Robert Spangler – Colorado Serial Killer and Child Murderer by Mask of Sanity

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For decades, Robert Spangler got away with the murders of two wives as well as his two children from his first marriage. It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in 2000, that he finally confessed to his crimes after being suspected and watched by authorities from several different agencies. During one of his interviews, he claimed it was easier to kill his wives than to go through a divorce. This serial killer and family annihilator is one of the most callous men to ever exist.

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Welcome to True. Crime by Indie Drop-In each week, we feature an episode from the best independent creators hit subscribe for more great True Crime content If you would like to support Indie Drop-In and get these episodes ad-free. Check out our Patreon at the bottom of the show notes. Today’s episode is from Mask of sanity. Don’t forget to check out the show notes for links to subscribe and follow on social media. Enjoy the show. The Oracle A little deeper.

Hi friends. Welcome back to the show. I hope you’re all doing well. And perhaps finding moments of levity throughout the day. Maybe listening to my episode is yours. Who knows? I hope so. I’m your host, Melanie Petersen. And for today’s case, we are going to talk about the black widower Robert Spangler Spangler brutally murdered, his wife and two teenage children on December 30th, 1978, so that he could marry his mistress. Sharon Cooper, his marriage to Cooper and did in a very messy divorce. And Sharon would sadly accidentally overdose in 1993. The death of his third wife, Donna Sunlink in 1994 is what finally put Spangler on the police, his radar.

(1m 31s):
They have been hiking and the grand Canyon, when Spangler claimed his wife fell off a cliff plummeting, nearly 140 feet down. Police had suspected him in the deaths of his first family, but unfortunately, they have no clear-cut evidence to charge him because the crime scene was made to look like it was actually his wife who had murdered their children before turning the gun on herself. So with another suspicious death on their hands, they began to look closer at Robert Spangler. It wouldn’t be until late 2000. When this man, this man, that neighbors considered a good guy, this man who was active in the community, the kind of neighbor you want to live next to actually confessed, to being a cold-blooded killer.

(2m 14s):
When he was diagnosed with brain cancer and knew his time was running out, buckle up my friends, this one is going to be a bumpy ride. This is Mask of Sanity <inaudible> Robert Spangler was born in Des Moines, Iowa on January 10th, 1933, but it was given up for adoption when he was just a baby, his adoptive Marylyn, and I own a raised him in Ames, Iowa.

(3m 3s):
And for the most part, he had a pretty normal childhood before he would go on to savagely killed two of his wives and his two children Robert Spangler was suspected of murdering a classmate that he reportedly didn’t like when he was just 11 years old, aside from the mysterious death of his classmate, Robert moved through his teen years. As many of us do, he was a star player on the football team and upon graduation, he enrolled at Iowa state university in 1951. He graduated from college with a degree in technical journalism. And that same year he married Nancy. Stoltman a couple soon move to Denver. And after six years of marriage, they welcomed their first child.

(3m 44s):
David Byrne on November 27th, 1961, a daughter, Susan was born on August 14th, 1963, but familial bliss would only last for so long. Robert began having an affair with a woman he worked with while an employee at American waterworks and her name was Sharon Cooper. He was 43 years old at the time. And the affair with Sharon lasted for about two years. At one point, he moved out of his home and stayed with Sharon, but eventually moved back in with this family in October of 1978, sadly over the holidays in December of that year, Robert Spangler would murder his wife and his two children at their home in Littleton, Colorado at approximately 10:30 AM on December 30th, 1978, Susan Spangler.

(4m 34s):
His boyfriend drove over to the Spangler residence to pick up his girlfriend after getting no answer. When he knocked on the door and not hearing any movement inside, he grew concerned because he knew that not only was Susan home, but also her brother and her mother. And it wasn’t like them to not answer the door. Susan knew he was coming over and it just really confused. Timothy. He looked through the window to see if anyone was inside and his heart sunk a little when there was no movement. So he began to get a bit worried about the Spangler family. He did consider, however that maybe they were all sleeping.

