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Van to Be Studied in Ex-Rocker’s Death

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A van containing what are thought to be the remains of Thousand Oaks businessman and former Iron Butterfly bassist Philip Taylor Kramer will be hoisted out of a canyon to be studied for clues, authorities said Monday.

The vehicle was discovered over the weekend in a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was badly damaged after careening more than 400 feet off Decker Canyon Road, about 1 1/2 miles east of Pacific Coast Highway.

A human skull and bones were recovered at the crash site.

The vehicle identification number on the crashed van matched the numbers on the van the 42-year-old Kramer was driving when he disappeared more than four years ago, deputies said.

Coroner’s officials will use dental records to identify the remains, but deputies say they are all but certain it is Kramer.

“When they pulled out the driver’s license, they pulled it out of his wallet and told me the name that was on it was Phil Kramer,” said Walter Lockwood, one of the hikers who found the remains Saturday.

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At Kramer’s gray, two-story home on a quiet cul-de-sac in north Thousand Oaks, his wife, children and other family members and friends gathered Monday afternoon.

Kramer’s wife, Jennifer, declined to comment, but his friend and former business partner Dan Shields said the family was in shock.

“They want to wait and see what all the results are before saying anything,” Shields said.

Shields was Kramer’s partner in the now-closed Total Multimedia, a Thousand Oaks firm that specialized in video compression, technology that stores visual images on CD-ROM discs.

Although the only available evidence suggests suicide, Shields and Kramer’s family still believe there is a possibility that Kramer met with foul play. At the time he vanished in February 1995, the family hypothesized that the disappearance may been linked to Kramer’s work.

Kramer’s father said in 1995 that his son had made some breakthroughs using a computer to study the possibility of transmitting images faster than the speed of light. Such a notion is considered scientifically impossible.

Kramer also once worked as an engineering specialist on a U.S. missile program.

Ventura County authorities, though, have speculated that Kramer was despondent and may have taken his own life.

Although local deputies chased several leads and did an air search of the area where Kramer’s van was eventually found, considerable evidence supports the possibility of suicide.

On the day he disappeared, Kramer used his cell phone to call his wife and best friend to tell them he loved them. He then called 911, identified himself and told a police dispatcher he was going to commit suicide.

Also in 1995, court records show that Kramer was heavily in debt and his company was emerging from bankruptcy.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Thomas said Monday that homicide detectives handling the case have not ruled out any possible cause of death.

Detectives want to examine the van to see if it will answer some of those questions, he said.

“A helicopter will probably bring it up so we can determine how it was involved in the accident and where the damage is on it,” Thomas said. “Was it a rollover? Did he fall asleep at the wheel? Did he hit something? This is what we are trying to find out.”

Kramer joined the rock group Iron Butterfly after it re-formed in 1975. The band is most famous for its 1969 hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”


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