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Robert Bruce SPAHALSKI

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Cocaine addict - Arguments - His twin brother was imprisoned for murder in 1971
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: 1990 / 1991 / 2005
Date of arrest: November 2005 (surrenders)
Date of birth: 1955
Victims profile: Moraine Armstrong, 24 / His girlfriend, Adrian Berger, 35 / Charles Grande, 40 / Vivian Irrizarry, 54
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation / Hitting with a hammer
Location: Rochester, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 100 years in prison on December 13, 2006
 
 

 
 

Killer Gets 100 Years in Prison

December 15, 2006

Robert Spahalski was sentenced to 100 years in prison Tuesday.

Some of his victim's families have waited 15 years for justice.

Morraine Armstrong was Robert Spahalski's neighbor. He strangled her on New Year's Eve 1990. Sixteen years later, her family can finally face the holidays.

Armstrong’s aunt, Carrie Peterson, said, "This New Year's Eve it will be so much better because we won't have to wonder who killed her…we already know."

Spahalski also strangled his girlfriend Adrian Berger.

Then during a cocaine binge 14 years later he strangled Vivian Irrizarry, a woman he called his "best friend." Her family believes the goodness in their daughter sparked an attack of conscience.

Days after he killed Irrizary, Spahalski confessed to crimes that had been unsolved for a decade and a half.

Spahalski also had an intimate relationship with Charles Grande. The violence of Grand’s death was very different than the gentle life he had lived.

Today his little sister hangs on to that lesson. Rose Grande said, "I still believe in non violence…in justice… no matter how long you have to wait."

When given a chance to speak Spahalski said, “I would like to say to the families I apologize, I'm very sorry."

Not everyone wanted to hear it.

Moses Armstrong said, "You lose your daughter, 24-years-old, and it’s very painful. But justice was served and hopefully he'll die in prison."

The judge said the sentence of 100 years certainly amounts to a death sentence for anyone, but Spahalski also suffers from AIDS and other health problems and it's not likely he’ll live a long life.

Spahalski's attorney advised his client not to cooperate with the investigation that helps determine sentencing, which is a hint they may appeal.


Street hustler convicted of killing four people since 1990

November 21 2006

A street hustler was convicted Monday of strangling two women and bludgeoning a businessman in a series of drug-fueled slayings in the early 1990s that went unsolved until he killed his next-door neighbor a year ago.

Robert Spahalski, 51, walked into police headquarters last November and said he'd battered and strangled Vivian Irizarry, 54, a friend who lived in an adjoining apartment, prosecutor Ken Hyland said in closing arguments Monday. He then confessed under questioning to three other killings in 1990 and 1991, Hyland said.

A jury took less than 2 1/2 hours to find Spahalski guilty of all charges _ four counts of second-degree intentional murder plus an extra count of felony murder while committing a robbery.

Spahalski, whose twin brother was imprisoned for murder in 1971, displayed no emotion but sipped water from a plastic cup and glanced briefly at the jury foreman as the verdict was being read. He could draw a maximum of 25 years to life in prison on each count at sentencing on Dec. 12.

"These were very violent crimes ... beating somebody to death with a hammer, strangling people with ropes and wires," Hyland said.

"I think Mr. Spahalski should never see the light of day again," added Hyland, who said he would seek consecutive sentences on each count _ a maximum of 125 years to life in prison.

The defense maintained during the two-week trial that Spahalski had been a cocaine addict his entire adult life and was suffering from "extreme emotional disturbance."

Attorney Joseph Damelio acknowledged that Spahalski told officers at the police station's front desk that he'd killed Irizarry a few days earlier and dumped her body in the basement. But he argued that Spahalski was high on crack cocaine during all the slayings and couldn't form the intent to kill.

Placing two bags of cocaine on the rail of the jury box during his summation, Damelio said, "The demon's here, and it affected his mind."

Spahalski was interrogated for 12 straight hours without access to medications he takes four times a day for mental health problems, Damelio added in disputing whether the confession was voluntary. But the brutality of the crimes and Spahalski's detailed description of how he committed them showed beyond doubt that he knew what he was doing, the prosecutor countered.

Police said that after he confessed to three murders, Spahalski was reluctant to admit to a fourth because he had it "fixed in his mind" that to do so might get him "labeled as a serial killer," Hyland said.

But after urging him to heal her family's heartache, police said Spahalski eventually confessed to strangling Moraine Armstrong, 24, on New Year's Eve in 1990. Angered when she demanded money for sex after he had shared $100 worth of cocaine with her, "I choked her out," he was quoted as telling police.

