Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Genetic Violence: Robert an Stephen Spahalski

Opportunity Knocked

The detectives had other cases associated with Spahalski as well, and, since he'd confessed so easily to two, they thought they should take advantage of his need to get these things off his chest. They left him alone again, this time for an hour, before returning to ask him about a murder victim named Moraine Armstrong. This case was even older than the Grande murder.

Aerial view of Rochester with Lake Avenue marked in red.
Aerial view of Rochester with Lake Avenue marked in red.

On the last day of 1990, Investigator Tony Campione had gone to Lake Avenue in Rochester to look into the death of a 24-year-old woman in her apartment. She had been bound and strangled. The following day, as investigators were about to knock on nearby doors to find and interview witnesses, Campione encountered Robert Spahalski. He said he lived close by—just across the street—and was curious about what was happening. When he learned of the incident, he said he was not acquainted with the victim. Police had had no reason then to arrest him, but anyone who intrudes into a case becomes a person of interest.

When the detectives now interviewing him mentioned this victim's name, he asked, "Was that the woman on Emerson Street?"

Aerial view of Rochester with Emerson Avenue marked in red.
Aerial view of Rochester with Emerson Avenue marked in red.

"No," said Weather, "but who are you referring to?" Rather than steer him back to their case, they thought it best to let him lead the way in case there was yet another murder about which they did not know.

On July 21, 1991, another woman had died in her apartment on Emerson Street, and in this case Spahalski could not have denied knowing her: he had been in fact her sometimes-boyfriend. Her name was Adrian Berger, and she was 35. Investigators had gone to speak with Spahalski, and they asked him to accompany them to the Public Safety Building. He agreed, and they transported him there. After talking with him they could find no reason to charge him, so they took him home. On the same day, detectives talked with David Huslander, who had seen a man leave Berger's house. He was shown six photos of men who all had similar features and he readily picked out the photo of Spahalski. Still, they had no cause to arrest him.

In fact, due to the advanced state of decomposition on Berger's body, the medical examiner could not confirm that she had been murdered. He had listed her cause of death as undetermined. However, her family believed that it had been her "no good" boyfriend who had done her in.

Now, in the 2005 interrogation, Spahalski had admitted to this third murder. He said he had choked Adrian while they were having sex. They had been on the couch and were about to engage in oral sex when "all of a sudden, I snapped. I don't know why this happened. It's a mental problem I have. I started choking Adrian. I put my hands around her neck and squeezed her tightly." It took him four to five minutes to kill her, and finally he noticed the yellow pinpricks in her eyes that told him she was dead. He stole her car to make it look as if she was not home. Her rapid decomposition was what had inspired him to come in that day to confess: he had not wanted the same thing to happen to Vivian. In fact, he had tried to kill himself with pills, and failing that, he'd decided on going to prison.

The detectives got another statement, which Spahalski signed. It was now 4:45 p.m., so they brought the discussion back to Moraine Armstrong. This time, it wasn't quite as easy.

 

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