‘The Letter Season 2’: A Sandy father’s last night

Apr 16, 2024, 4:14 PM

A bouquet of yellow daisies, Jordan Rasmussen’s favorite flower, is placed at his grave at Wasatc...

A bouquet of yellow daisies, Jordan Rasmussen’s favorite flower, is placed at his grave at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

(Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series highlighting Season 2 of the KSL podcast “The Letter.” This season explores topics like grief and forgiveness, but under very different circumstances. The podcast explores what happened after two young fathers were murdered outside an iconic Utah restaurant in 1982. The families struggle to rebuild and have to wrestle with questions that take decades to answer. Does everyone deserve forgiveness? Does it matter if there is no remorse? And if trauma can be passed through generations, can forgiveness also be passed down?

SANDY — If Jordan Rasmussen hadn’t been murdered on March 5, 1982, it’s entirely possible that no one would have even remembered his last night alive. It felt like one of those days that ends with a sigh of relief, not a smile of gratitude.

The 32-year-old accountant worked late, agreed to a last-minute, early-morning meeting with a man whose job he was taking and, then, after taking a babysitter home, he found himself locked out of the house on a frigid winter night with his sleep-averse 16-month-old son.

His wife was playing indoor tennis with friends, so he decided to see if a neighbor might rescue him from his frustrating situation.

“He went next door to the neighbor’s to see if they — by chance — had a key to our house, which they didn’t,” said his wife, DeAnn Rasmussen. “They invited him in so he could wait for me to get home. And he said, ‘No, I just want to spend some time with Chad.’ So he went back out to the car and just played with Chad until I got home.”

And that’s the thing that makes this night so memorable for those left missing him in the wake of his violent death.

That decision — to decline the warmth of a friend’s home so he could spend a little one-on-one time with his youngest child — perfectly encapsulates who he was.

Because of all the things that Jordan Rasmussen was in his life — an accomplished accountant, a devoted and only son, a generous friend, a beloved brother, a doting husband and a pretty good tennis player — it was his parenting that almost everyone points to when they remember him.

“Jordan was the best dad,” DeAnn Rasmussen says with a laugh. “He adored his children. He would do anything in the world for them.”

And so, Rasmussen carried his toddler back into their garage, and they took refuge from the cold in the family sedan. Exactly what happened between father and son that night will forever remain a mystery, but it’s easy for DeAnn Rasmussen to imagine it. She’d witnessed similar scenes hundreds of times since they’d become parents eight years earlier.

“I can just picture him being in the car just hugging and laughing and giggling and talking to him,” she said. “That’s the way he was.”

When she returned home that night and realized what had happened, she was overwhelmed with guilt. But her husband assured her it was no big deal. In fact, he told her he’d treasured the solitary snuggle time with 16-month-old Chad. It was a gift at the end of a long, difficult day.

And it would become even more meaningful when Jordan Rasmussen would be found dead outside Log Haven restaurant less than 12 hours later.

The only son

Rasmussen met his wife when he was hired as the 19-year-old manager at a Salt Lake dairy. DeAnn was just 17, a senior in high school, and she wasn’t interested in him — at all.

But his kindness eventually persuaded her to accept an invitation to see “Mary Poppins,” and the rest, as they say, is history. They were married Oct. 8, 1970, and within a decade, they had three children — David, who was 8, Lisa, 5, and that little bedtime-hating toddler, Chad, who was 16-months-old the day his father died.

And while Rasmussen is universally described as a great father, if you really want to understand the kind of person he was, it’s best to ask his older sister, Leslie Rasmussen Moore, about his highly anticipated, but short-lived basketball career.

Jordan Rasmussen is pictured on July 23, 1973.

Jordan Rasmussen is pictured on July 23, 1973. (Photo: Family photo)

Even before he was born in 1949, Rasmussen’s father was dreaming of guiding his own child to a career on the court.

And, back then, sports were almost exclusively a man’s world. So when Elden Rasmussen, a World War II veteran and high school teacher, held his baby boy, he saw a bright — and athletic — future.

“He was so excited to have a son,” said Moore, the oldest of Blanche and Elden Rasmussen’s four children. “He was so excited because, oh my golly, this is going to be such a golden thing!”

Those dreams became a real possibility when Jordan grew to be 6 feet 3 inches tall. And while his father loved sports in general, his hoop dreams included a very specific college team — BYU. Father and son talked about him someday playing basketball for Elden Rasmussen’s beloved Cougars. And the first step on that path was signing up for a recreation league team.

It turned out, there was one small problem.

“Jordan would not take the ball from somebody,” Moore said laughing. “It was like, OK, they’ve got the ball, I’m not gonna go steal it. I’ll let them just go down. And that doesn’t go very far.”

Yeah, not many teams are looking for that kind of kindness on the court.

“So, here he was with all the athletic ability, all the height,” Moore said. “But he just didn’t have that drive to destroy people.”

Jordan Rasmussen is pictured with his children at Christmas 1981.

Jordan Rasmussen is pictured with his children at Christmas 1981. (Photo: Family photo)

Needless to say, Rasmussen did not go on to fulfill his father’s hoop dreams, but he always occupied a special place in his father’s heart. Rasmussen’s older cousin Joseph Rust spent a lot of time at the Rasmussen home, especially when he was a college student in Salt Lake City.

And he said father and son were inseparable — playing tennis and golf together, any time they could find time.

“He and Jordan just did everything,” Rust said. “This was his only son. (From the start) he was pretty excited about Jordan.”

And it was that bond between father and son that would weigh on Rust the morning of March 5, 1982, when he became the first family member to discover what happened to Rasmussen outside the restaurant where two of his three sisters had celebrated their weddings.

