April 17, 2002 -- Christmas was Nancy Spangler's favorite holiday, so a few days before Dec. 25, Bob, her husband of 23 years, asked her to come down to the basement of their Littleton, Colo. home for a surprise.
"Surprise! It's almost Christmas. Come here. Sit quietly. Close your eyes," her husband said he told her. Then he pulled out a loaded revolver and shot her in the head.
That was in 1978. More than two decades later, Spangler explained to police that he killed his wife because it would be the easiest way for him to be with his new girlfriend, Sharon Cooper. "Having made the decision, I simply followed through with it," he said.
But he didn't stop there. After killing his wife, he went upstairs and turned the gun on the couple's two sleeping children, first 15-year-old Susan ("Shot her in the heart I believe," he told police) and 17-year-old David. Susan died in her bed, but David struggled after his father wounded him with his first shot. "I wound up smothering him," Spangler told police.
Spangler made his confession in 2000 to investigators in Grand Junction, Colo. who were interviewing him at the request of the family of his third wife, Donna, who had died in 1993 when she fell 200 feet while hiking with Spangler in the Grand Canyon.
In his confession, which was videotaped, Spangler also admitted killing Donna, saying he pushed her off the cliff on the spur of the moment, because he was unhappy with their marriage. "I had to be thinking, you know, either now or never," he said.
'Suicide' Note Fools Investigators
Spangler got away with the 1978 killings because police thought they were a suicide and double homicide. In the Spanglers' home, they found a typewritten note reading "We always argued about who'd have the kids. I will," and signed "N." The N was in Nancy Spangler's handwriting, and — despite evidence suggesting otherwise — police concluded she had killed the two children then turned the gun on herself.
After a second marriage ended in divorce, Spangler married Donna Sundling in 1990. The couple lived in Durango, Colo., but after her death at the Grand Canyon Spangler sold their house and moved to Grand Junction, Colo.
It was there that the Arapahoe County Sheriff's office caught up with him. At the request of Donna's family, investigator Paul Goodman started looking into the 1978 killings. Although he found there was a lot of evidence suggesting that Spangler was the killer, not his wife, he did not have enough to proceed without a confession.
Then, in 2000, Goodman heard that Spangler had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and wondered if he might be ready to confess. Investigators visited his home and he came clean, confessing his guilt and describing the killings — all four of them — in detail. He said he had tricked his first wife into signing a blank piece of paper, then typed up the purported suicide note himself.
He showed no remorse, saying, "I'm different. I think I am interesting." He said he agreed to confess because he wanted FBI profilers to explain to him why he was so good at killing.
Spangler agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder for killing Donna in the Grand Canyon. As part of the deal, he also admitted killing his first wife, Nancy, and their children years earlier. In March 2001, more than 22 years after the first killings, he was sentenced to life in prison.