FAR OUT Taylor Kramer, rock musician, rocket scientist, entrepreneur, has vanished into th
Taylor Kramer, rock musician, rocket scientist, entrepreneur,
has vanished into thin air. He could be a suicide. A homicide.
A runaway. An Alien Abductee. Finally, he is what he always
wanted to be. A legend.
By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 6 1996; Page F01
The Washington Post
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The day he disappeared, Philip Taylor
Kramer, who was worth more than a million dollars, had 40 cents
in his pocket. In his head he carried secrets, some said to be
of incalculable value.
An aerospace engineer, he knew how to configure the flight path
of a nuclear missile. A computer executive, he developed
revolutionary technology to compress and transmit data. A
student of theoretical physics, he pursued particles and
equations that he believed would someday permit objects to move
faster than the speed of light -- "warp speed" -- making
possible travel to the stars.
These facts alone set the disappearance of Philip Taylor Kramer
apart from your average milk-carton missing persons case. Add
one other: The rocket scientist was a rocker. Kramer could
expertly lay down the throbbing bass line for
"In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," the baroque hippie anthem he used to
perform as a member of the band Iron Butterfly.
Now we're talking. The case has been reported on "Unsolved
Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted." There have been
"sightings." There is conjecture about sinister global
conspiracies. Was Kramer abducted by America's enemies? A
U.S. congressman thinks so. Is Kramer trapped by his own
technological wizardry, imprisoned somewhere in cyberspace?
It's one theory.
Many people believe that when Kramer vanished on Feb. 12,
1995 -- last known location: a green Aerostar mini-van on
Highway 101 about 30 miles north of Los Angeles -- he entered
another realm. And in a way, whatever the truth of his
disappearance, they are right. Philip Taylor Kramer, age 42
when last seen, has become part of popular mythology, dwelling
in the same corner of our pre-millennial landscape as the
living Elvis, the UFO crash at Roswell, N.M., and the evil
designs of the One World Government.
"Someone may have grabbed him," says Rep. James Traficant
(D-Ohio), who knows Kramer's family and has urged the FBI to
fully investigate the national security implications of the
disappearance. Foreign or domestic terrorists could have
brainwashed Kramer for "nefarious purposes," Traficant says --
namely, to launch a nuclear strike. (The FBI briefly looked
into it, and says there is no reason to suspect such a plot.)
"Somebody put a gun to his head," suggests Ron Bushy, Iron
Butterfly's drummer and Kramer's closest friend, "because
he'd just made a breakthrough in this new technology."
The fact is, Kramer's disappearance is mysterious. His company
was mired in bankruptcy, and in those final days he was clearly
emotionally distraught; from a cellular phone, he called 911 to
say he was going to kill himself. But was the call made under
No body was ever found. The van was never found. An extensive
aerial search yielded no sign of a submerged vehicle. Resilient
and eternally upbeat, Kramer had weathered setbacks in the past
without cracking. He had no history of psychiatric problems.
He didn't use drugs or drink. He adored his children.
A 6-foot-5, 220-pound man is likely to stand out, dead or
alive. Kramer's family and friends circulated thousands of fliers
and pursued hundreds of purported sightings and leads nationwide,
all to no avail.
His credit cards were never used again. Neither was his cell
"We've got no motive, no evidence, nothing," says private
investigator Chuck Carter, a former cop and DEA agent hired by
Kramer's business partners.
"Pick a scenario, any scenario," says Detective Tom Bennett,
who's handling the case for the Ventura County Sheriff's
Department. Officially, Kramer has been entered into a national
missing-persons database as "endangered."
Traficant -- one of the more eccentric congressmen, who prides
himself on his lone-wolf independence -- vows further
investigation by his staff: "There's some funny things here," he
Some sad things, too. "I long to have his dead body found so
that I can end this," says Jennifer Kramer, who married Taylor --
everyone called him Taylor -- in 1987. "I don't care why he's
gone, look at what I'm left with. . . .
"I still grieve terribly. I know every inch of his body, every
vein in his foot that's popping out," she says. "I intended to
be with him the rest of my life."
