Lincoln County, Mo. - For decades, a serial killer was thought to be loose in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area.
The bodies of three women found in three different jurisdictions, including locally, baffled investigators.
The only things linking them were the location the women disappeared from – and the manner in which they were disposed of.
However, 14 years of determination from a cold case detective who never gave up resulted in enough evidence being collected to be sent to the St. Charles County Crime Lab, which was shared with the St. Louis County Crime Lab.
In the end, it led to multiple indictments of a Bel Ridge man already serving a life sentence without parole on an unrelated murder conviction.
In April, the crime lab matched the samples to a suspect because of the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database: Gary Muehlberg.
The 73-year-old was convicted in 1995 for the 1993 murder of Kenneth Atchison.
“A lot of senior detectives would talk about (the Sandra Little case),” said O’Fallon Police Det. Sgt. Jodi Weber, who had been investigating the murders since 2008. “I started reading reports, studying the pictures and I was amazed they weren’t able to solve this case – and I felt I could look into and see what I could come up with.”
During a press conference held in Clayton at the Roos Administration Building, Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Wood announced first-degree murder charges against Muehlberg for the 1990 murder of Robyn Mihan, one of three women who disappeared along the “Southside Stroll,” an area of Cherokee Street in St. Louis City known for prostitution and drug dealing.
Mihan’s body was found on March 26 of that year along Highway E in Silex, placed between a pair of mattresses sandwiched together with wire.
Wood said the crime scene was “quite disturbing,” but the evidence found was more than enough to not only help solve the case decades later, but helped solve the other cases as well.
“What we can say is a voluminous amount of irrefutable forensic evidence was recovered from that body, and because of that, the information gained from that case was able to break open wide the cases for the other counties,” Wood said.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell charged Muehlberg with two counts of first-degree murder in the 1990 deaths of Brenda Pruitt, whose body was found in a plastic trashcan in Maryland Heights and Donna Reitmeyer, whose body was located in a plastic trashcan in a park in St. Louis City.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Timothy Lohmar charged Muehlberg with one count of first-degree murder for the 1991 death of Little, whose body was found in a dresser in their jurisdiction.
“Ultimately, we knew that because of the time that had elapsed, it was going to require the cooperation of Mr. Muehlberg,” Lohmar said.
Prosecutors said Muehlberg was willing to cooperate with them, as long as the death penalty was taken off the table.
“In my experience, it is quite unprecedented for as many agencies that have worked together as have today, that we have three prosecutors that have come together to communicate as effectively as we have, to put our heads together and figure out how to best move forward, and I do want to thank Tim Lohmar and Wesley Bell on sharing information in order to get a positive result here,” Wood said.
“This is about public safety – and public safety requires us to work together – because those who will commit crimes will not adhere to borders,” Bell said.
When asked if there are more victims, Wood suggested the possibility is there, and the investigation is still active.
“There is at least some information to suggest that,” he said.
Prosecutors and investigators are still unsure of Muehlberg’s motivations behind his crimes.
“In terms of a motive, I wish I could tell you exactly what happened,” Lohmar said. “There were certain aspects of each of the crime scenes that were very reminiscent of one another, and there were other things that I can’t get into right now.
“The defendant was familiar with these victims only on a very surface level.”
Weber said she couldn’t take credit for singlehandedly solving the case, saying the crime labs should share in the credit. However, when asked what would she tell future investigators how to handle cold cases, Weber had a simple statement.
“Stick with it,” she said. “When (the lab) comes back with ‘no DNA match,’ stick with it, go back through the evidence, and resubmit it.
“With the advancements in DNA, who knows what it’s going to be like 10 or 15 years from now?”
Mihan’s mother, Saundra Kuenhle, said identifying Muehlberg as her daughter’s killer has been a long time coming.
“Thirty-two years is a long time, but it’s not God’s time,” she said. “I’m very grateful to the investigators.
“I pestered them for years. I’m very appreciative of their hard work.”
Despite the announcement of Muehlberg as her daughter’s murderer, Kuenhle said she forgives him.
“I have to forgive him,” she said. “God forgives all of us – and I don’t even know him.”
Kuenhle said she prays for her daughter, as well as all of Muehlberg’s victims, known and unknown.
“To all of the girls, they went through hell here,” Kuenhle said. “There’s only one place to go now, and that is heaven.
“Robyn was 18-and-a-half when she died – and she is forever young now.”