In each killing, Spahalski's statements matched witnesses' testimony and physical evidence _ some of it known only to investigators, police said.

Police said Spahalski admitted strangling his girlfriend, Adrian Berger, 35, in her apartment in July 1991, and beating to death Charles Grande, 40, with a hammer three months later.

Spahalski said he had sex with Grande on three occasions in return for drug money and killed the landscape company owner in his bedroom when he shortchanged him. He then stole about $1,000 in cash from Grande's suburban home and fled in the victim's car, Hyland said.

Born in Elmira, Spahalski moved here in the 1970s and was imprisoned four times on felony burglary charges. His identical twin, Stephen Spahalski, was 16 years old when he stabbed to death a store owner in Elmira in 1971.


Confession from suspected serial killer will be allowed

September 5, 2006

The confessions from a suspected serial killer will be allowed in court. A judge ruled statements made by Robert Spahalski to Rochester police last year can be used against him. Prosecutors say Spahalski admitted to four killings dating back more than a decade when he turned himself in last November. The defense argued the police were under instructions from a 1991 letter sent by the public defender's office to not question Spahalski about any homicides. The judge ruled Tuesday there was no evidence the officers knew of the past letter.


Judge postpones Spahalski murder trial

June 27, 2006

A judge today postponed the murder trial of accused serial killer Robert Bruce Spahalski so Spahalski's lawyer can decide whether to offer an insanity defense.

Spahalski, 51, is charged with killing four people in Rochester and Webster over a 14-year period that ended last fall. His trial for second-degree murder had been scheduled to begin July 31.

But Monroe County Court Judge Patricia D. Marks postponed the trial so defense lawyer Joseph S. Damelio could have Spahalski evaluated by mental health experts to determine whether Damelio would offer a defense that Spahalski should be found not guilty because of a mental disease or defect.

Both sides are expected to return to court July 13 so Damelio can report on the progress of the evaluation.

The judge told Damelio and First Assistant District Attorney Kenneth C. Hyland to prepare for a trial in August or September.

Marks has two decisions pending in the case. She'll have to decide whether incriminating statements Spahalski allegedly made about the homicides can be used in his trial. She'll also have to rule whether Spahalski should receive a separate trial for each homicide.

Spahalski is charged with the December 1990 death of Moraine Armstrong in Rochester, the July 1991 death of Adrian Berger in Rochester, the October 1991 death of Charles Grande in Webster, and the November 2005 death of Vivian Irizarry in Rochester.


Spahalski Wants Confessions Tossed

June 6, 2006

(Rochester, N.Y.) – A lawyer for accused serial killer Robert Spahalski asked a judge to throw out four murder confessions he allegedly gave to police.

Rochester Police said Spahalski walked into their headquarters last fall and confessed to four killings dating back to 1990.

Spahalski’s lawyer said police should not have questioned him because in 1991, another lawyer who represented him told police not to ask him about any homicides.

Spahalski is charged with killing Moraine Armstrong in 1990, Adrian Berger and Charles Grande in 1991, and Vivian Irizarry in 2005.

Police said Spahalski agreed to be questioned without a lawyer present.

The two-day hearing wrapped up Tuesday. The judge reserved decision.

The trial has been set for July 31.


Spahalski Appears in Court

June 2, 2006

An accused Rochester serial killer appeared in court Friday morning.

The Rochester Police Department wants 14 year old court records unsealed. Investigators said that those records may relate to current charges against Robert Spahalski.

Spahalski is accused of killing four people dating back to 1990. Prosecutors believe a 1992 acquittal on criminal impersonation charges relates to one of those killings.

The RPD has moved to unseal the records and introduce witness testimony from the previous trial.

"Frankly, they're more important to the defense than they are to us. Because they'd be able to be used to cross examine some of the same witnesses that were called back in 1992 will be called at our hearing on Monday. So, this is also for the benefit of Mr. Spahalski and his counsel,” said Ken Hyland, prosecutor.

Judge Patricia marks reserved decision on unsealing the records. Spahalski's scheduled to return to court Monday for a hearing on the admissibility of statements he made to police.


Grand Jury Indicts Spahalski For Four Murders

January 4, 2006

The man Rochester police call a serial killer is facing more murder charges.

On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted Robert Spahalski on five counts of murder involving four victims dating back 16 years.

Spahalski pleaded not guilty to the 10-count indictment. He appeared in court shackled until his attorney objected and the judge ordered the shackles removed.

Spahalski remains in jail and no bail has been set.

