Centerpiece : MISSING: PHILIP (TAYLOR) KRAMER

Times Staff Writer

The day before he disappeared, Philip (Taylor) Kramer thought he would take his kids out for a bite. Finding only 40 cents in his pocket, he turned to his dad, Ray Kramer, and asked for a few dollars.

Ray did what he never did: He told his son no. "It wasn't the money, of course," says Ray. "It was Taylor. He was exhausted, burned out, shot. I laughed and told him to go home and get some sleep."

Taylor Kramer did, sort of. That night he slept only fitfully, getting up a few times--at least once to run complex mathematical equations on his laptop computer. It wasn't unusual for Kramer to do this, says his wife, Jennifer. But in the weeks leading up to this sleep-shy night, it had become the norm. Indeed, says Jennifer, "It seemed like he was going without sleep entirely for days."

You couldn't tell that the next morning, Sunday, Feb. 12.

Taylor Kramer was his usual buoyant self: the smiling, strapping 6-foot-5 blue-eyed guy who had created a high-tech multimedia company in Thousand Oaks, handled theoretical physics like a golf game, spent his off hours with his 5-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, and started each day by serving coffee in bed to Jennifer. The fact that he once played bass in the hard-rock band Iron Butterfly was a charming footnote to his accomplished, 42-year-old life.

On this Sunday morning, though, Kramer had to be on the road at 9 to head for Los Angeles International Airport to pick up a business associate, Greg Martini, and his wife. He was supposed to return to Thousand Oaks with the Martinis, pick up Jennifer, and then the foursome would drive northward to Santa Barbara for a relaxing dinner.

It would never happen.

Taylor Kramer vanished.

He's been missing ever since.

Kramer did leave his Thousand Oaks home at 9 a.m. He did stop at Los Robles Medical Center to briefly visit Jennifer's elderly father, a cancer patient. And he did repeatedly check in, by cellular phone from his green Ford van, to report that plans for the day were changing.

In those calls, his voice took a different form: without the characteristic upbeat lilt, yet energized to the point of sounding out of breath. In one call, Kramer asked Jennifer to tell Martini--if Martini were to phone her--to take a cab from the airport to the Westlake Hyatt. Kramer said he would meet everyone there an hour later than planned, at 2 p.m., "with the biggest surprise for you," Jennifer recalls.

But Kramer also dialed Ron Bushy, the Iron Butterfly's original drummer on the hit song "In-A-Gadda-da-Vida" and Kramer's close friend in L.A., and said: "Bush, I love you more than life itself." And in another call to his wife, he would say, "Whatever happens, I'll always be with you."

Then came the dreaded call, at 11:59 a.m., from somewhere in the San Fernando Valley on the Ventura Freeway, to the 911 operator: "This is Philip Taylor Kramer, and I am going to kill myself."

If he did--and police and family believe he has not--then he left no trace. Neither the man nor his vehicle has been found, and all articles relating to him, such as credit and ATM cards and cellular phones, have gone unused.

The first reports of Kramer's disappearance said he never made it to the airport, that he had pulled a U-turn in L.A. or in the San Fernando Valley and was driving around making calls. Backing up that notion was the fact that Martini couldn't find Kramer at the airport--and the ironic circumstance that Bushy was departing from the same Delta terminal that morning, but did not bump into his old friend.

Taylor Kramer's absent-mindedness over money left tracks, however. Ten days into the investigation of his disappearance, a form letter arrived at the Kramers' home seeking $3 for parking fees at LAX. It turns out Kramer was unable to pay his tab--he probably had the same 40 cents in his pocket--and couldn't leave the Delta lot without signing an IOU.

Kramer was at the airport for 45 minutes on the day of his disappearance, parking records show. No one saw him, no videotapes captured his image. And for reasons no one can quite divine at this point, he disappeared.

