How Righteous Brothers' Bill Medley Is Coping with the Truth of His Ex-Wife's Cold Case Murder

"Thank God I didn't know the guy," he tells PEOPLE

Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Photo: Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

It was January 1976 and Righteous Brothers singer Bill Medley was in Lake Arrowhead, California, with his 10-year-old son when he got a phone call that he would never forget: His ex-wife, Karen Klaas, was in the hospital in a coma — from which she would never awake.

“There was no coming back, and everybody knew it,” Medley tells PEOPLE. At the hospital, he said he pleaded with her to survive.

“I said to her, ‘Come on honey, the boys need you. We all need you.’ Real positive stuff,” he remembers. “It was just very difficult.”

Klaas, a 32-year-old mother of two, had been found badly beaten, raped, and strangled with her pantyhose in her home in Hermosa Beach, California. She was in a coma for five days before she died.

Nearly 41 years after her death, authorities announced Monday they had solved her murder — with Medley on hand for the news.

“I was a wreck,” Medley says of the aftermath of Klaas’ death. “It was a big-time out-of-body experience. I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am here looking at caskets for Karen.’ It just didn’t make sense. She was beautiful and alive and a wonderful lady … It is like, ‘How do I get out of this bad movie?'”

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

At a news conference Monday, authorities identified Klaas’ killer as escaped prisoner Kenneth Troyer.

Troyer was killed in a shoot-out with police in March 1982, after breaking from a California prison, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said. At the time, Troyer was a suspect in multiple sexual assaults and had been behind bars for burglary.

The decades-old case was solved through familial DNA testing, a controversial law enforcement tactic which allowed the investigators to do a search for a potential relative of the killer in the state’s felon DNA data bank.

“I figured that I probably knew the guy, but I didn’t,” Medley says. “Thank God I didn’t know the guy. He just dropped out of the sky.”

Medley says Troyer, whose brother lived a few blocks away from Klaas, was in the neighborhood “casing it out looking for a place to rob. He was just out sniffing.”

Medley says he is grateful Troyer is dead: “I was happy that I didn’t have to go through a court situation. I didn’t think I was going to feel that way. I thought I would want to look the guy in the eye and deal with him, but now I am just real grateful there won’t be any court.”

Medley and Klaas, then Karen O’Grady, married in 1964. They had one son together, Darrin, and they divorced in 1970, after which Klaas gave birth to a second son, Damien.

But the two remained close, Medley says.

The former couple were best friends who went to the same high school, Santa Ana High School, and attended the same church, but didn’t start dating until after he saw her in the crowd at one of his performances.

“Of all the people that were standing in the audience, I just could see her smiling face and I said, ‘Wow,’ ” he says. “That’s Karen. So I got her number and I asked her out and there you go.”

Medley says his ex-wife’s death “changed my life dramatically.”

“Darrin was 10 years old and I am a single bachelor living on the beach in Newport Beach, and all of a sudden I was a single parent,” he says. “So it was Darrin’s world. I took some time off to get Darrin’s life back together. I took six years off to get him on his feet.”

“It is really resting on a different nerve that I never have felt before,” Medley says about the now-closed case. “I’ve been on stage in front of presidents and that is just a different nerve. This is so ugly. But it is also so wonderful that they put an end to all of this so we can close the book on this. I go from sad to being pissed-off reliving all of it.”

Medley says he plans to finish writing a song he dedicated to Klaas, titled “Beautiful Lady.” He is heading back to Las Vegas where he is performing at Harrah’s.

“That actually will be a good distraction,” he says. “The stage has always been a lifesaver for me.”

Related Articles