Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Genetic Violence: Robert an Stephen Spahalski

In the Family

Robert Spahalski's identical twin brother Stephen had killed 48-year-old Ronald Ripley when Stephen was sixteen, nearly 17. Stephen had claimed that Ripley had approached him sexually, and he had reacted. Robert had been a strong suspect in this homicide, and the police had been surprised when Stephen stepped forward to plead guilty to manslaughter. They had suspected, but could not prove, that Robert had been present at this incident as well.

Attica Correctional Facility
Attica Correctional Facility

Journalist Gary Craig for The Democrat and Chronicle tracked Stephen down in Attica Correctional Facility for an interview, though Robert would not talk unless he was paid. Even with only one twin willing to speak about the family history, it was a rare opportunity.

Stephen had been imprisoned initially for eight years, but upon release had committed a burglary and kidnapping, which sent him right back. A second release had ended in incarceration again in 1999, following a parole violation. While he had been due for release in the spring of 2006, he had refused to take a required anti-violence course, so he remained in prison.

Both brothers had been skilled gymnasts as youths. Their parents had divorced when they were twelve, but neither twin attributed his violent behavior to his upbringing. Both had a history of antisocial attitudes and criminal offenses.

"I thought I was the only murderer in the family," said Stephen when Craig interviewed him." He could not identify any specific reason why his brother might have killed someone. They had been close when growing up, the way identical twins often are, and after Stephen had gone to prison, Robert visited him often. Over the years, however, the visits turned into letters, and the letters came less frequently.

Auburn Correctional Facility
Auburn Correctional Facility

Once in 1978, they had been incarcerated together, at Auburn Correctional Facility, and Robert tried to escape. The guards had had trouble identifying him because Stephen had covered for him, and, therefore, both were sent to solitary confinement.

Stephen, whose nickname was "Christmas," was gay, while Robert was bisexual. Stephen did not know why his brother would confess, except that possibly his conscience had bothered him: "He wanted it off his chest." Stephen claimed he certainly wouldn't have turned himself in (although he had when he was 17). He added that Robert had never admitted to him that he had killed someone.

"In learning of Robert's twin," said Gary Craig, "we also learned that Stephen had lived a life of crime, killing a man when he was 16 and never leaving prison for any extended period of time since. This raised the inevitable 'nature vs. nurture' question. What in their lives or upbringing shaped them into the violent men they became? Are they the eerie but consummate example of the harmonic behavior you sometimes hear of with twins? Robert 'Bruce' Spahalski by himself was a fascinating story — a serial killer whom the police first suspected of a murder in the early 90s but who had managed to evade authorities until he turned himself in. But adding a murderous identical twin to the mix made the story even more bizarre."


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