Election Day Confession

On Election Day 2005, Spahalski walked into police headquarters and allegedly told police he had killed four people. He was charged in two of the cases while police worked to gather evidence in the other two. That same day Spahalski led police to the body of Vivian Irrizarry.

In a signed statement, he said he killed his friend because he was having hallucinations while on a crack binge.

Spahalski is also charged with killing Charles Grande of Webster in 1991.

Tuesday’s indictment charges him with two additional murders.

On December 31, 1990 police found Moraine Armstrong dead in her Lake Avenue apartment dead with an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. At the time, Spahalski was living across the street. Until now, the murder remained unsolved.

Spahalski is also charged with killing Adrian Berger in July 1991. Berger’s body was found inside her Emerson Street home. Police were never able to determine her cause of death, so the case was not labeled a homicide.

Although police call Spahalski a serial killer, it doesn't appear the four cases 16 years apart have a common motive.

Victim's Sister Reacts

Melanie Armstrong, Moraine Armstrong's sister, has mixed feelings about the indictment. On one hand, she said she is happy that police have a suspect in her sister's murder.

But, on the other hand, Melanie said, "I was pissed off that it took 15 years. He was able to live life all this time while my sister was dead."

Armstrong said she recently came to suspect Spahalski in her sister's murder. In his November confession to killing Charles Grande, Spahalski said he turned the thermostat all the way up hoping the body would decompose quickly to throw off police.

Melanie said the thermostat was turned all the way down in Moraine's apartment in an effort to make the homicide difficult to solve.

Despite Moraine's wrong turn into drug use and prostitution, her sister says she didn't deserve to die.

"She was the sweetest person, she loved to laugh," Melanie said.

Before she was killed, Moraine told her family that she was afraid. Her sister says that came from the dark life she led and that Moraine wanted to get off drugs.

Police won't say exactly what connects Spahalski to Armstrong's death other than a confession. The possible motive is unclear; however, it's believed the two knew each other.


One brother is a killer; one may be a serial killer

December 15, 2005

In Rochester, police are trying to determine whether Robert "Bruce" Spahalski committed at least two killings. Behind the towering walls of the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility, Spahalski's identical twin, Stephen, waits and hopes his own time in prison will soon end.

In November, the Attica inmate learned that his identical twin might, like himself, be a killer.

A serial killer, in fact.

"I thought I was the only murderer in the family," said Stephen Spahalski, remembering the day last month when an Attica corrections officer showed him a newspaper article stating his identical twin had confessed to four Rochester-area slayings over nearly 15 years.

In Rochester, police are trying to determine whether Robert "Bruce" Spahalski did commit the killings to which he confessed. He has been charged in connection with two slayings, and an investigation is under way to determine whether he could be responsible for those and other unsolved homicides. In the meantime, he is being held at Monroe County Jail.

At Attica, in Wyoming County, meanwhile, Stephen hopes to soon go free.

While Robert was living the life of a street hustler in Rochester, operating a male escort service and working as a prostitute, Stephen was spending almost all of his adult life behind bars.

In 1971, at age 16, Stephen stabbed a 48-year-old Elmira Heights storeowner to death. He served nearly eight years, then was released, only to be convicted within a year on charges of robbery and kidnapping. He was imprisoned again until a 1999 release, but within months was reincarcerated on a parole violation.

Could be free in April

Stephen could be freed in April. He has had a largely spotless disciplinary record in recent years at Attica, records show, and he maintains he can live successfully outside the walls. If released, he plans to return to Elmira where he and his brother grew up, and where they still have family. In November, the Democrat and Chronicle wrote to Robert Spahalski in jail, posing questions about his confession. A man who said he was Spahalski telephoned a Democrat and Chronicle reporter afterward and said he would answer questions but only if $100 were placed into his jail account. The newspaper does not pay for interviews.

Stephen, however, readily agreed to an interview, which was conducted at the Attica prison on Tuesday — the day after the Spahalski twins turned 51.

"He'll never see the streets again. ... I assume he's gone forever, " Stephen said of his brother, whom he calls Bruce. "He'll never see home again. He's gone."

With their receding hairlines and prominent, angular cheekbones, the Spahalski brothers still bear a striking resemblance to each other. Stephen, however, applies makeshift makeup to his eyes, cheeks and nails. He said he has been doing so for almost a decade, since he came out, behind prison walls, as a gay man.

His nickname is "Christmas," he said, because the season is his favorite time of year. And he enjoys small pleasures within prison, such as recently watching The Wizard of Oz on TV.