"Something happened during that time--either in his head or at the terminal--that made him turn away," says Chuck Carter, a former L.A. cop and Drug Enforcement Agency agent who worked as the Kramers' private investigator for nearly a month. "And I'll tell you, I haven't a clue. The guy didn't have an enemy. The guy was a dedicated family man--I checked him out. Whatever happened in his head while at the airport, or whatever happened right in the airport, I've got a feeling we'll learn from Kramer himself."

Understanding the Cosmos

That would, of course, be the best of all scenarios.

But in the 47 days of his absence, much has emerged about Taylor Kramer that depicts a man under enormous business stress and yet galvanized by a euphoria over recent mathematical discoveries he believed he had made with his father.

His firm, Total Multimedia (TMM), is a maverick in video compression--the technology that stores visual images on CD-ROM discs--but weathered storms in the marketplace and bitter infighting during a 1994 bankruptcy filing from which TMM only recently emerged. Greg Martini had been a large investor in TMM, and it was the company's indebtedness to him that forced the reorganization, family members say.

Kramer's father, Ray, is a retired professor of electrical engineering who joined TMM at its inception, in 1989, as a sort of scientist-in-residence. Above everything, however, Ray Kramer's abiding passion was in working out mathematical equations that sought to advance an understanding of the cosmos. As far back as 30 years ago, Ray felt that he was onto something original, and only recently did he and his son manage to yoke the power of these equations in TMM's computers, says Ray.

The breakthrough, in fact, came just two weeks before Kramer's disappearance, and an elated Taylor, his father says, dubbed it "Ray's Moment." While the essence of their work remains secret, Ray Kramer allows that he has long sought, through the study of gravitation waves and particles, to determine whether transmission faster than the speed of light is possible.

If so--that is, if there were a light barrier to pierce just as once there was a sound barrier to break--it would mean that communication could occur via gravity waves anywhere in the universe within one second. To the extent science can measure the universe, light takes 10 billion years to cross it. The implications of Ray Kramer's theorems, should they work, are thus revolutionary not only to science but to life everywhere it might exist. They would bridge the two disparate fields of electromagnetism and gravitation.

The great challenge to an outfit such as TMM is in harnessing a piece of such theoretical science and making it serve a here-and-now video or computer product that sells in the marketplace and makes money for the company. TMM specializes in fractal compression--a mathematically driven, software-based approach to recording and playing back video images that does away with the need for computer hardware such as accelerator cards and other high-end accessories. Fractals are mathematical equations that uncannily capture information in three dimensions.

TMM declines to say how something related to "Ray's Moment"--and the subject of two sleepless weeks by Taylor Kramer--might be of commercial use, if at all.

But Jennifer Kramer, seeing her husband act with obsessiveness and run equations at 3 a.m., was concerned enough to ask Kramer what it was that was driving him so. She quotes him as saying, one week before his disappearance: "Imagine being able to flash up a picture of a missing child on this computer screen, or even a part of a picture, and with this new equation being able to find that child in a fraction of a second."

Further elaboration of that statement is as missing as Taylor Kramer himself. And the statement itself is not without haunting dimension. Ray Kramer is not without irony in asking, with a sad, feigned laugh, "Is this his idea of a test to find him?"

3/30/95 Nobody really thinks so.

Kathy Kramer-Peterssen, Taylor's sister from Youngstown, Ohio, has been helping Jennifer Kramer, friends and TMM lead a search. She is blunt in suggesting that Kramer had approached a perilous line: "He was so excited that he was calling the math 'sacred.' I worried that he was having visions.

"My brother takes the weight of the world upon himself," Kathy continues. "He loves Jennifer, he loves his kids dearly. But he banked everything on this discovery with my dad, and his mind just ran away with it. He talked of supernovas, earthquakes, all events having no coincidences. I fear he had some kind of breakdown."

Jennifer Kramer, seated in Wildflower Playfield in Thousand Oaks, stifles sobs in saying, "He's out there but his mind is gone."

That, of course, is yet to be seen.

The search for Taylor Kramer has been slow and, as far as local police are concerned, thwarted by no indications of foul play.