Recently their 6-year-old, Hayley, has been seeing Daddy in her
dreams. She's been asking whether Mommy can put up a little stone
in a cemetery. A place for her to go and pray and bring flowers
Words and Music
Until he or his body turns up, we can't know for sure what
happened to Philip Taylor Kramer. But we can search for clues,
like everyone else.
On the Internet, some people are looking for evidence in the
words to "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," which brought multi-million
album sales and world fame for San Diego-based Iron Butterfly
in 1968. The song is as good as any a place to start.
Dunh, dunh, da-da-da dunh-DUNH-dunh-dunh goes the simple bass
line -- a riff that might have reasonably supported a tune
lasting two minutes, but which the musicians attenuated to
cover an entire album side -- 17 minutes 5 seconds. Its lyrics
were pedestrian: "Baby, don't you know that I love you/ Don't
you know that I'll always be true." Its interminable drum solo
and Gothic keyboard noodling render it practically unlistenable
today -- yet it became the first certified platinum album in
history. It stayed on the album charts for 140 weeks.
"In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" held a power and attraction far beyond
its musical merit, as stoners stuck their heads next to pulsing
speakers and attempted to divine the song's greater message.
Even the title was a mystery, in a way. It was the drummer's
exact transcription of singer Doug Ingle's drunkenly slurred
words when he finished writing the song, after a gallon of
cheap wine at 3 in the morning. He was trying to say "In the
Garden of Eden."
This turned out to be accidental marketing genius: Now every fan
would be able to put forth his own theory about the meaning of
Taylor Kramer performed "Vida" hundreds of times on tour, as
both bassist and singer. But he never liked to talk about his
time in the group -- he seemed embarrassed by it.
Why? Perhaps because Kramer had nothing to do with Iron
Butterfly's signature song. In fact, he wasn't even in the band
during its late-'60s heyday. Kramer joined a regrouped version
in 1974, three years after the original band broke up.
The two albums Kramer recorded with the group went nowhere on
the charts. Asking Kramer about his stint in Butterfly was like
asking Pete Best what it was like being a Beatle.
But all his life, Kramer wanted to be known for doing something
significant. He didn't want to make a fortune, but he wanted
people to know his name.
Maybe that's our first good clue.
On the Road
That Sunday morning, driving on Highway 101, Kramer made 17
cell phone calls to family members, friends and business
associates. The last call came into the California Highway
Patrol's 911 switchboard at a minute before noon:
"911, can I help you?"
"Yes. This is Philip Taylor Kramer."
"Uh-huh. This is 911. Can I help you, sir?"
"Yes, you can. I'm going to kill myself . . . "
A few seconds later, the polite, measured voice was gone.
"Hello? Hello?" the operator said frantically. Silence.
Christmas Day, 1994. It's a month and a half before the
disappearance, and things couldn't have seemed more normal at
the Kramer household. Carols on the stereo. Cookies and
sweets left for Santa. Visits from relatives bearing gifts.
Barbies for Hayley, a hockey stick for Derek, then 13. And Dad
with the video camera, recording it all.
After Hayley tries on her new holiday dress and "fairy princess"
shoes, Dad puts her on a pedestal, literally, so she can display
them for the camera. His own childlike excitement builds as the
little girl opens her gifts: "Oh, my gosh! Your own roller
skates. The big-girl kind!"
At one point Kramer sets the camera on the dining room table
and lets it roll. The video shows an athletic, amiable giant in
white shorts and a loose blue shirt. The Kramers seem to want
for nothing here in their $250,000 ranch-home-with-a-pool, set
amid raw canyons in a newish Thousand Oaks subdivision.
Dad can't keep his lens off Hayley, then 4. She gets annoyed at
one point: "Set the camera down!"
"Hayley, just one thing," he persists, then whispers, eerily: "I
Is this a clue? It is almost as if he were planning his escape
and feeling regret.
But maybe it is just a father telling his child he loves her.
Father and Son
As the Space Age unfolded, Ray Kramer filled his children with
the wonder of science, always talking about NASA projects,
computers, coming breakthroughs. Taylor and his older brother
and sister grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where Dad was chairman
of the electrical engineering department at Youngstown State
University. Ray Kramer taught his kids how things worked,
patiently guiding their school science projects.
