Life Sentences

By Amy Donaldson, KSL Podcasts

Carla Maas and Dana Booth Christensen
Carla Maas, left, and her daughter Dana Booth Christensen, talk at the grave of Buddy Booth in April in Salt Lake City. Booth was Maas’ husband and Christensen’s father. (Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

When a stranger with a gun left Carla Maas a widow at age 23, he had no idea how his violent decision robbed her family of the most stable thing in their lives.

Buddy Booth’s murder on March 5, 1982, left Maas the sole support for their two daughters — ages 4 years and 4 months. She couldn’t bring herself to return to the apartment they’d shared, so the young mother who had no job, no high school diploma and now no home, found herself confronting questions that felt impossible to answer.

But the most heartbreaking question came from her 4-year-old daughter Norma.

“She always wondered where her dad was, why he wasn’t coming home,” Maas said, breaking into sobs. “And it took me a long time … before I even said anything to her.”

Maas didn’t know how to answer her daughter’s questions. So, she didn’t.

But about a year after Buddy’s murder, she succumbed to the pressure from her parents to take Norma to her daddy’s grave. It was a trip she hoped would help her find a way to explain death to the now 5-year-old little girl who’d been the center of her dad’s life.

Maas and Norma drove to the Salt Lake cemetery where he was buried. They parked and walked a short distance to the headstone where Buddy’s name was engraved. And then, she tried to explain that this was where her daddy lives now.

But the little girl was confused.

“And she kept looking around,” Maas recalled, wiping away tears. “She was … looking for him is what she was doing. And I sat by the grave for a little bit. She wouldn’t sit down. She just kept looking, waiting for him to come.”

Norma grew more distressed, so Maas decided it was time to leave. She took her daughter by the hand, but she tried to pull her hand away.

“And she goes, ‘Mama, wait, wait. Mama, wait. I want to see my dad’,” Maas sobbed. “And I told her that her dad lives here. … And he … he’s in the ground.”

She covers her face, crying at the memory.

“And that broke her heart,” Maas said. “And she just cried and cried. … I felt it was a mistake to bring her because I knew then she wasn’t ready for it and …”

Sobs interrupt her again.

“She was angry with me for a while — thinking I took her away from her dad again.”

Carla Maas wasn’t the only young widow trying to navigate grief and motherhood. Because the morning of March 5, 1982, Michael Moore killed two young fathers — Jordan Rasmussen, 30, and Buddy Booth, 24. Moore knew Rasmussen and laid out an elaborate series of lies that police, prosecutors, and eventually a jury rejected. But he didn’t know Booth.

Booth arrived at the restaurant just minutes after Moore shot Rasmussen in the head. Moore, 25, ran into the restaurant to look for a way to dispose of Rasmussen’s body when Booth drove up in his delivery van planning to pick up a load of dirty linens for his employer, Peerless Laundry.

When he saw Rasmussen’s body in the driveway, he parked the van and walked over to where he laid in the snow. Moore came out of the restaurant, and after a brief exchange, he shot Booth as the man ran from him.

A jury didn’t buy Moore’s lies, but they did offer him mercy. Instead of sending him to death row, they sent him to prison to serve two consecutive life sentences.

But after just a year, Moore would make his first appearance before the Utah State Board of Pardons and Parole. And while no one believed he would be eligible for early release after just a year behind bars, Moore made a sincere and impassioned plea for a parole date.

“I feel for the families and the wrong I’ve done,” Moore told the parole board in a hearing in September of 1983. “I would hope that there’s some way I can make that up to society. I don’t know what I can do, I wish we could go back and redo it. I would never put myself in a position that would ever do what I’ve done.”

The young widows didn’t know about the hearing.

Carla Maas
Carla Maas visits her former husband Buddy Booth’s gravesite Elysian Gardens in Millcreek in April. (Photo: Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

While the man who killed their husbands fought for his freedom, they fought for a way out of the pain that saturated everything.

“I remember the day I woke up after the funeral,” said Jordan Rasmussen’s widow, DeAnn Rasmussen. “That was when it really hit me — to wake up in the morning and the first thing you notice is your heart is racing. And you think, ‘Did I dream that? Or is it real?’ And then reality would hit and I didn’t want to get out of bed.”

She hoped that if she could find a way to face every lonely morning, she could find her way back to a happy life.

“I just knew that time would heal this open wound that was in my heart and I just so badly wanted time to go by fast because my heart was broken,” she said. “It wasn’t just emotionally; it was a physical pain. I literally felt my heart was broken.”

But even on her worst days, she found three reasons not to succumb to grief.

“I just remember,” she said, crying, “life just seems so empty. I thought I just don’t want to go on living. What’s there to live for? But then I’d think of David, Lisa and Chad, and I thought, ‘I have to be here for them.'”

Like Booth, Jordan Rasmussen left a 5-year-old confused and longing for the daddy she adored. DeAnn Rasmussen and Jordan Rasmussen’s sisters tried to explain to little Lisa what it meant to die. In an effort to ease the pain they anticipated she’d feel, they reminded her of their faith. They said she would see her daddy again in the afterlife.

