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Entrepreneur Left No Tracks to Vanishing Point

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A year ago Monday, Philip “Taylor” Kramer drove off to pick up a business associate at the airport and never returned--leaving behind a family that daily mourns his absence and, occasionally, the thought of his death.

The disappearance of the Thousand Oaks computer entrepreneur was a mystery from the start, baffling investigators by leaving them with no physical clues. Only the absence of a strapping 6-foot 5-inch family man and stressed-out computer executive.

Now, relatives say, the yearlong search for the former bass player for the rock group Iron Butterfly has become a mind-numbing series of dashed hopes, dead ends and false leads. They have heard from everyone from a psychic, who says he sees him being worshiped as a god on a California Indian reservation, to welfare workers in Sacramento, who say he comes to them for food stamps.

“I’ve gotten to the point that I won’t believe anything,” said his father, Ray Kramer. “I will look at everything, but no firm evidence has come in.”

That means no videotapes capturing his image on security cameras in stores. No photographs from concerned citizens who have seen one of the 100,000 plus fliers bearing his likeness in grocery stores or highway rest stops nationwide. No contact with friends or family.

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The green Ford van he was driving the day he disappeared has never been found. Nor has his body or anything he was carrying that day. His ATM and credit cards and his cellular phone have gone unused.

There are phone calls--very rarely--received by friends or family members in which their hellos are answered by dead silence. But even those are hard to have faith in, they say.

“Those kind of calls are something that happens to everyone all your life,” said his sister, Kathy Kramer, a Newbury Park resident who has turned over her life to the search for her brother, distributing fliers and appearing on talk shows. “So who knows?”

Still, when the calls do come, they stay on the line, talking to silence, urging him to come home.

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Charles Carter, a private investigator hired to find Kramer, said the case is one of the most exceptional he has worked on.

“It is very unusual in that there is absolutely no evidence,” he said. “There are a lot of circumstances, so many possibilities, but with no evidence to support any of them.”

After Kramer’s disappearance was featured on the “Phil Donahue Show” last July, Carter chased down about 100 leads that led nowhere. He is now working on another 300 tips generated from a November episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”

But not a single one holds much promise of leading to Kramer, he said.

The search has cost family and friends more than $75,000. His sister, who came to Thousand Oaks looking for a job just five days before his disappearance, has quit job hunting and devoted herself full time to finding her brother.

Kramer was last seen Feb. 12, 1995, by a parking attendant at the Los Angeles airport, where he signed an IOU for $3 to leave the parking lot. Kramer never picked up the business associate, but parking records show he spent 45 minutes at the airport.

His father--who remembers Kramer asking for money the night before to take his children out for dinner--said Kramer probably had only 40 cents in his pocket. He never went to dinner that night with his daughter, now 5, and son, now 14.

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He awoke the next day upbeat. On his way to the airport, he made some calls on his cellular phone, to his wife promising to return with “the biggest surprise for you,” and then, in a later call, telling her, “Whatever happens, I’ll always be with you.” He also called Iron Butterfly’s original drummer, saying, “I love you more than life itself.”

But the last call, from somewhere in San Fernando Valley on the Ventura Freeway, was the most alarming. In it, Kramer told a 911 operator: “This is Philip Taylor Kramer, and I am going to kill myself.”

Even so, relatives and police detectives doubt the 42-year-old--whose 43rd birthday was July 12--could have killed himself and managed to hide his body.

“If you are going to take your life, it is extremely difficult to hide your body and your van,” Carter said.

In their speculation, family members say they will dismiss no scenario, no matter how outlandish.

UFOs? It’s possible. Or maybe he is in a government protection program? Or has been hijacked or kidnapped or suffered amnesia and can’t find his way home.

“It is not beyond the possibility that a plane landed in a field and has taken him and flown to South America,” said his mother, Mary Ann, from her Ohio home. “You think, ‘How far-fetched?’ But in this day and age there are people disappearing in South America all the time.”

In the final days before his disappearance, Kramer and his father, a retired professor of electrical engineering, believed they had made an important mathematical discovery that could allow information to travel faster than the speed of light. Kramer barely slept, spending nights running equations on his computer.

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And his business had just emerged from bankruptcy. The multimedia firm he owned with two friends specialized in fractal compression, a software-based approach to recording and playing back video images without high-end hardware accessories.

Although dismissive of theories he was kidnapped because of bad business dealings, some in his family say it’s possible he may have been kidnapped for what he knew.

Or he was driven crazy by the knowledge of the complex mathematical equations he believed could explain the nature of the cosmos.

“No matter how you see it, my brother is a casualty of technology,” Kathy Kramer said.

But for all the speculation, family members believe they are no closer than they were a year ago to finding him.

Nonetheless, Mary Ann Kramer still stuffs every bill she pays with a flier bearing her son’s likeness. Kathy Kramer has just finished taping an episode of “American Journal,” which she hopes will help generate yet more leads.

And while trying to get on with her life, Jennifer, Kramer’s wife, still accompanies her sister-in-law on trips to distant locales where strangers say they have seen a man resembling her husband.

“I vacillate back and forth all the time over what could have happened,” Jennifer Kramer said. “I think he may be out there continuing his work somewhere. I think he is probably alive. But it is out of my hands. I am moving on, and so are my children.”

FYI

Philip “Taylor” Kramer is 6 feet, 5 inches, 220 pounds, with brown hair, blue eyes and a medium build. He was last seen Feb. 12, 1995 wearing a long-sleeved white dress shirt, silver tab Levi’s bluejeans, and black and white high-top Reebok tennis shoes. He was driving a hunter green 1993 Ford Aerostar van with California license plate 3EBU024. Anyone with information can call 1 (800) 385-5011 or Ventura County sheriff’s detectives at 494-8200.


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