"It's part of home, The Wizard of Oz," he said. "It's just part of everybody's home. That's why they put it on every year."

When young, he and Robert shared the special and sometimes mysterious bond of twins, and typically knew where the other was and what he was doing. Stephen said that when he was incarcerated as a teen for the killing, Robert often visited him in prison.

But, in recent decades, communication has been infrequent.

"We're still close, but we don't write too much any more," Stephen said. "There's only so much to discuss out there."

Despite that separation, Stephen is supportive of his twin, even in the face of accusations that Robert may be a multiple murderer.

If his brother killed, Stephen said, "I don't know what made him do that."

As teens, Stephen and Robert Spahalski shared not only features but hobbies and pastimes. Both could be rambunctious partygoers yet were disciplined enough to be excellent gymnasts, Stephen said.

They were only 8 or 9 when they first began gymnastic training, Stephen said.

'I was doing good'

"I would have got a (college) scholarship for it," he said. "I was in the state meets and all that stuff. If it wasn't for the murder, I'd be all set for life. I was doing good. I had a nice girlfriend."

The "murder" is his slaying of the storeowner, Ronald Ripley.

State Police initially suspected Robert of the killing, recalled Ransom P. Reynolds Jr., an Elmira lawyer who prosecuted the Ripley case as a young assistant district attorney.

"The focus was on Robert Spahalski, not Stephen Spahalski. They thought that Robert Spahalski was the one that did it," Reynolds said. "And as they were focusing in on Robert, Stephen confessed to it. The police always suspected that Robert may have been there at the time, but they could never prove it."

Surprise confession

Stephen Spahalski's confession "came as a surprise" to investigators, Reynolds said. The investigators learned that Ripley had been engaging in sexual acts with young men in Elmira.

"Stephen's statement was that Ripley had made unwanted homosexual advances toward him and came after him in a homosexual way, and so he killed him, he stabbed him," Reynolds recalled. The altercation occurred on the steps leading to the basement of Ripley's shop; his body was found in the building's basement.

Stephen pleaded guilty to manslaughter, avoiding trial.

When asked Tuesday whether the killing may have been prompted by a sexual advance, Stephen replied: "I don't talk on it. If I kill someone, I kill them for a reason. That's all I know."

When prodded, however, Stephen did talk about Ripley — noting that, after the slaying, he was able to communicate with Ripley, and that he may do so again.

"He's deceased, but I did business afterwards with him through a computer," Stephen said. "His papers are in order with me. He don't owe me nothing. He's still going to try to get me, Ronald Ripley, but I already did business with him.

"I'm real pissed with that man sometimes. He never saw me hit him from behind. ... He died. I made sure he died. But he never saw me kill him."

Stephen says he sees reminders of Ripley in the prison's mundane details. "All the exit signs here are maroon. That's in his name. ... That's because of the maroon vest he had on (when slain)."

Who's who?

The Spahalskis have been incarcerated in state prison together several times, Stephen said, and in 1978 in the Auburn Correctional Facility, one of them tried unsuccessfully to break out.

Prison officials, however, couldn't figure out which one.

"They never did and we never told them either," Stephen said.

Robert was the culprit, Stephen said. In the auto shop, Robert built a hidden compartment underneath an old Army truck that was to be sent to a government agency. Robert and another prisoner then tucked themselves into the compartment.

News accounts show that prison officials were tipped off to the planned escape, and nabbed one inmate running from the truck before it left prison grounds.

They were unable to apprehend the other, but they recognized him as one of the Spahalskis.

"I was not wearing makeup (then)," Stephen said. "At that time we were in pretty good shape. We looked pretty much the same."

Both brothers were thrown into solitary confinement afterward, Stephen said.

Delayed freedom?

Nearly three decades have passed since the attempted escape — and Stephen has spent most of them in prison. Though he could leave prison as soon as April, he said in the interview that corrections officials may decide he did not complete a necessary "violence" course.

Attica inmates are offered courses focusing on alternatives to violence or aggression management. Corrections officials said that they can continue to hold an inmate if it's determined he or she did not take courses needed for rehabilitation.

Stephen Spahalski is scheduled for a review this month to determine whether he must take additional courses, corrections officials say.

He could be incarcerated until mid-2007 if he has to take the course, Stephen said.

Stephen said he'll continue to follow the criminal case against his brother. And he'll be a supportive sibling, though he has not heard from Robert since his November arrest.

"Eventually, after he's pretty well done in the courts, I'll get in touch with him."

