“Strange” is an Understatement

In sending Robert Henry Moormann’s case back to a lower court for a do-over, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that it was Moormann’s “strange and inconsistent behavior” that brought him to the attention of Florence, Arizona police.
 
Calling what Moormann did during his 72-hour furlough from the Arizona State Prison in 1984 “strange” is like calling Hurricane Katrina a minor setback for the Gulf Coast.
 
Moormann was serving a nine-year-to-life term for kidnapping a young girl when he received his three-day pass to spend some time with his 74-year-old step-mother, Roberta, better known as Maude. She took the bus to Florence and the two of them checked into a nearby motel. Maude was never seen alive again.
 
In hindsight, Moormann presented so many clues that something was amiss that it’s “strange” that it took authorities as long as it did to check out what this convicted pedophile was up to during his furlough. We should note, however, that Moormann didn’t start acting strange in public until after it was too late to save Maude.
 
His “strange” behavior became public at around 7 a.m. when he called one of Maude’s friends and asked that she pick him up that afternoon and take him to a lawyer in Mesa. He then walked to a nearby store where he purchased a large hunting knife, a steak knife and some food. Moormann told the store owner that he was on furlough and that his mother was back at the motel and had taken ill.
 
Two hours later he called the motel’s front desk and asked that the maid not disturb his mother, who was apparently resting. Moormann then went to the front desk and asked to borrow some disinfectant. The front desk clerk noted that Moormann “smelled horrible” and had some blood on his face.
 
Maude’s friend arrived later that day, but Moormann told her that his mother had disappeared from the motel room. He then told the friend that his mother had brought several garbage bags filled with spoiled meat and asked for her help in disposing them. The friend refused and left the motel.
 
Moormann, who had left some towels outside his motel room that were so disgusting that the staff didn’t bother to wash them, then asked the motel owner if he could throw the spoiled meat in the dumpster. When the owner told him that the trash would not be picked up for several days, Moormann went elsewhere.
 
He approached a nearby pizza parlor and asked if he could dispose of some “animal guts.” The pizza parlor owner happened to be a corrections officer at the state prison and contacted police.
 
Officers stopped by the motel and were greeted by Moormann dressed only in a pair of unzipped pants. He explained that his mother had left with “a Mexican woman” and that he was worried. It was now about 10 p.m. The officers looked in the motel dumpster, but didn’t notice anything unusual.
 
An hour or so later, Moormann contacted the lieutenant of his unit at the prison, who stopped by the motel. Moormann explained that his cousin had dropped off a box of “dog bones” which the corrections officer took from him.
 
The lieutenant, learning from police about Moormann’s suspicious behavior and his inability to keep his story straight about what had happened to his mother, turned the box of bones over to investigators who suspected that the bones were, in fact, Roberta’s.
 
Police returned to the motel and asked Moormann to wait with them in their cruiser until his mother returned, he agreed and while the crime lab examined the bones, slept in the car.
 
At 2:45 a.m., the lab confirmed that the bones were human and Moormann was arrested on suspicion of murder.
 
“I wonder if I need a lawyer,” Moormann said out loud. “I’ll leave it up to you guys whether I need a lawyer.” A statement of that type is not the same as invoking one’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
 
At the police station, Moormann told officers “you can change the charge. She’s dead.” After being read his rights and waiving them, he told police just what had happened in room 22 that day.
 
As perceptive readers might have guessed, not only was she dead, she was dismembered.
 
The police obtained a warrant to search Moormann’s room at the Blue Mist, where they found bedding stained with Roberta’s blood; towels, a washcloth, and a cooking pot stained with blood; bloodstains on the bathroom walls and floor; a scouring pad with bloodstains and human tissue; and a buck knife and steak knife. They also found Roberta’s brassiere hanging in the closet with five hundred dollars in cash safety-pinned to it.
 
In trash dumpsters at and near the motel, the police officers found trash bags containing Roberta’s thorax, head, pelvic area, feet and hands, and muscle and skin cut from her limbs as well as torn strips of towel, a razor, the package in which the steak knife was sold, and some pajamas. The police found a finger in the sewer.
 
A search of Moormann’s living quarters in the prison revealed a notebook of bizarre writings, including instructions to train a dog to make bank deposits.
 
Moormann told the officers that he had just “lost his cool” when his mother made him “take his father’s place” and “do things he just couldn’t handle,” alleging that the two had had a sexual relationship.
 
“My mom and I had a — we had a argument, and during it I hit her a few times, and then it got worse and I — I lost my cool and — and I tied her up, and she kept on me, talkin’ about things that, uh, pertained to my real family and, I don’t remember the exact time, and I suffocated her,” Moormann told police. “Then I took the 409 and went into the wash room. I panicked, at which time I dissected her.”
 
During the autopsy, the medical examiner determined that no sexual intercourse had taken place.
 
The ME noted that the dismemberment of the body was very meticulous, particularly the cutting off of the hands at the wrist, the feet at the ankles, and then the fingers at the knuckles. The entire process would probably have taken two hours.
 
Not surprisingly, Moormann’s sanity was in question during his trial, but the jury found he was sane — disposing of a body in the manner he did indicates a knowledge of right and wrong — and convicted him of first-degree murder in 1985.
 
Twenty years later, he remains on Arizona’s death row and it’s likely that he’ll be there for some time still. In October 2005, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling in his post-conviction appeal and remanded the case for further consideration.
 
Update: Moormann was executed on February 29, 2012. He was the longest-serving prisoner on Arizona’s death row.