A woman’s mysterious death in Grand Canyon National Park in 1993 reveals one man’s horrible secret. Robert Spangler ran from his dark past for years but could not suppress the predator within.
- Killer Jobs: Serial Killer Podcast, Episode 15 “Robert Spangler – The Black Widower
- “Dying Man Admits He Killed Four In Family” by Catherine Tsai for The Associated Press
- “For Suspected Killer, Death Part of His Life” by Electra Draper, Nancy Lofholm and Marilyn Robinson for the Denver Post
- “Man Held In Deaths of 2 Wives” by Electra Draper and Marilyn Robinson for the Denver Post
- Crime Stories “A Way With Murder” TV Series Season 8, Episode 4 by Rob King and Drew Carnwath
- “The Case of the Homicidal Husband” by staff for The FBI
- “A Killer Who Thinks He Is ‘Interesting’ by staff for ABC News
- Serial Killer Information Center, Robert Merlin Spangler “The Black Widower”, Information researched and summarized by Emilee Houtz, Tara Gitman, & Ryan Helm, Department of Psychology Radford University
- Grand Canyon National Park, Nature & Science
- The Times-News, The Associated Press, “Beware of View”
- Elko Daily Free Press, The Associated Press, “Man confesses to killing two wives and two children”
- The Daily Sentinel, Gary Harmon, “Cops: Killer put on a 22-year act”
- The Daily Sentinel, The Associated Press, “Killer’s hands tested positive for gunshot residue”
- Tucson Citizen, The Associated Press, “Man accused in 4 deaths enters single innocent plea”
- Tucson Citizen, The Associated Press, “Man pleads guilty in wife’s Canyon death”
- Arizona Republic, The Associated Press, “Dying man won’t be prosecuted”
- The Daily Sentinel, The Associated Press, “Spangler settles civil lawsuit”
- Tru TV Crime Library, Elizabeth Engstrom, “Robert Spangler: Black Widower”
- Murderpedia – Robert Spangler“
- Justice Story: A Trail of Murder in the Grand Canyon” by Mara Bovsun for New York Daily News
- Radford Department of Psychology Research
Hi park enthusiasts…
I’m your host Delia D’Ambra and the story I’m going to tell you about today takes place in Grand Canyon National Park.
It’s a park that’s name and iconic landscape are known across the globe.
Some people prefer to hike the rocky terrain on foot, while others book a helicopter to tour the canyon and see the winding Colorado River cutting through it.
The park encompasses 1.2 million acres of rock formations, forests, and desert. According to the National Park Service, the feature, most people know as the true “Grand Canyon” is located entirely in the state of Arizona.
It’s one of the most studied geological landscapes in the world.
Archeologists have reported that the ground in the Grand Canyon is super rich with fossils that reveal a ton of information about the history of North America.
In April 1993, the secrets of one man’s life that he thought were fossilized far beneath the surface for decades, resurrected and revealed a horrible monster no one expected was lurking in Grand Canyon National Park.
This is Park Predators.
To begin this story, we have to start a little ways away from the Grand Canyon, in the town of Littleton, Colorado.
But trust me, we will end up in Arizona, just hang in there.
To cover the entire landscape of this story, we also have to hop back in time a few decades to Saturday morning, December 30th, 1978.
*Pebbles hitting glass window*
That morning, Timothy Tevithick was trying to get his 15-year-old girlfriend, Susan Spangler to open her bedroom window.
The Spangler’s house on Franklin Way in Littleton, Colorado was like many of the others on the street. Two-story, well-kept but this particular house was the focus of Timothy’s whole world in 1978.
He pelted the side of the house with pebbles but Susan’s face never showed up in her window like usual.
After a while of getting no reply, Timothy figured Susan must be somewhere else in her family’s home and according to The Denver Post, he decided to go inside to look for her, heading straight through the house’s front door.
*Door handle turning*
It was unlocked, so we walked right in.
In the front hallway he called out Susan’s name but she didn’t answer.