Stephen has followed accounts of his brother's arrest through the news. Robert went into a Rochester police station on Nov. 8, and, police say, confessed to the slaying of Vivian Irizarry. He led them to her body in the basement of a city house where he and a girlfriend had an apartment.

Authorities said Robert also confessed to the 1991 Webster slaying of Charles Grande and to two other killings; police have not identified those two victims.

Stephen said he's surprised that his brother would admit to murders.

"It might have weighed on him. I don't know. I'm not a psychiatrist.

"Maybe he's sorry for killing them," he said. "He wanted it off his chest. It's off his chest."


Suspected Serial Killer Once Rochester City Employee

November 22, 2005

Robert Spahalski is charged with two homicides and suspected in two others. But, 13WHAM found records that show that for one year in the 1980s, his salary was paid for with tax dollars as an employee of the city of Rochester.

Even at that time, he already had a lengthy history of committing violent crimes.

According to records obtained by 13WHAM news, Robert Bruce Spahalski was hired by the city of Rochester on August 4, 1980. 

He worked as a mechanic's helper and later a maintenance trainee at an operations building on Andrews Street. The job was an entry-level position, and Spahalski was under close supervision. At the time he was hired, he had an extensive prison record dating back to age 16 when he stole a car.

Just months earlier, he was released from Auburn Correctional Facility where he served time for robbing his former high school in Elmira.

Donna Tarantello, who works in records at Rochester City Hall, said that at time, they did not access records as they do today.

While no one is sure exactly what the policy was 25 years ago, it's likely city hall did not perform background checks on lower level employees.  However, it is clear that under today's rules, Spahalski likely would not be hired as checks are performed on all employees, even temporary workers.

After one year, Spahalski was fired for not showing up for work.  He couldn't--according to police records--he was under arrest again.

He confessed to stealing a $15,000 coin collection.  On the day he was fired in Rochester, Robert Spahalski already had a new home in Attica prison serving a 2-to-5 year sentence.

After being released from Attica, Spahalski returned to Rochester. Three years later, he was sent back to prison for attempted burglary. It was after his parole on that crime that he allegedly committed at least two murders.


Suspected Serial Killer Once Rochester City Employee

November 21, 2005

(Rochester, NY) -- Robert Spahalski is charged with two homicides and suspected in two others. But, 13WHAM found records that show that for one year in the 1980s, his salary was paid for with tax dollars as an employee of the city of Rochester.

Even at that time, he already had a lengthy history of committing violent crimes.

According to records obtained by 13WHAM news, Robert Bruce Spahalski was hired by the city of Rochester on August 4, 1980.

He worked as a mechanic's helper and later a maintenance trainee at an operations building on Andrews Street. The job was an entry-level position, and Spahalski was under close supervision. At the time he was hired, he had an extensive prison record dating back to age 16 when he stole a car.

Just months earlier, he was released from Auburn Correctional Facility where he served time for robbing his former high school in Elmira.

Donna Tarantello, who works in records at Rochester City Hall, said that at time, they did not access records as they do today.

While no one is sure exactly what the policy was 25 years ago, it's likely city hall did not perform background checks on lower level employees. However, it is clear that under today's rules, Spahalski likely would not be hired as checks are performed on all employees, even temporary workers.

After one year, Spahalski was fired for not showing up for work. He couldn't--according to police records--he was under arrest again.

He confessed to stealing a $15,000 coin collection. On the day he was fired in Rochester, Robert Spahalski already had a new home in Attica prison serving a 2-to-5 year sentence.

After being released from Attica, Spahalski returned to Rochester. Three years later, he was sent back to prison for attempted burglary. It was after his parole on that crime that he allegedly committed at least two murders.


Suspected serial killer's confession read in court

November 15, 2005

The confession of a suspected serial killer in Rochester was read aloud in court today.Police say 50-year-old Robert Spahalski strangled his most recent victim just days before walking into police headquarters and confessing.

According to today's testimony, Spahalski told police his most recent victim Vivian Irizarry suddenly appeared to him as a "demon" when she was slicing open a bag of crack they planned on smoking.

Spahalski allegedly strangled Irizarry several hours after he struck her and came back to find that she was still alive. Police say he left Irizarry's body in the basement for four days before coming forward.

Spahalski has also allegedly confessed to killing a Town of Webster man in 1991, and police continue to probe possible links to at least two other unsolved murders in the Rochester area.


Spahalski's Statement Read in Court

November 14, 2005

A man police call a serial killer was in court Monday morning for a preliminary hearing.

Robert Spahalski said he killed his "very good friend" Vivian Irizarry because he hallucinated that she was a demon while high on crack cocaine.

