5 September 2006
by Catriona Lovett
Robert and Stephen Spahalski, twin brothers raised together in childhood but separated
by decades with one isolated in prison, may be excellent study subjects to determine why people develop the tendencies that
make them murderers.
Robert Bruce Spahalski, 51, has been accused of murdering four people, three women
and one man, over a period of 15 years, the first in 1990. Four charges of 2nd degree murder have been entered against
him: for the 1990 killing of Moraine Armstrong in Rochester, NY; the 1991 killing of Adrian Berger in Rochester and
the killing of Charles Grande in Webster, NY; and the 2005 killing of Vivian Irizarry, 54, in Rochester.
Originally from Elmira, NY, Spahalski has an extensive criminal record going back
to the 1971 arson fire he set at school in Elmira, and had worked in Rochester as a male escort and street prostitute.
Those who knew him say he had a long-term drug habit and was HIV-positive.
On November 4, 2005, while his girlfriend of 10 years, Christine Gonzalez, was
at work, Spahalski was smoking crack cocaine with friend and next-door-neighbor, Vivian Irizarry. As Irizarry used a knife
to open the last bag of crack, Spahalski allegedly told homicide investigators, "all of a sudden I saw her as a demon.
I freaked out." He saw her as a hideous monster and beat her over the head. When he began coming down from his drug
high, he claims he saw her convulsing and then strangled her to death to end her suffering. He then went on a crack binge
for the rest of the weekend.
Afterward, he turned himself in to the Rochester Police Department, told them
where they could find Irizarry’s body. He then confessed in writing to the murder of Irizarry, and the murder
of Charles Grande, after police interrogated him at great length.
He later told journalists that he feared being labeled as a serial killer if they
learned he confessed to murdering more than two people. His attorney, Joseph S. Damelio, has entered a plea of not guilty
by reason of insanity, and "drug-induced psychosis" may also be used in his defense.
Although he told police he had placed her body on a bed, Irizarry's body was found,
unclothed except for a sock, in the basement of the Spencer Street address he shared with Gonzalez. Spahalski told police
that he took off her clothes to wash them because she had soiled herself while she was convulsing.
Spahalski confessed that he hit Charles Grande in the head several times with
a hammer in Grande's home in October 1991 because Grande refused to pay him $20 for sex. Spahalski claimed he turned
the thermostat up all the way, hoping that the heat would cause the body to become too decomposed to yield evidence to police.
However, before anyone learned of Grande's death, Spahalski was pulled over in a traffic stop by a Rochester Police officer.
Driving Grande's 1980 Plymouth Volare, Spahalski presented Grande's driver's license and claimed to the officer that he was
After Grande's body was discovered, Spahalski was arrested and charged with criminal
impersonation, but the prosecution failed to make the charges stick. He was acquitted in August 1992, and the records were
sealed. The prosecution has asked Monroe County Judge Patricia Marks to have court records relating to these charges
unsealed so those witnesses can be called in the present case.
The strangulation death of Moraine Armstrong, 24, had remained unsolved until
Spahalski's confession. On New Year's Eve 1990, her naked body was found by police in her apartment at 509 Lake Avenue, with
an electrical cord still wrapped around her neck. Spahalski lived right across the street at that time.
Adrian Berger's death in July 1991 had not been labeled a homicide because police
had never been able to determine a cause of death. Her body, found inside her Emerson Street home, was too decomposed
due to heat and time. Her thermostat had also been turned all the way up. Berger, a prostitute and drug user, is believed
to have known Spahalski, though police have not revealed any evidence linking Spahalski to her death except his confession.
Police had long suspected Spahalski of murdering Grande, but had never been able
to obtain sufficient evidence to charge him. Their suspicions and questioning of Spahalski led then Assistant Public Defender,
Richard Marchese, to send both Webster and Rochester police a letter in 1991 warning them to refrain from any more questioning
of his client about homicides without his attorney being present.
Spahalski's present counsel hopes to use that letter to have his confession thrown
out as involuntary. Prosecutors argue that investigators in 2005 didn't know that the then 14-year-old letter existed,
and that the letter was no longer valid, even if they had, because Marchese no longer represents Spahalski and he has a new
The Lake Avenue/Lyell Avenue areas where the three female victims lived and plied
their trade has had 30 or more similar unsolved homicides, and was the same area where serial killer Arthur Shawcross picked
up many of his 11 victims. John White was suspected by Rochester Police of having committed as many as 5 murders, but
died of a heart attack before he could be charged or tried.
Victoria Jobson, 30, disappeared from her apartment at 512 Lake Avenue.
Her naked body was found, stabbed to death, in a field off Lyell Avenue in December 1990.
In 1991, Damita Gibson, 21, was found strangled and stabbed to death behind a
building on nearby Jay Street. Gibson's mother identified Spahalski as a man who she saw with her daughter before she
Also in 1991, someone killed Cassandra Carlton, 26, and two months later, Katrina
Myers, 25. Both of their bodies were found on or near railroad tracks by Ferrano Street, near Lyell Avenue. Both women
were found unclothed and strangled, as was Vivian Irizarry.
Hortence Greatheart was found strangled to death in her apartment at 345 Lake
Avenue in January 2003. The heat in her apartment had been turned up to the maximum. Spahalski, Greatheart's neighbor, lived
intermittently in the same apartment building at 345 Lake Avenue from the early 1990s until he and Gonzalez were evicted for
the last time in the summer of 2005.
Stephen Spahalski, Robert's twin brother, has been serving time in Attica prison
in New York state. He was just denied release this spring because he wouldn't participate in a "violence replacement program"
prison officials wanted him to complete. In 1971, at 16 years-of-age, Stephen Spahalski claimed he stabbed Ronald Ripley,
48, to death because he made sexual advances toward him.
Although Robert had been the original suspect, Stephen pleaded guilty to manslaughter
for killing the Elmira Heights store owner and was released after serving about eight years. Within a year, he was convicted
of robbery and kidnapping, but was released again in 1999. He was back in Attica within months on a parole violation.
Interviewed by a Rochester newspaper in December 2005 about his brother's arrest
as a possible serial killer, Spahalski said, "I thought I was the only murderer in the family." Stephen another interviewer,
"I don't know what made him do that."