Everything was oddly quiet, which seemed strange, considering that Susan lived there with her 17-year-old brother David, her mom Nancy and her dad Robert. The family of four was never this quiet.
When Timothy walked into Susan’s bedroom he found her there lying in her bed under the sheets. At first, Timothy just thought she was still sleeping but when he went to shake her he realized she wasn’t waking up. When he pulled away the bed sheet, he saw clear as day that she’d been shot in the back.
Timothy immediately started to panic and ran into Susan’s older brother David’s room to get help but when he got there he found David dead too.
Someone had shot him in the chest and covered his face with a pillow.
At that point, Timothy called the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office to report the deaths and get deputies to the scene right away.
When authorities arrived they confirmed that Susan and David had been shot to death. When deputies went down into the home’s basement they found 45-year-old Nancy Spangler dead from a gunshot wound too.
She was sitting upright in a chair and appeared to have been shot in the head. Near Nancy’s body between her and the bottom of the basement stairs detectives found a .38 caliber revolver. When they compared the bullets left in the gun to shell casings found next to David and Susan’s bodies the ammunition was a match.
Right away deputies felt that the three deaths were likely a result of a double-homicide committed by Nancy and then she’d chosen to take her own life.
According to The Daily Sentinel, the most compelling piece of evidence supporting this theory was a type-written note found next to Nancy’s body that read quote— “We have always argued about who’d have the kids. I will. I know you will get along. You always have.” — end quote. The note was signed “N,” presumably, for Nancy.
Investigators took this note as a pretty clear sign that Nancy and her husband Robert’s relationship was not on the best of terms and she’d made the ultimate decision to end it and take their two teenagers with her.
But they couldn’t know for sure without asking Robert. The problem was they did know where he was. There was no sign of him in the house and finding him became the Arapahoe County detectives’ top priority.
Fortunately for them, around 5:00 o’clock the same day the bodies were discovered, Robert came home. After making him aware that his entire family was dead, investigators brought Robert in for questioning to figure out where he’d been all day and if he had any knowledge of what happened to his family.
According to police reports, Robert told the police that that morning he and Nancy had an argument and she’d ordered him out of the house. So, he drove around in his car for a few hours and listened to a Denver Broncos football game on the radio.
He said after the game ended, he decided to go to a movie by himself.
Some of the investigators didn’t love Robert’s answers because to them his alibi seemed a little too convenient but they literally had nothing to indicate that he was involved.
And after all, the evidence at the crime scene pointed to a pretty glaring case of murder-suicide. Nancy had the family’s .38 revolver near her body, the kids were shot, she was shot, there was a suicide note, and the only other witnesses, David and Susan couldn’t argue otherwise.
According to the Daily News, the .38 revolver had a man’s sock wrapped around the handle. The gunshot residue test results for Nancy’s hands had come back negative. So, law enforcement’s assumption at the time was that the sock had somehow stopped the residue from landing on her hands.
Why she even used a sock to cover the handle was a mystery to police though. Reports that I could find aren’t clear as to why authorities didn’t question this detail more.
Within a day or two of finding the bodies detectives got autopsy findings for Nancy and the kids. The medical examiner determined that in addition to being shot David had also been smothered with a pillow from his bed.
Authorities surmised that when Nancy first shot him David didn’t die right away, and started to fight, so she smothered him.
Investigators were convinced their theory was the only thing that explained the three deaths. It was tragic, but nothing more than a double murder-suicide. Case closed.
Meanwhile, Nancy’s family was completely opposed to that theory.
They told local reporters that there was no way Nancy would ever think of harming her children or taking her own life.
She loved her kids too much to do that.
Despite a few rough patches in her marriage, Nancy’s family said her and Robert’s relationship was doing really well at the time of the deaths. There wasn’t any talk of divorce or taking the kids like her suicide note alluded to.
Nothing about what had happened inside the family’s house made any sense to the people closest to Nancy and the kids.
In the early 1950’s, Robert and Nancy first met while working together for their school’s newspaper in their hometown of Ames, Iowa. They’d been high school sweethearts ever since.