Spahalski's attorney said his client is claustrophobic and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that is why he hears voices and hallucinates.

In his signed three-page statement read in court, Spahalski said he and Irizarry were sharing $100 of crack at his home on November 4.

In the statement he said, "She was cutting the bag open with a knife and all of the sudden I saw her as a demon. I freaked out."

Spahalski then described grabbing something from the kitchen and hitting her hard on the head three times. When he came down from his drug high, he said he saw her convulsing and suffering.

Rochester Police Sergeant Mark Mariano describes finding the body unclothed, except for a sock. He says a cord or rope was wrapped tightly around her neck.

Spahalski said he undressed the victim because during her convulsions she soiled herself and he wanted to wash her clothes. He said he lifted her body to the bed.

"I couldn't bear to see her suffer," he told police. "I knew she was mortally wounded."

He said he then "choked her out" with a piece of twine. He left her body in the basement and went on a weekend long crack binge. He said later he felt so bad he confessed to police.

Prosecutor Ken Hyland said, "He said [the strangling] was to put her out of her misery, even taking it at face value that's still intentional murder. Whether that's actually his state of mind, we'll never know."

Police said Spahalski also confessed to killing Charles Grande 14 years ago. A court hearing in that case was cancelled.

It is unusual for prosecutors to have a preliminary hearing of this type. In most cases, it is waived and the case is sent directly to the grand jury which determines whether there in enough evidence to file charges. 

By bringing witnesses forward, prosecutors have gained another 45 days to pull together evidence in the two cases that Spahalski.

Spahalski also claims to have knowledge of two other murders. However, he's been assigned a lawyer and that lawyer will have to be present at any future meetings with police.

About a dozen of Irizarry's family members attended the hearing including her sister and son. Some of them sobbed quietly while the details were read.


New York law defines serial killer

November 13, 2005

When Acting Rochester Police Chief Cedric Alexander said Wednesday that police suspect Robert "Bruce" Spahalski of committing serial crimes, he triggered the inevitable question: Is Spahalski a serial killer?

At this point, Spahalski has been convicted of no slayings, leaving quite a leap of logic and law before he can be declared a member of the violent class featuring real-life murderers such as Ted Bundy and Arthur Shawcross and fictional creatures like Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

And the definition of serial killer is far from fixed.

For instance, in New York there is a legal definition for prosecution of someone alleged to be a serial killer: There must be three or more victims, a very similar method of killing and the crimes must occur within a specific time frame.

The FBI typically considers three murders as the threshold for a serial killer.

But Katherine Ramsland, author of a history of serial killers, "The Human Predator," said a serial killer can be a person who has committed two murders but "might have had the propensity to go on and commit more."

"There is no one profile of a serial killer," said Ramsland, an assistant professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania.

Serial killers can be predatory or compulsive, and kill either in premeditated acts or uncontrolled explosions of rage, she said.

"They even sometimes have remorse," she said.

"Not often, but sometimes. The ones who express remorse are pretty rare and the ones who express it to fake people out are pretty common."


Police probe suspect's life

November 13, 2005

Rochester - Sometime late in the day on Tuesday, Robert Bruce Spahalski scrawled his signature on a four-page statement in which he confessed to killing Charles Grande of Webster in the fall of 1991.

Toward the end of that statement, Spahalski expressed remorse for what he had done.

"I knew that coming forward is the best thing to do," the statement said. "I settled all of my past business today and want to put it all behind me."

The question today is, exactly what "past business" has Spahalski tried to lay to rest.

Spahalski, an Elmira native who is 50, was charged Wednesday with killing Grande and Vivian Irizarry, a Rochester woman whom Spahalski told police he killed on Nov. 4. He made his admissions and directed police to Irizarry's body after he walked up to the front desk at police headquarters Tuesday morning.

Police say he also has implicated himself in two other slayings in Rochester in the early 1990s, and they are trying to determine if he was involved in other cases.

Spahalski, who was sent to jail in Elmira when he was still 16 and had four stints in state prison, has hustled on Rochester's streets for several decades.

He told police he has been a prostitute and is said by people who knew him to be a longtime drug user who is HIV-positive.

Much of his time in Rochester was spent in neighborhoods where there were dozens of unsolved homicides, including the slaying of 20 or more women who, like Spahalski, lived on society's margin.

Several of those slain women lived in or near buildings where Spahalski dwelled at the time.

Among them were Moraine Armstrong and Victoria Jobson, who were slain in the early 1990s, and Hortence Greatheart, who was killed in 2003.

