Crimestopper's First Case: The Murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl

TOLEDO -- Crimestopper, the program that asks anonymous callers to provide tips that'll help police solve crimes, featured as its very first case the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl. Another nun found Sister Margaret Ann lying dead on the floor of the sacristy of a Mercy Hospital chapel. She had been strangled, and also stabbed approximately 30 times through an altar cloth that covered part of her body. The stab wounds reportedly formed a cross-like pattern on her chest and neck.

Two years ago, Father Gerald Robinson, a Roman Catholic priest, was arrested and charged in the murder. Within days, evidence both for and against the priest will be presented to the 12 people who will decide the priest's guilt or innocence. Jury selection begins Monday in the Lucas County courtroom of Judge Thomas Osowik.

News 11 broke the story when Father Robinson was arrested. Now we'll be there every step of the way as prosecutors try to prove that Father Robinson is a killer, and as he tries to prove that he is not.

In October, 1981, Toledo Police Sgt. Art Marx hoped that the Crimestopper program would yield the clue police needed to close the case. "You have a 71-year-old nun who would have been 72 the following day. People just don't go around killing nuns in the sacristy of a chapel," he said, "and I feel the person who did this, sooner or later, is going to say something to someone."

Although the Crimestopper program didn't lead to an arrest in the murder of Sister Margaret Ann, but it has helped solve many other crimes over the years. It was launched by a group of private citizens working in cooperation with the Toledo Police Department, with a mission to aid all law enforcement agencies in Toledo and surrounding areas, as well as across the country. The volunteers on the board of trustees meet regularly to monitor the progress of the program and to distribute the awards.

The Crimestopper telephone is monitored 24-hours a day, 7 days per week. When a call comes in, it's logged and the caller is given an identification number which is then used in all future contacts between the caller and the program. The caller remains anonymous. If the information provided by the caller leads to an arrest and indictment, the caller may be eligible for a reward. It's up to the rewards committee to decide what amount of money a caller will receive. Crimestopper does not pay rewards for information that's provided through avenues outside the program.

From the beginning -- even before the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was featured as Crimestopper's first case -- police focused their suspicions on Father Robinson. He was questioned in 1980, but not charged. Detectives say he failed a police polygraph, but Father Robinson's attorney has said his client passed a private polygraph.

The case went cold and stayed that way for more than two decades, but it was reopened when police discovered what they believe is blood transfer evidence. They say a dagger-shaped letter opener owned by Father Robinson, and under his control, left the pattern on an altar cloth. Police believe the letter opener was used to stab Sister Margaret Ann.

Shortly after Father Robinson was arrested in April, 2004, Toledo Police Sgt. Steve Forrester said, "It's a possible ritual-type killing. That also is something that is a general term. We have some evidence now that indicates some type of ceremony took place."

Reaction to Father Robinson's arrest was swift. "I can't imagine what would possess a priest to do something like that," said Catherine Flagel. She is Sister Margaret Ann's sister.

There were those who thought the police had arrested the wrong man. Father Robinson's friend David Lis told News 11, "I don't think he did that. It's so out of character for him that I can't believe he would have done anything like this."

Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo Diocese said, "I'm completely shocked and deeply troubled that one of our priests could be accused of such a thing."

Father Robinson spent several days behind bars before his family and other supporters posted $400,000 in property bonds and he was released. Court hearings and changing trial dates followed over the next two years, until the day after Easter was finalized for jury selection.

Lead prosecutor Dean Mandross says, "We'll see what a jury thinks of the evidence that's still available after 26 years."

The long trip to trial has not left Mandross feeling any less determined to obtain a conviction. "A crime was committed," he said. "Someone obviously did it. You would like to see the responsible person convicted, and you hope to see that happen sooner as opposed to later -- but later is better than never."

On the Web:
www.tpd.toledo.oh.us/crime%20stopper%20faq.html#What%20Is%20Crime%20Stopper