Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killers Who Surrender

Drugs Made Me Do It

On November 8, 2005, in Rochester, New York, Robert Bruce Spahalski turned himself in to the police, claiming he'd committed four murders. They charged him initially in two while they investigated the other two. Eventually Spahalski was indicted for all four. Three had happened in 1990 and 1991, reports Gary Craig, while the fourth had occurred 15 years later. Three victims were female and one was male; he had known them all and one was a friend whom he had supposedly killed unintentionally while hallucinating on cocaine. After he admitted to three, Spahalski was apparently reluctant to confess to the fourth one, because he thought it would label him as a serial killer. Finally, to help the family gain closure, he confessed, saying, "I choked her out."

Robert Bruce Spahalski

Apparently, he'd had different motives for each. One was a dispute over money for sex, while another had been triggered by a hallucinations, a third occurred during an argument and subsequent robbery, and the fourth happened when he "snapped" during a sexual encounter. He had strangled two of the victims and bludgeoned two. The latest murder had taken place three days prior to turning himself in.

Spahalski had operated a male escort service and worked as a hustler; he'd served time in prison for several burglary offenses and claimed to have a mental disorder — post traumatic stress from being in prison, as well as hearing voices. When he went to confess, according to the police statements, he said that he'd seen a demon, which had made him react violently. He also indicated that he had prayed daily for the male victim from years earlier and was confessing to clear his conscience. In fact, he was feeling suicidal over his actions. His usual strategy was to try to forget the things he had done to others, but he believed he had a fatal illness now and he wanted to set his affairs in order.

Once a skilled gymnast, Spahalski's life had gone slowly downhill after his parents had divorced when he was twelve. He had a twin brother, Stephen, who had also committed a murder and was already serving a life sentence. Both had a history of criminal offenses.

Spahalski's trial for all four murders late in 2006 lasted two weeks. His attorney, Joe Damelio, wanted to throw out the confession, protesting that throughout the 12 hour interrogation, Spahalski had been unable to take the medication he needed four times a day for his mental condition. In addition, the defense offered that Spahalski was high on crack cocaine on each fatal occasion and was suffering from extreme emotional disturbance; thus, he could not have formed the intent to kill. "The demon's here," he said as he placed two bags of cocaine in front of the jury, "and it's affected his mind."

Vivian Irizarry
Vivian Irizarry

However, prosecutor Ken Hyland pressed home the fact that beating someone with a hammer is quite personal and brutally violent. The strangulations had been quite intentionally done with ropes and wires. There was nothing spontaneous about them and in any case, voluntary intoxication is not a defense.

On November 13, the jury took less than three hours to find Spahalski guilty on several counts: intentional second degree murder in the strangling death of Vivian Irizarry, two counts of Murder II in the beating of Charles Grande (one count was for the robbery), and two counts of intentional second-degree murder in the strangling deaths of both Moraine Armstrong and Adrian Berger. In other words, the jury believed that Spahalski was aware of what he was doing when he killed these four people, and that it was wrong. Whether or not he felt remorse was not germane to their findings.

Speaking of strange confessions, in the next case, a serial killer found himself trumped by a grandmother.


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