News of Spahalski's background and admissions, and of the wide net that police are casting, has triggered worried inquiries from the families of women whose slayings have never been solved.

The mother of 1991 homicide victim Damita Gibson, for instance, said Thursday that she was contacting police after recognizing Spahalski as a man who spent time with her daughter shortly before she disappeared.

Media speculation has begun about the extent of Spahalski's possible crimes, and the phrase "serial killer" has been tossed about.

Police are tight-lipped about how they are proceeding, but privately they indicate they are working diligently to separate fact from speculation and determine which additional crimes, if any, can be attributed to Spahalski.

"Just put yourself in the shoes of the police," said Michael McGrath, a local crime profiler and forensic psychiatrist.

Now, McGrath said, police must examine other unsolved killings to look for crimes that seem similar to those slayings that authorities say he has confessed to.

An early life of crime

Robert Spahalski's first appearance in the Star-Gazette came in July 1971 when he was 16. He had been arrested driving a stolen car.

Other than a troubled legal history that includes many scrapes with the law, not much is known about Robert Spahalski's high school years at Elmira Free Academy.

He is listed with other members of the school's 1973 graduating class, but his senior picture does not appear in the yearbook.

He is pictured with the school's gymnastics team in 1970 and 1973 and is shown with the school's track team in 1971. But no extracurricular activities are listed after his name in the 1973 yearbook.

Many of the police officers who were on the Elmira police force in the early 1970s, when Spahalski was charged with a variety of offenses that include, burglary, larceny and arson, have either retired from the force and left the Elmira area or died.

Former Elmira police chief Richard Wandell, who still lives in Elmira, recalled that Robert Spahalski was the initial suspect in the 1974 stabbing death of Ronald Ripley in Elmira Heights.

However, police later determined that Spahalski's twin brother, Stephen, committed the murder.

Just before his 17th birthday, Stephen Spahalski stabbed the store clerk to death. It was the first homicide there in at least four decades.

Stephen Spahalski was sentenced to prison for manslaughter in November 1972. He is in Attica Correctional Facility today on a parole violation.

Stories published in the Star-Gazette in the early 1970s, when Robert Spahalski was a teen, show other arrests for arson at a school, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and criminal trespass.

He began a two-year prison term for burglary in August 1973 was he was 18. By age 26, Spahalski had been imprisoned twice more for burglary in the Southern Tier.

The twins were the subject of an odd case that arose in 1978, when both were inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility.

One of them tried to escape, but prison authorities were unable, at least initially, to determine which brother was involved.

Stanley Spahalski, the twins' uncle, said Friday that he didn't know about Robert Spahalski's arrest this week. In fact, he had thought one of the twins had died years ago.

Stanley Spahalski, who lives in York, Pa., said he hadn't talked to them in decades. He said the boys' father, Bernard, died in Florida about four years ago, and he wasn't sure where their mother, Anita, was.

Neither Anita Spahalski nor other relatives could be located for comment.

When and why Robert Spahalski came to Rochester is not clear. City police say they believe he has lived there, off and on, since the 1970s.

Spahalski was convicted for his fourth felony while he lived in the Rochester area. In July 1987, he was sentenced to two to four years in prison on an attempted burglary rap in Monroe County.

He was paroled, and apparently returned to Rochester, in February 1989.

Life in the streets

Spahalski, a gaunt 6 foot 3 inches tall with thinning black hair, was a familiar figure on the streets of the neighborhoods near Lake and Lyell avenues.

His conspicuous features notwithstanding, Spahalski lived without attracting a great deal of attention in a part of the city with one of the highest concentrations of drug use and prostitution.

Spahalski hung out with prostitutes, according to some who knew him, and claims to have run a male escort service in the early 1990s.

"I was running the service by myself and had many customers," he said in his statement to police about the Webster killing.

Spahalski told police he turned tricks himself; it was a dispute over payment for sex that led to Grande's slaying, the statement said.

If Spahalski ever held a reputable job in Rochester, there is no record of it.

There is no record that he ever married, either. He did have girlfriends, including Christine Gonzalez, who has been in a relationship with him for 10 years or more.

Gonzalez, who was living with Spahalski in a Spencer Street apartment at the time of his arrest, has declined requests for interviews.

Vivian Irizarry, whose unclothed body was found in the dank, unlighted basement at the Spencer Street house on Tuesday, knew Gonzalez and Spahalski well.

Carlos Rodriguez, 18, the youngest of Irizarry's three sons, said he saw Spahalski over the years when he dropped his mother off at Spahalski's apartment building.

