Murderer - From the beginning.

"My Own Private Murderer"

      Stories of murder, murderers, and the the often questionable convictions of accused killers are all the rage.  I thought I would to take advantage of the trend to tell my story while the the interest still exists.  It will be told in several parts as it takes place over nearly a 7 year period.

All that I am about to tell you is completely true. A dramatic beginning, I know, but it pales when compared to the roller coaster of events that occurred during the years this story developed. I have told my tale to others but I think it is too long for an oral presentation in the 2 minute world we live. I’m not sure how many parts it will take to tell the whole piece, but I will do my best to keep in interesting. Please feel free to research the main participants, as I have not changed the names.

The story begins on a weekday September morning  in 1998 around 5:30 am, not unlike any other day at the store. I was the first to arrive at work as I have said in other stories, but not the first to arrive (or still be hanging around) on State Street. The sun was taking it’s time as it was a cool fall day and well past the summer solstice. 
 After we had expanded in the early years  o’Bagelo’s now occupied two storefronts. The original section had the main entrance but no accessible back door. Once we took over the new section we add dining space and a back door that led to the alley.  This was a needed addition for deliveries and for the occasional escape without customers noticing.
Once the ovens were running for a bit the back end of the store warmed up enough to be uncomfortable and I often cracked open the back door to get some fresh cool air in while the hot air escaped.  This was one of those mornings.  As I baked away and watched the news on the kitchen television, the mindless repetitive actions of baking and setting up the store were  going nicely. Nicely that is until I saw a light coming through the front door and what appeared to be some tapping on the window. 
I poked my head out of the kitchen to identify the action and saw a uniformed police officer peering into the place with work like mannerisms. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to appear at my door prior to opening. Often just a regular customer heading to work early who knew I would let them in, as long as they abided by the rules. I was working and on a tight schedule. No requests that required too much of my time, including conversation. This cop was checking the place out with a flashlight in one hand and his other hand placed on his his gun, still holstered. This was work, not a coffee run. 
As I approached the front door I realized I didn't know the cop at my door. This only increased my curiosity.  His car was parked on the street facing the wrong direction. There was another police car parked in the right direction. We quickly got acquainted and he asked me if everything was O.K. in the shop. I thought all was well and he began to tell me why he was asking. 
There was a man standing at the back door and he was peering into the small opening at the back door.  When the cops approached him they noticed he had a hammer in his hand. Although there was an elevated railroad track on the north side of the street, this was no John Henry impersonator. The strange mans’s response wouldn’t have satisfied anyone at any time of the day, let alone in a dark alley before the sun had risen. His appearance didn’t aid his argument and the police officer told me he was in the back of the police car. 
The cop told me his name and asked if we were acquainted. The name didn’t ring a bell and I said so, but he wanted me to take a look and see if I recognized him from the neighborhood. I don’t like things interrupting my morning rituals, but the reason has always been that I leave little time for distractions.  This seemed like more than a distraction. I walked with the cop to the police car that held the rude visitor at my back door and we made eye contact. If I may paraphrase a great movie “This was the beginning of a (not so) great friendship”. I make eye contact with a diverse group of people every day.  And not just casual eye contact, but discussion based contact. It’s short and informative, but there are often plenty of telling signs it each one of those interactions. This one was no different is many senses, and completely different in others. 
That September morning the face sitting in the back seat of that police car was not familiar to me. That was the last time I would ever be able to make that statement.  His eyes lacked softness and a definition of connectivity that comes with humanness. There was a direct hollow space extending from his eye sockets into the emptiness of his entire being. Somewhere between animalistic and soulless human. The rest of his tall frail body was long and stringy, covered in clothes that had been worn through more than a few long evenings in the city. Sunken cheeks highlighted facial hair that struggled to grow, and the short hair on his head appeared exhausted from the same efforts. 
It wasn’t until a later date that I learned I was looking at the effects of the powerful parasitic host called “crack”. But there was more in that face. It was a face of despair. A face of secrets, perhaps brought on by the parasite and possibly one that is evident in all of it’s hosts, but I knew I had seen this look before.

     Many years earlier I had met a man who was rumored to have been a contract killer for one of those underground organizations. I knew the rumor prior to meeting him and was skeptical about his history.  I kept an open mind about the possibility, after all, I don’t doubt their existence so they must be somewhere. 
The day I met the man of rumors I immediately ceased talking about the acts that followed him and changed his status to: “Believable in my mind”. He had the same look in his eyes, however they were surrounded with an appropriate exterior and presentation. If you could possible miss those searing soulless lasers emanating from his clean cut face, you may never have noticed. I hold onto the possibility that my judgment was clouded by the placement of derelict thoughts concerning his craft, but the cold crushing wave that pierced my body when our eyes met and we shook hands is still shoots through me when I think of him. 
Twice. I had now seen that look twice and it added to the data points making up my scientifically-lacking model. But the data was about to change. The officer told me they were going to take this “John Henry” wannabe into custody for processing and see what comes up, and I thought that was the end of it. 
At this point I still lived in a world of relative peace and ease. A world where business stress and customer behavior was an occupying force. That was all about to change. I asked the officers how they had come to be at my back door so early in morning, and out of their section, to boot. The officer at the door told me he was responding to a silent alarm that had come over the radio at this location. An office upstairs had a system in place and they were sent to investigate. This was fairly odd as there were only two offices on the upper floors, and one was my landlord. Most of the four floors were vacant and had been for many years. Recently a computer guy had put an office on the 2nd floor and since he was out of the office most of the time, he must have put installed an alarm system. Who knew?
It was about 8:15 the same morning when two plain clothes detectives came wandering into the store on the their way to the cigar shop next door. I knew the guys from their lunch appearances over the years and from a few other common local haunts. It was unusual for these two to stop by in the morning, especially asking for me when they arrived.
Detective 1: “What did you do to piss off Spahalski?” 
Detective 2: “You need to be careful. He’s a bad guy. We have been trying to get him for years.”   

This all confused me. “Who? What are you talking about?” was my response. Not because I didn’t have the penchant for pissing people off, but I couldn’t remember a recent incident that would have been brought to their attention. 
“We saw the overnight report this morning about the guy at your backdoor. His name is Robert Spahalski. He’s been on our radar for years.” This statement prompted a long historical description and threat assessment of the tall, thin, drug addicted individual at my back door at 5:30 am, wielding a hammer.
The two detectives were not unfamiliar, as I stated earlier. They were the definition of cool and calm. Dressed in classy overcoats and nice suits with a NYC cop show look about them. I wouldn’t classify either as jovial, but they both had a sly and soft humor about them. Never too serious, never too animated. I mention all this because none of those characteristics were showing during our discussion. They were serious and stern. Eyes wide open and showing concern - hopefully over my safety and not about the chance of being called into work at this location. 
Not only did the information set me back but their tone enhanced my fear. This is the story the two detectives relayed to me that morning over coffee. 

     Robert Spahalaski was a drug addicted street hustler who worked as a male prostitute some nights, and on other nights he robbed the men working in the same field.  In September of 1991, he was suspected of killing Charles Grande, a Webster man he often met in a bar, and occasionally exchanged cash for sexual favors. Spahalski was pulled over in Grande’s car a day after he was killed and told the police he was Grande, using his ID.  Charles was found dead in his home a few days later in Webster, NY, beaten to death with a hammer. 
Robert Spahalaski was a suspect but never tried for the crime. He was later convicted of impersonation and drug possession. The detectives told me they were sure he had killed Grande, and that Spahalski was a suspect in a few other murders over the years but they could never pin anything on him. 
Someone cleaning the upper floors of my building was running a vacuum cleaner in the hallway and bumped the office door of the new computer guy with the machine. As he was new to the building this was never an issue. Today was different, and I think I may owe a great deal to my new building mate. The bump of that machine, that never caused an issue in the past, now set off a silent alarm and contacted the police. Two cars came by to investigate and that started and stopped a number of incidents in my life.  With hindsight i can say that Chaos theory is much less of a “theorem” to me now.  

This is how my story starts out. An accused killer is at my back back door at 5:30 in the morning on a cool September day.  A very small mistake by an unsuspecting cleaning person with a vacuum cleaner stopped a potential ugly encounter with a drug addled male prostitute with a suspected history of violence and murder. Yielding a weapon he had used before to kill a man over $60.00, he certainly wasn’t interested in a bagel and coffee.  This would be enough to unnerve me for a longer period of time than I care to admit. Unfortunately this was not even close to the end to my encounter with my own personal serial killer. 

