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THE CASE OF THE HOMICIDAL HUSBAND
How to Catch A Serial Killer When the Trail Goes Cold

08/31/05

Cold Case Graphic Robert Spangler wasn't your typical serial killer, methodically murdering citizens in the community. He was killing off members of his own family.

  • In December 1978, he killed his first wife and their two teenage children in their home in Littleton, Colorado. He left a fake suicide note to make it look like his wife had taken their children's lives and then her own. The coroner concluded that it was a double homicide/suicide and the case was eventually closed.
  • In April 1993, Spangler pushed his third wife off a 160-foot cliff in the Grand Canyon during a backpacking trip. He told authorities she had slipped and fallen...and even went on television to talk about the hazards of hiking in the Grand Canyon. His wife's death was ruled an accident; he was never charged.
  • In 1994, his second wife died of an apparent accidental drug overdose after the couple had reunited. The case was never investigated by law enforcement.

In 1999, these unsolved "cold cases" were linked by two federal law enforcement agencies and local authorities in Arizona and Colorado. But how to prove that Spangler committed the murders, especially with much of the evidence destroyed or no longer available after so many years? And one more wrinkle: Spangler had terminal cancer, raising issues about his mental competency during any interviews.

That's where our National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, or NCAVC came in. They were called by FBI agents in Arizona who were supporting the case...and immediately agreed to help.

For years, NCAVC has given advice and support to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement on serial murders and other investigations. In this case, it provided behavioral analysis, specialized interview techniques, and other assistance that investigators used to get Spangler to talk.

In the end, Spangler confessed to murdering his first and third wives and his own two children, saying "You've got your serial." He was sentenced to life without parole and later died in prison.

Read the full story —and its implications for other serial murder cases—in this month's issue of Law Enforcement Bulletin, along with articles on interviewing techniques, search warrant procedures for motor vehicles, and more.

Resources: The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime | FBI Training Academy | Related stories on FBI Training