Summary of Details
Name: OWEN, Robert G. Address: DOB: 11 August 1940 Age: 40 Marital Status: Married Date of Murder: Monday,29 December 1980 Cause of death: Single gunshot to the chest Employer: Corporal - City of Erie Police Department Location Found: Behind a warehouse at 1258 West 18 Street, Erie, PA Jurisdiction: Erie County District Attorney
Corporal Robert OWEN was a nine year police officer for the City of Erie when he was found dead at about 1:40 a.m. on Monday morning, 29 December 1980. Investigators believe that he was shot shortly before midnight Sunday night. His body was lying about 75 feet away from his patrol car – Car 113 – with a single bullet wound to the chest. The murder weapon was his own – a Colt Trooper Mark III .357 with a 6″ barrel, bearing serial number 235575L, although the weapon was not immediately found.
OWEN’s patrol car, which was parked in a secluded industrial area known where Erie police officers often gathered, was idling. It’s lights were off and the driver’s door was open. In addition to being known as a police “nest” for patrol officers, the area was also known for drug addicts looking for a sniff or two from chemical solvents like toluene, often stored outside the warehouses. The police radio inside OWEN’s vehicle happened to be turned to channel three, which was a car-to-car channel used by officers to privately talk to each other.
About 70-75 feet away from the patrol car was the lifeless body of Corporal Robert OWEN. The condition of OWEN’s jacket and shirt indicated that he was likely involved in a struggle before he was shot. His keys, a set of handcuffs with one cuff partially open, were found near the start of a bloody trail north of the patrol car and several feet away from the body, suggesting perhaps that OWEN might have either attempted to reach his car or was partially dragged in that direction. Also present were cigarette butts from two different brands of cigarettes and a lighter.
According to investigators, a man walking his two dogs saw the unattended Erie patrol car and a flashlight, and notified Erie Police about 1:40 a.m. Monday morning. What that man, identified as David CAMBRA, reportedly did not initially mention is that he also found and pick up OWEN’s gun, and kept it. When questioned on 9 January 1981. CAMBRA reportedly admitted to picking up the weapon, although later disposed of it about a mile from the scene near the railroad tracks west of Pittsburgh Avenue – ostensibly when he learned it was used to kill a police officer.
He ultimately led police detectives to the spot where he claims to have tossed the weapon, which laid exposed to harsh winter elements for over 11 days. The weapon was found to have traces of OWEN’s blood in and on the barrel, indicating the gun was fired at close range.
David CAMBRA reportedly underwent polygraph examinations about his possible involvement in the murder of Robert OWEN. He allegedly passed those examinations.
The murder of Corporal OWEN has been the subject of much speculation over the years. Although ruled a homicide by then coroner Merle WOOD, some investigators believed OWEN shot himself. The death of Robert OWEN was officially ruled a homicide by Pennsylvania Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman on 14 April 1983.
Controversy surrounded Robert OWEN in relation to the investigation of a high-value burglary that took place on or about 25 November 1980 at the home of Louis NARDO, 605 Hilltop Road, Erie, PA. According to criminal records, the burglary resulted in the loss of jewelry and other valuable items from the NARDO home estimated $550,000 in value.
OWEN and other police officers responded to the burglary and were at the premises when a diamond ring that was not taken in the burglary turned up missing. OWEN and eight other officers were questioned about the theft. OWEN and two other police officers were administered polygraph tests. According to initial reports, the test results of the two other officers were “inconclusive,” while it was reported that OWEN’s polygraph results were “off the charts.” The other two officers were retested and reportedly passed, while OWEN never had the opportunity to take the test that was scheduled for later on the day he was found dead. The issue regarding the missing ring has since been “solved.”
At that time, an active burglary ring associated with Erie crime figure Caesar MONTEVECCHIO and Samuel “Fat Sam” ESPER was active. ESPER would later be a cooperative witness with police, and agreed to wear a wire during a conversation with MONTEVECCHIO about the murder of Robert OWEN. The conversation reportedly fell flat, with ESPER saying to MONTEVECCHIO “I wonder who killed OWEN?” MONTEVECCHIO reportedly replied “you know who killed OWEN” and ended the conversation.
According to investigative reports, OWEN was on duty but at a card game at a close friend’s house near the location where his body was found. He placed a telephone call to an unknown party at about 11:45 Sunday night, but investigators were unable to determine who OWEN called.
At about midnight on the night of his death, two truck drivers reportedly saw the silhouettes of three-(3) people, including one who appeared to be a police officer, standing near the warehouse where the body of OWEN was found. They also reported seeing the idling police cruiser nearby.
In March 1991, the investigative murder file of Robert OWEN was found in a file cabinet inside the City of Erie Solicitors office. According to reports at the time, City Solicitor Paul SUSKO found the file and was “stunned” by the contents, which included confidential police reports and reports from the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.