"My Own Private Murderer"
Part II
Over the next month things were fairly quiet in and around o’Bagelo’s. Other than watching over my shoulder and circling the store every morning a few times before I entered, all was calm and the world spun at the same rate as before.  I was, however, much more attentive each day and continually on the look out for my new "friend". The neighborhood was chock full of characters that I was familiar with, but now I was looking for my own personal murderer in the mix of suits and goofs that walked the streets. 
It was the quiet moments that were most difficult. The hustle and bustle of each day kept me distracted with work and gave me a feeling of safety through numbers. Those quiet moments that used to be mine alone were now interrupted by a fear of what might be lurking in the shadows. Time slowed down to a crawl at these moments and it felt as if they consumed and long parts of each day. Thanks for pointing that out Mr. Einstein.
I was rarely in a vulnerable position (alone or in a dark alley) so the fear wasn’t debilitating but there was a distraction that hovered over most of my daily activities.  The accusations concerning Mr. Spahalski’s murderous antics during drug and prostitution transactions were well outside my daily routine but apparently that didn’t stop him from finding me on at least one occasion. 
One of the distractions helping me forget about the fear was the increase in break-ins in the last few months.  Burglary wasn't a new problem at o’Bagelo’s as the store had been the target of mischief with a varied degree of success since before we opened.  CD’s were the most common loss as they were a  hot item in these years and apparently had enough value someplace to finance an eventing’s worth of elicit behavior. I don’t think I was ever thanked for unwittingly being the sponsor of any of those evenings. 
It is quite startling to approach the front of your business in the predawn hours only to find there had been a breach to the outer perimeter. And once again, before I have even had my coffee. On each occasion time had muted the memory of the previous violation and each time the surprise released a gushing flow of cortisol in my brain. 
The damage of each event usually amounted to more expense than the value of anything stolen, but the effects still unsettled me for at least a few days.  My former business partner taught me early on to leave the cash register open with some change in the drawer. This would stop an intruder from breaking the machine to get what was a total of a few dollars. This trick worked very well as I only had to replace the cash register once over the years. 
So the place suffered a small broken window; Wooden door hammered to shreds; Front door pried open and damaged; Wooden door in the back smashed open. Each new point of entry caused a few days of creative reinforcement,  moving the next intruder's attention to the another point of weakness. Although I didn’t like playing business defense, the offense was much more determined in their efforts. Piece by piece and section by section the options were being eliminated. 
At one point I started collecting the debris used in each attempt and each success.  I would display the items on a ledge in the store like a museum exhibit.  One morning it was a rock sent through a 2’x 8’ window.  Another morning I found a green steel street sign post leaning against my front door after it was used to pry open a gap big enough to crawl through.  A few times I found a 10 lb. gas cover from the local utility company thrown threw a window. I remember when a representative from that gas company was shopping in the store and asked me with an accusatory tone about the covers. His attitude changed quickly when I told him I was looking for someone to take ownership as they were used in a burglary attempt. He quieted down and left without the evidence. These are just a few examples of the 21 successful break-ins over my 21 years on State Street. Yes, that is a correct number, 21.  
All of this is necessary to the tale of the my murderer. In was October of 1998 and there was an unusual spot used to enter the store. I remember it well based on the location. It was a Thursday morning when I found the breach. The night before someone had mule kicked a small wooden panel on the lower part of a large old door that was not in use. It couldn’t have been much more than 2 feet wide and a foot and half in height (I will measure it for the reader). It was not secured very well and the burglar was able to crawl in and out through the opening. Bold and nimble, I thought. 
That thursday I replaced the panel and reinforced the inside with a few 2x4’s on the inside of the door. Not a pretty sight but I hoped it would hold up for a while as I worked on my new defensive tactic. The following Wednesday I found myself working later than usual. It was about 6:00 p.m. and the evening had a beautiful blue hue heading into an early fall darkness. Remember, it was October in the northeast. I looked around as I left the store and pulled out of my parking spot. After turning down Andrews street, less than a block away, it occurred to me that I had forgot something. The specific day I remember but what I went back for is lost. I drove around the block and as I pulled in front of my store I noticed a tall lanky man lurking in the same doorway that was breached exactly one week earlier. 
“AHA! I had one!” That was my initial reaction. I was going to catch one of these sons of a bitch in action. After all these years I would finally have some revenge.  First I needed to  make sure he was going to try and use the same technique and then I would put my plan into action. Exactly what that plan entailed was still not defined, but i knew it included approaching this bold derelict. I mean, come on now, it was 6:00 p.m. and there were plenty of cars on the streets even for a dark fall evening.
          All those recent break-ins increased my communication with the police department. I think they were just as tired of showing up at my store early in the morning as I was at finding out the place had been hit again. We had been working on some options including finally putting in a security system. I wasn't opposed to it but I never thought the burglars were there long enough to be caught by the system. The end result being summoned much earlier to come into work to assess the damage and start my day. The police had offered to put someone in the store overnight to help solve the problem. I refused the offer as I thought it was a waste of resources, but apparently they took great offense to my response as this was considered an excessively generous offer. An issue I did not recognize through the anxiety of fixing another hole in the store (That's yet another post). 

          My point here is that the police and I had been on edge for several months in an effort to stop the carnage of the buildings and businesses in the neighborhood. Whatever was happening was beyond an acceptable level for any of us.

I planned on driving by and parking up the street so I could make sure the guy wasn’t just loitering. I wanted to witness him trying to break the panel and call the police before I approached. With all the recent action, this might be our chance to put and end to some of the problems. 

       As I drove by I took a closer look at the man in the doorway and my plan changed pretty quickly.  Mr. Spahalski was standing in the recess of my doorway that evening, eyeing his options on my reinforced portal. 
“Son of a Bitch!” was the thought in my head, but this time with a streak of fear and a yellow tinge. I have convinced myself it was nature’s flight or fight doing battle within me and it appears flight was winning in the early rounds. I drove past the store and made a U-turn to park on the other side of the street. I called 911 as I drove (no laws against it at the time) and watched the man at my door while I waited. 
I had become naively arrogant over the years and if it was nearly anyone else at the door I would have been out of my car and in confrontation mode (most likely after I called the police, of course).  There go those cortisol levels again. The stress in my body was in full overdrive. If those two detectives hadn’t taken the time to stop by my store the morning after my initial meeting with Mr. Spahalski, the battle  in my brain would have taken a different turn, and who knows how that night would have ended.  It was dark enough that I may never have seen the horrors that lie in those eyes. 
I watched him mule kick the door a few times. A sense of pride replaced the fear for a brief moment as I realized my ad hoc carpentry was holding up to the crack induced force pounding at it’s core. That feeling didn’t last long as Mr. Spahalski spotted me across the street. I can’t be sure if he knew it was me or if he just thought someone was watching him, but he started to walk away. He wasn’t heading directly at me but he was heading in my direction on the other side of the street. He passed my car and then crossed the street behind my car. That’s when I saw the police officers pulling up to my storefront.

         The quick response was most likely do the steady stream of reports over the last few months or just a stroke of luck that the guys were nearby. I am more likely to believe  the area was a priority due to the recent activity.  In addition it was a call for an "in progress" rather than a "past tense" and we might have the answer. 

