Father Gerald Robinson was a Catholic priest who tended to the sick and dying at Mercy Hospital, meeting their spiritual needs in times when a priest is needed most. Or, that’s what he was supposed to be doing; today many believe that Father Robinson may have been hiding a dark side.
So, we will begin our story on Saturday, April 5th of 1980; it was Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It’s fair to say that this holiday is a big deal for most Christians, and that’s especially true for Catholics. When an unsuspecting Sister Phyllis Ann came to help decorate the hospital chapel for the upcoming festivities, she received the shock of her life: the much respected 71 year old Sister Margaret Ann Pahl’s corpse was discovered laying in a pool of blood.
Sister Margaret had devoted her entire life to her faith and helping others. She had taken her vows as a teenager, and later became a registered nurse who had done her best to serve those around her. It’s said that, while caring, the sister could be difficult to please; she’d been a perfectionist who’d expected everyone to give their 100% all of the time, just as she always had.
The murder has been particularly gruesome; on this holy day, Sister Margaret had been tortured, stabbed dozens of times, and strangled. The killer had placed an altar cloth over the nun and stabbed her 9 times in the chest; together these particular wounds made the shape of an upside down (inverted) cross. Then the attacker had stabbed her over and over again in the face and neck; all together the sister sufferered 31 stab wounds, to be precise. It appeared that at some point Sister Margaret had been given her last rites, except her head had been anointed with her own blood instead of oil! Still, the worst part may have been the sexual assault, it is rumored that she’d been violated with a crucifix. Think of how awful this must’ve been for Sister Margaret, who had joined the convent at the tender age of 19; it’s safe to assume that she had been a virgin.
At some point Sister Margaret was taken to a special room called the sacristy; this is the place in which the Holy Eucharist is kept in the days prior to Easter Sunday. Considering Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the embodiment of Christ, it’s likely this killer believed he was killing the good sister in the physical presence of her savior.
Another thing which should be noted: this particular room would’ve been kept shut, likely even locked in the days before the holiday; this killer knew what he was doing. In this sacred room the killer posed Sister Margaret with her arms and legs straight; the poor nun’s underwear had been pulled all the way down, and her dress pushed way up. It was as if the murderer had tried his best not only to kill this woman, but to utterly destroy her; it’s possible he believed he was sending her soul to the lake of fire. But who in the hell would do this to a helpless elderly nun, in a hospital chapel, on the day before Easter?
Back to Father Gerald Robinson again. It quickly came to light that the Father and Sister hadn’t exactly gotten along, which had been no secret around the hospital. Matter of fact, a day or so before the murder these two had had a tiff in front of many witnesses. Father Robinson had significantly shortened a Mass, which had thoroughly ticked the “old school” nun off so badly that she challenged his authority, right there in front of God and everybody! Father Robinson, who quickly became investigators best suspect, was brought in and questioned. A sharp letter opener shaped as a sword was discovered among the priest’s belongings, and it appeared to have blood up underneath it. Police took this into evidence, but nothing ever came of any of this at the time; the priest was simply reassigned elsewhere, the case fell cold, and life went on.
The horrific murder of Sister Margaret may still be considered unsolved today were it not for a rather outlandish story. In 2003 an unnamed woman filed a lawsuit claiming that she’d recently recalled some trauma from her childhood. She remembered having been placed in a coffin filled with cockroaches, penetrated with a snake, forced to consume a human eyeball, and that she witnessed not only the torture of animals but also the murder of a toddler. Really gruesome stuff. The 41 year old claimed that she’d experienced all of this and more in various basements at the hands of Catholic priests; not just any old priest stuck out in her mind, Father Robinson had been one of her abusers! The accuser now thought it only fair that the church pay for her therapy bill, a total of $50,000. A few other women came forward, and they all claimed to have also experienced similar abuse; the matter was investigated but, considering how much time had passed, nothing ever came of this. Well, nothing except it brought the cold case of Sister Margaret front and center once again to a new batch of investigators.
Come to find out, the original investigation had been suspect from the beginning. The initial interrogation of Father Robinson had been cut short by Deputy Police Chief Ray Vetter, a devout Catholic. Reports which had been ordered turned in to Vetter had been “lost”; other investigators who had worked the case remember being outraged by the facade, and many were still fuming over it all of these years later! Finally given the chance to properly investigate this murder, police spoke to multiple witnesses who could place the priest at the scene of the crime, and Sister Margaret’s corpse was exhumed. It was determined with a decent amount of certainty that the letter opener found among the priest’s possessions had been the murder weapon, and police arrested Father Gerald Robinson.
During trial the prosecution claimed it would’ve been unlikely that anyone besides a priest, nun, or a seminarian would have possessed the knowledge to pull off this crime. The woman with the repressed memories was definitely brought up, it appears that she may have even testified against the priest. On May 11th of 2006 a jury found Father Robinson guilty of murder; the priest was sent off to prison for a 15 years to life sentence.
It seems pretty open and shut, right? Well, not quite; many are not satisfied with the verdict. While much of the evidence, be it circumstantial, does point directly at Father Robinson, it appears that the prosecution may have withheld some important things from the jury. This included unknown male DNA found beneath the Nun’s fingernails, and a report written by a FBI trained profiler named Dr. Harley Stock. According to this report, an experienced killer such as Coral Eugene Watts was likely to be the culprit, probably not a priest with an axe to grind. DNA tests were run on multiple suspects, including another priest and the aforementioned serial killer, but none were a match. When you add the missing, lost, and/or destroyed evidence, many believe that the priest caught an unfair shake; plus a lot of people don’t believe that repressed memories should’ve been heard at trial. The prosecutor has been accused of misconduct, and there was even some talk of granting the priest a new trial.
Father Robinson didn’t last too long behind bars, he passed away on the 4th of July in 2014; a heart attack took him out at the age of 76. He received a priest’s funeral service in which more than 200 people, including dozens of nuns, were in attendance; it seems that those who knew the priest did not believe him capable of the crimes. Some are still trying to clear the priest’s tarnished reputation to this very day; others believe that Father Robinson was guilty, but that he may have had a partner in crime.