Robert Bruce Spahalski

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Rochester New York's Newest Serial Killer?

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 Grande.

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 attorney.

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 disappeared. 

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."

Killer Twins

by Jane Flasch

(Attica/Rochester, NY) 12/15/05 - Two men who are identical twins also share lives of crime.
One is in the NYS Attica Correctional Facility for murder and police say, the other is a possible serial killer, responsible

for as many as four homicides in the Rochester area.

Police have been watching Robert Spahalski for years, but were unable to connect him to the homicides.

Robert's brother Stephen Spahalski's crimes of murder and kidnapping had consequences. Since age 17, he has lived in Attica

among the state's hardest criminals.

As a teenager, Robert Spahalski served time for various robberies, but police now say his worst crimes remained a secret,

even to his twin.

From prison, Stephen said, "I never knew he killed someone. He never told me, he never mentioned it to me."

In the days before DNA investigations, the criminal twins created confusion for police and witnesses alike.

For example, in 1978, while incarcerated in the same place at the same time, one brother tried unsuccessfully to escape. The

other brother agreed to cover for him.

Standing side by side, police could not tell the guilty one and the brothers weren't talking.

Even though police had Robert Spahalski on their radar screen since the unsolved murder of Charles Grande in 1991, they could

never arrest him for that, or half a dozen other crimes.

In November, Stephen Spahalski received a letter from his brother Robert, who, one day later, was in custody.

Apparently, the brothers have not been in contact since the arrest; Stephen said he gets all his current information from

news accounts.

Stephen said, “In the letters he sounded normal…so when I heard that he was seeing demons…in the letters he didn't appear

like that."

Police said Robert Spahalski told them he killed his friend Vivian Irizarry because he was high on crack and he thought she

was a demon. They say he also confessed to two other unsolved homicides.
One Contrast Between The Two

Stephen said, "Why would he turn himself in? I don't have that kind of brain! I would never turn myself in."

Stephen was released for a short time but returned to Attica on a parole violation.

With good behavior, he could go free next year.

We could know before Christmas whether a grand jury will indict Robert Spahalski for two homicides.

Prosecutors won’t say whether the grand jury is considering the two un-named homicides at this time.

-- 13 WHAM TV

More resources:
Google search resources used in this article:  Robert Spahalski; Stephen Spahalski; Arthur Shawcross; John White; Victoria
Jobson; Hortence Greatheart

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