Either way, Mr. Spahalski was getting away, albeit at a slow pace, and I needed to talk to the cops. I quickly got out of my car and crossed the street to meet them. There wasn’t enough time to go into all the details so I told them a guy was trying to break into my store at the exact location of a brea-in the previous week. I pointed out the image walking down the road and one of the cops drove off after Mr. Spahalski while the other stayed with me. 
Now I had the time to go into further detail. Trying to tell a cop, or anyone for that matter, that there is a man suspected of a few murders harassing my business is a tough sell, especially in a few minutes time. I did the best I could to relay the developing story and my high level of concern over the situation. The police officer listened politely but I’m not so sure he believed me. I had given him all the names involved but he was probably too young to know all the older players on such a large police force.
The second police car returned and parked in front of my car across the street.  I thought that was going to be the end of a narrowly averted confrontation. Nope, wrong again. The cop that stood with me crossed the street to speak to the second car and then returned: 
“I need you to identify the man you saw in the doorway.”
“Okay.” I said. “How am I going to do that?” 
“He’s in the back of the police car.” He said with a causal tone. 
        Now my panic is in back in overdrive. “What!? You want me to go over there and look at this guy? Didn’t you hear what I told you about him? He’s a killer!”
       Unassuaged is probably the best way to describe his mannerism. Either based on disbelief or the ease of knowing they each had guns and badges. I, on the other hand,  knew they would be leaving before long and I would be left to fend for myself with an accused murdered in need of another fix for his drug habit.. 
After gathering myself and the manhood that had fallen to pieces on the sidewalk, I agreed to the request. We both walked over to the car and Mr. Spahalski was seated in the back directly behind the driver. As we approached the car I noticed the window was down and I could see Mr. Spahalski's  hands were cuffed behind his back. I looked at him and he stared right back at me without blinking or moving as if to intimidate me. I glanced back to the police officer and said “Yeah, that’s him. That’s the guy that was at the front door and the guy I told you about at my back door a month ago.”
At this point I have no idea what’s going to happen or what the cops can do about the situation. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the circumstances to change. Upon hearing me identity him as a someone engaged in illegal activity, Mr Spahalski looked directly at my face, squinted his drug addled eyes and through a slightly clenched jaw growled, “Paybacks, Asshole!” 
There was an awkward silence for a moment until I looked at the cop standing next to me and asked “Did he just threaten me? From the back of a police car? And in cuffs?”
Although the primary emotion going through my entire being was fear and self preservation, I honesty believe that my statements emanated with genuine surprise and confusion. It didn’t replace the fear, it just superseded it for that brief statement.
The police officer standing with me responded to my inquiry by asking Spahalski (He is no longer a Mr. to me. Once I have been threatened, you are degraded to surname only) 
Cop 1: “What did you just say?” 
Spahalski: “Nothing”
Cop 1: “Where you talking to him” said the cop pointing to me,
Spahalski: “No”
Cop 2: “Well, if you weren't talking to him, you were talking to one of us. I’m placing you under arrest for threatening a police officer.”
The cop in the car starting reading Spahalski his rights. I was stunned and frankly quite relieved. I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t be released with only an appearance ticket and at least tonight I didn’t have to worry about my store or my safety.
After Spahalski was driven away I had a conversation with the police officer about the process and my next steps.  I thanked him and asked him to thank his partner for me. Their actions to trap a would be criminal using a deductive argument from logic was certainly above my expectations. Pretty quick thinking and it put me at ease to know maybe, just maybe, these two cops were starting to place some merit in the story I had told them.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be the case for other police officers when I asked for their assistance in future encounters. 
That’s where Part III of this tale will take us. 
"My Own Private Murderer, Part III"  

      The morning after I was threatened by a suspected murderer from the back of a police car, I started asking some questions. Many of my customers were lawyers and I knew a few had experience in this specific area. Experience in county criminal court that is, not necessarily being stalked by a murderer. 

 In mostly 3 minute intervals, I was gathering as much data as was offered.  It was suggested that I get ahold of the district attorney and give him or her more details concerning Spahalski, details that may not have made it into a one or two page police report. One of my cop customers offered to look into the arrest and find out who had been assigned the case. This would save me some time chasing through the system and  perhaps I could enlighten the prosecutor and learn more about my options. 
Even with the inside line it took several days to connect with the district attorney assigned to the case.  I figured that wasn’t too bad in a overly crowded system where each lawyer isn’t granted much time to look at small cases like this one. The woman assigned to the case sounded concerned and interested in helping.  She suggested that we fill out an oder of protection to submit to the judge when the case came up on his docket.  If we can get it signed there would be some immediate recourse if Spahalski was found lurking around my store. 

This all sounded like a good idea until we talked in detail about the scope and parameters of this piece of paper. The lawyer told me that the order would be filed under my name and would include both my work and home addresses.  If he was seen within a certain distance of either place Spahalski could be arrested for violating the order. This all sounded nice and formal but frankly it didn’t put me ease one bit. 

First of all, Spahalski had no idea who I was, and by that I mean he didn’t know my name. If we filed the order as she suggested he would be told this information. Secondly, he had no way of knowing where I lived. In order for him to comply he also needed to know where not to be found lurking. Even for a criminal it doesn’t seem fair to tell someone to stay away from “X”, and then not tell them the location of “X”. So he would now learn my name and my home address. This covers most of my time each day and that was not helping my cortisol levels. 

The third concern created even more fear. What would be the overall effectiveness of the order, regardless of the information in contained? If he was the level of criminal that I had been told - on top of the criminal I knew him to be after the attempted break in - would he really give a crap about a piece of paper that told him to “stay away from X”? Doesn't seem likely. Let’s move on to the fourth concern. What’s to stop him from sneaking unseen into my home or place of work, killing me, and then leaving. All this before anyone sees him lurking around a place he isn’t supposed to be.  If you have murdered a few people in the past, have a history of drug use and engage in prostitution for income, I can’t see a “No Lurking” piece of paper changing your actions.

I asked the D.A. all of these questions and she maintained her position but admitted my points had some validity. We talked over a few other options that might meet my concerns. Panic and fear had me reaching for possibilities that would maintain whatever anonymity that remained. I asked if the order of protection could be put in the name of the business only.  Look, I was paranoid and felt quite alone in this matter.  The police were around in force during the day to accommodate the population increase of the office workers but the evenings required a different system of allocation of resources. 

The D.A. told me she had never done this before and that she wasn’t sure a judge would sign an order like this without an individual as the complainant. I convinced her to give it a try and if he refused to sign it, I would reconsider and try again with additional information. 

The courthouse was close enough to the store that many who worked there were customers and I think this may have aided my plight.  Whatever the reason, the judge signed what looks like quite a sparse order of protection for “o Bagel o”.  Granted that may not be the exact name of the business, but it was unlikely it could be confused with any other establishment..

So I had my piece of paper.  A paper that was now going to protect me from a man who has shown no respect for any laws. A man that is suspected of murder.  A heavy drug user, willing to stoop to pretty low levels to accommodate his body’s physical need to stay on those drugs. Someone who had lost control of his life to the demons swirling around within him. Someone that has given up on personal dignity and morality to feed “the beast”.  But I had my piece of paper to protect me. I was sure they would find me grasping that crumpled piece of crap as I lie strangled and hammer beaten in my kitchen. My last unheard words being “But I have an Order of Protection.”

Obviously I wasn’t swayed into comfort and complacency by the judges willingness to sign a vague order, but I was happy we used the system to start out in the right direction. The next step was to see if this had any impact on the actions of Spahalski. I had no idea how this was going to be done, but it certainly had to be the next step, provided I survived another week. 
The reality of my actions now encompassed every minute of my day. I had a murderer arrested for hanging around the front of my store. The courts issued a “stay away” piece of paper, and I undoubtedly cost him a few nights in jail. I’m guessing he wasn’t looking at the bright side of getting a few free meals in this deal.

How well this device worked was going to be directly impacted by the actions Spahalski was going to take. If he chose to challenge the court oder, I was going to need the police to help me out, and in a timely fashion.

Downtown was it’s own section in the mapping of the police department. We had several designated officers every day working a Monday through Friday shift. Other sections had a 4 - 3 schedule, four days on, 3 days off to equally cover the weekends. Being assigned the downtown section was a reward at the end of a career for many uniformed officers. Day shift with weekends off, located in the business district. Not the highest crime area around.  

There was a pretty good unwritten system for the guys working the downtown section  that I learned early on. It didn’t look good to the community to have more than 2 uniformed officers sitting in one retail place at the same time.  I overheard several territorial conversations in my store when too many guys from the same section found themselves at o’Bagelo’s. When I asked a few of the them they were kind enough to let me in on the program. 
One of the downtown guys frequented o’Bagelo’s every morning at the same time, just after roll call.  At first, Sam liked to sit at my table in the front room. My table was closest to the cash register and the counter. I think he did this to get his coffee refill quicker and to keep a better eye on the place. After a while a few too many customers were greeting him and interrupting his peace. Eventually he moved to the side room in the back corner. 

 Sam was quiet and wanted to be left alone for a short period of time before he started his day of keeping  downtown workers safe. Because he showed up pretty early, Sam had laid claim to the my little bagel shop. Other officers still stopped in and hung around but if you were a downtown beat cop working days, this wasn’t going to be your regular spot until Sam had left. The same rules applied to places other officers laid claim to for certain parts of their day.  Spread out the positive public perception and limit the negative implications of seeing many officers sitting around drinking coffee was the general rule.
Sam moonlighted in the school district I attended and my father worked as a principal, when this was still acceptable behavior.  My father moved around to the troubled schools and the need and use of the extra forces was part of his system to straighten out the problems. Sam knew my father well and they were natural allies.  I think this gave me more credibility with a man who presented politely but held a deep suspicion of most others. 
His demeanor was that of a man who worked under a set of rules his entire life and now found those rules to be unacceptable by management and often society as a whole.  Faced with the choice of challenging the tenants and building blocks of everything he knew,  he found solace in a smile that caged the disparity of the world he confronted and the one he knew. 
He also wore the scars of a department that had gone through a rough transition period  mimicking his personal battle and affecting the whole department. The problems created a strong line of “us” and “them” among his peers. The war may have been over but you can see the remnants of a “Blue vs. Gray” civil war that still unsettled both sides. 

