For the last 29 years, Gary Muehlberg has sat behind bars in a Missouri prison for a single heinous crime. The state knew this man was dangerous; he was given a life sentence for a 1993 slaying. However, as DNA evidence recently revealed, no one even knew the half of his criminal past.
The Package Killer Terrorized St. Louis
In the early spring of 1990, St. Louis resident Robyn Mihan was doing what she could to get by. Already a mother of two at 18 years old, Mihan was dealing with addiction and relied on sex work as a means to make money. On March 22, Mihan got into the car of a stranger and was never seen alive 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 poorly sealed by a garbage bag pulled tautly and bound by a wire. It was clear the young woman had been deceased for a long 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. The new mother had landed a job at a fast food restaurant just a few months prior, but she kept going back to sex work when money got 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. They were all strangled with a ligature, were tortured prior to their deaths, had matching dog hairs on their clothing, and were all left out in the open in conspicuous containers. The killer didn’t as much dispose of his victims as he delivered them to public places in makeshift parcels. For that reason, this 1990 killing spree came to be 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
By 1993, law enforcement knew Gary Muehlberg was a dangerous man. In 1972, Muehlberg was living in Salina, Kansas, where had his first brush with the law. At only 23 years old, he broke into the home of an 18-year-old girl, held her at knifepoint, raped her, and then forced her to go with him to the bank in order to steal $25 out of her account. The young Muehlberg was swiftly captured and convicted of robbery. He somehow weaseled his way out of serving any time for the violent rape—a sign of the times, perhaps.
After spending only a month in prison, Muehlberg walked free. His prison stint did little to quell his violent tendencies. The next year, Muehlberg invaded the home of a 14-year-old girl who happened to be babysitting even younger children at the time. After telling the girl he only wanted to rob the home, he tied her up, gagged her, and locked her in the bathroom.
He was filling the bathtub with water when he got spooked by a passing car. 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 charged with aggravated assault and sentenced to five years in prison. His wife of three years divorced him after the incident, severing him from all contact with their son. After his release from prison, Muehlberg appeared to settle down. He remarried in 1980 and had two children before his second wife filed for divorce in 1986.
Muehlberg Was Sentenced To Life In Prison In 1993
In the early ’90s, Muehlberg’s only social life existed within the confines of a local 24-hour diner. Fellow regulars at the establishment described Muehlberg 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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Standing at 6 feet 3 inches and carrying a distinctive stench, he was intimidating to even the steeliest of his acquaintances. In February of 1993, Kenneth “Doc” Atchison, another regular at the diner, told some friends he was going over to Muehlberg’s to purchase a vehicle he was selling.
They warned him not to go alone, but he shrugged them off. The last anyone heard from him, he was on his way to Muehlberg’s home with $6,000 in cash. While Atchison was never seen alive again, Muehlberg showed up at the diner that very night with a large stack of newly acquired cash. He fled to Illinois after the incident. He made multiple phone calls to his acquaintances, trying to coerce someone to dispose of Atchison’s body for him.
Muehlberg was arrested just one month 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.
Identifying Muehlberg As The Package Killer
Almost thirty years later, we are just now learning the full extent of Muehlberg’s crimes. In the three decades since the Package Killings, DNA testing has come a long way. 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 sent the little viable physical evidence they had 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. When investigators confronted Muehlberg about the crimes, he folded. Now in his 70s, he confessed not only to the three connected murders, but he also told detectives about two other victims.
There was 40-year-old Donna Reitmeyer, who disappeared from the Southside Stroll in June of 1990. Police found her body eight days later disposed of in a trash bin in a similar fashion to Brenda Pruitt. 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.
An Uneasy Resolution
There are clear silver linings to this breakthrough. The families of the victims now know who took 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 nearly thirty years in prison have been unrelated. Despite spending decades behind bars, for all of those years, he was still technically getting away with it.
Muehlberg provided little in the way of an explanation for the killings, leaving curious minds unsatisfied. He expressed remorse, although investigators have taken it with a grain of salt. There’s no explaining crimes this heinous, but Muehlberg didn’t even try. That fact speaks volumes. Muehlberg wasn’t a criminal mastermind. He didn’t evade police because of his charm or intellect. He was sloppy, repugnant to most who met him, and he did little to cover his tracks.
It was his cowardice that helped him avoid justice. He preyed on the most vulnerable members of our society. He didn’t know them and didn’t care to—taking life without even learning names. As his case stands today, it seems like Muehlberg is an unfortunate mark in the “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.