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March 30, 1995|LEONARD REED | Times Staff Writer

The day before he disappeared, Philip (Taylor) Kramer thought he would take his kids out for a bite. Finding only 40 cents in his pocket, he turned to his dad, Ray Kramer, and asked for a few dollars.

Ray did what he never did: He told his son no. "It wasn't the money, of course," says Ray. "It was Taylor. He was exhausted, burned out, shot. I laughed and told him to go home and get some sleep."

Taylor Kramer did, sort of. That night he slept only fitfully, getting up a few times--at least once to run complex mathematical equations on his laptop computer. It wasn't unusual for Kramer to do this, says his wife, Jennifer. But in the weeks leading up to this sleep-shy night, it had become the norm. Indeed, says Jennifer, "It seemed like he was going without sleep entirely for days."

You couldn't tell that the next morning, Sunday, Feb. 12.

Taylor Kramer was his usual buoyant self: the smiling, strapping 6-foot-5 blue-eyed guy who had created a high-tech multimedia company in Thousand Oaks, handled theoretical physics like a golf game, spent his off hours with his 5-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, and started each day by serving coffee in bed to Jennifer. The fact that he once played bass in the hard-rock band Iron Butterfly was a charming footnote to his accomplished, 42-year-old life.

On this Sunday morning, though, Kramer had to be on the road at 9 to head for Los Angeles International Airport to pick up a business associate, Greg Martini, and his wife. He was supposed to return to Thousand Oaks with the Martinis, pick up Jennifer, and then the foursome would drive northward to Santa Barbara for a relaxing dinner.

It would never happen.

Taylor Kramer vanished.

He's been missing ever since.

Kramer did leave his Thousand Oaks home at 9 a.m. He did stop at Los Robles Medical Center to briefly visit Jennifer's elderly father, a cancer patient. And he did repeatedly check in, by cellular phone from his green Ford van, to report that plans for the day were changing.

In those calls, his voice took a different form: without the characteristic upbeat lilt, yet energized to the point of sounding out of breath. In one call, Kramer asked Jennifer to tell Martini--if Martini were to phone her--to take a cab from the airport to the Westlake Hyatt. Kramer said he would meet everyone there an hour later than planned, at 2 p.m., "with the biggest surprise for you," Jennifer recalls.

But Kramer also dialed Ron Bushy, the Iron Butterfly's original drummer on the hit song "In-A-Gadda-da-Vida" and Kramer's close friend in L.A., and said: "Bush, I love you more than life itself." And in another call to his wife, he would say, "Whatever happens, I'll always be with you."

Then came the dreaded call, at 11:59 a.m., from somewhere in the San Fernando Valley on the Ventura Freeway, to the 911 operator: "This is Philip Taylor Kramer, and I am going to kill myself."

If he did--and police and family believe he has not--then he left no trace. Neither the man nor his vehicle has been found, and all articles relating to him, such as credit and ATM cards and cellular phones, have gone unused.

The first reports of Kramer's disappearance said he never made it to the airport, that he had pulled a U-turn in L.A. or in the San Fernando Valley and was driving around making calls. Backing up that notion was the fact that Martini couldn't find Kramer at the airport--and the ironic circumstance that Bushy was departing from the same Delta terminal that morning, but did not bump into his old friend.

Taylor Kramer's absent-mindedness over money left tracks, however. Ten days into the investigation of his disappearance, a form letter arrived at the Kramers' home seeking $3 for parking fees at LAX. It turns out Kramer was unable to pay his tab--he probably had the same 40 cents in his pocket--and couldn't leave the Delta lot without signing an IOU.

Kramer was at the airport for 45 minutes on the day of his disappearance, parking records show. No one saw him, no videotapes captured his image. And for reasons no one can quite divine at this point, he disappeared.

"Something happened during that time--either in his head or at the terminal--that made him turn away," says Chuck Carter, a former L.A. cop and Drug Enforcement Agency agent who worked as the Kramers' private investigator for nearly a month. "And I'll tell you, I haven't a clue. The guy didn't have an enemy. The guy was a dedicated family man--I checked him out. Whatever happened in his head while at the airport, or whatever happened right in the airport, I've got a feeling we'll learn from Kramer himself."

Understanding the Cosmos

That would, of course, be the best of all scenarios.

But in the 47 days of his absence, much has emerged about Taylor Kramer that depicts a man under enormous business stress and yet galvanized by a euphoria over recent mathematical discoveries he believed he had made with his father.

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