He said Spahalski, who was known by his middle name, Bruce, told him he was HIV-positive. One other acquaintance said he had heard the same thing.

"He was a nothing," Rodriguez said of Spahalski. "All he did was do drugs."

Several other people who knew him, or recognized his face from photographs in the news, said last week that he was known to use crack cocaine.

Kassem Saleh, who owns a grocery store on Lyell Avenue near Spencer Street, said he saw Spahalski buy crack from young men who loiter on Lyell Avenue.

Several people who knew him said Spahalski was enrolled in some sort of day treatment program. His landlord, Kevin Turner, said Spahalski's rent was paid by a nonprofit agency that provides treatment for drug addiction and mental health problems.


Case Of Suspected Serial Killer Yields Links To Other Murders

November 10, 2005

If police are right, Rochester may have its third known serial killer in custody. Authorities say Robert Spahalski has confessed to two homicides and was involved in at least two others. He may have links to four unsolved cases.

In six years, there have been more than 30 unsolved killings in our area. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s someone was preying on woman with street lifestyles. 

In 1991, Arthur Shawcross was convicted in 11 of the deaths. Police were also watching a man named John White whom they believe may have committed as many as five murders.

In 1994, White said he didn't do it, but admitted he was a suspect. He later died of a heart attack and was never charged.

At the time, police admitted there could be a third serial killer at work. Retired homicide investigators confirmed that shortly after his release from prison in 1989 Robert Spahalski was identified as a "person of interest." He was running a male escort business out of his Lake Avenue apartment.

This week, Spahalsky confessed to killing Charles Grande in 1991. Around that same time, two women with records for prostitution turned up missing. One of the women, Victoria Jobson, 30, lived in the same apartment complex as Spahalski.

The other, Moraine Armstrong, 24, lived right across the street. She was found in her apartment unclothed, strangled with an electrical cord.

Between the times the two women's bodies were discovered, several other women living in the area disappeared.

In 1991, two more bodies were discovered, two months apart. The bodies were abandoned on or near railroad tracks off Ferano Street.

Police will not say if Spahalski is a suspect in the cases of Cassandra Carlton, 26, or Katrina Myers, 25. But the cases have something in common with his known victims: both women were found unclothed and strangled, as was Vivian Irazarry, 51.

Tuesday, Spahalski confessed to killing Irazarry, and then told them where to find the body. Spahalski was under surveillance for a time, but there was confusion because he has a twin brother who has also been in and out of prison for violent crimes.

Allegedly, Spahalski has confessed to two more homicides.

A spokesman for the Rochester Police Department could not say whether any of the cases mentioned in this story are among them.

Police are working to corroborate his claims. They can't simply take his word, and must build evidence for a trial. With murder cases over ten years old, that takes some time.


Rochester and Webster Police are Investigating a Possible Serial Killer

November 9, 2005

Police say the man that turned himself in for two murders may be linked to two other city homicides.

Police say 50-year-old Robert Spahalski confessed to two murders, but that could just be the beginning.

"Someone who may have committed a number of serial crimes in the community," said Acting Police Chief Cedric Alexander of the Rochester Police Department.

Police in Rochester and Webster are on alert, after the arrest of 50-year-old Robert Spahalski. It all started Tuesday, when police say the 50-year-old walked into the Public Safety Building and confessed to killing a woman.

"He stated that he had killed a woman and her body was in the basement of 202 Spencer Street."

Police searched the house on Spencer Street and found the body of Vivian Irrizary unclothed and in the basement. Police say Spahalski beat the victim over the head and strangled her.

But, there's much more to this story.

"This is a very profound ongoing investigation."

Spahalski also made a written confession to the 1991 murder of 40-year-old Charles Grande.

Spahalski says he was a male escort back then.  And in that police statement, Spahalski confessed he beat Grande in the head with a hammer three or four times because Grande refused to pay Spahalski for sex.

Grande's family members say the arrest brings closure, and they're not surprised Spahalski is now being labeled an "alleged serial killer"

"I'm not surprised. We've known of him for 14 years, and I'm just not surprised," said Rose Van Dusen, Charles Grande's sister.

Rochester police are now investigating whether Spahalski was involved in two other city homicides.  Though they won't say which ones, so far Spahalski's only charged with the murder on Spencer Street and the 1991 murder in Webster.

Webster police say Spahalski was considered a suspect from the beginning. Webster Police had re-opened the case and were expecting to get an indictment against Spahalski, even before the confession.       

Spahalski was arraigned in Webster Court and Rochester Court on second-degree murder charges. He's being held without bond.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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