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 contained explosives.
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.
|DEATHS IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK - OTTER CLIFFS|
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 initial investigation.
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.
A Maine State Prison inmate, charged in Montana with the death of one of his wives, committed suicide by jumping from a third-floor window at the maximum-security prison, officials said last week.
Dennis Larson, 50, was in a work room where inmates make crafts when he put duct tape over his mouth, climbed on a bench and jumped out the window on December 31, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Larson's body hit a wall and tumbled into a courtyard, where he was pronounced dead. A suicide note was found in his cell, McCausland said.
Maine State Prison Warden Jeff Merrill told the Helena (Mont.) Independent Record that Larson's personal writings indicated he was concerned about being extradited to Montana.
Few other details were released about any witnesses to the incident or the sequence of events leading up to Larson's leap from the window.
Larson was serving a 50-year sentence in Maine for murdering his third wife by pushing her off a cliff. Three months ago, he was charged with killing his first wife by pushing her into a Montana creek in 1975.
Officials in Montana had hoped to extradite Larson so he could stand trial for murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison.
Larson, who was from Great Falls, Mont., had claimed his wife fell into Prickley Pear Creek, which was swollen with spring runoff, and that her body was carried off in the swift current on June 10, 1975. Her body was never recovered.
In 1982, authorities finally ruled Leslee Reynolds Larson dead, and her husband collected $20,000 from a life insurance policy.
Five years later, on Oct. 11, 1987, Larson was accused of pushing his third wife, Kathy Frost Larson, off an 80-foot cliff in Acadia National Park.
Larson initially claimed she fell while walking along the cliffs, but he later changed his story and said she died while the couple was fighting. He told Maine State Police that his wife shoved him first and that she tumbled off the cliff when he shoved her back.
Larson and Frost had met weeks earlier when she responded to a personal ad. They were married three weeks later, and Larson immediately took out a $400,000 insurance policy on his bride.
A friend who testified against Larson at his 1989 trial recounted a hunting trip 10 years earlier during which Larson said he would like to get married, arrange an apparently accidental death and collect the insurance.
The similarity between the two cases prompted Montana authorities to reopen their investigation of Leslee Larson's disappearance