GCNP — Robert M. Spangler loved the Grand Canyon. It was a trip he made nearly every year. Several photos of the famous national park could be seen on the walls of his Grand Junction, Colo., home.
In April 1993, Spangler took his 58-year-old wife, Donna, to see the gorge. The couple headed down the Grandview Trail on a hike. Along the trail in a spot below Horseshoe Mesa, Spangler stopped to set up his camera on a tripod. When he turned around, his wife was gone. She had fallen 100 to 200 feet to her death.
Sad ending to a two-year marriage at a special place.
At least, that was his story for more than seven years. The truth came out last week when the terminally-ill Spangler, 67, confessed to shoving his wife into the Grand Canyon on that April 11. He was indicted by an Arizona federal grand jury and was being held in the Mesa County (Colo.) Jail at Grand Junction without bail.
Spangler had been under investigation by authorities because of coincidences involving the deaths of two other wives and two children.
On Dec. 30, 1978, Spangler's first wife, Nancy, 45, and their two children, 15-year-old Susan and 17-year-old David, died at their home in unincorporated Arapahoe County (Colo.) south of Denver. His wife had been found dead in the basement of their home with a suicide note and handgun nearby. The children were found in their bedrooms. It was ruled a double murder-suicide.
After the death of Spangler's third wife at the Canyon in 1993, he returned to his ex-wife, Sharon, whom he had divorced in 1988. She died in October 1994 in Durango, Colo., of a drug overdose in what was ruled as an accident or suicide.
Arapahoe County investigative division captain Phillip Spence said his department went back and reviewed the Spangler case after the third death.
"We discovered in 1994 that he had two other wives who had died," Spence said in a phone interview with the News. "One died from a drug overdose and one from a fall into the Grand Canyon. We thought that to be suspicious.”
Paul Goodman was the lead investigator on the case.
“We thought what we had was a triple murder case,” Spence said. “Then the question was, how did the other two wives die? One died certainly of a fall into the Grand Canyon. That was suspicious and it was the same with the other wife."
This past summer, Spangler learned he had terminal lung and brain cancer. In the meantime, the investigation continued and last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Arapahoe County authorities knocked on the door of his house, which he shared with his fourth wife, Judith.
Confessions to the 1978 killings and the 1993 Grand Canyon killing were given. He was taken into custody without incident.
"I think there are some family members and relatives of Nancy Spangler who believe it’s nice to know that she did not kill her kids and herself," Spence said. "And I think it’s important for Donna’s family to know that she did not fall."
Arapahoe County is expected to file murder charges soon against Spangler for the deaths of his first wife and two children.
The federal indictment handed down Oct. 3 in Phoenix alleges that Spangler killed his wife, Donna, "with premeditation and malice," according to a press release from the office of Jose de Jesus Rivera, U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona.
"The seriousness of this crime is reflected in the seven years spent to solve it," de Jesus Rivera said in the press release. "This arrest is a result of the cooperation and dedication of several law enforcement agencies that were determined to solve this reprehensible crime and arrest the person responsible."
Joining the FBI and Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department in the investigation was Beverly Perry, special agent for the National Park Service.
Assistance was also provided by the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department, Mesa County (Colo.) Sheriff’s Department and the Grand Junction (Colo.) Police Depart-ment.
If convicted, Spangler could face the death penalty. However, that could be a moot point because of the man’s terminal disease. He does not face any charges for the death of his second wife.