Oct. 12, 2000 - ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
HELENA, Mont. — The man now serving time for pushing his
wife off an 80-foot cliff in Acadia National Park in 1987 has confessed
to killing his first wife in 1975 in Montana, according to court
documents released this week in Montana.
Dennis R. Larson, 50, admitted to a Montana state
investigator on Sept. 14 that he pushed his wife, Leslee R. Larson, into
a stream near Wolf Creek on June 19, 1975, and watched her float away
in the deep, fast spring runoff. No trace of her body has ever been
found. Larson was charged last week.
In 1975, Larson told investigators that his first wife had
fallen into the creek and that he had jumped into the fast-moving water
in a futile attempt to rescue her. However, the first law officer at the
scene reported that Larson was dry and did not appear to have jumped
into the stream, the court document said.
Seven years later, after authorities finally ruled his wife dead, Larson collected on a $20,000 life insurance policy.
Larson is serving a 50-year sentence for murder in the Oct.
11, 1987, death of his third wife, Kathy Frost Larson. That case
revealed a whirlwind romance, a marriage-and-murder-for-profit scheme,
which also involved an insurance policy and a taped confession from
Larson that contradicted his earlier statements about Frost’s death.
Suspicions about the Great Falls native also prompted Bangor police to
blow up packages belonging to Larson, which they suspected might have
According to reports of Larson’s 1989 trial, after his
second wife divorced him in May 1987, Larson made what prosecutors
described as a temporary trip to Maine with the intention of finding a
way to win back his ex-wife. Prosecutors said that he placed personal
ads in two Maine newspapers in hopes of finding a new wife.
Kathy Frost, then 25, was one of three women to respond to
the ads, and the couple married in September 1987, just seven weeks
after their first meeting. The day after they married, Larson took out a
life insurance policy on himself and added an accidental death rider
for his wife providing double the $200,000 face value of the policy.
Frost’s family and friends had described her as “an
extremely desperate, lonely individual who was unable to get a man.”
According to testimony during Larson’s trial, Frost had told friends
that even though she didn’t love him, she would marry Larson, hoping to
learn to love him.
After the marriage, Frost appeared unhappy to friends and
complained about her new husband. She told her family that she had made a
mistake and would get out of her marriage by telling Larson what she
wanted to do during the weekend of Oct. 10 — the weekend that Larson had
asked her to go to Bar Harbor. She also told family that she did not
want to go to Bar Harbor. Testimony indicated that although she did not
enjoy hiking or swimming, and had a strong fear of heights, she agreed
to the trip to please her husband.
The couple went to Acadia National Park at dusk on Oct. 11.
Larson initially told investigators that they had gone to the sheer
vertical drop at Otter Cliffs to look for otters in the water below. He
said they had taken different paths and, while they were separated, he
heard his wife scream. When he got to the edge of the precipice, he said
he saw his wife lying on the rocks, 81 feet below.
As the investigation into Frost’s death continued, Larson
made plans to return to Montana. On Nov. 4, he boarded an airplane at
Bangor International Airport, but had left several packages on the floor
of the BIA terminal.
Maine State Police officers, investigating Frost’s death,
notified Bangor police officers that the packages might contain
explosives. The investigators had searched Larson’s apartment in
Millinocket the day before and had discovered 6½ sticks of dynamite in
the garage there.
A demolition team moved the packages out of the airport and exploded them, but found only tools and clothing.
It was while Larson was in Montana that State Police
Detective Jeffrey Harmon traveled there to question him about Frost’s
death. During a six-hour interview, Larson admitted that he had pushed
his wife off the cliff in retaliation after she shoved him and said she
was leaving him.
“I pushed her too hard, I guess,” he told Harmon.
The Montana affidavit containing Larson’s confession was
ordered released on Tuesday by Justice of the Peace Wally Jewell after
three news organizations challenged an earlier order to keep it secret.
That order was issued by an acting justice of the peace at the request
of Lewis and Clark County Attorney Mike McGrath on the day the murder
charged against Larson was filed.
McGrath had argued that disclosing the contents of the
document could jeopardize Larson’s right to a fair trial. In his ruling,
Jewel said that the request to keep the document secret had to be
balanced with the constitutional right to know, which, he said, was not
done in this case.
The document does not explain why a state investigator was sent to Maine to question Larson.
Because of the similarity in the deaths of the two women,
Montana authorities had reopened the investigation of the death of
Leslee R. Larson, in the late 1980s. The state Justice Department got
involved in the case in 1998 at the urging of Leslee Larson’s family and
the sheriff’s offices in Cascade and Judith Basin counties. Both
agencies had been involved in searching for the woman’s body and in the
McGrath has said he will ask that Larson be extradited from
Maine to face the murder charge against him, and Public Defender Randi
Hood said she believes that process has begun.
The state of Maine has not received a formal request to send
Larson to Montana, according to Bob Way, a spokesman for the Maine
Attorney General’s office.
Hood said she is hoping to discuss the case with Larson soon, and has not yet decided whether to waive extradition.