In the June issue, Louise Farr writes about the twisted path of Randy Kling. In her story “The Identity Thief,” she details how Kling was a lifelong criminal with a knack for credit card fraud. He was so good at amassing aliases, he was even jailed at one point under a false identity. That was before he tried pulling off his biggest scam of all and wound up killing two people in the process. Executive editor Matthew Segal speaks with Farr about the piece.
Randy Kling, the subject of your feature, spent his life stealing people’s identities before he reconnected with an old acquaintance, Lori Budfuloski. Two murders soon followed their reunion. When you began looking into the story, did the image you had of Kling match the one that ultimately emerged after your research?
When I first heard about the case from a D.A. who worked on it in its early stages, I couldn’t have imagined the Randy Kling that emerged after my research. Most of us who aren’t in law enforcement or the profession of psychology would have trouble conjuring him up.
And how long did you spend looking into his case?
I heard about it in 2009, kept in touch with it, and then I began researching it seriously, between other stories, after Kling was sentenced in 2010. A case like this is such an emotional assault that it took a long time for people to agree to talk about it, but I had trouble letting it go.
How many aliases did he have at the time of his final arrest?
A hundred and four. He was actually able to obtain six driver’s licenses in one day, at some point, by visiting different DMV offices.
This is a guy who was so good at what he did, he enrolled in the army using a false name and was jailed while AWOL using another alias. Do you think police even know the full extent of his crimes?
The lead detective in the Kling case, Jay Carrott, told me that he’s not naive enough to believe that they got him on everything. Authorities never found a gun collection that Kling had inherited from his father, and Carrott wonders if there were other murders.
Right, you wrote in the piece that Kling may have been connected to the murder of a man with whom he’d been counterfeiting.
Randy Kling wasn’t charged with killing David Henchman, since there wasn’t enough evidence at the time, but details of Henchman’s death were presented to the jury after the guilt phase. It was pretty gruesome. I found it telling that, at first, when the San Bernardino Sheriff’s couldn’t identify Henchman, they cut off one of his hands to preserve the fingerprints. Years later a sentimental spin on the severed hand showed up in one of the tall tales Kling used to woo Lori Budfuloski.
That was the story he told about how his wife had died in a car crash and authorities brought her severed hand to him with the wedding ring still on.
Yes. He was plucking details from his past and modifying them, the way a novelist would, but telling an improbable tale for a horrifying end.
What were some of the impressions you got from law enforcement about how Kling played things?
From what I learned, he lawyers up and keeps quiet around cops, but it’s pretty clear he enjoyed outwitting them as much as he enjoyed conning other people. Detective Carrott—Kling once described him as “a smooth character” to Lori Budfuloski—got a glimpse into Kling’s methods when he listened to jailhouse phone conversations between Lori and Kling after his arrest. He would sweet-talk Lori, trying to convince her that the police were setting him up. Then after she hung up, Carrott could hear his anger at Lori through the still-open phone line: “It was like a switch.” One of the hardest things for Carrott over the years that it took for this case to be resolved was not being able to share with the Budfuloski family much of what he was learning about Kling. He didn’t want to taint the investigation. “It rips your heart out,” he said. “You never want to tell anybody to be patient, but they were so good about it.” There were times, Carrott told me, when he was up for three days straight, trying to solve this case. And later in the investigation, Joe Cipollini—
He was the investigator who handled the computer forensics in the case—
Right. Well, Cipollini and the prosecutor, Cheryl Temple, would be at their separate computers, miles away from each other, comparing notes at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night. “I was so emotionally invested,” Temple said to me.
One of the matters that came up during Kling’s trial was his mental health. In the story you describe how his mother had him institutionalized when he was 11. Experts—both for the defense and the prosecution—agreed that he is a full-blown psychopath. What does that actually mean?
The psychologists rated him on the commonly used Hare checklist of sociopathy, developed by Dr. Robert D. Hare, that includes characteristics such as lack of remorse, lying, conning, and so forth. If the experts had considered Kling sexually deviant, he would have had a perfect score. I guess getting turned on by pictures of hanging women and sending someone a photo of your penis next to a pistol doesn’t count. Or maybe the shrinks didn’t know about that at the time. Of course, not every sociopath is homicidal.
I know his girlfriends found him charming. Is charm part of the psychopath package? Was he able to fool other people?
One former girlfriend of Kling’s told me that she was captivated by his charisma, his wad of cash, and what she mistook for ambition. She said she thought he was going to take her away and love her, and all he did was give her hell. I think Lori Budfuloski would agree with the last statement. But he fooled almost everyone he came in contact with over the years. And yes, superficial charm is part of the sociopath package. Kling found out from Lori what her ideal boyfriend was and modeled himself after that, and he even pulled off this charade while he was living with her. He flattered her, sent her corny love notes and romantic, musical e-greeting cards. Some women might have been turned off, but Lori was dazzled.
Investigators had a difficult time linking him to the murders. From crime shows you’d assume that investigators just need to dig around to find a few stray hairs, a few carpet fibers, and they’ve got good DNA evidence. What was the difficulty in this case?
The original investigation into Bill Budfuloski’s murder was cursory, and then the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department dropped it. So by the second murder, it took a great deal of digging on the part of Carrott and computer detective Joe Cipollini to re-create Kling’s movements at the time of the killings and his research into Lori Budfuloski and the Budfuloski family. Cipollini won a Case of the Year Award from the High Technology Crime Association for his work, and Carrott received an Institute of Criminal Investigation award for investigative excellence.
Do you think Kling would have been convicted without the cyber element of the investigation?
It would have been more difficult. Cipollini was a painstaking cyber detective, able to find fragments of computer language that Kling thought he had deleted and piece them back together to tell the story of Kling’s stalking an unsuspecting and innocent family. The jury was impressed.
You’ve written about a range of subjects in your career, from fashion to celebrity to interior design and veterans’ mental health. What drew you to this particular story?
I’ve always been interested in the power of madness, and of sociopathy, to draw people in and deeply affect their lives. Then I get depressed and scurry back to more lightweight subjects.
There’s a lot about this story that sticks with you as a reader. But what sticks with you most from reporting the story?
I’m haunted by what Randy Kling did to the Budfuloskis, who were always so close in what they believed was their safe community of Simi Valley. Everyone remains touched by that, from the jury foreman, Brian Palmer, to the prosecutor, Cheryl Temple, who lived with the case for so many years. The most heartbreaking moment for me was seeing Bill Budfuloski’s daughter, Ashley, weeping at Kling’s sentencing hearing. No child ever gets over losing a father, and to lose one in such a violent way is unthinkable. Bill Budfuloski was a perfectly innocent man trying to make a living, and he died because of the horrible coincidence of his wife having met Randy Kling so many years before.