Killer Clergy: Men of the Cloth Who Murdered Their Congregants
Father Gerald Robinson
The Catholic nun killed in the chapel at Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, on April 5, 1980, had been strangled and stabbed nine times in the pattern of an inverted cross—a symbol often used in Satanic rituals. Then, she was covered and stabbed another 22 times.
One of the first people to arrive on the scene, Father Gerald Robinson presided at the Mass for Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, 71. But 26 years later, after advancements in DNA technology, he was convicted for the murder. He died in prison in 2014 with his case awaiting appeal.
Pastor Matt Baker
The apparent 2006 sleeping-pill overdose suicide of Baker's wife Kari, a mother of two, stunned the Baptist preacher's congregation in Waco, Texas. Then Kari's family noticed that calls on Kari's cell phone were still being made – by a recently divorced church member with whom Baker was having an affair while his wife was alive.
"Yes, he told me he killed her because of me," Vanessa Bulls testified. Baker maintained his innocence, but a jury thought otherwise. He was sentenced in 2010 to 65 years in prison for the murder.
Rev. Michael Tabb
Just seven weeks after Tabb arrived to lead the First United Methodist Church in tiny Troup, Texas, in 2002, his wife Marla, 35, was found beaten to death in the parsonage bedroom. Investigators soon found cracks in their four-year marriage, including prior physical and verbal altercations, his alleged binges on alcohol and his fondness for strip clubs.
Although he'd cleaned his shoes and truck, traces of blood on both helped convince a jury to convict him, and he was sentenced in 2003 to 55 years in prison for her murder.
Pastor Scott Harper
On July 4, 2004, the Harper and Reynolds families watched fireworks together over the river in Rome, Georgia. On July 5, Harper, a Hollywood Baptist Church youth minister, stabbed church deacon Thad Reynolds 19 times when Reynolds arrived at work.
Days later, police arrested Harper and Thad's wife, Michelle, and alleged the pair's affair had led to the murder. Michelle Reynolds was sentenced to 20 years for voluntary manslaughter and burglary. After he agreed to testify against her, Harper was sentenced in 2010 to life in prison in a plea deal that spared both of them the death penalty.
Father Ryan Erickson
In Hudson, Wisconsin, church leader Dan O'Connell called Erickson to a Feb. 5, 2002, meeting to discuss the Catholic priest's alleged misdeeds, later revealed to involve the sexual abuse of a male juvenile and reports that Erickson gave alcohol to minors. Erickson showed up with a 9 mm handgun. Before he left, O'Connell and another man had been shot dead.
"I done it and they're gonna catch me," Erickson allegedly told a deacon at another church as the dragnet closed in. He hung himself on Dec. 19, 2004, before being charged or arrested.
Pastor Tracy Burleson
The Houston pastor told police he and his wife, Pauletta, 56, argued on the night of May 18, 2010, and when he returned from a short trip to the store, he found her shot to death.
Prosecutors instead say he enlisted his son, William, to kill his stepmother in a murder-for-hire plot to collect on a $60,000 life insurance policy – and that both the pastor and son were having affairs with the same "other woman," who allegedly helped the gunman by driving him to get cleaned up and destroy the murder weapon. Pastor Burleson was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison.
Pastor Edmund Lopes
In the 1980s, the Southern Baptist pastor told congregants in Washington State he'd been redeemed after killing 28 people as a hit man. A reporter who wanted to chronicle his redemption journey found Lopes had been lying: He was never a hit man for the mafia. Rather, he strangled his wife to death in 1970, and later stabbed, strangled and left for dead his girlfriend, who survived.
After serving 12 years for those crimes, he was paroled in 1983 and skipped town -- until the reporter's accounts of his made-up life helped Illinois officials find and jail him for three months in 1992 on his parole violation. He was freed again later that year.
Rabbi Fred Neulander
He admitted to his affair with a divorced member of his M'Kor Shalom congregation in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. But Neulander insisted that didn't mean he killed his wife of 29 years.
Jurors disagreed after hearing Len Jenoff, an alcoholic who Neulander once counseled, testify in a nationally televised trial that the rabbi paid him $30,000 to make Carol Neulander's 1994 murder look like a robbery gone wrong.
It took two trials, but the circumstantial case led to the rabbi's conviction for murder in 2003. Now 75, he is serving 30 years to life in prison.