not know who was doing it. According to her, he maintained his innocence until his death. She also claims that he was never violent to her, except for when he "pushed" her a few times while drinking. According to her, in the four years prior to his death, he did not use drugs and rarely drank. Several friends and relatives said he was a quiet, thoughtful family man, an overall "nice guy." They do not believe he committed suicide or killed Tina. They also do not believe he would have tried to have an affair with Tina. They say that he loved Nancy too much.
Tom's death and Tina's disappearance has left two children without a father, three children without a mother, and two families seeking answers. Unfortunately, because Tom's death was ruled a suicide, Nancy and their children are unable to receive any workers' compensation benefits. She has filed an appeal with the Division of Labor and Management to reverse the decision by Forest Products Distributors and its insurance company, Wassau, not to pay the compensation claim.
Suspects: None known; although investigators believe Tom committed suicide, Nancy believes that an unidentified individual attacked him at work and drove the forklift over him.
A coworker of Tom's claimed that another coworker had offered him $500 to break Tom's legs over a work dispute. According to the witness, the other coworker later bragged about hitting Tom over the head and putting him under the forklift. Police, however, have stated that they do not believe the witness's story.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the January 5, 1996 episode.
  • It was submitted to the show by Nancy.

Results: Solved. While Unsolved Mysteries was preparing this story, there was a major break. At around noon on October 11, 1995, a worker at Forest Products Distributors was using a piece of heavy equipment to move a pile of old scrap wood in the remote, rarely used back portion of the plant's yard. When a few pieces of wood fell off the pile, he went to pick them up. He then spotted a badly decomposed body in the pile of wood. Based on dental and medical records, along with clothing and other items found nearby, it was identified as Tina's. An autopsy determined that she had been killed by blunt force trauma to the upper left side of her head. Police believe she was killed on the day she disappeared. They also believe she was killed elsewhere and dumped there.
Four-and-a-half years after Tom's death, Nancy finally received insurance death benefits. A judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove that Tom had committed suicide.
Detectives continued to investigate Tina and Tom's cases for several years. Both are now considered closed. According to Tina's daughter, Sheri, her DNA was matched to blood found on Tom's shoe. Investigators told her that if Tom was still alive, they would charge him with Tina's murder.
Sadly, in 2009, Tom's son, Dustin, passed away at the age of eighteen. In 2015, Patrick passed away.
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