It took some time and I am certain a little vetting on Sam’s part, but we had become trusted allies and maybe on the road to becoming friends. He started sharing some of his views with me on the war inside the department and who had fallen on which side. There was still a hesitant demeanor about his actions and I don’t think he ever let the wall completely down. 

It took a few weeks for me to spot Spahalksi walking around my neighborhood but he eventually emerged. What startled me was his appearance during the day. The first time I saw him he was walking down the sidewalk just after the lunch hour, across the street. I could see him from behind my counter and I watched as he eyeballed my store. Shivers, fear, panic: You name it, it was happening. The difference this time was my response. I was silent about his appearance primarily because I didn’t want to alarm my customers or my employees.  Not to mention my staff consisted of a cousin whose mother and father would not be all too happy to learn about these recent developments. They already had their concerns about their eldest daughter working in the area (and with me). 
I watched him walk by that first day and went about my business trying to contain all that was going on inside me.  A petrified business owner was not going to project good vibes for my customers. The first incident came and went, and the only impact was on my mental well being. If there was any time that the fear of being stalked by a murderer and then poking him with a  “Order of Protection” stick dissipated, if was back in full force now.

It wasn’t just his appearance but my response that had me concerned. Was I now just going to hide in my store every time he passed? Is this the cave of fear I have designed for my daily life? I had no desire to step up the pressure but I was certain that my position could not end with a piece of paper and ducking behind the 10 foot glass windows of my store. 
It took another week for Spahalski to appear again.  Same M.O. on his part but I knew I had to change my response. The line at the counter wasn’t short but the staff on hand could handle the activity. Scraping the bottom of the barrel of my manhood I headed for the front door. The weather was still reasonable and I had the tables and chairs on the sidewalk for customers. They were only used on the days that the sun chose to shine and the temperature reached to claim the remnants of the season. This was not one of those days and it was empty on the streets. Details and memory are much clearer when anxiety or fear activate the brain to be on high alert. 

I tried to walk with a calm yet purposeful demeanor toward the front door and not show my worry.  Although it wasn’t warm enough to dine “al fresco”, it was warm enough to leave the front door open to let in some cool fresh air. I kept my head up and my eyes focused on the image across the street. I didn't want to appear aggressive nor did I want want to seem overly passive. Calm and confident was my goal. I have no idea what anyone else saw in me at that moment. I walked through the door and stopped at the edge of the sidewalk. I put my hands on my hips and slowly looked around the neighborhood to take in my surroundings. When my eyes landed on Spahalski I stopped. He looked right at me and maintained eye contact as he walked down the street. A good old fashioned starring contest, except it wasn’t between two 10 year old boys on the playground. 

Neither of us made any other motions or gestures and he maintained his gait. I was standing my ground to protect my little storefront and Spahalski was testing the boundaries of our latest interactions and I assume the depth of my commitment. He was well passed me when he finally let his gaze stray from my eyes.  His pace was constant and he kept on his path to whatever his destination. I waited a few minutes to both wallow in my small victory that day and to be sure that he saw me silently planting the victory flag.  

That day I controlled the hill in this ongoing battle and eventually returned inside to go about my business. Relief and a small sense of pride took over and the reality of the situation took a back seat to those emotions. The war was not over nor would this be the last time I had to defend my position as king of my hill.  I would have to fight this battle every week and my responsibility to this war was going to be continual. 

This gamesmanship went on for months. I would catch eye of Spahalski in the neighborhood and he would catch eye of me, eyeing him. The stare downs lasted for the next several weeks until I felt that we had established protocol. After that I would let the occasional appearance go by without notice, but I didn’t want that to become a habit either. 

This may be what started his corner-cutting behavior that sparked my next piece of action. On a few occasions I saw Spahalski coming down the sidewalk on my side of the street and then crossing just before he hit the windows of my storefront, and then crossing back once he passed the place. A clear challenge to my ownership of the hill in my paranoid mind. It was only a matter of time before he just walked by the door on my side of the street without concern. The thought of this was elevating my anxiety. 

From the beginning I had told Sam about my interactions with Spahalski. My emotional  state identified my level of concern.  Sam, however, cared not for my issues and he gave no credibility to the stories or the information being passed on to me from his colleagues.  As a matter of fact each time I had a new problem with this man and informed him the next day, it was one of the few times he smiled. Not only did he completely disregard my fear and pooh-pooh the idea of this man having killed anyone, it diminished his opinion of me. All of this I had learned to read in his face, not to mention the occasional words of derision he used to exemplify his point.

Sam’s actions didn’t make me feel any better about my little piece of paper as it required a certain amount of participation from the police to have any effect. Was this going to be the response from the other officers working downtown? Was it part of the great divide created by the problems on the force that were before my time?  Either way I was not comforted or happy about his reactions. 

Despite Sam’s response I asked him about enforcing my order of protection. I wanted to know what would be done by a officer if presented with a judicial order and the appearance of the man named on the paper.  His gave me the rundown on the procedure with little interest in helping me out. I tried to remind him that the service in his morning coffee shop would be severely altered if I was dead on the sidewalk one morning, but he maintained his disbelief. “He could be arrested for violating the order, but he is walking across the street.” That was Sam’s response. 

I wanted to know if we could test the order by following through with this idea and then let a judge decide what additional parameters constituted a violation. Sam wanted no part of this and he clearly made his opinion of my cowardice known. He wasn’t going to challenge the order or the man just walking down the street. 

His answers did not appease my fears or my motivation. A few weeks later I ran into another officer I have known for several years in a local pub. I gave him the same account of my recent plight while we had a beer and he seemed much more concerned. He told me he would look into the matter and keep and eye on the situation. I knew Terry had moved up the ladder in the police department and that might be why I wanted his opinion. What I did not know was that he was now in charge of the downtown section patrol guys.  In the midst of my fear laced complaining I had mentioned my conversations with Sam and his unexpected responses.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days from anyone and oddly I hadn’t seen Sam in the mornings. Nothing came together until later in the week when Sam walked in well past his usual hour. He had one of those metal enclosed clipboards in his hand and he looked serious. Not putting the scenario together I asked him if wanted some coffee. He declined and started directly with his questions about my concern over a man that was giving me cause for worry.

The tone he took was that of a man who didn’t know me from Adam. Sam was professional and curt. He was responding to a complaint by a citizen and filling out a from from his board. No sense of recognition, no sense of a personal relationship with me. I was confused and answered his first few questions but then asked him what was going on. He kept reading from a list on the form without responding to my inquires. 
The reality of the situation finally penetrated my dense outer layer and the air let out of my sails quickly. I apologized but there was no change in his demeanor or his questions. I kept explaining between providing answers to his questions. Nothing.  I tried to defend my position of wanting to stay alive.  Nothing.  I went on the offense and things did not get better. “You didn’t want to do anything about this so when I ran into Terry I asked him for an opinion and some help.” 

I didn’t know Terry was Sam’s boss when this all started. I had no idea there was some bad blood between them. I later learned that Terry confronted Sam about his disregard over my inquiries. It was not a pleasant interaction and it ended with Terry ordering Sam to follow through on my request.  Unfortunately this would not be the last time I pissed off a police officer in the process of protecting my store. 

Sam finished his report and walked out of my store. I never saw him again. Not for coffee or anything else. I had offended him by inadvertently going over his head and probably crossing the line created by old wounds in the department. Now I was left without one of the protection systems that had helped me get through each day being hounded by a man with a penchant for revenge and for murder.

Next time I will introduce two more characters (and friends) as I search for more help in my battle. 
Below is the Order of Protection that was issued in court after Spahalski was arrested for threatening a police officer, and harassing me and my store.  

My own Private Murderer, Part IV

     The “walk by” battles with Spahalski went on for the next several years. Somehow I had entered into an involuntary war with a murderer; a war only recognized by the two of us and whose existence was doubted by most others. Many were skeptical, some were uncertain, including those on the police force.  There were a few believers and occasionally one would assist in my travail.  Terry was an officer that was willing to help and after the debacle with Sam, I was in need of additional assistance.  Whether is was through guilt or general concern, Terry was my away team in the police department reporting on the enemies movements.

