The Ripper Crew: The Scariest Cult You've Never Heard Of
Rumors of satanic cabals molesting and eating people in the ‘80s were largely a hoax, but that doesn’t mean there were no weirdos out there committing horrific crimes in the name of Satan. In 1981 and 1982, Robin Gecht headed up a satanic cult later called the Ripper Crew that attacked at least seven and possibly as many as 20 women in the Chicago area, who were variously killed, abused, and/or mutilated as part of their rituals. It turns out the satanic panic wasn’t that overblown.
Robin Gecht, Cult Leader
In 1981, Robin Gecht was a married father of three. He was also a devoted “satanist” who once worked for John Wayne Gacy, though that seems to be as far as the relationship went, for all they had in common. Around that time, Gecht decided to start amassing followers, succeeding with Edward Spreitzer, a 19-year-old guy staying with the Gecht family, and Thomas and Andrew Kokoraleis, two teenagers who worked for Gecht. They were all later described by their lawyers as “simplistic” or possessing a “borderline range of intellect” with a dependence on authority, which suited Gecht nicely.
As far as we know, the gang started prowling around in Gecht’s red van looking for victims in May 1981, when they abducted 28-year-old single mother Linda Sutton near Wrigley Field. Her body was found in a much less prestigious field about a week later with her left breast cut off, which was the authorities’ first clue that this wasn’t your typical murder.
The Killings Continue
If they were expecting a serial killer to materialize, though, they had to wait a while. The gang didn’t strike again (as far as we know) for another year, when they abducted 21-year-old Lorraine Borowski and 30-year-old Shui Mak, whose bodies weren’t found for several months. In the meantime, they abducted 19-year-old Angel York, handcuffed her, slashed her breast, and then let her go for some reason. Unfortunately, her report didn’t prove very useful; it’s probably pretty hard to be observant when a knife-wielding maniac is trying to lift and separate you.
What’s With the Boobs?
The Ripper Crew’s calling card wasn’t just a stylistic choice. According to Thomas Kokoraleis’s confession, their victims were brought back to Gecht’s “satanic chapel” in his home, where they were abused and killed and their amputated breasts were used in supposedly satanic rituals that we’re not gonna describe. Just think about the weirdest things a monster could do with a body part, then stop thinking about that.
Possibly because they correctly assumed York was out there, describing them all over the place, the gang laid low for about two months. When the coast seemed clear, they abducted 18-year-old Sandra Delaware, whose body was shortly found on the bank of the Chicago River, and 30-year-old Rose Davis, who was found the very same day in a wealthy Chicago neighborhood. They weren’t even trying to hide anymore.
Somehow, during all this, Gecht found the time to get mad at a drug dealer. On October 6, 1982, Spreitzer claimed he was driving the van when Gecht spotted Rafael Tirado on the street, told Spreitzer to slow down, and shot at Tirado with a pistol and a rifle. That seems logistically unsound, but Tirado later died of his injuries.
The same day, because a murder a day was apparently not sufficient, the gang abducted 18-year-old Beverley Washington, mutilated and abused her in their usual fashion, and left her near some train tracks. There was only one problem, at least for them: She was still alive.
Letting Gecht Go
Washington’s descriptions led police to Gecht’s red van, which led them to Gecht. Unfortunately, that was about all they had on Gecht, so they were initially forced to let him go. It turns out just owning a red van isn’t illegal, but we’re campaigning to put it on the ballot, so fingers crossed.
Tracking Down the Ripper Crew
They were still pretty sure Gecht was involved with what they’d begun calling the Ripper Crew because the killers were like a group of Jack the Rippers (Jacks the Ripper?), so they talked to the owner of a motel where Gecht and several others had rented rooms the previous year. He said the group “had held loud parties and appeared to be involved in some kind of cult,” and it’s a testament to the discretion and long-suffering of seedy motel owners that he hadn’t really thought anything of that until then.
The motel rooms led police to Spreitzer and the Kokoraleises, the older of whom, Thomas, immediately confessed everything under the impression that he was helping his brother. Andrew Kokoraleis and Edward Spreitzer followed suit, and the jig was decidedly up. In fact, they confessed to several additional murders and attacks that were never verified, so who knows what's going on there.
Although he cooperated with police and got so confused that they initially thought he was trying to “take credit” for the gang’s crimes, Spreitzer was convicted of Delaware’s and Davis’s murders and sentenced to death. He spent 20 years on death row before Illinois abolished the death penalty and his sentence was commuted to life without parole, but he’s still not going anywhere.
The younger Kokoraleis wasn’t so lucky. He was convicted of Borowski’s murder, sentenced to death, and became the last person executed by the state of Illinois. He only had to wait it out four more years to get a deal like Spreitzer, but them’s the breaks.
Because he was so unusually forthcoming, Thomas Kokoraleis was initially sentenced only to life in prison for Sutton’s murder, but after legal errors got him a new trial, he pleaded guilty in exchange for a 70-year sentence with the possibility of parole after 35. That came and went in 2019, and he was released. Authorities believe that, under proper supervision, he’s not a danger to the public, so you shouldn’t worry about that … probably.
Ironically, since he’s the only one who never confessed, Gecht was also the only one never convicted of murder. He was only convicted of the non-fatal attack on Washington, so he’s eligible for parole in 2042, though he’ll be 89 years old by then, so you could definitely kick his ass if need be.
In a strange footnote, Gecht’s son, David, was convicted of murder in 1999 at age 18. It turns out he might not have done it, as he was recently granted a new trial, and it appeared to be a fairly straightforward gang shooting. No weird Satan stuff.
Top image: Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay