Last week, we learned about the horrific massacre of seven people at a suburban Chicago Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant. This week, we take a look at another scandalous case. In 1980, a Catholic Nun was murdered in a hospital chapel. It took twenty-four years, but Fr. Gerald Robinson, then the hospital chaplain, was convicted of her murder.
Fr. Gerald Robinson and the Murder
In 1980, Gerald Robinson was a 41-year-old priest serving as the chaplain at Mercy Hospital (now Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center) in Toledo, Ohio. Sr. Margaret Ann Pahl, 71, was the sacristan of the hospital chapels. Sr. Margaret Ann and Fr. Robinson frequently clashed, reportedly because the elderly nun objected to his changes and abbreviations to services, including those for Holy Week. The conflict appeared to come to a head on Good Friday, April 4, 1980.
The following day, Holy Saturday, Sr. Madelyn Marie, the chapel organist, found the body of Sr. Margaret Ann in the chapel sacristy. She had been partially strangled and stabbed thirty-one times. Nine of the stab wounds were in the shape of an inverted cross. Her clothing had been arranged, and her body positioned to suggest sexual assault. Given the “anointing” of blood on her forehead, some speculated that she had been the sacrificial victim of a Black Mass.
There were reasons to suspect Fr. Robinson had something to do with the nun’s death. However, when detectives questioned him two weeks after the murder, Deputy Police Chief Ray Vetter broke off the interview and allowed a monsignor to spirit Robinson away. Vetter asked detectives to give him their reports, some of which disappeared. Vetter later testified he was a devout practicing Catholic.
Trial and Conviction
Sr. Margaret Ann’s murder remained unsolved, with no new leads until 2003. In that year, police received a letter from a woman claiming that Robinson had sexually abused her as a child in a series of Satanic rituals. She further contended he was joined in the abuse by several men dressed as nuns.
The prosecutor’s cold case unit got the case. At their direction, forensic testing demonstrated that a sword-shaped letter opener found in Robinson’s possession was consistent with the weapon that stabbed Sr. Margaret Ann.
Robinson went on trial on April 24, 2006. Additional evidence came from the testimony of three witnesses who said they saw the priest near the chapel at the time of the murder.
On May 11, 2006, the jury found him guilty on all counts.
Robinson appealed his conviction only to have the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals rebuff him. He was unsuccessful with the Ohio Supreme Court and again with the Sixth District Court of Appeals. His attorneys announced they would again appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
However, Robinson suffered a heart attack in May 2014 before he could appeal further. He died in the Franklin Medical Center, a prison hospital, on July 4, 2014, two years before he would have been eligible for parole.
You can read about Sr. Margaret Ann’s murder in Sin, Shame & Secrets by David Yonke. Forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee also features the case in his book, “Shocking Cases from Dr. Henry Lee’s Forensic Files.”
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