Spahalski’s criminal activity was not limited to my business. His demons required him to be more opportunistic. In addition to his occasional murderous rant, he engaged in menacing on a regular basis: theft, burglary, etc. Terry was kind enough to keep me informed of Spahalski arrests, court appearances, and the ensuing outcomes.  On a good day Terry might stop in to tell me about a 3 month reprieve in my war as Spahalski was sentenced for his latest escapade.  On a bad day I was informed of his pending release date and the resumption of our feud.  

I don’t recall each incident but it certainly ranged about 4- 6 months every 2 years. As a reminder to those following this saga, the war was a 7 year battle. The eventual normalization of having this guy as a factor in my life didn’t lessen the relief I felt each time Spahalski went away for a while. I could feel my blood pressure lower when I received that wonderful phone call as much as I could feel the anxiety raise it when he was released. 

          There are two multipart stories that I have been posting and both require the introduction of a few more characters (individuals) to best understand the gestalt of each tale. The story of my health and the ongoing battle with Spahalski both benefit from a better understanding of my relationships with these friends. This is the beginning of how those people entered my life and the role they play in each story.  I will set up their existence and continue with each piece as necessary. If you can bear with me, the advantage of having a better understanding of these people will aid in the flow of all that has transpired. 


     It was that winter of 2001 when Michael walked into my store for the first time.  Everything about his aura told me we were going to be friends. By now this has happened to me on enough occasions that I no longer doubted the energy in the air. He walked in the store with a quiet confidence that was rarely disputed. He absorbed the surroundings quickly, and picked up small details. I later learned that he can do that anywhere. Michael quickly figured out his environment, including the best time of day to experience the benefits of my neighborhood place and how to limit the negatives of a downtown lunch spot.

      It didn’t take long for this became Michael’s regular place. Somedays for lunch and other days a coffee in the morning. At lunch he sauntered in casually around 1:00 p.m. and within a few visits started joining me at my table, soon to be designated as our table for the hour.  Don’t undervalue the idea of being invited to my table. I have removed many people over the years from that space, sometimes with only a brief slighting, often with the end result of never seeing them again. 

     Michael was about 65 years old when he first started coming to o’Bagelo’s and a group of us recently celebrated his 80 birthday at a local steakhouse. He is a big man and his soft, yet prominent presence is felt by anyone that meets him. Shake hands with Michael and you will grip the largest set of hands you have ever seen.  It is part of a first impression that includes his well-dressed appearance from an old Italian city neighborhood. Nothing overly ostentatious or fashionable but always appropriate and professional. But none of this is what sticks with you. 

     It’s his aura. Patriarchal in many senses of the word. A worldly intelligence that only increases with each conversation. Never once in fifteen years have I ever heard a boastful or condescending sentiment come out of him. Sage like criticism perhaps, but with a tone of acceptance of each person’s humanity.  He is well versed in Latin, history, opera, literature and theater. He could tell you about restaurants and speak-easys in most of the big cities across the country from first-hand experience. He can just as easily quote from the seasons offerings of Shakespeare at Stratford as the craziness from some barroom sot.  If for some reason he didn’t know anyone when he arrived some place, he knew most before he left. 

     Michael looked at everyone as though they had something to offer and he always listened. Your past or education didn’t matter, people always felt accepted. I have never seen him flustered even in the craziest of situations. A hearty laugh and a suggested path for the future, but never a judgmental attitude about the past. 

     By early spring my friendship with Michael was well-established.  This is when another member of the office reluctantly strode into o’Bagelo’s with him. The new guy had injured his foot and a cast made it difficult to walk the snowy streets of winter. But as the weather started to break, Joe was healing and the streets were clearing. 

     When Joe started joining Michael for lunch it was apparent he wasn’t going to break the newly developed bond, regardless of effort or concern. Frankly I’m not so sure he could have done this even if he had started out with Michael on day one. Michael makes up his own mind. At first Joe challenged my authority on everything.  Food, the place, the neighborhood, and even my relationship with his mentor. Everything. Come to think of it, he still challenges everything I say, but now it is after many years of friendship and countless adventures.   

     I like to say suspicious was Joe’s first sentiment towards me. How could this friendship have happened without him? Who was this bakery guy that had developed a kinship with the man affectionately known as “Big Daddy”? And without his approval? When Joe was finally able to check out this situation he did so with great concern and with a protectionist attitude toward Michael, although none was ever needed. Michael rarely made a poor judgment call on anyone he encountered.  

     So now the two of them (and sometimes three when Michael’s son was downtown) were coming in for lunch or some other need on a regular basis. In addition, I started to see Joe in places after work. It seems we both found the same city bars acceptable to have a few drinks. It was in these places that we realized we had many friends in common.

     One of these friends was Randy, a police officer in the city. Randy had worked his way up the detective ladder over the years and for as long as I have known him he was with homicide. Once he landed there, that’s where he stayed.  He was even featured in a few of those T.V. cop shows that follow the path of specific crimes in certain cities. Randy grew up in the city he patrolled, and might have the most diverse connections in and around town. He is a regular everywhere, and not just in the city; clothing stores, bars, collectibles shops.  His ability to establish and maintain relationships is as powerful as Michael’s, yet entirely different.

     There is a dichotomy with Joe and Randy that extends beyond the work environment. Randy works on finding and prosecuting criminal activities and Joe works on defending the people accused. On many occasions Joe has cross examined Randy in court and somehow they have still remained friends.  The after effects aren’t always pretty but they are always entertaining. 

     Their personalities mirror a similar dichotomy. People are drawn to Joe the minute he enters a room.  There is no avoiding his presence. Nearly everyone in the room looks to get a few minutes of his time and he almost always obliges.  One of the great qualities inherent in his persona is one that I have tried to teach my employees over the years. “If you want to continue a conversation with someone, talk about the other person. If you want to end a conversation, talk about yourself.” I have had varying degrees of success imparting such great wisdom, especially when working with young women. As they get attention without much effort, they don’t take my advice to heart. It is my hope they will remember my advice when they are not so young, if it’s not too late.

     This may be one of Joe’s a priori characteristics, but if not, he had ample opportunity to learn from Michael. I consider both men experts at conversational stickiness. No matter how hard the other party may try to move away from talking about themselves, they are always distracted by the adhesive power of the talents of Joe or Michael. The conversation always focuses on the persons Michael or Joe has engaged.  Sticky. 

     When given the opportunity to talk to either Michael or Joe you will walk away thinking “He is so interesting, and wonderful,” even though all you did was talk about yourself, and really, you had no choice in the matter. Genius. It is a marvel of social behavior to watch Michael or Joe work a room or an individual.

     Randy isn’t invisible by any means but he has a conversational style that can be confusing to some, and just as remarkable for his profession. The first thing you notice is that he is scanning the room for part of a sentence, or even for a few of them. He enters a room and assess his environment. Who’s in the room and what is everyone doing. Just when you think he is being rude or inconsiderate, he zeros in on your eyes and his full attention is on you. He can push you right to the edge of annoyance, and then reach out at the exact moment you might fall away and grab hold of your attention. He smiles a great charming apologetic grin as to acknowledge that he is aware of what he did without uttering a word about it. 

     There is a 1970’s smoothness to Randy's style. A kind of hip older detective without the harshness of force one might associate with a cop from that era. Somehow he can move around in just about any environment and look completely comfortable, like he belongs wherever he has landed. Clothed like he cares about his appearance with an end result that looks like it wasn’t much effort. Not an easy task. 

     I will tell one Randy story that epitomizes all of his swagger and effectiveness. During the Jazz Fest in our city we were hanging out at one of our local places. The other members of our group had gone on to different shows and it was just the two of us.  We had decided to go to a show at a new venue, one neither of us had been to. I was holding a schedule in my hand and we headed over to the small concert hall on the side of the Eastman Theater. We both knew who we were going to see as we left the bar but half way there he asked me “Is this the way to where ‘Guy X’ is playing?” I told him yes, and that I had walked by the place for the early show but decided to wait for the later one. 

     As we approached the venue there was a long line waiting to get in the show, a show that had already begun. I stopped at the end of the line. Randy paused and slowly sauntered up a bit towards the door. He did his usual scanning of the situation and then asked a couple in line if they were waiting to see “Guy X”. They smiled and pleasantly responded in the affirmative. The smile could have been the suburban excitement of talking to an older black man about Jazz in the city, but let’s just leave it at a pleasant smile and nod.  