(5m 14s):
They slept through their alarms. For whatever reason, they couldn’t hear him knocking, but the longer time went on and there was no answer at the door. Timothy grew more and more. Yeah. So finally he entered the home and came face-to-face with a horrifying scene. Both Susan can and David relying on the floor, dead from gunshot wounds Robert was nowhere to be found. And once the police arrived on the scene, they began searching the home. Eventually going down into the basement and discovering Nancy Spangler dead from a gunshot wound to the head, the gun, and a typewritten suicide note were found nearby.

(5m 54s):
Not long after Robert returned to the home to sheriff deputies everywhere. He allegedly claimed initially that he was at the movies and was so shocked at the deaths of his beloved family, but let’s just hold up a hot second there. You’re telling me that the best alibi this guy could think up was going to the movies on a Saturday morning alone. He later told police that he and Nancy were having marital problems and he was planning on leaving her on the morning of December 30th. He also told them that he had left early and went to work for a bit. So right here, he’s changing the story.

(6m 35s):
He allegedly said the first time that he was questioned that he went to the movies. Now he’s saying he went to work for a bit and a year after the murders, when he was asked about all of this, again, he said that quote, he returned home and found his wife sitting in a chair with a gunshot wound to the head. He said he saw the gun nearby and handled it and quote, which conveniently explained why he had a gunshot residue on his right hand. Spangler also took at least one polygraph and quote two separate private polygraph examiners found his answers. Inconclusive. Two questions about his role in the deaths and quote.

(7m 18s):
So obviously none of this makes even the slightest sense for his movie alibi to work he’d need a ticket stub or something to prove that he was actually there. If he was at work, there would have to be some evidence to prove he was actually there in order for the alibi to hold up and especially at the time of the shootings. And if he actually found his wife dead from a gunshot wound and in their home one day, why would you handle the guns and too, why would you leave? The 38 caliber gun found in the home did the one day to Robert Spangler. And like I said, ’cause, he claimed he handled it after discovering his wife.

(8m 0s):
It made sense that there would be fingerprints belonging to him on the gun. But again, none of these versions make any sense at all. He’s such an unbelievable Lyor and his story changed significantly multiple times. So I can’t for the life of me, figure out how police weren’t able to zero in on him as the Killer and charge him. Granted, there was some manipulation of the crime scene by Robert Spangler that did make it difficult for police to actually prove with evidence that he was the one responsible Spangler said the crime scene episode, that it looked like Nanci shot and killed our children and then turned the gun on yourself in a murder, suicide deal, and then lift the suicide note there as well.

(8m 59s):
And because of that evidence on January 3rd, 1979, authorities had no choice, but to rule that that was what happened. So as ridiculous as it is, Spangler actually got away with it for a time being decades later Spangler would reveal that the night before the murders, he and Nancy had had a conversation about their marriage, and divorce was discussed the following morning. He quotes, Lord his wife, Nancy Spangler down into the basement of their home in Littleton, Colorado. He was clever and use the promise of a surprise. Nancy was hoping for some good news. He then shot her in the head with a 3,800 and quote, less than seven months after the murders Robert, Spangler married his longtime mistress, Sharon Cooper on July 14th, 1979.

(9m 50s):
They spend a lot of their time hiking and the Grand Canyon, a hobby that he would share with not only Sharon, but future wife, Donna Sunline, but after a few years, Sharon and Robert begin to have problems in 1986, Robert went to visit his elderly father 92-year-old Merlin. Spangler who suspiciously separately. I’m terrible for a few days after Robert Spangler as a rival and died two weeks later. And quote, after that, the death of his father Spangler inherited his father’s money and chose to retire. Even though his father isn’t usually included in his death count, I’m going to go ahead and say that Merlin Spangler wouldn’t have died that suddenly if his son hadn’t had something to do with it.