Taylor built one that everyone remembers. In ninth grade, he
won top prize with a laser rigged to shoot down a balloon. Of
course Dad helped out, supplying the synthetic ruby lens.
Taylor also was gifted on the guitar. At 12 he formed a garage
rock band. The Concepts, he called them.
In the early 1960s, in his physics research, Ray Kramer grew
convinced that the universal speed limit imposed by Einstein --
the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second -- could somehow be
surpassed. This involved complex extrapolations about energy,
mass, gravity and hyperparticles. Mainstream physicists scoff at
A teenage Taylor would peer at his father's scribblings,
"Dad, how come you're always working on one equation?" he'd ask.
"There is only one equation," Ray would say. "It's all in one
At the time of his disappearance, Philip Taylor Kramer owned
about 1.7 million shares of stock in a company called Total
Multimedia Inc., which he founded in 1990. They were worth about
$1 per share. But anybody who ever worked with Kramer says he
didn't care about money and never kept track of it, just as he
ignored other workaday details. Once, he boarded a plane
thinking he was headed for a meeting in Atlanta and ended up
Kramer was an idea man, a right-brainer. A proponent of grand
visions, relentlessly evangelizing for new technologies that
he believed would transform entertainment, education and,
indeed, the world.
" `Given all time, all things are possible' -- that was his
favorite statement," says Dan Shields, a former business
partner. "He could see over the horizon."
But over time, Kramer's tendency for leveraging the future on
dreams led to collapsed schemes. His career trajectory is a
sine wave, easy to chart: first a burst of great enthusiasm,
followed by an arc of significant promise, then a sputter into
failure. Then enthusiasm, again.
It had been that way ever since Kramer moved to California in
the early 1970s with his sister, Kathy, a singer and pianist,
both of them pursuing musical stardom.
After Taylor hooked up with drummer Ron Bushy, his rock future
seemed secure. Looking remarkably like the heavy-metal parody
band Spinal Tap, the new Iron Butterfly featured two original
members and a different sound, but enjoyed some success touring
on the strength of its legend.
Kramer avoided the era's excesses, keeping fit on the road
with a punishing 1,000 sit-ups a day. He devoted himself to
songwriting as well as mathematics, scribbling formulas, poetry
and philosophy on napkins and hotel stationery.
One verse from that period reads: "Progress is on the move /
Computer life is such a groove." He was not a great lyricist.
After meager record sales stalled the band, Taylor enrolled
at Western States College of Engineering. It was 1980. He cut
his hair short, donned a suit and went for the cash, which was
plentiful in the defense industry during the Reagan-era buildup.
While still in school he landed a job at Northrop Corp., in
Glen Mavis worked with Kramer at Northrop, and both had to
swear a national security oath. Mavis would notice whenever
Kramer's office cubicle was taped shut -- engineers did this to
signal that their work was classified and not to be viewed by
anyone else. Mavis isn't sure exactly what Kramer was doing,
but he knows it involved helping to get the MX missile to fly
Because Kramer wasn't much of a hacker, he enlisted Mavis to
write the computer code to monitor the telemetry: "He came up
with system that would predict a failure before it would happen,"
Mavis recalls. "He's very creative."
Mavis and others say that Kramer frequently operated on the
financial margins, piling up debts in various business ventures
but always managing to bounce back. "Whatever the problem was,"
says Mark Spiwak, another former business partner, "he could deal
"Whatever got Taylor was something that he couldn't deal with --
whether it was an outside force that came down on him, or . . . "
Spiwak doesn't finish the thought. But the message comes through:
Maybe it was an inside force that got Taylor Kramer.
Kramer always seemed to end up on the fringes of fame. One of
his close friends -- also a director of Total Multimedia -- was
Randy Jackson, the youngest sibling in the musical Jackson
family. Several Jacksons -- but not Michael -- showed up at a
press event in 1990, when Kramer unveiled digital technology that
he called "the state of the art for the next century." He was
announcing the "worldwide" release of an electronic magazine,
Vizions, including "not only pictures but moving pictures."