After graduating in the early 1950’s, Robert enrolled at Iowa State University and studied journalism. Shortly after that he married Nancy and enlisted in the US Army.
After serving a few years, he was discharged and took a job as an editor and occasional on-air news reporter for WOI TV in Des Moines, Iowa and even worked on the production set of Sesame Street for a short while.
From the start of their marriage, the couple appeared to be happy. After working several reporting jobs, Robert landed a successful role as a public relations director for the American Waterworks Association in Colorado. Robert’s communication skills and ability to speak to the media made him a perfect fit for the role.
According to what Robert told his friends, living full-time in the Denver area was his life-long dream because he loved to hike, camp, and be outdoors.
Quick access to the Colorado Rockies AND a decent-paying job that required the family to live near Rocky Mountain National Park and within driving distance to Grand Canyon National Park was a win-win.
In 1961 Nancy and Robert welcomed the birth of their son, David. Two years later, Susan arrived and the family of four was complete.
According to news reports, as the kids grew up and entered their early teen years, Robert and Nancy’s marriage became strained. They’d been married for two decades and slowly but surely they had grown apart. Mostly because Robert had a wandering eye.
Authorities in Colorado learned that two years before the deaths, in 1976, Robert had briefly left Nancy and the kids to start a relationship with another woman.
His passionate affair was with his much younger female secretary at American Waterworks, named Sharon Cooper.
When police interviewed Robert’s colleagues at the office about the relationship they told investigators that Sharon and Robert’s affair was no secret. At first, everyone just noticed they flirted a lot but then pretty quickly it became a full-blown affair. It was obvious to everyone at work that Robert was obsessed with Sharon and didn’t feel bad about cheating on Nancy.
Robert would take Sharon out to dinners and on overnight hiking trips and it didn’t take long before Nancy found out. In early 1978, when she confronted Robert about his infidelity, he decided to move out and move in with Sharon.
After a few months though, things with Sharon fell apart and Robert reconciled with Nancy.
Nancy took him back but things weren’t patched up right away.
According to witnesses who later spoke with police Nancy and Robert fought often and when he moved back in with the family, he’d pretty much lost all respect from his kids. David and Susan would openly rebel against him, have friends over whenever they wanted, and never paid much attention to Robert’s authority at home.
By December 1978 though, Nancy wrote a letter to one of her cousins indicating that tensions within the family were easing and her and Robert’s marriage was on the mend.
By early 1979, Arapahoe County investigators had learned all of this information about Robert’s long affair with Sharon.
They’d also done some further gunshot residue tests on other items found in the home, most notably a pair of Robert’s gloves.
By January of 1979, the results from those tests came back and detectives determined that there were signs of gunshot residue on the pair of gloves.
It didn’t necessarily make police think Robert was directly involved in Nancy and the kids’ deaths, but they did have a lot of questions for him.
So, they brought him back in for questioning and this time Robert told them a completely different story.
As investigators looking into the deaths of Nancy, David and Susan Spangler started feeling more pressure from Nancy’s family to re-interview Robert and ask him about why a pair of his gloves had gunshot residue on them they convinced Robert to talk with detectives again.
On February 1st, 1979, at the police station Robert offered a different version of events than what he’d originally told police a few months earlier.
He explained that the initial story he’d told them about being out of the house most of the day was not true.
*Car pulling into driveway and car door shutting*
On the second go-around, Robert told detectives that during the Broncos football game he actually returned home. He said when he went inside he found everyone dead and saw the note Nancy typed up lying next to her body in their basement.
He said while still wearing his gloves he picked up the revolver on the floor that was on the floor next to her body and stumbled backward in shock, then dropped the gun near the bottom of the basement staircase, then he fled the house. He said he was so overwhelmed by what she’d done that he went into a state of disorientation and disbelief and decided that in order to clear his head he needed to go on another long drive.
He said he drove around listening to the football game, ate lunch at a Burger King, and went to a movie. He left the film early because he said he became worried about not calling anyone about his wife and kids.