(10m 34s):
So calling it out right there, Robert Spangler most likely also murdered his father Merlin in December 1987 Robert insurance marriage was starting to turn violent at one point, Sharon called the police and ran to a nearby grocery store in order to get away from Robert because she was so frightened by him by June 24th, 1988 Robert and Sharon Cooper were divorced. And in the settlement, the court ruled that quote Robert must pay Sharon $500 per month for three years, and then 400 per month. For seven years after that, he also had to give her an immediate $150,000.

(11m 19s):
And so that just shows you right there. What kind of money did he inherit from his father? Just months after the divorce Spangler began placing personal ads in the newspapers, looking for you were a new wife. Unfortunately, Donna Sunlink saw the ad and contacted Spangler. The connection was immediate and less than two years later, Donna and Robert we’re married on August 18th, 1990. They bought a home in Durango, Colorado, and two Donna. It seems like a dream come true. Her new husband was a popular morning DJ for a country music station. They both enjoyed hiking, especially in the Grand Canyon. She was active.

(11m 59s):
She worked as an, an aerobics instructor, but she felt like she was finally starting. The second part of her life. She had a husband now who loved her, that she loved. She had five wonderful children from a previous relationship. She was a proud grandmother but unfortunately wedded bliss would be short-lived on April 11th, 1993 Robert Spangler now 60 years old and 58-year-old Donna was backpacking through the Grand Canyon. Their marriage had been having issues. It was slowly falling apart, but they decided to go back to an activity that they both bonded over and loved, which was hiking through the Grand Canyon that morning.

(12m 41s):
Spangler quote appeared at a ranger station in the Grand Canyon. And calmly told the ranger that his wife had fallen to her death. He explained that they had stopped to take a picture on the trail. And when you looked back, his wife was gone and quote, a search was immediately initiated and park Rangers located his wife soon after at the bottom of a cliff, about 140 feet down from where Spangler said they had stopped. Donna had multiple devastating injuries, including abrasions, contusions, lacerations, and multiple fractures of the neck, chest, and lower extremities, and quote, initially, he wasn’t suspected of her death.

(13m 22s):
Why would he be? There was not really much to go on, but what I do find interesting about that quote that I read was that he told the park ranger that his wife had fallen to her death. Not that she had fallen, but that she had fallen to her death. There was however, some suspicion from Donna’s family, despite Donna being very athletic and agile, she was openly afraid of Heights. She didn’t hide it. People knew. So it didn’t make any sense to any of her family members as to why she would be standing so close to the edge of a very high cliff for someone who’s afraid of Heights.

(14m 2s):
Like she is, why are you standing that close? When there’s no bar, there is no railing. There is nothing to keep you from falling over the edge. And after her death Don his cousin, Shirley Dickson were called house Spangler quote had her cremated before her mother even got there and quote, and this was no doubt to destroy any potential evidence on her body that could have been indicative of foul play. And the tragic death only got more and more national attention as Spangler became obsessed with the attention that it gave him. He did multiple interviews. He participated on TV talk shows, talking about his wife’s accidental fall and how people should be careful while hiking and the Grand Canyon.

(14m 47s):
This didn’t stop him from going back to the hike. However, after her death, he eventually started dating again, and sometimes he would take new romantic partners with them to the US, the Grand Canyon. Spangler also allegedly reached back out to his second wife, Sharon, and reignited a relationship with her. Now keep in mind, he was still required to pay Sharon her alimony. During this time, eventually in the summer of 1994, Sharon came to Spangler is home for a while visit. He had offered to host her there. Well, she got over it, a recent breakup with her boyfriend, as well as the death of her dog.

(15m 27s):
Sharon had also developed a drug problem. And on October 2nd, 1994, Spangler claimed he found Sharon unconscious from a suspected overdose and took her to the emergency room. Spangler apparently stayed with her in her room at the hospital being very attentive, not leaving her side. And despite being stabilized after the overdose, Sharon died at the time. Robert Spangler was the only person in the room with her when she first well, and with her death, he was not there longer obligated to pay the alimony. And he also received a $20,000 payout from Sharon’s insurance policy.