“Your daddy’s going to be gone for a long, long time,” Diane Rasmussen Duckworth told her young niece. “It’ll be a long time until you see him, and she says, ‘Well, not very long, because he will come home for Christmas. Because he loves Christmas.'”

Duckworth can’t suppress sobs as she remembers her niece’s words.

“And I remember thinking, ‘No, it’ll be longer than Christmas’,” she said. “You know … you can’t explain the hereafter to a 5- or 6-year-old.”

That would become evident nine months later as they gathered for their first Christmas without Jordan Rasmussen. As their mother encouraged them to get ready for bed on Christmas Eve, Lisa made it clear just how mean grief could be.

“That December, DeAnn was saying, ‘You gotta go to bed’,” Duckworth remembered. “You know, ‘Santa can’t come until you go to sleep.’ … Lisa said, ‘I don’t care about Santa. I’m waiting for Dada to come back.’ … Those words ring clear. ‘He’ll be back, he’ll come home for Christmas, because he loves Christmas.'”

Rasmussen family in the early 80s.
Rasmussen family in the early 80s. Left to right back row: David, Jordan, DeAnn, and Blanche. Front row Lisa and Chad (in the stroller). Credit: Rasmussen family.

When Buddy Booth and Jordan Rasmussen were murdered, their wives were banished to an isolating new reality. They were women who’d lost the men they loved, the partners they’d relied on. Rasmussen and Maas wandered through remnants of their old lives desperate for the comfort of something familiar. And they found it scattered in the debris left by the violence.

But often, without warning, those same things taunted them, shifting into painful reminders of what they’d lost to a gunman’s rampage.

One of the loneliest aspects of this new life was that there wasn’t time to stumble through the darkness alone. They were mothers. Everything they did — and didn’t do — impacted the road their children had to travel.

They both had devastated children who couldn’t understand why their dads were hugging them on Thursday, and gone from their lives completely on Friday.

“Sometimes I would get angry,” Rasmussen said of the months after the murders. “If the kids did something — got an award at school or did something that the parents should be there — I would just be angry that … they couldn’t have their dad there. …It was hard not feeling sorry for them. And so you just wanted to give them things.”

Rasmussen sought counseling. She wanted to be whole for her children. And while she assumed they were grieving too, she wasn’t sure how to talk about their pain. So they didn’t.

“They just kind of kept it in,” she said. “I think I failed them. I probably should have brought it out.”

There would be endless tears, enduring sorrow, and eventually a return to joyful lives. But the full impact of what it meant to lose their fathers at such young ages wouldn’t become clear for many years.

Especially for Norma and Dana Booth. Losing their father set in motion a series of events that triggered an avalanche of compounding trauma. Some of those events were set in motion that first year. That same year the man who robbed these children of their fathers was working hard to convince prison officials that he didn’t deserve to live behind bars. Michael Moore was preparing to plead for a second chance at freedom. And that led to a hearing where he had to answer one critical question: Did he understand the damage he’d done?

Buddy Booth grave
The grave marker for Buddy Booth at Elysian Gardens in Millcreek. (Photo: Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

And Moore would have answers for the parole board, but he’d have an ally in his fight that those widows could relate to — his father.

Edward Moore had pleaded with a jury to spare his son’s life. And in September of 1983, he pleaded with the parole board to let his son live that life outside the prison’s walls.

“Michael’s not a criminal,” Edward Moore said. “Michael must have been brainwashed, under tremendous mental strain to do something like that. I just can’t understand it. I didn’t even know he could shoot a gun. We don’t have guns in our house.”

He even appealed to an authority higher than the parole board.

“We’re all being judged by a higher board of pardons than this,” Edward Moore said. “And I’m sure the main upstairs will say, ‘Let there be peace and goodness that follows. For it is in the forgiving that we are pardoned, and in the pardoning that we are forgiven. We humbly beseech … that you grant Mike favorable rehearing that will offer him hope instead of despair.”

But hope would not come in the form Michael Moore requested. After a brief deliberation, the board decided to give Moore the maximum rehearing date available at that time — 10 years. He was devastated and openly wondered if there was anything he could do, any changes he could make that would bring him release from the hopelessness of prison.

He asked them what might happen if he continued to stay out of trouble in prison, if he kept volunteering, attending therapy and trying to improve himself.

“What can we anticipate after that, if I maintain my present course,” he asked. “Can you give me some ray of hope is what I’m asking? Should I anticipate a five-year rehearing date when I return in 10 (years)?”

But board members refused to give him anything but advice.

“Mike, I won’t commit to that,” the chairman said, advising him to continue to stay out of trouble and make good use of his time behind bars. “I think it would be best for you … to prepare for that rehearing, look forward to that as a goal. … But the options at that time, I don’t know. And I wouldn’t want to comment on that, because me commenting would set some expectations.”

And with that, Michael went back to the life he was trying to rebuild within the confines of the prison walls. That hearing set a decade into the future would bring Moore back into the lives of his victims. But not in a way that any of them expected.