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Weaving store owner recollects career as crime scene photographer

Fiber Factory owner Charley Klamm weaves on one of the large handful of looms in the front room of the Fiber Factory, a weaving store in Cottonwood Falls. Photo by Justin Sperry
Fiber Factory owner Charley Klamm weaves on one of the large handful of looms in the front room of the Fiber Factory, a weaving store in Cottonwood Falls. Photo by Justin Sperry
Charley Klamm, owner of the Fiber Factory in Cottonwood Falls, walks through his storeo accompanied by his cockatiel, Woody. Photo by Justin Sperry
Charley Klamm, owner of the Fiber Factory in Cottonwood Falls, walks through his storeo accompanied by his cockatiel, Woody. Photo by Justin Sperry

Charley Klamm’s entire career disproves the adage “crime doesn’t pay.”

No, Klamm isn’t a criminal. He worked as a crime scene photographer for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for nearly 20 years, and the organization paid him to document other people’s crimes on film.

“The work was interesting,” Klamm said. “It was not always pleasant, not always easy.”

The Early Years

Klamm is a small-town boy, having grown up in Cottonwood Falls and returning after retirement. He said as a young man he didn’t expect to see the scenes his career presented to him, but he declined his father’s offer to take over the family dairy farm.

“He never, ever left the premises, day or night,” Klamm said. “I liked cows and didn’t mind milking them, but I didn’t want to only go one place, to town and back, my whole life.”

Charley Klamm met his wife, Carol, when he was a teenager, working on her father’s ranch. The two married and made a life together.

Charley’s first job was with the U.S. Postal Service. He taught himself photography on the side, and soon he was making money take photographs of people’s weddings and babies.

One day, someone told him he could go to Topeka to take a test to become a civil service photographer. He returned home and “didn’t think much of it.” But a week later, the Kansas Department of Transportation called him.

“They said, ‘How soon can you come to work?’” Klamm said.

Crime Scene Stories

The Klamms moved to the metropolis of Topeka, and Charley spent his days driving Interstate 70, documenting construction of highway and bridges — and also automobile accidents, which often got a bit gory.

When he received a call about an opening with the KBI in the late 1960s, he jumped at the idea of a change of pace. Eventually, he served as the supervisor of KBI’s photo lab, processing black-and-white and color film.

He also shot plenty of photographs of crime scenes himself, encountering dead bodies. He remembers the vileness of the smells and the bugs that find dead bodies.

“Wintertime wasn’t bad,” he said. “Summer wasn’t good. Sometimes the bodies had lain there for awhile. The blow flies wanted out of the house more than you wanted in.

He also took photographs at autopsies and testified in court about what he saw.

“I never got so tired of saying anything as, ‘This is a true and accurate representation of the scene as I saw it,’” Klamm said.

He said time desensitized him to some of the more dreadful sights he witnessed, but it taught him about the evil of which humanity is capable.

“There are situations where children are involved, and it’s tough,” he said.

Late-Life Adventures

Life brought the couple ups — three sons and a daughter — and downs — a 1966 Topeka tornado that leveled their neighborhood and home when they were seeking shelter in its basement.

Charley retired from the KBI in 1992, around the same time Carol retired from nursing. The pair looked at other places to relocate, but their hearts followed their roots to Cottonwood Falls.

“We kept coming back to here because we knew the town and we knew the people,” Charley said.

Carol dedicated much of her spare time to weaving, a pastime she learned from her mother, who requested help with her loom as her eyesight failed. Charley fixed an old loom Carol’s mother gave them, and the couple has been inheriting people’s unwanted looms ever since.

In 1995, the couple opened the Fiber Factory, a weaving store at 209 Broadway in Cottonwood Falls. The couple resides in living quarters behind the store with their cockatiel, Woody, who accompanies Charley wherever he moves by riding on his shoulder. Klamm said he is pleased with his third career owning a store.

“Weaving was a hobby and now it’s a business,” Klamm said. “Kind of like what happened with photography.”

— Kristin Baker

Comments

Marilyn Meakins

Hey, Charley!! Good to see you!!