(16m 8s):
So now that Sharon was dead, Robert no longer had to pay her any evidence as to Sharon’s knowledge of his first wife and children’s murders died with her. And once again, when Robert was questioned by police about her death, nothing was done. No evidence was solid enough to consider him a suspect. So he basically, he walked away for free. About a year later, the BI investigators, Paul Goodman and Bev Perry begin looking into Donna’s death because they knew deep down something didn’t quite add up with his story and what actually happened by January 1999, investigators from the US Department of the Interior, the counties of Coconino, Arizona, and Arapaho Colorado as well as the national park service all joined together and began looking into Robert Spangler his background gathering, whatever information they could find mind about him during this time, Spangler quit his job sold as home and decided to move to Pennsylvania.

(17m 18s):
He had met a woman over the internet and moved there to be closer to her. But according to her quote, she was taken aback by his intensity and their relationship did not work out and quote. And since then, there was no reason for Spangler to stay in Pennsylvania. He moved back to grand junction, Colorado, where he had landed a job as the vice president of the Apple crest irrigation company. Also in his spare time, he participated in local theater as different authorities were into Robert Spangler. They also decided to put him under surveillance, especially when he’d make trips to the Grand Canyon with his new girlfriend, Judy Hilti.

(17m 60s):
What Spangler didn’t know is that not only were authorities closing in on him as the prime suspect, but he was also terminally ill. Spangler had been cast as John Hancock in a dinner theater production of 1776 during the summer of 1999. But he noticed that he had a lot of difficulties remembering his lines. He went to his primary doctor who recommended a few follow-ups tests Spangler would soon be diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his lung on August 12, 2000, and that cancer had metastasized to his brain. So Spangler his days were significantly numbered upon learning this information.

(18m 41s):
Robert and Judy decided to get married and exchanged vows on September 1st, but as the police continue to monitor the situation, they became concerned about Judy, wondering of Spangler to try to Murderer his new wife, knowing that he was terminally ill. Also put additional pressure on the investigation, all of the investigating, all of the surveillance, everything like that, the entire task force, basically that they had set up to look at Spangler. If he died before they got their answers, the last several years would have been for nothing. Just two weeks after Robert and Judy were married. Investigators decided to try one more time.

(19m 23s):
They decided to bring him in for questioning and told him that if he had anything he wanted to get off his chest now was the time initially Spangler was hesitant. He didn’t understand why FBI profilers wanted to talk to him until they explained that quote only serial killers are interviewed by profilers and quote. This of course piqued his interest because he is a narcissist to the umpteenth degree. And as they questioned him about the 1978 slaughter of his family, as well as the deaths of Dontae and Sharon, he played on his medical condition a bit and claim that they were asking him far too many different things to remember, and he couldn’t handle it.

(20m 13s):
So he left, but shortly after he left this first interview, he calls one of the FBI agents that following morning to see about continuing the interview. So during part two, Spangler began to confess. He told the investigators quote, how while married to his first wife, he fell in love with another woman then shot his wife and is two teenage children to be with her father. Spangler said he smothered his son with a pillow after shooting him because the bullet wound was not lethal. He strongly denied involvement and the overdose deaths of his second wife and refuse to discuss the depth in the Grand Canyon because he feared a civil lawsuit from his third wife’s grown children and quote, a confession to Donna’s murder at the Grand Canyon was the primary goal.

(21m 5s):
And they did consider his confession to the 1978 murderers a win, but ultimately authorities she’s recognized that Spangler one of the infamy that went along with being labeled a serial killer. So they told him that just because he killed more than one person at the same time, didn’t mean he was a serial killer. Spangler looked up and said, quote, you’ve got your Serial and quote. He then went on to explain how he had planned the murder of his wife, Donna waiting until they were close to the edge of a cliff and pushing her off when she turned to face him. And that’s just completely the freaking horrible ’cause, you know, they made It the contact as he shoved her.