     Randy smiled back at them and repeated the response and Guy X’s name as to confirm what they said in a nice police verification style. I overheard all of this. As he walked back towards me he then asked the same question to another man that had walked up behind me in line.  Randy never asks with an accusatory tone but rather a polite informational request with a confused undertone. His repeated request for verification isn’t noticeable unless you are with him for more than five minutes. 

     Finally I looked at him with disbelief and said “Do you really need to ask 5 different people the same question that I, your friend holding a schedule, just told you five minutes ago?” He just smiled and smoothly laughed it off. This is Randy in a nutshell. Repetitive to a point that one barely notices that he is using a technique that has served him well as an investigator.  Acting like he didn’t hear or notice your response, and then asking the same question again without sounding accusatory.  Always looking for inconsistencies in the answers. I’m sure this has worked for him over the years, intended or not.

     Randy easily finds his way into people’s hearts and it may only feel like it takes some time since he so often travels with “Instantaneous Joe”. There is another difference between these two characters that is worth pointing out. Randy is a great mediator. His calm and non-confrontational demeanor has both aided and failed us on a few occasions. He can bring down a tense situation quickly. Joe’s profession brings him to a confrontational point of a discussion just as quickly as others are drawn to him. This can be as innocent as a disagreement over subjective issues to the more formal identification of a social injustice. Behaviors are rarely going to be swept under any carpet with Joe. While Randy will look to avoid tense interactions, Joe uses one hand to lift the carpet and the other to point out the mess someone is trying to sweep under it.  Crap that someone has tried to conceal with poorly constructed arguments or ridiculous statements are considered fuel to Joe.  

     It’s really entertaining to watch, and personally, even better when I am the target. We have rehashed several points over the years and sometimes it is just good mental exercise for both of us. 

     Somehow I have been invited into this group and the extended members it includes.  Even though I don’t have as much history as most of the guys in the group, I have never felt anything other than welcome. We drink together, dine together, travel together, and often commiserate about life’s hurdlers together. The point here is that the people I have introduced in this section are important members of my social circle and to several stories. All of this prophesying will not be for naught, I promise.  

      Let’s get back to the Spahalski story and his perditious path.  After his court appearance that left me with a personal protection device for one year, Spahalski’s travels brought him by o’Bagelo’s at least every other week while he was not incarcerated for any of his other menacing behaviors. I had eventually found the courage to stand outside my store like a guard on duty and follow his actions with my eyes as he made his way down the road. 

The police were kind enough to let me know when he was sentenced for his latest antics and then when he debt was paid. Not that I needed too much lead time as I was pretty sure his weekly walks downtown during the day were a requirement to check in with probation. Their offices were close to Main street and I was pretty sure Spahalski was still living on the north side of the city and his required visits brought him past my store. 

A few months in and a few months out. This was the pattern for the next 6 years. During that time I had stopped talking about the earlier incidents for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to scare my customers or any employees. Business was tough enough without concerning others about the crazies in the neighborhood. Staff and customers needed to believe that I was going to be the first line of defense in anything that violated a comfortable environment to get a bite to eat. Any interruption of that impression could be harmful.

Secondly, as more time passed and I was still alive, people were less inclined to take seriously the impact of the threat. It had been a few years since all the real action had taken place. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe Sam the cop was right.  Perhaps the only real threat to my life existed in my imagination.  I certainly didn’t believe any of that but I was certain others felt that way when I occasionally rambled on about the interactions. 

I still made the effort to walk outside an eyeball the passerby whom I knew to have taken a life. A passerby found ready to barge into a back door left ajar at 5:30 am, hammer in hand and a deviant desire in his psyche.  A man caught breaking into my store weeks later, then threatening me from the back of a police car when apprehended. I watched him. Each time he passed my store for the next six years. 

In the seventh year nothing looked like it was going to change. It was November of 2005 and the weather was cooperating for the end the season. I saw an mounted officer approach the store on his horse as he did often.  He stopped by for a cookie to take on his travels and a carrot or two for his horse. Sometimes I took care of the sidewalk delivery and other times I let the staff get a break from the bipeds barking at the counter. 

Today was my day. I walked out the door with the usual treats for both of them. The horse ate his snack immediately from my hand and his rider pocketed the cookie for later. I hung out for a few minutes catching up on the days news and watching for falling debris from the four legged officer. It was a regular occurrence to have a few of the mounted officers pass by the store from the barn to monitor downtown and leave a little reminder of their existence. Some of the guys would try to manage the situation themselves but as long as it wasn’t noon, we made use of the shovel in the back room designated to handle the mess.   

It was a clear day and we were all enjoying the last few warm days of the season. That was until I noticed Spahalski heading towards the three of us on a bicycle.  Not only was the mode of transpiration an odd site but he had a companion with him as well. He and a woman, both on bikes, riding down the sidewalk, heading out of downtown on my side of the street. 

The police officer and his horse had their backs to Spahalski and his companion but I quickly informed him of the oncoming duo. The rider looked back to check out the pair, the horse remained uninterested. This particular cop knew my story well and although he may not have completely felt the threat, he didn’t dismiss it entirely either. He wanted his cookies and sidewalk service so it was in his best interest over the years to at least act concerned. 

The pair on the bikes stopped a few storefronts before o’Bagelo’s. This was getting stranger by the minute. They paused and were staring at the back end of the horse and at me. I could tell they were having a quick discussion about what had prompted their delay as the woman looked confused. They both got off their bikes and started walking into the street and heading in our direction. This time he didn’t bother to cross the street but traipsed by myself, the cop, and the carrot chomping horse.

I’m not sure what alleviated my concerns about the situation more, the rider with a gun or the horse in his command. If you have never seen a well trained police horse use his size and strength to detain a menacing suspect, you are missing out on a great force and talent. It is amazing how well they can deescalate the most violent of assholes.  

Either way, it wasn’t fear or anxiety that prevailed at the moment. Shock and surprise were at the forefront. What was this guy doing? Granted, the order of protection had expired years ago but I was standing with a cop. This was the first time in years that he has made any type of aggressive stance or statement. What’s going through his mind? 

So Spahalski and companion walk right past us with their bikes in hand in the middle of the lane of a busy street. When they get to the next intersection they return to the sidewalk and pause again. Before they get back on their bikes they are eyeballing us and pointing as their conversation continued. A minute later the two of them get back on their bikes and ride on down the road. I looked at my cop friend with great confusion and as he just peered at them with the standard cop stare. I’m sure you have seen the look. It’s an investigative look without concern for being seen by either the person being watched or anyone else that may be watching them. 

As the two bike riders faded into the curves of the street, the three us left standing on the  sidewalk went about our day. The cop and his horse heading into the city, and I back into my store. For some reason this interaction didn’t unnerve me as much as it had in the pass. Maybe it was the remaining deference Spahalski showed as he altered his path in my presence. Maybe it was being seen socializing with a police officer. Maybe the years of relative calm had made me callous to the idea of being threatened by the likes of him. It was something, but I wasn’t sure it was anything helpful or positive. 

The story from here on out is all verifiable using several different sources. It is often hard to believe, but it is all very true. Some pieces of the story will not be found as I have had some inside lines to the process and interactions. 

The following day Robert Spahalski walked into the Rochester Police headquarters and approached the front desk. A uniformed cop asked how she could help, just like you see on the T.V. shows.  Sphalski asked to speak to a homicide detective. The gatekeeper asked what this in reference to and if possibly she could help him out. 
I can’t be certain but from the telling of the story from other cops, the officer on duty was doing her duty as a triage agent of the walk-ins. Spahalski told her that he just killed a woman and repeated his request to talk to a homicide investigator. Now the cop may have been more interested in the man that stood before him but I understand it had more to do with his sanity than his proclaimed actions. “Let me see if I can find someone to help you out.” As she got on the phone to convince one of the guys to come talk to the nutcase in front of her,  a homicide  detective was walking into the building. The desk cop hailed him down and asked him to take over the discussion. 

This is the beginning of a chapter in this story that has been documented by many other media outlets, including books, T.V. shows, and newspapers. I am going to do my part to describe the next set of events using all the connections that I have alluded to in the past. Coincidence, Karma, Connectivity, or some combination, it’s up to the reader to decide.

Next up: The Interview

My Own Private Murderer, Part V

The Interview

      Robert Spahalski walked into the police station on November 8, 2005 and approached the front desk in the public safety building. The woman behind the desk asked if she could help him. After a few hesitant statements he told her he wanted to talk to a homicide detective.  When the officer at the desk inquired what it was regarding, and  perhaps she could be of assistance, he was quick to respond a curt, “No, I killed a woman, and I want to talk to a homicide detective.”  Before she could call upstairs to the fourth floor to appease his request, she spotted one of the detectives from the department walking into the building.  

