A Mother’s Plea – Robert Wagner’s Story

About 3 weeks before he was viciously struck down, Robbie confided in his brother-in-law that he didn’t have much time left in this world.

Robert Wagner, known as Robbie to his friends and family, was the second youngest of the eight children of Marilla and George Wagner. He was raised in Brantford, ON. As a child, he was mischievous, something fondly remembered by his older siblings. He was always very enterprising. As a young boy he ran a bait shop from home. He had worms, minnows, crayfish, and other types of bait. And according to a local resident, he did very well for himself considering his age. During his early years, he dreamed of one day becoming rich, as we are all apt to do.

He grew into a quiet and intelligent man with a full-time, well-paying job and a close relationship with his parents. He moved out of Brantford into his own apartment in the neighbouring city of Cambridge in 1985 or 1986. He lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment at 142 Woodside drive. In 1987 he started back working, this time full-time, as a welder at a company called Babcock & Wilson, which was just 3.7 km away from his apartment

During his time in Cambridge, he volunteered at a crisis hotline centre and was a semi-active member of the NDP (New Democratic Party) riding.

In an effort to lose weight, he allegedly started using amphetamines and subsequently became addicted.  According to an older brother, the need to pay for his addiction potentially lead Robbie to start selling drugs on a small scale.

Despite this turn of events, Robbie continued to maintain his job without issue. He was well regarded both at work and among his neighbours. He would often call home to chat with his mom and drop in every other weekend, sometimes more often, for a visit. Of course, his mom loved that her baby would be visiting and would dote on him by making all of his favourite foods.

Just before Christmas of 1990, in one of his visits with family in Brantford, 31-year-old Robbie confided to his brother-in-law that he would be dead within three weeks. It’s hard to say what the reaction was after this shocking statement, but after some prodding, Robbie told him that he was tripping on people’s toes and maybe doing some things that he shouldn’t be doing.

In and around this time, Robbie gave his brother in law his Lincoln Town Car, who would end up using it for pizza delivery. This car was eventually sold to the pizza parlour as one of their delivery cars, and, during a normal search, drugs were located in on of the wheel wells.

Robbie didn’t show up at his parent’s house on Saturday, Jan 19, 1991, or on Sunday, the 20th. Marilla, Robbie’s mother, wasn’t particularly concerned at the time because he didn’t come every weekend, and he didn’t usually call ahead either.

Robbie didn’t show up for work on Monday, Jan 21. He apparently didn’t call in to say he was ill or wasn’t coming, and calls to his apartment in the afternoon were going unanswered. Monday came and went. Once again on Tuesday, Jan 22, he didn’t show up to work and the calls to his apartment went unanswered. This was completely out of character for the young man.

At around noon, a friend & co-worker named Scott called the police and then went to Robbie’s apartment to check in on him. He pulled into the parking lot at 142 Woodside Avenue in Cambridge at the same time as the police. There, they went to apartment 320, where Robbie’s lifeless body was discovered in the living room of his apartment. It was very evident that he had been violently murdered, and likely attacked while laying on his sofa.  

Law enforcement photographed and searched the crime scene. It didn’t appear to be staged and allegedly no weapon was found on scene. They searched the area around the apartment, took down every license plate within the parking lot, and spoke to neighbours. It was determined that he had been murdered between late afternoon on Monday, Jan 21, 1991, to noon on Jan 22, 1991.  A canvas of the neighbours revealed that he was a quiet tenant that usually kept to himself. No one reportedly heard anything on Monday or Tuesday during the time police believe he was killed.

His body was taken to the Hamilton General Hospital for an Autopsy, which was conducted the following day on Jan 23. Law enforcement indicated that the autopsy revealed other information useful to police, but that those could not be disclosed. The cause of death was determined to be from multiple stab wounds.  He had been stabbed over 100 times to the chest and face. The murder was so violent and horrific that he was mainly initially identified by his graduation ring. His funeral needed to be closed casket due to the severity of the crime.

The apartment building is quite large; it has since been renovated, but apparently was a little run down at the time and was a known location where people sold drugs. To have an understanding of the community, I’ve visited this location.

Three months following the discovery of his murder, the police revealed that Robbie had been selling small amounts of cocaine and hashish as a side hustle. His mom had a hard time coming to terms with it, as it just didn’t coincide with the boy or the man, he became that she knew.

At the time of his death, police believed he was killed by one of his customers or someone he was doing drugs with at the time and that this person would have been a local resident. There was apparently drugs in his system at the time of his death, according to toxicology tests. I was unable to confirm which drug or drugs and to what extent, but this could have made him easier to overtake. It’s possible that someone or more than one individual did this with him to make him feel at ease before attacking.

At first, police thought it could have been a result of an argument or a drug deal gone bad, as the level of violence was extremely aggressive. Based on the fact that law enforcement believed the suspect or suspects were either customers or someone doing drugs with him at that time, there doesn’t appear to be confirmation of forced entry into his apartment. The murder itself was particularly violent. As mentioned, he was stabbed in excess of 100 times to two close or proximate areas of the body. It’s possible that more than one individual inflicted these wounds, however has not been confirmed by law enforcement.

According to ‘Criminal Profiling (Fourth Edition)’ by Brent E. Turvey, the two following circumstances of the crime or crime scene can show a potential relationship to exist between the murderer or offender and the victim, meaning they are known to each other:

  1. No forced entry to a locked residence,
  2. Evidence of overkill. Overkill being defined by the oxford dictionary of forensic science, Injuries inflicted during a crime that exceed what is necessary to kill or incapacitate a victim.

His funeral was held on Saturday. Jan 26, 1991, followed by interment at Mount Hope Cemetery in Brantford, ON.

His case went stale by the summer of that year, as the police indicated that they had exhausted all investigative leads and couldn’t bring the case any further.

When Robbie was murdered, mid-late January, this was already the 4th homicide in the region, an area that typically only see that number by the end of the year. The police were not staffed or equipped to handle this many ongoing investigations at one time, despite indicating that are able to borrow resources from other police forces.

Six months to a year later, two detectives were put back on the case full time in 1992; they were able to eliminate suspects among Robbie’s co-workers, friends and customers. But the case fizzled out once again. Unfortunately, a rise in murders in the region meant that they could only work on the case sporadically. 

With growing pressure from Marilla, the case was once again re-opened in 1999. Law enforcement indicated that new information was made available at this time. To try and get more information and people to come forward, they ended up offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of his killer.

When the investigation was reinvigorated in 1999, the investigators working on Robbie’s case, in order to help narrow the focus of their investigation, engaged a profiler.

Profilers in Ontario are specially trained individuals within the Behavioural science unit within the Ontario Provincial Police. To develop a profile, they’ll look at crime scene photos, the autopsy reports, and the victim themselves, a method known as Victimology. An analysis of the crime scene may give investigators vital clues on the type of offender they should be looking for.  A profile can also suggest things like physical appearance and exhibited behaviours.

The principle of profiling is that offenders don’t just potentially leave behind physical evidence, but also behavioural and psychological evidence, which could be vital in finding these criminals. Profiles can help police hone in specific suspects or even help frame a line of questioning during different interrogations.

Criminal profiling isn’t new, evolved over the past numerous years, and is now considered critically crucial in tracking serial or elusive offenders. However, this didn’t seem to help yet in Robbie’s case.

Overkill is usually personal, with anger as a common underlying cause. The crime itself was described as violent, which would lead anyone to believe that the perpetrator left evidence of some kind and that the crime itself was disorganized. Disorganized killers or criminals don’t usually venture far from home, which means Robbie’s killer was likely from the area and known to Robbie.

Robbie’s murderer’s profile was completed after careful examination of the crime scene photos and the police reports & notes about the homicide.

