ATTICA, NY — Born in 1955, identical twin brothers Robert and Stephen Spahalski embarked on a life of crime together early on, attempting to “out-steal” one another during their adolescent robbery sprees around upstate New York.
The Spahalskis parted ways only after 16-year-old Stephen fatally stabbed a shopkeeper “who deserved it” in 1971.
Decades later, the brothers would be reunited by surprise when Robert landed alongside his twin at the notorious Attica Correctional Facility after he too, was convicted for murder.
In keeping with the larcenous games of their youth, though, Robert managed to “out-kill” Stephen, getting convicted for four homicides and being sentenced to 100 years behind bars.
Reportedly, when Stephen spotted a newspaper article about his brother coming to prison, he quipped to a guard, “I thought I was the only murderer in the family!”
Stephen Spahalski initially served eight years for the stabbing of a 48-year-old storeowner in Elmira, New York. Upon getting out, Stephen promptly got busted for robbery and kidnapping, returning to prison in 1999.
Following that release, Stephen violated parole and went back to lock-up. He has spent the vast majority of his life behind bars, where he lives as an out-and-proud gay man whose nickname is “Christmas,” inspired by his love of the holiday season.
In the meantime, Robert Spahalski went to jail sporadically as his life devolved into mental illness, drug addiction, and street hustling.
The Spahalski brothers even served time together on occasion. During one such period in 1978, one of the twins attempted to escape from a state penitentiary — but officials couldn’t figure out which one.
Even with his criminal record and dangerous lifestyle as a male prostitute, Robert Spahalski only got arrested for murder in November 2005 after he suddenly walked into a police station and confessed.
Robert told detectives that, a few days earlier, he had beaten and fatally strangled Vivian Irizarry, 54, a neighbor he described as his “best friend,” and then dumped her body in a basement.
Robert also told the cops he’d strangled his neighbor Morraine Armstrong, 24, in 1990 and his girlfriend, Adrian Berger, in July 1991. Those cases had gone cold; in fact, Berger’s demise had not even been officially deemed a homicide because her cause of death could not be determined.
Investigators quickly also linked Robert to the October 1991 hammer-bludgeoning of 40-year-old landscaper Charles Grande.
At first, police said, Robert didn’t want to own up to that murder, as he had it “fixed in his mind” that four slayings might result in his being “labeled a serial killer.”
After a 12-hour interrogation though Robert came clean and said he murdered Grande after the victim supposedly shortchanged him on a sex-for-cash deal. Spahalski also said he stole $1,000 in cash from the dead man.
Robert ended his confession statement by writing:
“I knew that coming forward is the best thing to do. I settled all of my past business today and want to put it all behind me.”
He then signed the document, surrendered himself, and went to trial in 2006, whereupon defense attorneys entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Robert’s lawyers claimed their client suffered from untreated mental illness and that he had committed the crimes while out of his mind on cocaine. The defense even said that Robert hallucinated and believed one of his victims had transformed into a demon when he choked her in what he thought was self-defense. The jury didn’t buy that pitch, though, and after two-and-half hours of deliberation, they convicted Robert on four counts of second-degree murder.
A judge subsequently sentenced Robert to 100 years — the 25-year maximum for each killing.
Under any circumstances, that’s effectively a life sentence. In Robert’s case, it seemed even more so, as, by then, he was suffering from AIDS.
Nevertheless, both Robert and Stephen Spahalski remain alive today and locked up, killer twins who took two separate but horribly twisted roads to the same doomed fate.
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Main photos: Stephen Spahalski; Robert Spahalski [New York Dept. of Corrections]