Allegations renew Toledo nun's death case
Priest arrested in '80 slaying surfaced in ritual-abuse claim
By DAVID YONKE - Toledo Blade Religion Editor
April 25, 2004
Allegations made last year by a Toledo woman that she was
sexually and physically abused as a child by Catholic priests
during Satanic and sadomasochistic rituals led to the reopening
of the 1980 case of a nun's murder for which the Rev. Gerald
J. Robinson was arrested Friday, authorities said.
Investigators said yesterday that while they could not substantiate
the bizarre allegations made by the woman, now in her 40s,
her mention of Father Robinson convinced the cold case squad
to take another look at the 24-year-old murder in which the
priest originally was a suspect.
Father Robinson, 66, who lives next door to the Toledo police's
Scott Park district station on Nebraska Avenue, was arrested
at 10:15 p.m. Friday and charged with the murder of Sister
Margaret Ann Pahl, a 71-year-old Sister of Mercy of the Union
nun who was strangled to death and then stabbed up to 32 times
in the Mercy Hospital chapel on Holy Saturday, 1980.
Detective Steve Forrester and Tom Ross, an investigator with
the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said during a news conference
in the Safety Building yesterday that a "ceremony"
took place in the chapel, and that the nun's murder was part
of the ceremony. They would not elaborate.
However, they said Father Robinson acted alone in the nun's
Sources said Sister Margaret Ann was strangled, covered with
an altar cloth, and stabbed between 27 and 32 times in the
neck and torso.
When investigators took the old evidence out of storage in
December, "we noticed something that was startling and
apparent to us," Detective Forrester said.
The discovery involved "blood transfer patterns"
that, the detectives said, conclusively placed the murder
weapon at the scene of the homicide. Unlike many unsolved
crimes that are reopened decades later, DNA evidence was not
a factor, Detective Forrester said.
The nun's body was posed to look as though she had been sexually
assaulted, but investigators said yesterday they found "no
evidence of any sexual activity."
Investigators said Father Robinson and Sister Margaret Ann
knew each other and worked together at the hospital for about
They did not specify the murder weapon, but Detective Forrester
said evidence will prove that "the murder weapon was
in the control of the suspect."
Investigators believed in 1980 that the murder weapon belonged
to Father Robinson, but at the time did not have the technology
to prove that the weapon had been at the crime scene, according
to the detectives.
"Blood transfer patterns" is a rarely used technology
that analyzes the patterns made when a weapon or other object
is laid down, they said.
Detective Terry Cousino, who works in the police scientific
unit and draws composite sketches, was able to spot the pattern
because "he has an artist's eye," Mr. Ross said.
Investigators contacted "one of the most renowned experts
in the country" on blood transfer patterns "and
that expert has supported our theory in this case," Detective
The woman whose allegations led to the reopening of the case
testified before the Diocesan Review Board last June 11 and
wrote a detailed statement alleging years of horrific sexual,
physical, and psychological abuse by Toledo diocesan and religious-order
priests during her childhood.
She described Satanic ceremonies in which priests placed
her in a coffin filled with cockroaches, forced her to ingest
what she believed to be a human eyeball, and penetrated her
with a snake "to consecrate these orifices to Satan."
She also alleged that the group of clerics killed an infant
and a 3-year-old child, performed an abortion on her, and
mutilated dogs during the rituals, according to a copy of
her statement obtained by The Blade.
The cold-case detectives said that while they could not substantiate
any of the woman's allegations, they recognized Father Robinson's
name from the 1980 murder case and that led them to re-examine
Dr. Robert Cooley, a licensed psychologist appointed to the
review board, and Claudia Vercellotti, local co-coordinator
for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, went to
the state attorney general's office in Wood County last June,
Ms. Vercellotti said, because Dr. Cooley felt that the Toledo
diocese and the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office were not
being sufficiently responsive to the woman's allegations.
According to letters obtained by The Blade, Tom Pletz, of
the law firm Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, which represents
the diocese, advised Dr. Cooley on June 12 and June 27, 2003,
that he was not legally bound to report the woman's allegations
to law-enforcement officials for several reasons, including
that as a review board member he was not serving as the woman's
counselor and that the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office already
conducted "a detailed review" of the allegations
Shortly after Dr. Cooley met with officials from the attorney
general's office, he was dismissed from the review board.
Neither Mr. Pletz nor Dr. Cooley could be reached for comment
John Thebes, an attorney hired yesterday by Father Robinson,
said that although he just took on the case, he questions
how strong the new evidence will turn out to be.
"There's a reason these cases are cold and sit for 24
years - because the evidence is not good to begin with,"
Mr. Thebes said last night. "I've had two of these so-called
'cold cases' before, and they both ended in acquittal."
He said Father Robinson, who is being held in the Lucas County
jail pending arraignment Monday in Toledo Municipal Court,
"is doing better than I thought he would be doing. Like
anybody who's in that spot, he's in a certain amount of shock."
Sister Dorothy Thum, a member of Sister Margaret Ann's religious
order, said yesterday that the nuns are "really deeply
saddened by this situation," but that they are glad the
authorities "have worked hard to bring justice and to
try to resolve this case."
Sister Dorothy said she did not know Sister Margaret Ann
personally, but that the nun was well-respected by the order,
which has slightly less than 100 members in the Toledo area
and several thousand worldwide.
Sister Karen Zielinski, director of communications for the
Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania, described the mood among
many of the nuns locally as somber.
"I think we're stunned," Sister Karen said. "It's
an awkward situation. There is a lot of sadness for the church
and the sisters. This is really a tragedy."
Sister Karen said the nuns were familiar with Father Robinson
because of his work with the elderly in local hospitals and
nursing homes, but none of the nuns she talked with knew him
"[The nuns] are nonjudgmental about this, but they want
to see how this is played out," Sister Karen said. "Our
hearts go out to the Sisters of Mercy [of the Union]."
Sister Karen said she believed the diocese will survive the
"The human spirit is resilient," Sister Karen said.
"This is something sensational. This is the exception,
and we don't really know yet about [the case against Father
Robinson]. This will certainly make us stronger."
Catherine Flegal, a sibling of Sister Margaret Ann, said
she was happy that there was an arrest, but it doesn't change
anything in her life.
"It doesn't bring my sister back," said Ms. Flegal,
who lives in Edgerton, Ohio. "It's been so many years
Sister Margaret Ann's other sister, Mary Casebere, who also
lives in Edgerton, declined comment.
"The case is being resolved, so that's good," said
Mrs. Casebere's husband, Paul. "We won't have a comment
beyond that because it's been 24 years."
Father Robinson's brother, Thomas, who lives in Maumee, said
yesterday that he will not comment on the case.
Investigators said Toledo diocesan officials, particularly
Episcopal Vicar Michael Billian, have been "100 percent
cooperative" since they contacted the church about the
case in December.
Blade staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.
Contact David Yonke at: [email protected]