The profile suggested that the killer or killers were known to Robert Wagner. The dominant person in the killing had a history of imprisonment and was of average intelligence but was street smart, manipulative, and deceptive. It is believed that they were in a relationship filled with strife, and was/is a violent individual. They also believe this person had an older model vehicle that was in bad condition. The profile also indicated that likely more than one individual was involved.

Law enforcement was hopeful that this would help them as the same profilers had completed a profile in the killing of Reg Riddell in Nov 1998, and 85-year-old senior attacked in his home by three offenders, and the profile was very accurate. 

After the profile was completed, it was then that law enforcement officials indicated that they believed that more than one person was involved in Robbie’s murder.

The $10,000 reward offered by Law Enforcement sparked some tips that corroborated the OPP’s profile with regards to there being more than one person involved in the slaying.

At this time, police also revealed that they do have forensic evidence on file; however, the police will not divulge what that evidence is. Police were mum on whether they had DNA evidence, but in a media interview with Marilla in 1999, she indicated the law enforcement told her that the only DNA they confirmed to have, was that of her son’s.

If Law Enforcement does have perpetrator DNA, the police force can work with forensic research groups to identify an offender through familial DNA. Redgrave research group is one such forensic service company that work with many law-enforcement agencies across North America. They have an educational program to train forensic genealogists for law enforcement cases. As they can educate local staff, the cost of such research can be greatly reduced. A lot of medium to smaller police forces will shelf this type of possibility because of the cost that it can run. This particular company was involved in identifying the murderer of 9-year-old Christine Jessop. A case that was cold for 36 years.

Robbie’s mom, not getting any answers at this point from the police, believed in alternative methods to find answers on who murdered her son. She had gone to psychics and clairvoyants, and used Ouija boards.

Robbie’s mother had said that the profile completed by the OPP coincided with what the psychic and clairvoyant told her. They indicated that the killer drove a brown or dark coloured car, either a Camaro or a Firebird. They also told Robbie’s mother that a female, a mother in need of psychiatric help, was involved. Please note that this information is not verified and did not come from law enforcement.  

The police strongly believe that it’s his second job, as a small-scale drug dealer, that lead to his death.

Although his family agrees with this assessment by the Waterloo Region police, they don’t believe that law enforcement went down the rabbit hole far enough. They believed that Robbie was deeper into the Cambridge drug scene than the police have indicated to media but downplayed his involvement to spare their mother Marilla, who was continually pushing the police to find Wagner’s killer. His remaining family believe this was a hit, and the people involved were known to Robbie.

Robbie had a friend named ‘BJ Cobb” that sources believe was either involved or knows who killed Robbie; Family members ran into him at a restaurant shortly after Robbie’s murder, and he wouldn’t speak to them. He got up and left, as though to avoid them. He allegedly relocated to BC shortly after that. Additionally, his uncle, surname Cobb, now deceased, reportedly had confided to friends that he had murdered Robbie. People talk; someone knows something.

Over the years, the police have received numerous tips, and some of the names of possible suspects have been given more than once. In 2001, law enforcement indicated that they did have persons of interest in his case; however, they needed additional information.

Marilla had a photo of Robbie on her bedside table, and she would kiss it every night before bed, praying and hoping for answers to come the next day.

Unfortunately, Robbie’s parents passed away with no answers and no justice for their son. His mother, Marilla, passed away in 2013, and his father, George, passed away in 1997.

Robbie’s family is losing hope for justice, and they just aren’t sure the police are doing anything anymore on the case.

“he had gone down a dangerous road that ultimately resulted in om his homicide.” – Retired Deputy Chief Brent Thomlison

Waterloo regional police indicate that different evidence gets reassessed every few years as technologies and databases evolve, involving efforts between them and the Ontario Centre for forensic sciences. The case is cold, but the Major crime unit would move it to the top of their priority list if new information was provided.

Anyone with information about this murder is asked to call police at 653-7700 ext. 739 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800- 222-TIPS (1-800-222- 8477).

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