       The uniformed officer at the desk flagged down the homicide detective heading into the office for the day.  She was able to quickly hand off the man with extravagant claims standing in front of her.  Glenn, the detective heading in for the day, is tall, blonde, and usually tan. He has broad shoulders with an athletic build. He wears a pleasant smile that attempts to projects a courteous nature which hides the brewing contempt that often comes with time on the job. Glenn looks a little like a well dressed, updated version of a California beach kid from the sixties. A Ken Doll, maybe. He must have some Nordic or German ancestry, or he is the product of some Land's End models.

      Spahalski, on the other hand, has just come off a few nights of boozing, drugs, and if we can believe his statements to the desk clerk, a murderous rampage. He hasn’t changed his clothes in a few days and his blood shot eyes are starting to match the blood stains on his disheveled shirt. Standing 6’ 2”, thin, wiry, and a gate that represents his lanky looks. His face is gaunt and the closely cropped hair that still exists on his head appears weary.  Spahalski  wore his time on this earth poorly. Quite a pair walking up to the offices of major crimes that day. 

      As Glenn and Spahalski headed up to the fourth floor, the tattered man repeated the claims he made to the desk clerk, but not much more.  Spahalski did add that he had killed a woman a few nights ago.  Having never worked as a police officer I can’t say what might be going through Glenn’s mind as this polar opposite of his being was spinning his tale. I am willing to bet that disbelief was first and foremost, and that he probably figured he would end up handing this one off for a Mental Health Arrest. 

       The homicide division has several two person teams and each team rotates being on call. When a homicide is suspected or confirmed the on-call team is assigned the case. They can pass it on if there are some issues, but it’s like having a right to first refusal. This usually occurs if there is an unusual number of cases that pop up during an on call session or if one of the cases has a large number of fatalities. Glenn wasn’t on call that day but a confession on the way up to the office made him interested in keeping a hold of this case if his Dionysian counterpart was telling the truth.  A case solved before he made it to his desk for the morning.  Good start for the day and very good for the stats. 

      When Glenn arrived upstairs with his companion he passed on the information to the scheduling Sergeant on duty. That's when he was told that the case should go to the on call team. Over the years, I had learned about the workings of the department from the guys through o’Bagelo’s.  My perspective is that competition in the department is a common factor and there is usually one department that is in the highest demand. Which department that is changes over time, but homicide seems to be the most desired these days. It could be all the current T.V. shows dedicated to murder, just like vice was a hot T.V. subject in the 1980’s. Whichever department is the top of the ladder for detectives,  maintaining your job at the top requires continued success. There are plenty of guys on the force looking to take over if any one of them isn’t keeping up. In addition to outsiders, there is pride between the teams to be the most successful. Think “Top Gun” here.  Everyone in the department wants to be Maverick or Iceman, depending on their abilities and personality. Others are chomping at the bit hoping to just get invited to compete in the program.     

      Having walked this guy up the stairs and started the conversation, Glenn wanted a piece of this case. The on-call team, however, wasn’t giving up their claim easily.  Spahalski was sparse with the information on the walk up and the detectives still needed to verify his outlandish claims. At this point, no one in the office knows what they’re dealing with or who it is that just walked into their lives. Was he some wing nut needing attention? A delusional street guy needing a place to sleep for the night? Was he avoiding a drug supplier that he owed money? Or maybe a wandering schizophrenic who spent the night in an alternate dimension? With all the possibilities, murderer may not have been off the table but was probably less likely. 

      The supervising detective decided that half of the on call team would head out to the address where Spahalski claimed to have murdered a woman and the other half with go into the interview room with Glenn. Sounds like good management here or possibly avoidance of an ego showdown. Either way, all parties went along with the plan. 

      It just so happens that my friend Randy (Mr. ’70’s cool or “Randy Three Times” from the previous post) and his partner were the on call detectives that day. Smooth talking, oft distracted, repetitive as an asset, Randy. As the senior member of the duo he stayed to talk to Spahalski while his partner went to the alleged location of the crime. They really couldn't properly assess the nightcrawler with extravagant claims without investigating the scene for evidence. Blood, drugs, signs of a struggle, DNA; there had to be something to verify the story.  If you watch enough Law & Order (like most people), you know this could be just a scavenger hunt by a crazed man meant to annoy the police.  He may just want to play some mind games, trying to show off how much smarter he is. It could just be a madman’s entertainment. Who knows at this point. 

      When the call came in from Randy’s partner things started to get interesting. All those other pieces of evidence were unnecessary and the idea of wasting time chasing imaginary ghosts of the insane were now moot. He had found a body. It was exactly where Spahalski told them to look. The limited details he gave the detectives about the scene matched perfectly. Vivian Irizarry’s body was found in the basement of her home, beaten and strangled with a lamp chord.  A woman Robert Spahalski called his best friend. 

      Randy returned to the interrogation room and told Glenn that they had confirmed the location and the existence of a body.  He asked Spahalski to repeat the details of what transpired and Glenn wrote it down to get all the details straight. Spahalski didn’t want to give up much more information and told them as much. “I told you I did it, and where to find the body. That’s all you need to know.” Throughout his narrative about killing Vivian Irizarry, Spahalski often started rambling in different directions. “I could tell some stuff, man, I did some shit in my life.” They needed to keep his mind on the task at hand so they kept bringing him back to the subject of the confession.

     As I have mentioned Randy has a unique style about his interactions. He in not the “Bad Cop”, and not quite the “Good Cop” ether.  His approach was like it is with any other interaction. I think that’s what makes it so believable and successful. He didn’t try to fight with Spahalski. He nods his head and said “Ok, Ok, I’m sure you have done lots of shit, but let’s finish with what happened between you and Vivian.” 

      This is the effectiveness of Randy. The next thing he does is start asking questions without any overtones, like he just walked into the room. Aloof, forgetful, and with no attitude whatsoever.  Like someone who wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear most of what had just come out of Spahalki’s mouth minutes ago. He agrees with him, and then asks anyway.  

Even though Spahalski was rambling, he was still a little short on the information Randy was looking for. “So, How did you know this woman?” No answer. “Why’d you kill her?”  “There must have been a reason? C’mon, you can tell me. You have already admitted to killing her, it’s no big deal to tell me more about her.” 

      Spahalski was adamant. He wasn’t giving up any more details and he went on rambling about the life he lived in general. A conciliatory bragging about his past. When Randy tried to bring him back, Spahalski would get a little agitated. “OK, OK, that’s fine, you don’t have to say anything.” He let a minute pass in silence. And then he started in again as if they hadn’t just had the same conversation. “So how’d you say you knew that girl?”   Spahalski started to get a little more agitated and went on rambling about the things he could tell them but said they had enough information. “You guys are trying to trick me. You trying to trick me like those Webster cops did. You're not going to trick me.” 

      This sparked Randy’s curiosity, and without acting surprised or concerned about this new part of the dialogue he continued his questioning. “Webster cops? What happened in Webster? Did you talk to those guys already?” Spahalski started rambling again. “Those guys tried to trick me, just like you are trying to do. Trying to get me to admit to something I didn’t do. Just like the Webster cops.” Randy calmed him a bit before he started again. “What happened in Webster?” Spahalski respond that they had tried to pin a murder on him out there. “They tried to trick me.”

  Glenn finished up the confession and asked Spahalski to read and sign it. A relief for everyone in the room. A criminal confesses in hopes of atonement and the two cops in the room have closed a case. The tension in the room was de-escalating, and a calm started rolling in like a morning fog. 
The day could be done here and the reports could be written. But Randy sensed something in those tirades between useful facts of the last hours of Vivian Irizarry’s life. 

The first issue was his last ramble about Webster cops and someone trying to trick him.  He tried to ask about  Webster again but Spahalski was shutting down. He was either coming down from a confessional high or from his drug addled few days. He was getting irritated again and Randy calmed him and diverted the conversation, asking him if wanted a cigarette or a drink.

     This was a rare situation and the buzz in the department was swirling. Everyone was interested in the goings on that day. Randy decided to try again. With his calm, mediator style tone, and half a smile he looked at Spahalski. “Look, why don’t you tell me what happened in Webster? You have already admitted to the girl, so it’s no big deal here. What happened out there?” 

