In January 1994, 53-year-old retired school teacher Paul Gruber had returned to his quiet home by Muskrat Lake in Idaho, having spent Christmas in Reno with his daughter. Little did his daughter Shellie Kepley know, that would be the last time she saw her father alive.
Over the following weeks Kepley attempted to contact her father on a number of occasions, just to be greeted each time by nothing more than an answering machine. When her young son received a birthday card from Gruber, Kepley instantly became suspicious – there was something about that birthday card that wasn’t quite right. Concerned, she contacted the police department to file a missing person’s report and have the police check up on her father. When officers arrived at the lakehouse, they found no one home and the house virtually empty of any furniture or personal belongings.
Police became concerned. It appeared that Paul Gruber had disappeared, yet somehow he was still paying bills, sending birthday cards and receiving his post.
At the victim’s seemingly abandoned house, police discovered a peculiar rug that had been glued to the hardwood floor. This was immediately pulled up, revealing an unusual gouge in the wood – consistent with the damage cause by a ricocheting bullet. The mark tested positive for gunshot residues. The area underneath and surrounding the rug was tested with luminol, and a tell-tale stain soon materialised. When the stain was found to be blood belonging to Paul Gruber, police scoured the area with cadaver dogs, but no trace of a body was found.
Investigators had convincing evidence that Gruber had most likely been murdered right there in his own home, even if they could not find a body. But who was responsible? And, curiously, who was still picking up Gruber’s post?
Now convinced that something malicious had happened to the missing man, investigators studied the camera footage of the post office where Gruber’s mailbox was hosted. They did indeed capture the image of a man visiting the mailbox, but it was not Paul Gruber. Enquiries suggested that the person picking up Gruber’s post was a local man named Darryl Robin Kuehl.
Kuehl was pulled in for questioning. He claimed to be involved in some kind of business venture with the victim and that’s why he was dealing with Gruber’s mail, but insisted he had not seen him in a while. However when shown a photo of Paul Gruber, the suspect claimed never to have seen this man before, and began suggesting he had been working with an imposter posing as Paul Gruber.
Police were sceptical of his story. From then on, the evidence against Darryl Kuehl began to pile up.
Upon scrutinising the bank accounts of both the suspect and victim, police found unexplained large deposits into Darryl’s bank account, coinciding with similar withdrawals from Gruber’s account. Darryl attempted to explain this by claiming he was paying bills for Gruber.
The question surrounding the signed cheques and birthday cards still remained. A forensic document examiner had initially been called upon to compare the handwriting in the suspected birthday cards with known handwriting of the victim. But despite the family’s protests, the expert concluded that the birthday cards had been written by the victim. Now, the same documents were sent to an alternative expert, Robert Floberg, along with samples of Darryl Kuehl’s handwriting. In opposition to the first examiner, Floberg found considerable differences between the two writing samples and determined that Gruber had not written those birthday cards. The handwriting did, however, match that of Darryl, as did the handwriting on a dozen cheques supposedly filled out by the victim.
Furthermore, investigators extracted DNA from the back of the postage stamps attached to the cards sent to Gruber’s daughter and, after comparing it with the DNA of Darryl Kuehl, confirmed that the suspect had in fact sent those cards.
Police were now sure of Darryl’s involvement somehow, and obtained a warrant to search his property. Whilst searching to suspect’s home, investigators discovered a hidden door containing a plethora of weaponry, ranging from katana swords and throwing stars to a .22 calibre handgun with a homemade silencer. Even more incriminating, Darryl’s property was full of tools and furniture known to have belonged to Paul Gruber.
Finally on 23rd August 1995, a year and a half after Paul Gruber had disappeared, police found his badly decomposed body. Whilst revisiting the basement crawlspace beneath Gruber’s house, a depression in the floor was spotted that had not been there previously. It was as if the ground had settled, similar to the effect seen in cemeteries after burial. The area was excavated and a body wrapped in a deflated air mattress discovered, shot 4 times by a .22 calibre gun. The body was identified as Paul Gruber’s.
On 2nd May 1997, Darryl Kuehl was found guilty of murder, forgery and grand theft. It is believed Kuehl murdered Paul Gruber out of greed and jealousy of what Gruber had. Kuehl was not a well-off man – he had no money and was forced to live with friends when Paul Gruber came into his life. Having been hired by Gruber as a handyman to carry out occasional jobs around the house, Kuehl gained his trust until he was in the position to take Gruber’s life. He continued paying Gruber’s bills and sending cards to his family as if he were still alive, only so Kuehl could continue to leech off Gruber’s money.
In the decades following his conviction, Kuehl unsuccessfully appealed against his conviction numerous times.
Bonner Country Daily Bee. Appeals court nixes convicted killer’s petition. [online] Available: http://www.bonnercountydailybee.com/news/local/article_7c42bb8c-47f6-11e1-8156-001871e3ce6c.html
The Spokesman Review. ‘That’s A Lie!’ Murder Suspect Shouts From Court Prosecutor Says DNA Proves Kuehl Is Killer; Case Goes To Jury. [online] Available: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/1997/may/01/thats-a-lie-murder-suspect-shouts-from-court
Craig Welch. Murder in Sandpoint, Idaho – forensic documents play important role in charging, evidence, and conviction. [online] Available: http://www.robertfloberg.com/sandpoint.html
Kuehl v. State, 145 Idaho 607, 181 P.3d 533 (Ct. App. 2008)