"There's no crime here," Sgt. David Paige of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department said. "All we have is a despondent individual who said he'd commit suicide." Still, a sheriff's helicopter was dispatched to search the Santa Monica Mountains and San Fernando Valley--and nothing turned up.

Chuck Carter, the private investigator, feels the disappearance is a conundrum. "I've never seen a case like this," he says. "If you're 6-foot-5, and if you've got a vehicle out there, even if you're just walking around, getting from point A to B without being noticed is difficult to do."

Within the first week of his disappearance, as the search fell increasingly to TMM and Kramer's family, thousands of flyers went up throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. And that's when the calls of sightings started coming in.

* First at a school bus stop on Mulholland Drive, where a woman was seated and asked by a man fitting Kramer's description--albeit with matted hair and dirty clothes--"Are you waiting for someone?"

* Then at sites in Canoga Park, where Kramer lived in the 1970s while playing with Iron Butterfly. The bus stop witness says she saw him at a Latino market. A pawn shop manager recalls a man fitting Kramer's description who had no interest in selling his wedding ring but instead "talked computers." A woman tending her front yard says she saw him walk by and, while crossing a busy street, politely move out of the way of women with strollers. And some young men say they saw a man fitting Taylor Kramer's description behind a Burger King. Others still saw him eating at the salad bar at a Carl's Jr.

* Then at a soup kitchen in Long Beach.

* Then at the Santa Monica Pier.

Sightings are difficult in that family members view them with hope while the detached view them with cocked eyebrow. Sgt. Paige cites a random-occurrence factor: "If you took a stack of these flyers to downtown Houston, we'd get a lot of calls."

But Taylor Kramer's cashlessness once again left tracks and ignited the conviction that he's out there, alive, somehow getting by. In yet another sighting, almost three weeks ago, at a Ralphs supermarket in Agoura Hills, an elderly couple was approached by a very tall man fitting Kramer's description.

" 'I'm in trouble and need to call my family and only have 40 cents,' is what he told these people," says Ray Kramer. "He then said, 'Can you help me?' " Whereupon the man "figured him to be a bum and said no, but his wife told us she later scolded the husband because Taylor didn't seem like a beggar. She told us he seemed genuine, that he was polite.

"That's Taylor, I'm certain."

Jennifer did receive a phone call from a man whose voice she is convinced is Kramer's, but it is deeply stressed and, as she puts it, the voice of a person who is "out of it." Faintly, the caller said, "Hello . . . hello . . . hello."

The family continues to post flyers and recently held a press conference on Santa Monica Pier, hoping TV news would expand the story across the Southland. Large-scale search efforts have become difficult and are expensive.

TMM sent Chuck Carter, whose fee was $600 a day plus expenses, home to Texas after a month on the case. Last week, it hired a local investigator to pick up where Carter left off. Says Dan Shields, TMM's vice president for business development: "Taylor has been a visionary as well as founder of this company. He is also my friend. We're doing everything we can--as well as try to do business day-to-day--to find Taylor."

For her part, Jennifer Kramer is trying to get back to work as a real estate agent in Thousand Oaks.

"How do I deal with this?" she asks. "I went to a psychologist for the first time in my life. She told me to assume Taylor's gone and get on with my life. Well, that's not to be. Taylor's one in a million. We have to keep searching. But I do have a mortgage and kids and insurance, and so I've got to get working."

'Taylor Was Always Upbeat'

One in a million. If Jennifer Kramer and Chuck Carter and Dan Shields and Butterfly drummer Ron Bushy are any indication, Taylor Kramer is certainly that.

"Taylor was always upbeat; I never have known him to be otherwise," says Bushy. "To Kramer, there was no problem that could not be met. That goes back to our Butterfly days together, and even then, part of that optimism seemed to be how engaged he was on the science questions. He was talking about Ray's equations back then."

Actually, it goes back further than that. At age 12, Taylor Kramer won the science fair at Liberty School in Youngstown, Ohio, by building a laser. It threw a beam strong enough to pop a balloon.

A recent initiative by Kramer was in the Hueneme Elementary School District, where he engaged teachers and administrators in devising an interactive CD-ROM-based curriculum. While it is not complete, one title on the explorations of Lewis and Clark did emerge; and the model for hooking up the school system with such vast resources as the Library of Congress was given form.

Kramer's efforts were widely known in Thousand Oaks, as well. He launched an independent, nonprofit group called FACET to serve as the Conejo Valley Unified School District's "next technology" steward. Always looking to the future, Kramer announced his sentiments at a meeting at Redwood School, which his daughter, Hayley, attends.

In the audience was Pat Lopker, another parent and senior vice president of the Disney Channel. Lopker describes himself as "not someone who typically joins things" but was inspired by Kramer "because he wasn't just talking about our kids, but the importance of this form of education for all of society, for future generations. He wanted to go beyond getting donations of old desktop computers to something where the teachers would write curriculum and the schools would be wired into cable TV, with tremendously fast data transfer technologies.

"He really got through to me, because he saw all the bits and pieces of it, he saw all it could be, and yet he set the sights on this very high while being a realist."

Lopker got to know Kramer at FACET meetings at the Kramer home--when Lopker wasn't away traveling. Against a noisy background from an airport phone in Taipei, Taiwan, Lopker considered Kramer's disappearance.

"Upon hearing of it, my mouth dropped open. I am flabbergasted," he said. "I have to say, this is the last guy to check out. I felt I knew him well enough. I saw a stable, caring, loving family man--and a leader. The only thought I had and have is that some uncontrollable event got in his way."

One of the uncontrollable events in Taylor Kramer's life occurred well before his disappearance, but Jennifer says it affected him deeply: the trauma of TMM's bankruptcy filing and reorganization.

"Within that process, a lot of greed came out, and greed was the most offensive thing to Taylor. It hurt him to the core of his soul," she says. "TMM continues to have problems with infighting. It had gotten to the point where Taylor felt he couldn't trust anybody--not even Greg (Martini)."

On the morning that he disappeared, Kramer had said to Jennifer, as advance notice, "At some point, I'll need an hour alone with Greg," Jennifer recalls. "But I remember telling him, 'Whatever you say to Greg you can say to me.' "

Jennifer also recalls that Kramer, in his sleepless euphoria about the apparent breakthrough stemming from "Ray's Moment," was jumpy about the presence of patent attorneys at TMM's offices; he had, in the week before his disappearance, said, "We've got to be careful."

Martini, who had raised large amounts of cash for TMM before its bankruptcy, was unavailable for comment. Calls to his Cincinnati home went unanswered. Martini also worked for Citibank/New York as vice president for high-yield sales but departed from the company following Kramer's disappearance. Citibank officials declined to comment.

It is clear that Taylor Kramer left TMM in a state of some volatility. It is a company he started with Randy Jackson, brother of singer Michael, envisioning the next wave in computer technologies. In a scant few years TMM morphed with the video compression marketplace itself, hiring for key leadership posts executives from MCI and the military. Only last week, TMM announced a joint consulting agreement with MCI, coming at a time when giants such as Pioneer are launching their own technologies to compete with video compression.

If the place for a visionary such as Taylor Kramer, with his professor father in tow, in a small cutting-edge firm was becoming burdensome, he generally had hidden it well. But Kathy Kramer-Peterssen believes he was starting to feel the weight--not just from TMM, but from the enormity of "Ray's Moment" and what to do with it.

Readings on Spirituality

Taylor Kramer was deeply struck by two books over the last year and talked about them to Jennifer and Kathy more than once.

"The Celestine Prophecy," by James Redfield, hit home in a big way. The book is an adventure story about searching for an ancient Peruvian manuscript that foretells a major transformation in humankind at the end of the second millennium. The manuscript comprises nine "insights," each of which builds upon the premise that human consciousness is merely one form of energy that flows into confluence with energy fields in the physical and spiritual worlds. Indeed, people in the final chapter find ways to vibrate at energy levels high enough to become invisible.