He said he knew his story would be hard for police to believe, but he said when he found his family dead he was just so scared and embarrassed about what Nancy had done that he felt calling the police would only make things worse.
According to multiple news reports, Robert’s explanation, albeit strange, was believable to Arapahoe County Sheriff’s investigators and they made the decision to officially close the case, and label it a double-murder suicide.
To detectives at the time, all of the evidence in the case pointed to Nancy acting alone.
Within a few shorts months, everything went back to normal. Kind of.
But Nancy’s family was still convinced she did not take her own life and the lives of her kids. They watched Robert intensely and felt that his behavior was not how you’d expect a grieving husband and father to act.
For example, it was reported that during Nancy, David, and Susan’s funeral Robert attended the ceremony with his girlfriend, Sharon Cooper.
Nancy’s family members felt super uncomfortable about that and told the police that it was like Robert was completely unphased by the tragic deaths of his family. Law enforcement ignored their suspicions though because, in their book, the case was closed.
In July of 1979, seven months after the shooting, Sharon and Robert got married and moved back into the same house in Littleton that Nancy and the kids died in.
After that, Sharon and Robert got three dogs and lived like newlyweds. Robert left his job at American Waterworks and began working as a community youth sports referee in Littleton.
For a few years, the second marriage seemed great but according to The Denver Post, Sharon battled mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. She regularly received psychiatric care to address her struggles and was prescribed several strong medications.
By 1986, her and Robert’s marriage was deteriorating and according to news reports, the couple’s finances were also looking bleak.
Robert’s job as a referee barely paid the bills and Sharon was in and out of jobs due to her mental health struggles.
I couldn’t find any news reports that say whether or not Robert had life insurance policies on Nancy or kids but even if there were policies, the murder-suicide ruling in the case would likely have prevented Robert from collecting. That’s just me speculating, but either way, death benefits or no death benefits, after remarrying Robert and Sharon were reportedly not financially secure.
In 1986, Robert took a trip back to his hometown of Ames, Iowa to visit his elderly father, Merlin Spangler.
Back in 1933 Merlin and his late wife had adopted Robert as a baby. The identity of Robert’s true parents is unknown.
Over the years, it was reported that Robert rarely visited his adoptive parents after marrying and moving on with his life.
According to the FBI, a few days after Robert arrived to visit his father Merlin suffered a terrible fall and was hospitalized.
Sadly, he never recovered and within two weeks he died.
Right away, Robert inherited Merlin’s estate and assets, which reportedly included a life insurance payout worth close to half a million dollars.
No one asked questions about Merlin’s sudden death or Robert’s fortunate inheritance except Sharon, Robert’s second wife.
Police reports published in several newspapers at the time state that after learning about Merlin’s swift passing, Sharon suffered a serious mental break. She called her mental health counselor and claimed that Robert was threatening to abuse her, had taken away her keys, and told her she couldn’t leave him. On the phone she said that she’d ran out of the house, fearful for her life.
It reportedly got to the point where she expressed thoughts about self-harm and the sheriff’s office responded to get her help.
Not long after that incident, Sharon and Robert separated and in 1988 they officially divorced.
The stipulations of their divorce required Robert to pay Sharon $150,000 upfront and $500 per month for three years and $400 per month for seven years after that. Needless to say, it was an expensive split.
Immediately after finalizing his divorce with Sharon, Robert began dating a woman in Pennsylvania but that relationship quickly fizzled out and he returned to Colorado.
In 1989, he placed an ad in a local newspaper near Denver and within a few weeks met 58-year-old Donna Sundling.
Donna was also a divorcee but unlike Robert, she had five adult children and several grandchildren from her previous marriage. Donna worked as an accountant and part-time aerobics instructor.
The couple’s friends described them as an unlikely match because they didn’t have a ton of common interests but despite that their romance continued to grow.
According to her children, Donna expressed on multiple occasions that she didn’t enjoy hiking or spending a lot of time adventuring outdoors as much as Robert did, but even with their differences, after only seven months of dating, Donna and Robert got married in 1990.
They bought a house in Durango, Colorado, about six hours southwest of Denver, right on the New Mexico-Arizona border.
*Radio dial tuning on*
Robert started working as a country music radio station DJ and quickly became a local celebrity in the region.
He was the host of a popular morning show that ran from 5:30 am to 8:00 am five days a week. Robert’s bosses described his announcing style as unique because he acted like a normal, cheerful guy over the airwaves. His demeanor and tone were praised by listeners as almost being like a personal friend.
The Denver Post reported that on his radio program Robert was an outspoken advocate for gun control and expressed that he didn’t like firearms. This was sort of surprising to some people who knew him because while he was briefly enlisted in the army Robert had become extremely proficient with a rifle and even won accolades for his marksmanship.
After about a year and a half of marriage, though a familiar pattern started up again – Robert and Donna’s relationship began to grow strained. Their differences that weren’t deal-breakers at first were now sore spots in their marriage.
Robert spent a lot of time focused on his radio show and hiking while Donna liked to stay home and visit her grown children and grandchildren.
Easter weekend in 1993, in an attempt to save their relationship Robert suggested he and Donna take a hiking and camping trip together in Grand Canyon National Park The getaway would be a way for them to spend time together and work on their marriage.
Donna reluctantly agreed but according to her children, she called each of her close friends beforehand and expressed that she wasn’t super thrilled about the hike. She said she knew she had to do something though to try and save her marriage. At one point she reportedly told a friend that she was fearful of traversing the rocky terrain in the Grand Canyon because she didn’t have hiking experience.
But on Easter weekend in early April 1993, Robert and Donna set out on their trip and began hiking the Grand View Trail to the Grand Canyon.
*Gravel beneath boots & birds chirping*
They hiked and camped for several days, eventually making their way to a well-known camping area called Horseshoe Mesa. That location is right in the middle between the start of the Grandview trailhead and the Colorado River.
The trek is very steep and parts of it are extremely rocky. Loose rocks near the edges of canyons are notorious for giving way if you make the slightest misstep.
According to The Denver Post, on Sunday, April 11th, around 8:30 am Donna and Robert packed up their campsite and started hiking further into the park.
A short way into their walk the couple arrived at a clearing near the edge of a canyon and decided to take a picture.
According to a report from the National Park Service published by The Daily News while Robert was setting up a tripod, he turned his back and when he turned and when he turned back around Donna was gone.
When he peered over the edge he saw her lifeless body 200 feet below sprawled out on solid rock.
Robert said that he immediately ran to find help and report the accident. He reportedly waited in line at the backcountry park ranger’s office and eventually explained that his wife had accidentally fallen off the side of the canyon.
Right away the National Park Service responded to the scene and found Donna’s body. Authorities immediately ruled her death an accident.
Within two weeks Robert had Donna’s remains cremated.
According to The Times-News, Donna’s fall was the first of seven that occurred in Grand Canyon National Park in 1993. The article states that park employees considered 1993 the worst year for falls in recent history.
On its face, Donna’s fall was somewhat unique though from the rest that occurred that year. All of the others were the result of visitors attempting to jump between rock outcroppings, climbing beyond guardrails, or drinking alcohol while hiking.
Donna’s death was the only fall in 1993 that truly was a random accident and no fault of her own.
Now, Donna’s children were not at all satisfied with the accidental fall determination. They felt certain that their mother would never get close enough to a canyon’s ledge and fall. According to The Daily News Donna suffered from severe vertigo and was so nervous about hiking in the Grand Canyon that she maneuvered every step of the trail with ski poles. Her children also said that she was deathly afraid of heights and getting her pose for a picture near a rock edge was out of the question.
Needless to say, they did not buy Robert’s story at all that their mother had simply slipped and fallen.
Their concerns fell on deaf ears though because the National Park Service and the medical examiner ruled Donna’s death was officially an accident.
In the weeks and months after the incident, Robert went on his radio show and dozens of national media outlets to recount the story of Donna’s tragic fall and explained how dangerous Grand Canyon National Park could be.
He used Donna’s death as a way to warn others about the dangers of the park and why using caution is paramount. At the time, Robert had 14 years of canyon hiking experience and a lot of news outlets believed him to be a knowledgeable and trusted resource about the outdoors and Grand Canyon National Park in particular.
He told The Times-News quote — “The people that visit simply forget how spectacularly dangerous it can be” — end quote.
Robert did an interview about Donna with the Los Angeles Times in January 1994 in which he said quote— “She was not a very strong hiker. I don’t know if she became unbalanced with her backpack or if she shuffled her feet or stepped on a rock that became loose. I turned around and she was gone.”–end quote.
In a strange twist, almost a year after Donna’s fall, Robert’s second wife, Sharon Cooper, suddenly died too while living in his care.
According to The Daily Sentinel, in the fall of 1993, just a few months after Donna’s death, Sharon and Robert had reconnected and even though they’d had a bitter divorce they reconciled because Sharon needed a place to stay.
Sharon rented a room from Robert at his house for almost a year until in October 1994 Robert found her dead in her bedroom. The medical examiner determined she died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose.
Robert was never suspected of being involved in Sharon’s death and once again, life moved on with everyone under the impression that this was another case of bad luck for Robert when it came to the women in his life.
Someone who wasn’t convinced though was Arapahoe County Sheriff’s detective Paul Goodman. Paul had learned through media reports about Donna’s traffic fall and that Sharon had died as well.
He did not feel that the two women’s deaths were coincidences.
In November 1994, one month after Sharon’s overdose, Paul convinced his superiors in Arapahoe County to officially reopen the investigation into Nancy, David, and Susan Spangler’s deaths from 1978.
Paul only had jurisdiction in Colorado though. He had no authority to work on Donna’s case in Arizona.
He had a sneaky suspicion though that her fall was no accident and that the common denominator between all the women’s demises was Robert.
As Paul went back and began reading old police reports on Nancy and the kids’ case, he found something unusual and that was the typed suicide note left next to Nancy’s body.
Paul wondered who would take the time to type out a note like that before committing a murder-suicide? Most people would scribble it down by hand, not sit down at a typewriter and punch it out, risking a member of the family seeing you write it beforehand.
As he read through the old police reports he noticed that an officer at the scene had written down that the family’s typewriter appeared to have been wiped down and no fingerprints were able to be pulled from it.
With his suspicions mounting that Robert was in fact a serial wife killer…Paul set out to find and re-interview Robert about Nancy, David, and Susan’s deaths.
It took four long years for Paul to actually build a case and get all of the necessary paperwork and probably cause in place, but in those years he’d joined forces with The U.S. Department of the Interior, The FBI, The National Park Service, and some Arizona investigators and convinced them to reopen Donna’s case.
In 1999, together, the agencies officially circumstantially linked Robert to Nancy, David, and Susan’s deaths to Donna.
At the start of 2000, the FBI created a behavioral profile of Robert Spangler and experts with the bureau agreed that when you looked at his life closely, Robert had all of the telltale signs of being a sociopathic killer.
A few months later, Paul Goodman was finally ready to pursue Robert for murder.
The investigation was about to get thrown another curveball though, one that benefited law enforcement and brought Robert Spangler to his knees.
According to The Denver Post, while Robert Spangler was rehearsing with a local theater troupe in Durango, Colorado he started forgetting his lines and became confused. In the weeks after his first mind blank and being asked to step down from the theater production, he saw a doctor and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
He was given only a few months to live.
The bleak cancer diagnosis worked to Arapahoe County Sheriff’s detective Paul Goodman’s advantage though. He visited Robert at his home and confronted him with all of the evidence and inconsistencies with his story about what happened to David, Nancy, and Susan back in 1978.
According to the Associated Press, after only four hours of speaking with Paul, Robert confessed to killing his first family and finally gave the full story of what happened.
