Gary Muehlberg was incarcerated in Missouri for a single, heinous offense over the past 29 years. He was dangerously in danger, so the state gave him a life sentence for his 1993 murder. As DNA evidence has shown, however, no one knew even half of his criminal history.
St. Louis was terrorized with the package killer
Robyn Mihan, a St. Louis resident, was struggling to make ends meet in the spring 1990. Mihan, a mother of two children at the age of 18, was already struggling with addiction. She relied on sexwork as a way to earn money. Mihan, who was 18 years old at the time, got into a car belonging to a stranger on March 22 and was never seen again. Four days later, authorities found Mihan’s lifeless body pinched in between two mattresses bound together and discarded on the side of the road.
In May, 27-year-old mother Brenda Pruitt’s family reported her missing. It wasn’t until October of that year that two municipal employees discovered Pruitt’s decomposed remains in a garbage bin left in between an apartment building and a nearby park. The container was sealed poorly with a tightly rolled garbage bag and wire. The young woman was clearly dead for some time.
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In early September of 1990, 21-year-old Sandy Little disappeared from the Southside Stroll—the same street Robyn disappeared from that March. Although the mother had just secured a job at a fast-food restaurant a few months before, she continued to do sex work whenever money was tight. It’s believed Little was held captive in close proximity to Pruitt’s remains before her death. Five months later, a motorist discovered Little’s body alongside a highway, crammed into a box.
Authorities quickly connected the three women’s cases. All of them were strangled with a string, tortured before their deaths, had matching hairstyles and were left in open containers. The killer didn’t as much dispose of his victims as he delivered them to public places in makeshift parcels. The 1990 killing spree was known as the Package Murders. The perpetrator evaded justice for 30 years, making the string of killings one of St. Louis’ most disturbing cold cases.
Gary Muehlberg had a long criminal history
Law enforcement recognized Gary Muehlberg as a dangerous man by 1993. Muehlberg was a Kansas resident in 1972. It was here that he met his first encounter with law enforcement. He broke into the house of an 18-year old girl and held her at knifepoint. Then he forced her to go to the bank with him in order to steal $25 from her account. He was quickly captured and convicted for robbery. He somehow weaseled his way out of serving any time for the violent rape—a sign of the times, perhaps.
Muehlberg was released from prison after spending just a month. His imprisonment did little to curb his violent tendencies. Muehlberg broke into the home of a 14year-old girl while she was babysitting other children. He told the girl that he wanted to rob her home and tied her up, gagged him, and then locked her in the bathroom.
A passing car woke him up as he was filling his bathtub with water. It’s unknown what exactly he planned to do with the girl, but the bathtub only conjures worst-case scenarios. However, fearing that the girl’s parents had come home, Muehler fled the scene.
He was sentenced to five year imprisonment for aggravated attack. After the incident, Muehlberg’s wife of three-years divorced him. He was also sentenced to five years in prison. Muehlberg seemed to have settled down after his release from prison. He was remarried in 1980. His second wife, who was also his first wife, filed for divorce in 1986.
Muehlberg was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993
In the early ’90s, Muehlberg’s only social life existed within the confines of a local 24-hour diner. Muehlberg was described by other diners at the restaurant as a narcissist. They remember him haunting the diner to keep an eye on his girlfriend—she was a waitress there at the time.
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At 6 feet 3 inches tall, his distinctive stench made him intimidating to anyone who was not steely. Kenneth died in February 1993. “Doc” Atchison, another regular at the diner, told some friends he was going over to Muehlberg’s to purchase a vehicle he was selling.
He ignored their warnings and continued his journey alone. The last anyone heard from him, he was on his way to Muehlberg’s home with $6,000 in cash. Although Atchison was never found alive, Muehlberg arrived at the diner with a large amount of cash. After the incident, he fled to Illinois. He made multiple phone calls to his acquaintances, trying to coerce someone to dispose of Atchison’s body for him.
Muehlberg, however, was arrested just one months later. After confessing to Atchison’s murder, authorities were able to search his home. After trudging through filth of his living space, they found Atchison’s remains in the basement. His body was concealed in a makeshift wooden box—a “crude coffin,”Officers called it.
Muehlberg as the Package Killer
Almost thirty years later, we are just now learning the full extent of Muehlberg’s crimes. DNA testing has advanced a lot in the three decades that have passed since the Package Killings. In cases as cold as Mihan, Pruitt, and Little’s were, DNA testing is about the only hope families have of finding justice. So, investigators They sent them the smallest amount of physical evidence that they could find. from Little’s murder off to the lab.
Then, just like that, investigators got the breakthrough they’d waited 30 years for. The DNA extracted from key pieces of evidence matched an inmate in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. That criminal, as you’ve probably guessed, was Gary Muehlberg. Muehlberg refused to answer investigators about the crimes. He confessed to not only the three murders but also revealed details about two other victims.
Donna Reitmeyer, 40, disappeared in June 1990 while walking along the Southside Stroll. Eight days later, police found her body. It was disposed of in the same manner as Brenda Pruitt’s trash bin. Muehlberg couldn’t name his fifth victim, only stating that he picked her up sometime in ’91 and left her in another trash bin at a self-serve car wash.
This breakthrough has clear silver linings. Families of victims now know who killed their loved ones. They have someone to blame as well as the reassurance that he won’t be able to hurt anyone else. However, at a press conference, they expressed how hard it is to know he likely won’t face sentencing for the murders. His almost thirty years spent in prison were unrelated. He was technically still able to get away with it, even though he spent decades behind bars.
Muehlberg did not provide any explanations for the killings. This left curious minds a little puzzled. While he did express regrets, investigators take it with a grain. There’s no explaining crimes this heinous, but Muehlberg didn’t even try. That speaks volumes. Muehlberg wasn’t a criminal mastermind. He didn’t evade police because of his charm or intellect. He was slow and uncoordinated, which made him a scourge to everyone who had ever met him.
His cowardice was what saved him from justice. He preyed upon the most vulnerable members our society. He didn’t know them and didn’t care to—taking life without even learning names. It seems that Muehlberg is an unfortunate case in today’s court. “nature”Column in the “nature vs. nurture” debate. However, while it’s unsettling to the very core to know that people like Muehlberg exist, citizens of St. Louis can rest easier knowing that the Package Killer is behind bars.