The best-selling book is to be followed by yet another, now in the writing, that charts the search for the final, 10th "insight." Kramer, however, felt he had discovered the 10th insight, and Jennifer recites it: "Learn from the beauty of the eye that beholds the beauty of the world yet is blind unto itself, the difference between night and day. The eye is a perfect instrument."

The second book, also a best-seller, is "Embraced by the Light," Betty J. Eadie's account of dying and discovering that the universe is driven by divine forms of energy called spirits, of whom she--and we as well as Jesus--are one. Her basic point is that her birth on Earth was not the beginning of her life; instead, it was just one of the many brief "forms" her spirit would take in its infinite lifetime.

It would be wrong to suggest Taylor Kramer had deified notions about himself. But these readings mesh thematically not only with statements made in the months before his disappearance but to his own writings of 20 years ago. Then, as a member of Iron Butterfly, Kramer would sit up all night with Ron Bushy at a Denny's in Northridge or any of dozens of faceless hotels on the road to write songs and fill pages, which were later found in boxes in Butterfly's former rehearsal studio.

On stationery from the Holiday Motel in Aberdeen, Wash., in November, 1975, Taylor Kramer writes: "This feeling of hope . . . is so strong within me it almost shatters my fears. Losing virtue . . . is losing life. One of my foremost goals is to constantly strive for virtue. I want to give dreams, ideas and feelings that are of a good nature. I am limited by my own life. There is only so much a human being can achieve within his physical boundaries, but I wish to reach beyond my physical being. With the help of God, I will never fail. I do not pretend to know who or what makes up the unity of God, but I beg for his help and hope his forgiveness will guide me through my errors."

In another, he notes in the margin that the following sentences, which precede a dense passage about shifting energies, form a "garbage forethought": "I look forward to death's release. I haven't the guts to take this moment upon my hands, but the time before birth lingers as the sweetness of spring. How can I taste of life when I know not death?"

And in yet another, Kramer reveals his early interests in defining the universe through mathematics, drawing extensive diagrams in which mass, energy and gravity are differentiated. "You see," he writes, "God is not to be confused with conventional terms of any religion, but to be known as the total energy unit made up of all levels of energy, whether in this plane or all planes, the Great Computer--God."

Sleepless for Too Long

On the Friday before he disappeared, Taylor Kramer had a three-hour meeting with Dan Shields, his colleague and another founder of TMM. Kramer paced around the conference room, Shields flopped on the couch.

Kramer, says Shields, was in his euphoric state. Dan wanted to listen and to question. Kramer had asked whether Shields saw the movie "Sneakers" on cable TV that week. Kramer was jazzed by the encryption-busting theme and said he'd be able to crack any encrypted code Shields could throw at him. Shields did. Kramer didn't break it.

"It wasn't a big thing," says Shields. "But I told him to go home and get some sleep. He was really going on about everything, at times not holding things together. Taylor is a great idea guy, though sometimes the little stuff stops him. I mean, this is a guy who doesn't know how to swap computer files between directories but who, if you ask him, can sit down and do a huge compression on a drive. He's amazing that way. But on that Friday, he was having trouble, and it was clear he'd been sleepless for too long."

Taylor Kramer did go home, but he never got his sleep.

He just vanished. With 40 cents in his pocket.

If the considerable number of people in his sphere get their wish, Taylor Kramer is still out there somewhere: waking, sleeping, just waiting to be found.

Staff writer Mack Reed contributed to this story.

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FYI

* The Kramer family is offering a cash reward for information that leads to the safe return of Philip (Taylor) Kramer.

* Anyone with information is urged to call 1-800-385-5011.

* Kramer was last seen driving a green 1993 Ford Aerostar van, license number 3EBU 024.

* The Kramer family has established the Philip (Taylor) Kramer Fund to help sustain the search for Kramer. Contributions may be sent to P.O. Box 4151, Thousand Oaks, CA 91359-1151.

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