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Robert WIRTH





Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 6 - 8
Date of murders: 1987 - 1988
Date of birth: 1960
Victims profile: Elderly victims in their homes
Method of murder: Beating - Stabbing with knife
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to four consecutive life terms + 20 years in prison in 1991


MO: Elderly victims beaten/stabbed in their homes.

DISPOSITION: Four consecutiva life terms + 20 years, 1991.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


Police and prosecutors: Maximizing the value of DNA

July 28, 2000

Back in 1988 we had an individual who was murdering elderly women in their homes. They had no idea who it was. They were coming about every week. These were burglaries, and this is the prosecutor's dream called other acts evidence that you love to bring in at trial. But these burglaries that were in the areas of these homicides, they were almost exactly the same type of entry, the same type of disheveling the home. They were just exact cases, and we are able to get all of those in.

In any event, we have these three women who were murdered and had no idea who the perpetrator was. This is the neck injuries, external neck injuries of one of the victims. They died of asphyxiation. Here is the second victim, neck injuries, and the third victim. We had some verypowerful medical examiner testimony.

We had three medical examiners look at all the autopsy protocols, and it was the opinion of the three medical examiners that one person was responsible for all three homicides based upon the injuries, the extent. Basically there was a complete avulsion of the voice box in all of the victims. They believed it was probably stomping on the necks of these victims. But it was so unique, the internal and external injuries, that it was their opinion that one person was responsible for the three homicides.

Again, we had no suspects at all in any of these cases; however, at one of the homicide scenes the detective saw this toy donkey sitting on the couch, and when one of the family members got to the house, they said that toy donkey doesn't belong there. The toy donkey actually belonged on a chair right where the body of one of victims was found.

When the detective picked up the toy donkey and turned it over, he observed these very fresh blood smears on the toy donkey. That toy donkey was taken immediately to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory just to check to see if the blood on the donkey was foreign to the victim. This is Mrs. Breshnahan, and this is the blood on the toy donkey. You can see that it was foreign blood.

We were quite excited about that, the fact that we knew we had foreign blood, and since it was fresh, in all likelihood this is the assailant. We felt that if we could find the assailant and do enough genetic workup just for one of the victims, that based upon the medical examiner testimony we could get a conviction for all of the homicides when we coupled the medical examiner testimony.

A number of months later Mr. Robert Wirth was caught. He had robbed a taxicab driver. The taxicab driver got into a fight with him and Robert Wirth had a gun, and the taxicab driver fought him and got the gun away from him. When the police ran a check on that gun, they found out that the gun was stolen from a residence next door to one of the victims.

So we started to focus on Mr. Robert Wirth, and after a John Doe proceeding we got permission to get his blood, and we took that immediately out to the crime lab. You can see Robert Wirth matched the blood on the toy donkey. Again, it sends a shiver down my spine when I look at these ABO enzyme markers today, but I recall doing so many trials. Before the advent of DNA this is what we used, and the numbers were 1 in 500, 1 in 600. If we had 1 in 1,000, we thought it was a terrific case and we really had wonderful evidence.

So besides those markers we did send it out to Ed Blake in California. At that time back in '89 and '90 there was one PCR marker and DQ alpha, and Robert Wirth matched the blood on the toy donkey right there. Again, that was the only PCR marker available at that time. We also then went to Sonar Diagnostics, but before I show you that here are the numbers at that time. We went up to Minneapolis, too, the Memorial Blood Center, and did gamma markers and cappa markers. But with these ABO enzymes the number was 1 in 4,565. When we added in the DQ alpha, the number was I believe 1 in 55,000 with the DQ alpha, again, a comfortable number, but I don't know if that would have been a number one for proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a jury since that was the only evidence that we had.

So we did additional testing. Sonar Diagnostics did a great job for us. After talking to them -- again, everyone was going through their growing pains back then, but here are the markers for Mr. Robert With and here is the toy donkey marker and here is the match. We felt with the number 1 in 800,000 one would find the combination of all these genetic markers.

We went to trial. It was a lengthy trial. It was a six-week sequestered jury trial, and they eventually convicted Mr. Wirth largely because of the DNA evidence, but again there was one marker. There were four RFLP markers, one PCR, and the most conservative number was 1 in 800,000.



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