May 5, 2010 in City

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Family and friends say man found dead in Dishman Hills cave was a skilled cook and a ‘great dad,’ but alcoholism gripped him
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Douglas Klages’ daughters hold recent photos of them with their dad, who was found dead Friday. At left is Erika Klages, 19, and at right is 14-year-old Racheal Rydell-Klages.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)


A memorial service for homicide victim Douglas J. Klages will take place Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 13009 E. Broadway Ave., Spokane Valley.

When Douglas Klages last talked to his parents, he was planning for the future.

The 46-year-old Spokane native struggled with alcoholism but wanted to clean up. He told his parents so in a phone call last Thursday.

“He said, ‘I know you’ll be happy: I’m lining myself up for a treatment program,’ ” said his father, Don Klages. “It was a terrible addiction.”

The next day, Don and Karen Klages learned of their son’s death.

Hikers found his body in a small cave inside the Dishman Hills Natural Area on Friday afternoon, where Spokane County sheriff’s detectives believe he’d been camping.

An autopsy showed he died from blunt-force trauma to his head, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Now, as detectives search for his killer, Doug Klages’ friends and family are struggling to understand how a man with no enemies and a generous heart could end up beaten to death. Klages’ death is the first homicide investigated by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office this year.

“This community is grieving,” said Dean Whisler, day room manager at the Union Gospel Mission, where Klages stayed on and off for several years. “Everyone loved him.”

Detectives are trying to piece together how Klages spent the last 24 hours of his life, said Sgt. Dave Reagan, Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

No time of death has been publicly released, but employees at Truth Ministries men’s shelter, 1910 E. Sprague Ave., said he showed up between about 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, then left after arguing with another guest.

Klages was extremely drunk that night, but “he didn’t drink all the time,” said Director Marty McKinney. “He stayed here quite a bit.”

Klages, a father of two, graduated from University High School in 1982. He loved to cook and started working in restaurants as a teenager. He had experience at top restaurants, but his alcoholism soon kept him from permanent employment, Whisler said. He owned a home with his wife but moved out after a divorce, family said.

He always had a home with his parents in Cusick, Wash., though he often stayed at shelters in Spokane and sought treatment for his addiction. But he never prevailed, Whisler said.

Still, Whisler said, “He never blamed his circumstances on someone else.

“You could tell that he was not what you would consider a typical transient person,” Whisler said. “Even when he would come looking like crap because he’d been out sleeping on some bench, he looked like Patrick Swayze.”

Klages showed up at Union Gospel Mission, 1224 E. Trent Ave., on April 27, looking for a place to stay. But he was still drunk from the night before, Whisler said, and he promised to sober up before returning.

“He said, ‘Oh gosh, Dean, you wouldn’t believe how much I drank. … I think I’ve hit my bottom this time,” Whisler said. “His transparency was so refreshing and honest, even in the midst of the demons he was fighting.”

Klages was an easygoing man known for his cooking skills and strong work ethic, Whisler said. “He’d say ‘When I’m busy, I don’t think about drinking,’ ” Whisler said.

Klages’ daughters, 19-year-old Erika and 14-year-old Racheal, called him “a great dad” who never missed a birthday. When Racheal visited from New York last summer, Klages’ goal was to stay sober for her, Whisler said.

Whisler said Klages grew up camping and was “quite skilled at it.”

He likely went to the Dishman area “because he felt safe out there.”

“He didn’t come across as someone you’d want to take advantage of, but he does seem like the type to take the shirt off his back,” Whisler said. “Someone with ulterior motives could have taken advantage of that servant’s heart.”

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