(21m 52s):
So the way, the last thing she saw before she fell to the ground was the cold Savage, empty eyes of a psychotic man who she thought, okay, loved her, pushing her to her death. After his confession, Spangler was shocking, concerned about his reputation. He was popular and the community, he had been a well-liked radio personality. So he actually sent one of the FBI agents, a letter begging them to minimize the cases, publicity, and stating quote that he was not like other serial killers who target people for a race or sexual orientation correctly, assessing that some serial killers, target groups, they perceive as an undesirable.

(22m 35s):
Spangler his motivation to kill centered around the anticipated gain of eliminating his wives and daughters, children end quote. He also, well, apparently he said, During one of his interviews that killing us wives was easier than getting a divorce. And when the news broke too, not only the victim’s families who some had suspected him all along, some more shocked, but also to friends, they friends, he couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Not only did he kill these women and his two children, but he had told everyone different versions of the stories and none of them had noticed or compared notes.

(23m 15s):
I mean, why would you compare notes? I guess really? Why would you compare stories? It’s so horrible. You don’t speak about it more often than a minute. You need to go. And for example, he told Laurie who was a fellow soccer referee was Spangler that his first wife Nancy had committed suicide. He said his daughter, Susan had overdosed on heroin and that David had been killed in a car accident. Some of the actor’s in the theater had been told, one of his wives died of cancer. Even his new wife, Judy was baffled at the confession to the point where she told a neighbor, she felt duped and completely numb shortly after his confession Spangler was indicted by a federal grand jury in Phoenix, in the 1993 death of Donna sampling Spangler and quote, he was also quote, charged in Colorado with murdering his first wife and two children.

(24m 13s):
Because according to prosecutors, he was dissatisfied with family like, and quote Robert, Spangler charged with a first degree murder of Donna initially pled not guilty on November 5th, 2000. He later stated that quote, his brain cancer had caused him to confess to things he had not done and quote, but he would end up eventually pleading guilty and signing a plea agreement in federal district court and Arizona to serve life in prison with no chance of parole for Donna’s murder. And because he confessed to the murders of Nancy and Susan and David, he was charged, but he was never convicted of those.

(24m 56s):
I don’t think he even went to trial for those. And I think at that point, authorities were just satisfied that he was behind bars and he had finally confessed to ruining so many lives. Robert Spangler would serve less than one year in prison, dying of cancer on August 5th, 2001 at 3:15 AM at the Springfield, Missouri federal corrections call center. Well okay. Then friends that was Robert Spangler the black widowers serial killer. This case is so unfair believably infuriating, because at least at three different points.

(25m 39s):
Well, four, if you include, as far as he was responsible or at least very highly suspected of murder or a foul play in the deaths of a significant other or a family member, and for one reason or another, either there wasn’t enough evidence or there was some kind of, half-assed almost mostly believable alibi that allowed him to slip by, without facing the fire. It wasn’t until he was dying of cancer and was presented with the opportunity to make a name for himself. It wasn’t even that he wanted to get it off his chest because he felt guilty.

(26m 19s):
He wanted to live in infamy. He wanted to be labeled the serial killer and was given this opportunity. So he felt compelled to confess. He is a family Annihilator and I hate family annihilators. I think they are. I don’t like any of the killer’s that I cover, but family annihilators really hit a nerve with me because you, there are so many of them. And recently they feel like, I feel like they probably the step a lot more. We hear all the time. Yeah. About Chris Watts. There’s Anthony Todd, there’s Mark gaggle. There’s so many different and it’s not just men.

(27m 3s):
There are also female family annihilators out there too. But with them, the decision is rarely spontaneous. They don’t just snap and decide to kill their family. There’s usually a reason for it. Spangler committed his first murders because he fell in love with Sharon and needed his family out of the picture. He no longer want it to be responsible for his wife or two of his children, which is basically the same story as Chris Watts who murdered his pregnant wife and little girls while having an affair and one at a quote, fresh start, what’s interesting or not interesting.

