February 12, 1995 – Philip Kramer (Iron Butterfly) was born on July 12th 1952 in Youngstown, Ohio.
For a short period between 1974 and 1977, he was bassist for Iron Butterfly in their third reincarnation. Even though he was a solid bass thumper, his story on this rock and roll website only appears because his death was a longtime mystery with many stories of paranoia, related to his science career. During and after his music career he studied for and got a night school degree in aerospace engineering, after which he worked on the MX missile guidance system for a contractor of the US Department of Defense.
With the arrival of the Internet and the Worldwide Web he switched fields and studied fractal compression, facial recognition systems, and advanced communications. In 1990 he co-founded Total Multimedia Inc. with Randy Jackson, brother of Michael Jackson, to develop data compression techniques for CD-ROMs.
Then on February 12, 1995 he disappeared.
The day he disappeared, Philip Taylor Kramer, who was worth more than a million dollars at the time, 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.
Some 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,” said then Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), who knew Kramer’s family and 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 said — namely, to launch a nuclear strike. The FBI briefly looked into it, and said there was no reason to suspect such a plot. But then again the FBI did not recognize any 9/11 threat either.
“Somebody put a gun to his head,” suggested 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 duress?
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 phone.
“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 says.
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 for Daddy.
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 to anyone beyond the baby boomers — 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 the words.
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 love you.”
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 such folly.
A teenage Taylor would peer at his father’s scribblings, curious. “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 equation.”
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 in Hawaii.
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 Hawthorne.
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 accurately.
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 with it.
“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 it.”
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 “once-in-a-multiple-lifetime opportunity.”
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 higher levels.
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 working on.
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 brothers.
“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 his 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 things.
“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.
His dad, Ray Kramer was 76, sturdy, talkative, proud at the time. He said he did not know what happened to his son. A scientist, he was open-minded, ready to believe almost any hypothesis. Except one. He said he was certain Taylor didn’t kill himself, because Taylor once told him that if he ever threatened to kill himself, not to believe it. He thought that in those final days Taylor might have been drugged and abducted by business rivals. But he didn’t think his son was crazy.
Ray Kramer sincerely believed 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 was sitting at a conference table at Advanced Multimedia Concepts Inc., a small company run by Taylor’s former partners. He kept an office here. He 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 said. It could make possible instantaneous transmission of matter and data to any point in the universe.
The Equation, he said, combines the work of science’s greatest minds: Newton, Einstein, Planck and Fermi. Relativity, quantum mechanics, quarks: It was all here, but no one else has put it all together, except Ray Kramer, a retired engineering professor from Youngstown, Ohio.
“This is the mass of the universe,” Ray began, jotting down arcane scientific symbols. “Charge squared over four pi epsilon zero . . . The permativity of free space . . . ” He transcribed intently for a few minutes, then lifts his head, smiles and says, “How simple can you get?”
Ray Kramer carefully folded the sheet of paper and placed it in an envelope. He sealed it, dated it and asked 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 enough.
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 “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.”
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 “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.”
Maybe it all comes back to the song, after all.
In the Garden of Eden, baby. Don’t you know that I looovvvve you.
That’s where it all started, man. Far out. Let’s look in the book. Genesis.
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 Tenth Insight. The real mystery is the mystery of the human brain.
Thoughts submitted for your approval are: 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 he 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 traded 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.”
His disappearance caused a mystery lasting four years.
On May 29th 1999, Phil’s Ford Aerostar minivan and skeletal remains were found by photographers looking for old car wrecks at the bottom of Decker Canyon near Malibu, California.
Skeletal remains in the vehicle were later identified through dental records as that of Philip Taylor Kramer. Despite law enforcement ruling this as a probable suicide, family and friends of Philip Taylor Kramer discount this theory. Kramer’s spouse stated he husband “would never, for any reason or under any circumstances, allow himself to completely abandon the family he loves more than life itself.” Based on this forensic evidence and his emergency call to the police his death was ruled as a probable suicide committed on the day on which he was last heard of, 12 February 1995. He was 42 years old.