Sure, it was possible -- but how practical? No market existed
then for such a product; there is barely a demand today for
CD-ROM magazines. As usual, Kramer was too far ahead of the
curve, caught on the "bleeding edge" of technology, a man
selling a solution for a problem nobody yet had.
Eventually Kramer's vision was embraced, on a much smaller
scale, by some local educators. Kramer's greatest desire was
to help children learn -- his teenage stepson, Derek, had a
learning disability. By 1993, Total Multimedia's video
compression technology was being tested in the local school
district as part of its multimedia curriculum.
And one of his marketing efforts impressed the then-president
of the Nickelodeon cable channel, Geraldine Laybourne, who
wrote in a December 1993 letter to Kramer:
"Early in my day with you, I thought: `This Taylor Kramer is
one incredibly passionate and committed fellow, he surely will
make a difference in the world.' "
Nothing more came of it.
Nothing more came of anything.
Let's play that suicide tape again:
" . . . This is Philip Taylor Kramer."
"Uh-huh. This is 911. Can I help you, sir?"
"Yes, you can. I'm going to kill myself."
That is where the tape ended when it was played on two national
TV shows. But it is not the end of the tape. Kramer's family
authorized release of the 911 tape to the news media on condition
that the next thing he said not be aired.
Here it is:
"And I want everyone to know: O.J. Simpson is innocent. They did
This illuminates something. Something of which Rep. Traficant,
for all his conspiratorial certitude, was unaware. In the final
days before his disappearance, Taylor Kramer was under nearly
unendurable stress, pressing in on him from all directions, from
within and without, from the past and present and future.
By most indications, he was quietly but emphatically going mad.
"We can't progress by using logic alone. We have to attain a
fuller consciousness, an inner connection with God . . . guided
by a higher part of ourselves." -- From "The Celestine Prophecy"
by James Redfield
In the summer of 1994, "The Celestine Prophecy," a compendium
of new age cliches tarted up as an adventure tale, was just
starting its amazing run on the bestseller lists. At Total
Multimedia Inc., it was practically required reading.
That's because TMM's new president, Peter Olson, swore by
"Celestine" principles: how "energy fields" and "vibrations" and
intuition can affect people and events. Olson, a former executive
at IBM and MCI, says he was recruited to help turn around the
struggling multimedia company. He considered it a
Olson negotiated an annual salary of $600,000. He brought a
Paraguayan shaman into the company as a consultant, paying him
about $5,000 per session with the 30-person staff. The shaman
would serve as a "fan" to clear negative energy from a room as
if it were smoke, Olson liked to say.
Kramer became fixated on "Celestine." The book tells of a
middle-aged man's search for nine mystical "insights." It
culminates with people entering a "magic flow," becoming beings
of pure spiritual energy. Their atoms vibrate at higher and
Ultimately they disappear.
By January 1995, CEO Dan Shields and Tom Simpson, TMM's
other partner, were worried about what they considered Kramer's
"undisciplined" work habits. He would toil late into the night,
come to the office boiling with excitement about his fractal and
light-speed research, the stuff his father had spent a lifetime
He began making pronouncements: "God's a scientist, a perfect
scientist! Chaos is perfect order." He declared that in a
previous life, he, Dan Shields and Tom Simpson had been
"We let it go too far," Shields says today. "The worst part
about it for us was, we believed there were definite points of
merit in [Kramer's] thinking process. We were trying to nail
it down, to put some structure and discipline on it."
By now the Canadian investors backing TMM were annoyed with
Olson's bizarre methodology. Kramer was wedged in the middle.
He'd glommed onto Olson's right-brained, new age visions. But
his partners were hard-science types -- left-brainers -- not
fond of shamanism and talk of past lives. Kramer was mostly a
right-brainer. A musician. A believer in the spiritual. But
also a scientist. A believer in the law of reason.
And the little company that Kramer hoped would save the world
was being ripped apart.
On the weekend of Feb. 11-12, 1995, one of TMM's directors,
Robert Papalia, was flying down from Vancouver, B.C., intending
to take legal action to oust Olson. Another director was coming
in from New York. Kramer was supposed to pick him up at the Los
Angeles airport that Sunday morning; instead, he stood the guy
up, and disappeared.
