The Priest Who Was Convicted Of A Satanic Ritual Murder
In a decade of weird things, the weirdest part of the 1980s was the "satanic panic." People were seeing satanism everywhere, with the media insisting that a crime wave was sweeping the country and a slew of "ritual abuse" court cases springing up. Satan supposedly hid in tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, in preschools, and in secret chambers where politicians met to perform weird rituals (though to be fair, he probably was at a few of those). But as ridiculous as it all sounds now, there was one case early in the decade that looked exactly like such a ritual, complete with an upside-down cross carved into the victim's torso. And all of the theories about what happened -- including the one that would eventually result in a conviction -- are equally insane.
A Murder Out Of A Bad Slasher Movie
April 5, 1980 began with the grisly discovery of the corpse of a 71-year-old nun, Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, in the chapel of Toledo Mercy Hospital. It was the day before Easter Sunday, and if you're wondering whether the timing was significant, well, who the hell knows? That's the first of many, many unsettling questions about this case. Two police officers breakfasting in the cafeteria were alerted by a nurse running the halls screaming bloody murder about, uh, a bloody murder. When they reached the chapel, they discovered the ill-fated nun in a state that had to be shocking even to grizzled Toledo cops (that city had way more murders than you'd expect).
The woman had been strangled before being stabbed more than 30 times, nine of the wounds made in the form of an inverted cross. An altar cloth had been thrown across Sister Pahl's frail frame, and bloody smears were spread across her forehead, as if the killer had performed a mockery of the last rites. Sexual abuse was suspected, as the sister had been stripped below the waist, but there were never any conclusive tests. And it had all happened right there in the chapel, looking just like the work of the roving bands of depraved satanists Middle America feared.
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The Case Hit A Dead End, Then A Bizarre Twist
Everybody who worked in the hospital was questioned, but dismissed as suspects. Police took a close look at a priest named Gerald Robinson who'd argued with Pahl the day before (that would have to be one hell of an argument), but there wasn't enough to arrest anyone. Despite this being the type of crime that you'd think would would leave behind piles of gut-churning forensic evidence, the case went cold.
Then, 23 years later, a woman went before the Diocese of Toledo to demand $50,000 in restitution for being a victim of satanic ritual abuse at the hands of several members of the clergy. The unnamed woman told of being herded into rooms in cult-like ceremonies, complete with robes, candles, and a coffin filled with cockroaches. She said that at one point she was forced to eat a human eyeball and was violated with a live snake. She said children were molested and sacrificed while other victims were made to watch. Her tale sounded exactly like so many other ritualistic abuse cases that ultimately turned out to be bullshit. And yet ...
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A Shocking Arrest
The church looked into the woman's claims, interviewed clergy, and sent their investigation to the Lucas County prosecutor's office, where it sat until a clerical abuse group pressured them into taking a look. Eventually, three other women would come forward alleging the same ritualistic abuse occurring over two decades. When authorities began to investigate, they noted that one of the accused members of this Satanic priest cult was ... Reverend Gerald Robinson.
The investigation stalled. The women named locations where the rituals had supposedly occurred, and there were in fact empty farmhouses and basements where they said they'd be, but there wasn't much in the way of evidence beyond that. The supposed sacrificed children couldn't be matched with any known victims. Yet the police zeroed in on the now-elderly Robinson, building their case for the Pahl murder.
They examined the evidence and determined that a dagger-shaped letter opener that had been sitting in Robinson's room matched the wounds on the nun's body perfectly (as well as a medallion design in the handle that they said matched a bloodstain on the altar cloth). Ultimately, no one would be charged in the ritual abuse accusations, though settlements were made to other women who came forward. Additionally, the chief abuser they all named, Chet Warren, was defrocked. Eventually, Reverend Robinson would be convicted for Sister Pahl's murder in 2006.
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We'll Never Know The Whole Story -- We Only Know That It's Probably Weird As Shit
So we have a nun who was killed in a ritualistic manner, and the man convicted of the crime was a priest, whom another woman said was part of a coven of satanists doing murderous rituals. If this was a movie, it'd turn out the nun had stumbled across the priests' evil secret and was killed as a result. But officially, those rituals -- if they happened at all -- had nothing to do with Sister Pahl's murder.
The prosecutor in the case said that Sister Pahl was known for being a strict knuckle-rapper, and that she probably pushed the meek Reverend Robinson too far. You know, a routine conflict between co-workers that got out of hand. Maybe the priest flew into a spontaneous rage and strangled her, then desecrated her body to try to throw police off the scent? Or maybe he was always a psychopath who waited until his early 40s to snap?
We don't know, because Robinson maintained his innocence at every step, appealing the ruling over and over until he died in prison in 2014, one appeal still pending. The Ohio Innocence Project had taken up his case, insisting that DNA found under Pahl's fingernails needed to be tested, since it could have belonged to another priest at the hospital or serial killer Coral Eugene Watts (tests would eventually show the DNA didn't match either of them).
If the official story is correct, then it was simply blind coincidence that a woman accused Robinson of being part of a baby-sacrificing cult. (She claimed that she'd never heard he was a suspect in the Pahl case at all.) You know, the too-bizarre-to-be-real accusations that caused police to reopen the case in the first place? If Robinson was indeed innocent of the murder, then that's even more alarming -- that means somebody else did this horrific crime and got away with it. And ... that's it. Nobody knows the whole story, and presumably, nobody ever will.
Andrew McRae has books and eBooks available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, as well as writing for Lewtonbus.
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