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Crime News Cold Cases

Who Is Bob LaRosa, Whose Connections To An Unsolved Murder Are Investigated In 'Paper Ghosts'?

True crime author and podcast host M. William Phelps investigates Bob LaRosa in his podcast "Paper Ghosts."

By Gina Tron
Susan Terri Shanks

As the true crime podcast “Paper Ghosts” investigates four girls who mysteriously vanished decades ago in rural Connecticut, it devotes several episodes to a man named Bob LaRosa.

Robert "Bob" LaRosa has a strong connection to one of the girls at the heart of the podcast. While three of the four girls Janice Pockett, 7, Debra Spickler, 13, Lisa Joy White, 13 — who were abducted in the late '60s and early '70s were just children, Susan LaRosa was 20 when she vanished from Vernon in 1975 — and she was married to Bob at the time of her disappearance.

Bob has long claimed that he last saw her walking toward Rockville on June 22, 1975 following an argument between them, the Hartford Courant reported in 2002. He was the one to report her missing.

"I was under the impression that she took off with another guy," he told the outlet. "She was always flirting with other guys."

Warning: Spoilers below

Susan's remains were found three years later by a construction crew in a wooded area in the nearby town of Vernon. She had suffered a fatal skull fracture. It would take years before LaRosa's disappearance was linked to their abductions. 

“Paper Ghosts” host and true crime author M. William Phelps, who grew up in the Rockville area and still lives there now, explained in the podcast that it has taken him years to gain the trust of Susan’s loved ones. His podcast explores some of their fears and suspicions, much of which revolve around Bob. 

Phelps noted that Susan’s own family believes Bob, who drove around collecting scrap money in his station wagon for money at the time, killed her. Their relationship was turbulent, ridden with both abuse and apparent cheating on both sides, according to the podcast: Phelps said Susan even stabbed Bob during a heated argument in the year leading up to her vanishing. One police source told Phelps Bob began dating a woman weeks before Susan vanished and that they wed shortly after her disappearance.

Stacy LaRosa, the couple's oldest daughter, was just 3 when Susan vanished —  and she told Phelps that she may have witnessed her mom’s murder inside their apartment. Stacy claimed on the podcast that she has a memory of Bob hitting her mother with a pipe, causing her mom to fall with blood oozing around her. Stacy said her father told her that her mom was just sleeping. It was the last time she ever saw her, she told Phelps.

Spickler White Pockett Pd

Phelps pointed out that Stacy's story has not changed over the years: Investigative documents obtained by Phelps reveal that she gave the same story as a child. She also claimed that a man came by to help her dad dispose of her mom’s body.

Furthermore, Stacy claimed that her father molested her until she was 12. He was allegedly known for being “a pervert” by Bob’s relatives, many of whom told Phelps stories of him coming on to them when they were just 12 and 13.

“I know my dad liked young girls,” Stacy said on the podcast.

Susan’s sister Bernadette Gaunthier was around 13 or 14 when her sibling vanished. Days after, she moved in with Bob to help him take care of the kids. She claimed there was blood all over the floor, stairs, and a door which she had to scrub and remove with a putty knife. Investigators told the Hartford Courant in 2002 that Susan's family members thought they saw blood in Bob's apartment.

Bernadette also said that within days of Susan's disappearance, Bob tried to have sex with her.

As Phelps said in his podcast, Bob was taken into custody by police and questioned for two hours after Susan's body was found. He gave statements that contradicted the ones he previously told Susan's family.

During that two-hour interview, a detective told Bob that he would be charged with negligent homicide if he had accidentally killed Susan.

"How much time will I get?" was his only response. 

Bob was the main person of interest in the case, investigators told the Hartford Courant. He was questioned and passed two polygraphs but he was never arrested or charged with anything. 

Lt. William Meier of the Vernon Police Department confirmed to Oxygen.com that no suspects were ever named and no arrests have ever been made in the case.

Bob died in 2018. Phelps told Oxygen.com that more information about his life and death is coming on upcoming episodes. 

"All of the cases have become like the five points of a star," Phelps said in episode 5. "No matter how I draw it, each point directs me right back to one of the others and nobody how much I try to rule him out, each point draws a dotted line back to Bob LaRosa."

Bob often wore a khaki outfit and he drove a station wagon, both clues witnesses referenced in some of the other missing girls cases investigated in "Paper Ghosts."

In addition to Bob's murdered wife, his 17-year-old sister Irene LaRosa vanished in 1971 after she confessed to a friend that one of her other brothers raped her. No police report was filed and her family claimed she just ran away. A family member did formally report her mysterious vanishing in 2016, according to the podcast. Following that overdue report, investigators searched a property looking for a body, but she has not been found.

Detectives searched the apartment she and Bob lived in together again in 2002 but their search did not yield any results, Meier told Oxygen.com. 

"I hope they catch him [the killer], but it's been a long time," Bob told the outlet at the time. "Hopefully, somebody's going to have an attack of conscience."

Susan LaRosa’s case, as well as the case of the three missing children, also still remains unsolved to this day. 

Phelps told Oxygen.com last week that the goal of his podcast is "to get the families’ stories of the missing and murdered out there to as many people as possible. [...] If I can get people to come forward with information for the families, I’ll do whatever it takes."

Six of the episodes are now available to listen to on Apple Podcasts. Phelps told Oxygen.com that he expects there to be around 10 in total.

“We are hoping with some of this publicity, that someone will come forward. Somebody knows something,” Meier told Oxygen.com. “Our hope is that someone somewhere comes forward. We never give up on these cases.”