The day before, Kramer had been blurting cryptic, frightening
"You've got to be centered," he told his sister, Kathy,
drawing his hands to his chest. "If you're centered, you'll be
saved when the supernova happens and they come."
He told his wife they'd have to move into a house with high
walls. "He was scared that people were trying to get at him,"
Jennifer recalls. Who? Them.
He claimed to have "channeled" the Tenth Insight of the
Celestine Prophecy -- the sequel that hadn't been written
yet. He called a friend and she wrote it down as he spoke:
"Learn from the beauty of the eye that beholds all the wonders
of the world and yet is blind unto itself. The difference is
between day and night."
He explained excitedly, "I was really lucky to be able to
interpret it because it was highly encrypted."
He was manic, jumping with glee as he told Jennifer: "I have
finally proven that my father's theories for the last 35 years
are correct. Me! Your husband!"
He said it was only a matter of time before President Clinton
and the first lady would be flying out to congratulate him.
Ray Kramer is 76, sturdy, talkative, proud. He says he does
not know what happened to his son. A scientist, he is open-
minded, ready to believe almost any hypothesis. Except one. He
says he is certain Taylor didn't kill himself, because Taylor
once told him that if he ever threatened to kill himself, not to
believe it. He thinks that in those final days Taylor might have
been drugged and abducted by business rivals. But he doesn't
think his son was crazy.
Ray Kramer sincerely believes he and his son were onto
something. Taylor, he said, understood its importance, both to
his father and the world. Maybe someone else understood this,
too. Someone with evil designs.
Ray is sitting at a conference table at Advanced Multimedia
Concepts Inc., a small company run by Taylor's former partners.
He keeps an office here. Lately he has devoted himself to
searching for Taylor and writing a book about The Equation.
This may be the key to cracking the light-speed problem, he
says. It could make possible instantaneous transmission of matter
and data to any point in the universe.
The Equation, he says, combines the work of science's greatest
minds: Newton, Einstein, Planck and Fermi. Relativity, quantum
mechanics, quarks: It's all here, but no one else has put it
all together, except Ray Kramer, a retired engineering professor
"This is the mass of the universe," Ray begins, jotting down
arcane scientific symbols. "Charge squared over four pi epsilon
zero . . . The permativity of free space . . . " He transcribes
intently for a few minutes, then lifts his head, smiles and says,
"How simple can you get?"
Ray Kramer carefully folds the sheet of paper and places it in
an envelope. He seals it, dates it and asks his interviewer for a
promise: Reveal this equation to no one.
But how can it be verified?
"This is a life's work," he says. "I don't want to give it away.
If I lose this, I'm in trouble."
He hands over the secret of the universe.
We promise never to open it.
In every call he made driving on Highway 101, Taylor Kramer
sounded like a man saying goodbye. Or going insane. Or both.
He left this message on his best friend Ron Bushy's answering
machine: "Bush, I love you more than life itself." He told his
lawyer the same thing. And his business partner.
He told his wife that he had a "big surprise" for her. He added
ominously: "I'm not going to see you on this side."
He made one brief stop that morning, visiting his father-in-law,
who was terminally ill. Kramer pulled a small object from his
pocket -- a viewing device whose lens replicated and fragmented
anything it perceived. "It's all right here," he said. "I know
you don't understand, but it's all right here."
He handed his dying father-in-law the amazing device -- a
cheap plastic child's toy.
So is Kramer dead? If not, where did he go? Is he wandering
delirious among the homeless, eating from dumpsters?
One psychic consulted by the family said the 6-foot-5 scientist
was living among a California Indian tribe, being worshiped as
a god. The family checked that out, and also traveled to Sedona,
Ariz., the new age capital. They visited several purported UFO
landing sites. No sign of Kramer.
Some credible sightings emerged in the early days of the search.
A pawnshop manager in Canoga Park, Calif., swore that Kramer
came in and talked about computers, but didn't buy anything. A
woman holding a yard sale nearby said a very tall man approached
her, trying to buy clothes, but she didn't have any sizes big
After "Unsolved Mysteries" aired, scores of callers claimed to
have seen the ex-rocker. Hey, he looks just like the naked man
on this pornographic birthday card, reported a caller from New
Orleans. No, he was jamming in the Cotton Club in Hayden Lake,
Idaho. No, he was in a bar in Sparks, Nev., playing
Mysteries, myths, covered-up secrets -- they endure because
simple facts are no match for legends. The Bermuda Triangle
swallows ships. The moon landing was faked. The government once
captured and autopsied aliens.
