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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

Stranger haunts memory of student; mysterious man was never found

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

A former nursing student said she is still haunted by memories of the stranger she spotted near the Mercy Hospital chapel on Holy Saturday, 1980, on the morning Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was murdered.

Karen Raszka of Sylvania normally stopped to pray in the chapel at the downtown Catholic hospital before and after each shift, but shortly after 7:30 a.m. on April 5, she saw that the chapel doors were shut.

"It was my habit to stop at the chapel, whether coming or going to school, but that day, for the first time ever, the chapel doors were closed," Mrs. Raszka said this week.

At first she thought it was closed because of preparations for Easter Sunday the next day.

But Mrs. Raszka, 44, later learned that 71-year-old Sister Margaret Ann had been strangled to death that morning in the chapel's sacristy, then stabbed up to 32 times in what investigators said was part of a ceremonial slaying.

A Toledo diocesan priest, the Rev. Gerald Robinson, 66, was arrested last month and charged with aggravated murder in the 1980 slaying. He pleaded innocent and is out of jail on a $400,000 property bond.

Police reports from the initial murder investigation include interviews with Mrs. Raszka, and she was recently interviewed by a member of the cold-case squad that reopened the investigation last month.

A resident nursing student at Mercy, Mrs. Raszka had worked a double shift from 3 p.m. Good Friday until about 7:30 a.m. Holy Saturday, at which

time she took an elevator to the hospital basement to punch her time card, then rode the elevator back to the first floor and headed for the chapel.

As she walked down the hallway, an office door popped open and a man she did not recognize stepped out.

Two days later, Mrs. Raszka described him to police, saying he was a good-looking, clean-shaven, slim white male, about 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, between 24 and 30 years old, with collar-length blond hair.

The stranger was well-dressed, she said, remembering his beige, camel's hair sport coat.

She said she never saw the man before or since.

"I didn't know him, I was not familiar with him from either the school or the hospital," Mrs. Raszka said.

"The only thing I know for sure is that Father Robinson is not the man I saw that morning," she said.

She knew Father Robinson, the hospital's chaplain, from attending services in Mercy's chapel and from seeing the priest around the building.

The door the stranger walked through was either a rest room for the nuns or the office of the nun who at the time was the hospital's director of public relations, according to police.

After Mrs. Raszka walked further down the hall, she said she turned and saw that the man was still watching her.

A police artist drew a sketch of the man based on her description, she said.

Officers also asked Mrs. Raszka to be on the lookout for the man she spotted in the hallway at Sister Margaret Ann's funeral, over which Father Robinson presided.

"The nurses went as a color guard for the funeral, and I was positioned so I could watch and see whether that man was at the funeral," Mrs. Raszka said.

Police feared for her safety because the killer was still at large, she said, and they provided her with an escort to and from the hospital for several weeks after the murder.

Retired Detective Art Marx, one of the lead investigators on the case in 1980, said this week that he does not recall a sketch of a suspect in the nun's death, nor does he recall a potential witness being escorted to and from work.

But he did not rule out such a possibility, noting that details of the investigation have faded from memory in the 24 years since the murder.

"Off the top of my head, I can't say I remember it," he said.

Mrs. Raszka said that despite recent reports that law-enforcement officials always considered Father Robinson a prime suspect, officers told her at the time that they suspected Sister Margaret Ann's killer was a disgruntled female employee.

"I've known Father Robinson over the years, and he is a very mild and meek man," Mrs. Raszka said. "He's very quiet, a phenomenal listener. I always felt that his calling was working with the sick and infirm because he's so quiet. He's not one to be in the spotlight."

She said the priest visited her mother-in-law twice when she was hospitalized.

Blade staff writer Robin Erb contributed to this report.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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