“Once I made the decision, I just accepted it.” Robert Spangler said the words in a deliberate and completely cool manner as Detective Paul Goodman analyzed his every gesture and inflection in his voice. The confession was delayed by twenty years, but they finally managed to find the real person responsible for the death of four victims, two women and two teenagers who had a close relationship with the killer: they were their wives and their children.
The widower, who was married four times, admitted the crimes a few months after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The story of this parricide and his almost perfect crimes would have been on the verge of being unraveled had it not been for the detailed presentation of the facts. When he came out, his inner circle couldn’t believe that this respected member of the community was actually a monster.
Robert Spangler was born on January 10, 1933, in Des Moines, Iowa, although he grew up in Ames, a city where his father, a civil engineer, gave his name to a State University laboratory. Apart from that, there is hardly any reliable information about the main character’s childhood and adolescence, except that he met his first wife, Nancy Stallman, in high school, and that they married in 1955. They later moved to Littleton, Colorado, and had two children, David and Susan.
In the following years, Robert worked for American Water Works (a utility company that operates in the United States), was the director of public relations for a non-governmental organization, as well as a radio host and actor in a local play.
His most public aspect made him a well-liked and respected member of his community, to the point of being considered a celebrity due to his polite, charismatic and friendly personality.
His fellow citizens saw in Robert a smart and successful man, the perfect neighbor who was always ready to help and participate in community events or referee youth football games. “He’s the kind of guy you’d want to have as a neighbor,” Joyce Williams said in an interview.
However, this image was not real, it was distorted and Robert kept everyone delusional, especially his own family. So when his wife, Nancy, and their two teenage children were found dead, no one suspected that he held the gun behind the shots.
It all happened on December 30, 1978, when Robert came home from work to find Nancy dead with a gunshot wound to the head and her two children, also shot to death, in their bedrooms. David was 17 years old and Susan was 15 years old.
Upon discovery, the husband alerted authorities, who searched the house and found a typewritten death note with the wife’s initials for signature and a .38 revolver right next to it. “We always argued about who would have the children. I will do it. N”, the note said.
During the now widower’s statement, he explained that they had been having marital problems for a long time and that before they left for work they had an argument: he wanted to separate and leave her because he had a lover, his colleague Sharon Cooper.
According to Robert, this so angered Nancy that she chose to get out of the way by killing her children and later committing suicide. But there was something that didn’t fit. The police found traces of gunpowder on the husband’s hands, which he justified by claiming that he had touched the gun. Despite these indications, authorities closed the case and concluded that Nancy had committed the double murder before taking her own life.
A few months later, the widower remarried his lover, with whom they lived at the same address where the three deaths occurred. After almost ten years of marriage, the couple separated after many vicissitudes. It was 1988.
However, the murderer was not a bachelor for long, because shortly after that he remarried for the third time. The lucky one was Donna Sundling, an aerobics instructor she moved to Durango with.
But this new sentimental relationship also didn’t work when they were embroiled in monumental battles. Donna, who loved her husband very much, wanted to solve her problems with a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in Arizona.
On April 11, 1993, the couple went for a nice walk around the place, but at one point, Donna fell and disappeared into the rocks. Robert immediately went to the ranger office for help and a rescue operation was activated. Hours later, the woman’s body was found nearly 150 feet below the hiking trail.
An autopsy revealed that Donna suffered multiple fractures, contusions, and lacerations that caused her death. Therefore, the woman’s death was ruled an accident, although relatives did not believe it. They suspected Robert. But there was no evidence to incriminate him. It was all mere conjecture: a quick cremation before Donna’s mother arrived, the victim’s fear of heights…
After the death of his third wife, Robert sold the house in Durango and moved to Grand Junction. During this time, the widower reconciled with his second wife, Sharon Cooper, but on October 2, 1994, the woman was found dead from a drug overdose. Despite the investigation launched by Detective Paul Goodman and the suspicions hanging over Robert, the case was closed and classified as a suicide.
few months of life
Six years later, in August 2000, Robert Spangler became ill: he was diagnosed with terminal lung and brain cancer and was given six months to live. News of his impending death reached Goodman, who thought, “Under the right circumstances, he would have confessed. And so it ended.”
Days before the authorities’ visit, the widower married for the fourth and final time to an old friend from his youth, Judith Hilty, 53. According to the neighbors, they were the perfect couple and were completely in love.
Robert Spangler’s confession was calm and without an iota of sympathy for the murdered victims. In fact, he had no qualms about telling how he killed his two wives and children. Regarding the 1978 crimes, the parricide explained that he asked Nancy to come down to the basement to surprise him, and after she sat down, he told her: “Close your eyes.” Then he shot him point-blank in the head.
Then he went upstairs to the boys’ bedroom. First he killed Susan: “I shot him in the heart.” Then he went to David. But the boy woke up from the shots, tried to fight back, so “I ended up choking him.” As for the obituary, Robert tricked the woman into signing a blank piece of paper and then added the message on the typewriter.
This claim was joined by the murder of Donna on the cliff of the Grand Canyon. Seeing her close to the brink and unhappy with her marriage, he thought, “You know, it’s now or never.” And pushed her down the hill. Neither before nor after his guilty plea did Robert show an iota of remorse. “I’m different. I think I’m interesting,” he told Goodman about FBI agents investigating his case. It was always easier for him to kill than to divorce.
The reactions in the case of the widowed murderer were not long in coming, his closest circle was downright shocked by his imputed facts, and no one could believe that this exemplary man had lied to them so much. “There was a side to him that none of us knew. Everyone was fooled,” said her neighbor Kay West.
Twenty-two years after the first murders, in March 2001, a federal judge in Phoenix sentenced Robert Spangler to life in prison for the murders of four members of his family. However, just five months later, the parricide died in prison, with the defense’s appeal still pending. He was 68 years old.