(27m 44s):
It’s all infuriating. But I guess what is trending among family annihilators is that they tend to commit these murders. When the children are not in school, Spangler committed his murders over the holiday break in December, 1978, when children are not in school. When the kids wouldn’t have been in school, Chris Watts committed his murders and August, 2018. And the reason for this, which I’m sure you can figure out, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway, his, that he committed these murders when there was no expectation for the children to be seen the very next day. So even though in Spangler his case, his family was discovered dead.

(28m 28s):
The following day. It gives him a little more leeway, a little more freedom in terms of time and discovery, instead of doing it, when school is in session and having the school’s wondering where the children are. And then an investigation gets launched that way. According to an article titled men who murder their families, what the research tells us quote, 90% of the time, the best predictor of domestic violence is past behavior end quote. So the fact that Sharon Cooper called the police at least once during their marriage, because she was frightened of Robert Spangler is evidence right there that Spangler was capable of violent behavior.

(29m 16s):
And realistically, I would suspect that he behaved violently in each of his marriages. So Robert, Spangler LA Serial Killer family Annihilator. I hope it’s hot enough down there for you. All right. Thank you all so much for listening. I say it every week, but I can tell you how much I you turning in each week. It means so much every week. I received words of encouragement, of support people, supporting the show, people telling people about the show. And I hope that you’ll continue to listen weekend and week out for as long as I can keep this up.

(30m 0s):
And for me, it’s really weird to say, I hope you enjoy the episodes, but I do. I hope that you’re learning something. I’m hoping that I’m presenting you with cases that you aren’t as familiar with. That’s why I tend to choose the ones that I do because I don’t know that much about them. And I want to learn more. So I hope that’s helping you in the same way that it’s helping me as always, you can reach out to Mask of Sanity on any of the social media. The Instagram is Mask of Sanity the podcast. Twitter is Mask Sanity pod The Facebook page is Mask of Sanity the podcast. And you can also email me Mask of Sanity the for any questions, suggestions, feedback, anything like that.

(30m 47s):
Please also go into my episode notes and click on the link for the Oracle network. Check that out. We have a lot of amazing shows and my promo trailer today is actually for the Oracle networks podcast of the month for November, not your normal murder. The show is hosted by sisters, Mary and Dierdre, and they walk the listeners through true crime cases and draw it on their own personal knowledge of the criminal justice system and mental health. So definitely give them a listen and rate, review, and subscribe.

(31m 28s):
If you’re looking for ways to support Mask of Sanity. I have a Patreon, a merch store, a coffee account. Any of those links can be found on my link tree link. That is in any of my social media bios. And again, just thank you all so much for listening and I hope you’ll join me next week. When I cover the case of Audrey Marie hilly until next time stay safe friends Mask of Sanity as partners With the Oracle Network the Menendez brothers.

(32m 29s):
We are talking about Pamela smart, Andrea Yates. Think that is kind of one of the first things that started my True Crime session. We’re definitely going to be diving into the and psychological parts of this case. First of all, you shouldn’t be friends with people that ask you to cut up somebody in his body. And on the flip side, you shouldn’t be friends with somebody who is willing to cut up somebody as body. If she is abusing drugs that nine and 12 years old, it would make sense that there was some significant abuse going on in that house. That’s not, Normal never trust the mother or the lover who is a self-professed drug dealer in court by we always say, get a lawyer ’cause you just fed them this information that they didn’t have.

(33m 13s):
And they’re now using it against you. Hi everybody. My name’s Mary and I’m Dierdra and we’re from Not your normal and manage your podcast with my experience in psychiatry and my experience in criminal justice, we bring a fresh perspective on small-town cases and those cases you can’t forget if you love true crime, a little bit of a sarcastic manner, but lot’s of objective research can find us on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You know, it’s the best part of hump day. There’s a new episode every Wednesday. See you there. Well, thanks again for listening to True Crime by Indie Drop-In if you would like your show featured, reach out to us at Indie Drop-In on all social media or go to Indie Drop-In dot com.

(33m 59s):
See you next time.