And don't you know we really can travel at warp speed, faster
than light? On "Star Trek" they do it. And in "Star Wars."
Real scientists say it can't happen. Based on what we know
now, we'll never get to the stars. And the aliens can't get
here. The distances are simply too great.
Of course, scientists like to leave just a little wiggle
room; the history of science has taught them humility -- they've
been wrong many times before. And into that tiny crevice slips
faith. Hope. A yearning for a life that isn't governed by logic
and facts. We need mystery.
Is it any wonder that "The Celestine Prophecy" has been a
bestseller for 135 weeks? Soon it's going to pass the record of
Maybe it all comes back to the song, after all.
In the Garden of Eden, baby. Don't you know that I looovvvve
That's where it all started, man. Far out. Let's look in the
Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. It came from the tree of
knowledge of good and evil. After that, Adam and Eve lost
their innocence. They thought they could be on the level of God.
So He ordered them from the garden -- and they and their
descendants had to live in shame. They were forced to think, to
puzzle over good and evil and suchlike.
So, dig it. All that thinking led to science. The scientists
set out to disprove the whole God trip. The creation story --
what a laugh!
Except the harder they tried, and the farther out they went, into
space -- to the moon, even to Mars -- the closer to God they came.
Because there really aren't any answers.
It's heavy, man. And beautiful.
Like an Iron Butterfly.
What happened to Kramer? It's a great mystery, all right,
but not because of UFOs or guided missiles or O.J. Simpson or the
The real mystery is the mystery of the human brain.
Submitted for your approval: Could it be that Philip Taylor
Kramer's artistic side was on a collision course with his
scientific side? Like many theoretical scientists, he was groping
on the farthest edges, and not finding hard proofs.
And he also faced more mundane pressures. There was the son's
classic struggle to please his father. A man's obligation to
support a family as opposed to simply indulging himself.
He faced the dichotomy of his own grand expectations vs. his
actual achievements. He was on the brink of failing his wife,
his kids and himself. His great entrepreneurial dream was in
jeopardy. He was worth more dead than alive. His company had
insured him for $1 million.
As a missing person, his name would live on. He'd become the
legend he always wanted to be. The story never ends.
"I think of all the PR Taylor wanted to get for all his stuff,
all that e was working on," says Jennifer Kramer. "I wonder if
he knows about all the PR he's gotten now."
Jennifer wants it all to end, but she's obligated to settle
Taylor's affairs. After he left TMM, the company went into a
death spiral. The stock now trades at 7 cents. "I can
wallpaper my bathroom with it," she says bitterly.
There is the company insurance policy, but as a missing
person, Taylor can't be declared dead for seven years from
the date of his disappearance.
After a tireless 20-month search, Kathy Kramer, the devoted
sister, wants to believe Taylor is not dead. She can't stop
seeing his face in homeless men on corners and in parks and
under piers. "I just miss my brother," she says, sobbing. "I
just know that wherever he is, he's suffering."
The guys in the band haven't gotten this much attention in
years. They're touring again, giving interviews. In his den,
Ron Bushy sorts through musty old files containing Kramer's
scribblings. He digs into an envelope and pulls out what looks
to be a song.
Can't make out the words, really. Except for the title.
It's clear: "What Mystery, Life."
@CAPTION: Phillip Taylor Kramer: He toyed with technologies
beyond most people's comprehension. Is he, as some say,
trapped out there in cyberspace?
@CAPTION: IRON BUTTERFLY, 1975. Kramer is at right. Drummer
Ron Bushy, second from left, theorizes Kramer was abducted
because of work he was doing on the speed of light.
@CAPTION: Taylor and Jennifer and the two children, on vacation
before he vanished.
@CAPTION: From left, Kramer's 40th birthday party with drummer
Ron Bushy; Taylor as a 12-year-old science whiz; father Ray and
sister Kathy Kramer.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank