Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Genetic Violence: Robert an Stephen Spahalski

Settling his Business

When Spahalski's account of Vivian Irrizary's death was wrapped up after half an hour, he listened to an oral rendering of the notes Weather had taken (as Spahalski did not read well) and agreed that it was accurate. He even complimented the officer and then signed it.

Robert Bruce Spahalski
Robert Bruce Spahalski

While the interrogation was going on, police and firefighters together found the nude body of Vivian Irizarry, 54, in the basement of the apartment building where Spahalski lived. She had been beaten and strangled, and her body left in a back room. There was blood on her face and a rope around her neck, and she wore only one sock on her left foot. There were bloody dragging marks on the floor trailing to where she lay. Although she had been there for days, the cool temperatures had hindered decomposition.

Spahalski's landlord, who let the police into the basement, described him as a quiet tenant with a cat; he'd lived in the apartment with Christine Gonzalez, a woman he called his girlfriend, for about four months, although they'd been together for over a decade. "I never even heard him say a curse word," the landlord said. Vivian Irizarry knew Christine and was apparently a frequent visitor. On Friday, four days earlier, Irizarry's son had dropped her off there.

Back at the station, the interrogation continued. The detectives were aware of a cold case in which Spahalski had once been deeply implicated, so they left him alone for about forty-five minutes to gather their records, and then returned. They mentioned the murder in October 1991 of Charles Grande in Webster, N.Y. The man had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

The police had stopped Spahalski, who had flashed Grande's driver's license and was driving his car. When police later found Grande's nude body, they arrested Spahalski. When they were unable to prove that he had killed the man, they charged him with criminal impersonation. However, the jury decided that Spahalski looked nothing like the police description of the man who had been in Grande's car, so he was acquitted. Nevertheless, investigators believed he was the killer. Only a few months before, they had re-opened the case with new evidence and were about to take it to a grand jury when Spahalski turned himself in.

Spahalski admitted to this murder as well, which he claimed had been the result of an argument over money Grande had agreed to pay him for sex. They had met downtown, where Spahalski turned tricks, and Grande had agreed to take him home and pay him $60. They had made this same arrangement in the past, but this time, Grande had tried to give him only $40. Spahalski grew angry, and Grande punched him. "He was very strong," said Spahalski, "and I felt it." So Spahalski grabbed a hammer that lay nearby and struck Grande three or four times, killing him.

He covered the body with a blanket, and stole the sheets and hammer to take away any DNA. He then grabbed Grande's wristwatch, $500 and Grande's wallet, and turned up the heat in the home, to accelerate decomposition, hoping to throw off the police as to the time of death. He drove around in Grande's car for a few days before ditching it. "I felt terrible," Spahalski told the listening detectives, adding that he had prayed for the dead man every day since then. He hoped to have the opportunity to apologize to Grande's family.

The detectives sat down again and took yet another statement, this one four pages long, to which Spahalski made only two minor changes before signing it. He had said, "I knew that coming forward is the best thing to do. I settled all my past business today and want to put it all behind me." He then accepted a cheeseburger.


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