Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Spangler: Black Widower

A Tragic
Accident

On Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993 a disheveled but strangely calm Bob Spangler showed up at the Back Country ranger station, saying that his wife had taken a tragic fall. She was dead 160 feet below the Redwall at Horseshoe Mesa, where they had stopped for a photo. He set up his camera to take a photograph of them both, and when he turned back around, she had vanished. He had heard nothing.

Donna Spangler
Donna Spangler

When he saw her broken body lying motionless beneath him, he scrambled down, found her dead, washed the blood from her face with his handkerchief, covered her with a tarp, grabbed her pack and headed back up to report the tragedy.

The rangers snickered about "Divorce by Grand Canyon," but there was no evidence of foul play, despite the fact that the place she fell was probably the only place on their hiking route that would have resulted in a fatal fall. And the fact that he never heard her cry out when she went over was an odd detail they couldn't quite forget.

When he got home, the distraught Spangler called John Mackley, his boss at the radio station, and told him that Donna had fallen in the Grand Canyon and died, and that Spangler wouldn't be in to work.

He had her cremated right away. 

Donna left behind five grieving children and five grandchildren.

Mackley and his wife, along with all the Spanglers' friends and coworkers attended the memorial service Bob designed, at which he eulogized her at length. One friend called the service "tearless and weird."

Spangler even went back to the Grand Canyon to scatter wildflower seeds at "Donna's Point," the place at which she died. The grieving husband also went on local talk shows, discussing the dangers of hiking in the canyon. He was quoted in USA Today and on NPR.

Afterwards, he confided in John Mackley that his teenaged son David had gone crazy back in 1978 and killed Bob's wife and daughter, then turned the gun on himself.

When Mackley related this information to his wife, Pam remembers saying, "How much can one poor man endure?"

It wasn't the first time Spangler had changed the facts of that story, and it wouldn't be the last. He told others that his whole family had died in a terrible car accident in which he was the driver and sole survivor.

 

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