      I know Randy and how he interacts with people. I’m sure he put himself on the same level as the man on the other side of the table and made it sound like they were just two guys having a beer after work. His soft speech and leveling demeanor can make anyone feel comfortable.  Given enough time Spahalski’s defense mechanisms started to melt and his trust in Randy appeared to be growing. That comfort level allowed Randy to chip away at the locked door holding in the demons looking for an opportunity to escape. Randy could see it in him and provided the voice that eased the door open to a closet full of skeletons from a long, difficult life.

      Spahalski started talking. Slowly and with a tone that indicated he believed he held the moral high ground, he told Randy the story of a summer evening that went awry.  Randy listened without expression, nodding and agreeing with him. Rather than act surprised and shocked as the tale unfolded, Randy walked with him as a loyal friend while they approached unspeakable acts and criminal behavior.  He supported the indignant perceptions as he rationalized his responses to being slighted that night in Webster. He empathized with him as Spahalski explained how it ended with the same demeanor as a guy complaining about his boss. 

      “I knew this guy Charles. We used to hook up once in a while. I met him on State Street when he was looking for some fun. He used to take me back to his place in Webster once in a while. Look, I was on drugs and needed the money. I didn’t care. I needed the money.” He explained his actions without overly justifying. He had a tone suggesting he had come to terms with his lifestyle and his actions, but knowing that others might not understand. 

      “So this one night, after, he doesn’t want to pay me all the money. I mean, he was trying to short me! He wouldn’t give me the $60 and I got really pissed. I lost it. I saw a hammer and grabbed it. Hit him right on the head with it. He was done. I knew it. I took his wallet and his keys. I turned up the heat in the place to confuse the cops and took off in his car.”

      Randy tells me on the outside he is acting calm and supportive of Spahalski's statements and actions. “What a jerk. He wouldn’t pay you?” Trying to keep the dialogue moving forward. On the inside his body is doing cartwheels.  The energy and excitement is looking for any avenue to the outer world and it’s all Randy can do to keep it hidden.  In front of him is a man who walked in that morning to admit to a murder a few days ago and now he is confessing to killing someone 15 years earlier. Spahalski spoke like it was yesterday. Details and memories of a man who understood the relevance of his actions when it happened and things that stayed with him for over a decade and a half. 

      This never happens. A walk-in customer that offers an admission of guilt to a murder. And now he is opening up to past crimes? Never. It never happens. Not in all the years Randy has been on the force. It is a demonstrative event for a homicide detective. A career case right in front of him and he just walked in a few hours earlier. 

     Randy kept asking questions to get more details. “What did you do after you hit him with the hammer? Where did you go?" 

      Spahalski kept talking to Randy while Glenn took down the confession. “I took his car and went into the city. I had some money from the guy’s wallet and picked up some drugs and a hooker near Lyell Avenue. We were driving around and then I ran a red light.  A cop pulled up behind me on university and Prince Street and flashed his lights. I pulled over and when he came to the side of the car, I gave him Charles’ ID and acted like I was him. He didn’t see the hammer in the back seat. Good thing, it was covered in blood. The guy let us go. I couldn’t believe it. He let me go.” He said all this as a grin crept over his face. A sense of accomplishment in the competition of his life. 

      “What did you do after that?” Randy went on. “The two of us went over to the Gates Motel and partied for a while.” Randy wanted more details, but acted like he was his buddy. “Did you do her?” Spahalski went on to say they didn’t have sex. When asked why not. Spaahlski said “I didn’t feel like it. I wasn’t into her. We just laid there naked for a while getting high. I thought about killing her, but I didn’t do it.” Randy had to know why not but Spahalski didn’t have a good reason. 

      “After a while she took off. The next day she got picked up by the police for hooking and told them about what I had done to try and get out of the charges. They found the car first and eventually they found me on the street. That's when they tried to trick me. Trick me into confessing.” Spahalski was charged with impersonation but never with the murder of Charles Grande after the incident. They were pretty sure he had killed him but couldn’t prove it. 

      Once the confession was written Glenn left the room to call the Webster police department to inform them of the update. This was big news and they decided to head into the city.  While out of the interview room another team of detectives took the opportunity to tell Glenn that the murder of Vivian Irizarry was in the same area as a cold case that was on their plate.  The team wanted a shot at the man in the room and Randy let them have a go at Spahalski to see if they could clear up their case. 
      These next two detectives had no luck in getting anything out of Spahalski and by now the Webster guys had showed up. Randy offered to let them go at the suspect but they deferred to Randy after hearing about the failure of the two new guys. Since Randy had already drained the confession out of Spahalski they thought it best to let him take this whole thing home. 

       Randy went back in the room after Spahalski clammed up with the other two detectives. Once again Mr. Smooth starting sidling up to the man that was shocking the entire squad with his walk-in confessions to murder. Randy wasn’t giving up on this next case and after another hour he was able to walk him comfortably into relief for yet another heinous crime. 

I can only assume that Spahalski viewed Randy differently than the other detectives that tried to talk to him. Those other guys were the enemy forcing him to retreat. Randy was now an ally and confidant, taking him down the road to possible redemption.  This is how the third murder confession came tumbling out of his consciousness. 

Spahalski called Adrain Berger his girlfriend as he described strangling her in an apartment in July 1991. Drugs, alcohol, and another long night caused his mind to turn him into a rage-filled man with no boundaries. He ended Adrian Berger’s life that summer. Was there any end to the actions of this man in our community? Could there be more? Cold cases with any similarities were coming to the surface in the department as this man and Randy walked down memory lane. A lane filled with rage, drugs, blood and death. How long was this road and how far down the street were Spahalski and Randy going to travel?

    Another team had an open case that looked like it had Spahalski’s fingerprints on it. Randy stayed on to talk to him about a fourth murder in the same neighborhood as the other two woman on his murder list. By now Spahalski was much freer with Randy and the path was clearing for the truth to ooze out. 

He then told Randy about sharing drugs one New Years Eve with his neighbor. She was working the streets as a prostitute but not that night. After finishing the $100 bag of cocaine, Moraine Armstrong demanded money from Spahalski for sex. The argument triggered the rage in him and he strangled her with a lamp cord on New Year’s Eve, 1990.  Ten months before he killed Charles Grande. That’s four now. The man walked into the police station to admit to killing a woman a few nights ago and has now copped to killing three other people, all more than 15 years ago.
      The rapport Randy had with this man along with his ease and softness of personality made this confession easier to pry out of Spahalski. I like to think that this was a man clearing his conscience, but frankly, I’m not sure he has one. One definition of a sociopath is the lack of conscience and the inability to understand how it’s existence affects others. Watching Spahalski in an interview he did with a T.V. show, I am inclined to believe that this is the case.

      Randy describes this as a dream. A dream that was able to end nightmares for the families of those murdered. A dream that prevented the nightmares that could have been for other potential victims and their families.  A career-making case. That’s the way Randy described those nine long hours in the room that day. 

        When trying to extract the confession for the fifth victim that was on the radar of yet another detective, Randy hit a stone wall. A wall that even his charm and charisma couldn’t tear down. Spahalski had it in his mind that anyone who kills more than four people is a serial killer.  This is where he drew the line. Killing four people was fine, but any more and the moral jump was just too much. Serial killer was not a title he was willing to accept. Bad news Mr. Spahalski, most definitions use three as a number to define a serial killer along with a cooling off period between killings. Your actions are within the parameters of most definitions. 

      Locally the focus has always been on a different serial killer, Arthur Shawcross.  He murdered eleven women over a year and half period from early 1988 through the end of 1989. The women were mostly prostitutes and the community still had this man fresh in their memories.  His run of terror was all the rage in the news as the bodies of women kept appearing during that time period while he was still at large. During his spree the police had a hard time tracking Shawcross down.  The constant media attention of each killing kept the public in a state of nervousness and angst during that year and a half.  

       Now a man that murdered four people was small potatoes in our community.  The media wrote about this case but the anxiety and fear never built up because by the time it was presented to the public the murderer was in custody. They had nothing to worry about, and frankly, unless you were involved in the oldest profession, you didn’t have much to worry about with Arthur Shawcross during his murderous rampage in our community. 

      Randy had helped to empty out the first section of Robert Spahalski's skeleton laden closet and it was time to move things forward. The realization that three cold cases had been cleared by a man that came in to confess to a current homicide, a homicide not even reported, started to settle in.  Like a streak in sports, once it occurs to you that it exists, the adrenaline subsides and the streak often ends. It was over for now and Spahalski was sent on to booking.  The rest of the system would take the baton and run.  Proper legal representation was needed and that's where the baton would land next.  Hopefully putting an end to this man’s little known run of terror in our city. 

Next up: The court system, a lawyer, and the complications.


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