Financial struggles

DeAnn and Jordan Rasmussen moved from California, where Jordan Rasmussen worked at a prestigious accounting firm, to Utah, where they hoped to be closer to their families. It was less money, and they couple both worked extra jobs to make ends meet.

“We were struggling,” DeAnn Rasmussen, now DeAnn Kilgore, remembers. “We were behind on our mortgage payments. It was a hard time financially for us.”

It’s one of the reasons he kept a job that had grown complicated and stressful. Jordan Rasmussen worked as the accountant for the iconic Log Haven restaurant. Since its conversion from a wealthy family’s mountain retreat to high-end restaurant, it had become the place for weddings and receptions in the 1980s.

And while Log Haven was very popular, it had been struggling financially. In 1979, two businessmen bought it from a local entrepreneur. But the relationship between the two partners, who owned a number of businesses together, had soured.

In February, the partners told Log Haven’s staff one of the men was going to buy the other out. The only solution to the acrimony between them was a financial split. And like many divorces, it got messy.

The Log Haven restaurant is pictured in Mill Creek Canyon on the morning two people were killed on March 5, 1982.

The Log Haven restaurant is pictured in Mill Creek Canyon on the morning two people were killed on March 5, 1982. (Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office)

Rumors of theft and threats were rampant. The staff, including Log Haven’s 25-year-old manager — Michael Moore — were uncertain what this split meant for the restaurant and their jobs. And while a meeting in February was meant to reassure the staff, it only added to the rumors and distrust.

So when Michael Moore called Jordan Rasmussen and asked for that early morning meeting, he agreed. But he wasn’t looking forward to it. Not only were there major financial issues to solve, he was going to replace Moore as manager of the restaurant, although that hadn’t been officially announced yet.

Jordan Rasmussen prepared for bed the night of March 4 with a lot on his mind. And then he said something to his wife that seems, in retrospect, a bit foreboding.

He told her that if his car slid off the road in the canyon the next morning, it might not be an accident. His wife was not worried about his safety, just his stress level. And she dismissed it as a bit of dark humor.

DeAnn Rasmussen was still huddled under the covers when her husband left the next morning.

“Jordan gave me my kiss goodbye,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘I’ll call you soon as my meeting with Mike is over.'”

But she never heard from her husband again.

Lives upended by violence

After taking her two older children to elementary school, DeAnn Rasmussen was just putting little Chad down for a nap when her doorbell rang.

“My doorbell never rings in the middle of the day,” she said. And as she walked to her front door, she saw one of her closest friends and her Latter-day Saint bishop standing on her porch.

“And I thought, ‘Why are they here?'” she remembered. “And I could tell just by the look on their faces that something was not right. … And as I opened the door … I just knew something that happened to Jordan.”

DeAnn Rasmussen Kilgore is photographed at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023.

DeAnn Rasmussen Kilgore is photographed at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

She invited them inside.

“They came in and they said, ‘We have something terrible to tell you.'”

As the bishop began speaking, she grabbed his tie and pleaded, “Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me.”

All of them were in tears as he said, “Jordan was killed this morning.”

DeAnn Rasmussen said she understood the words, but not really what they meant.

“I just immediately went into shock,” she said. “I mean, my body protected myself and I just heard the news and then just went on automatic pilot kind of. … They didn’t know all the details yet. This was still early. They just said something happened up at Log Haven.”

She’d eventually learn he had been shot three times and was left for dead. Before she could even wonder what happened, she was consumed with what would happen to her little family.

“I mean, obviously, your mind immediately goes, ‘How am I going to do this? I have three little kids. How am I going to do this on my own?'” she said.

DeAnn Rasmussen was only 30. She contemplated the trips they’d never take, the milestones her husband would never see and the challenges she’d face alone. Later that day, after returning home from telling her mother-in-law and sister-in-law the bad news, she noticed their cul de sac was crowded with cars.

“And I walked in the house and my house was full of friends, neighbors, family because the word spread as soon as I walked in the house, there were all these people that loved us,” she said, emotion choking her voice. “And it was, just, I knew that I’d have that love and support to get me through.”

To this day, that remains one of the things Jordan Rasmussen’s family still talks about — the crowd at her house. Because so often, when someone suffers a tragedy, it’s difficult to know what to say, when to say it, or if those struggling with grief even want visitors at all. They all said they think about how much it helped to be wrapped in so much love — and how they think of that when they wonder if they should reach out to someone who is struggling with loss.

Chad Rasmussen, son of Jordan Rasmussen, listens as his aunt, Leslie Moore, remembers his father at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023.

Chad Rasmussen, son of Jordan Rasmussen, listens as his aunt, Leslie Moore, remembers his father at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Millcreek on March 5, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

But there was one thing that DeAnn Rasmussen had to do on her own — tell her children what happened to their father. She took 8-year-old David and 5-year-old Lisa into David’s bedroom and sat between them on David’s twin bed.

“And I said, ‘I have something to tell you,'” she said, stifling a sob. “‘Your dad has been hurt really bad. He’s had an accident. And he’s not gonna come home. He has died.’ And I just remember that’s when it really hit me looking into their sweet little faces … and they adored their dad as much as he adored them. … And that’s when it really became real.”

Everything she had to do in the weeks and months that followed brought a new level of pain. But she wasn’t the only young wife trying to navigate grief and motherhood. Because Jordan Rasmussen wasn’t the only father killed at Log Haven on March 5, 1982.

In another house on the other side of the Salt Lake Valley, another young widow was struggling with those same questions. How do you tell a toddler her dad is never coming home? How do convince an infant the father she can’t remember loved her? And how could she build a good life for them, now that the life she’d planned with her 24-year-old husband was in ruins?

Follow for free on your favorite podcast app or at theletterpodcast.com. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts for exclusive bonus content, available with each new episode on Tuesdays.

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