In his full confession, Robert said that on the morning of December 30th, 1978 he lured Nancy to the basement of their house by promising her he had another Christmas present for her, and it was a surprise. He said he sat her down in a chair and made her close her eyes.
Then he said he then shot her in the head with the family’s .38 revolver, then went upstairs and shot Susan in the heart while she was laying in her bed. Next, he shot David but with his final victim he had to improvise. David had woken up after hearing the shots that killed his mother and sister and when Robert came face to face with his teenage son he shot him in the torso, but he didn’t die right away.
Robert said he and David struggled a little bit while David bled out and ultimately Robert said he smothered him with a pillow.
Robert said after that, he went back to the basement and planted the typed suicide note and revolver near Nancy’s body then left.
In his confession, he said that as he grew older he realized he didn’t like family life and in his mind, he figured murder was easier than divorce.
In his first interview with authorities, Robert only provided details about Nancy, David, and Susan’s deaths. He denied any involvement in Sharon Cooper’s overdose and refused to discuss Donna’s death in the Grand Canyon because he feared that her adult children would sue him in civil court.
After wearing him down, the FBI was finally able to get Robert to talk about Donna’s death and he eventually confessed to tricking her into the entire hiking trip in order to shove her off a cliff.
He said at the spot where she died he’d been facing her, holding her arms by her side, then pushed her off the cliff.
When reporters asked the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office why detectives back in 1978 had not investigated better or suspected Robert of killing Nancy, David and Susan the sheriff said quote — “It was probably a lack of training more than a lack of intent or commitment”— end quote.
In October 2000 the U.S. Attorney in Arizona charged Robert with one count of first-degree murder for Donna’s death and Arapahoe county prosecutors in Colorado charged him with three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Nancy, David, and Susan.
The problem was no one knew if Robert would live to face justice.
He was dying of cancer and getting worse every day.
The question was quickly answered though when in spring of 2001 Robert took a guilty plea in federal court for Donna’s murder. In that proceeding, he also admitted he was guilty of killing Nancy, David, and Susan in 1978.
A judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but like many people expected, Robert died from cancer while in federal custody on August 5th, 2001.
When he was originally diagnosed in 2000 a woman he was dating named Judy Hilty married him.
Judy told reporters with the Daily Sentinel that she’d decided to marry Robert because she quote — “Didn’t want him to be alone when he died”— end quote.
She told the newspaper that she’d never been afraid of Robert because he never showed her that he was capable of murder. She said he didn’t share much of his past with her and she was fine with that.
Not long after Robert died, Donna’s children sued Judy and Robert in civil court claiming her murder hurt them irreparably. They also wanted to recoup money from Donna’s estate. Before she was murdered she’d sold a home she owned and bought a new one with Robert in Durango.
At the time of her death, Donna’s will left everything to Robert.
Eventually, Judy Hilty and Donna’s children settled the lawsuit out of court for an undisclosed amount.
After Robert’s arrest and death, some of his former friends, bosses, and neighbors told reporters that Robert never showed signs that he was a violent killer. They said he was cheerful, charismatic, and always fun to be around. They remembered that he often said his only bad luck in life was that he had bad luck with women.
One co-worker at the country music radio station where he worked told the Daily Sentinel that after his arrest in 2000 she found out that his first wife, Nancy, had died from a gunshot. She said that for years Robert had told everyone that his first wife and kids died in a car crash.
In the end, even the people who were supposed to know him best had no clue who Robert Spangler truly was.
He spent decades hiding his sinister nature from his wives and the world and many have said he died the death he deserved.
Confused, unable to speak, lost in a mind eaten up with festering cancer a disease that stripped him of his sense of self and his sanity.
Park Predators is an audiochuck original podcast.
Research and writing by Delia D’Ambra with writing assistance from executive producer Ashley Flowers.
Sound design by David Flowers.
You can find all of the source material for this episode on our website, Parkpredators.com.
So what do you think, Chuck? Do you approve? *howl*