Robert Carl Hohenberger


Robert Carl Hohenberger

Classification: Serial killer?
Characteristics: Rape - Former California sheriffs deputy
Number of victims: 0 - 7
Date of murders: 1978
Date of birth: 1943
Victims profile: Teenage girls
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: California/Louisiana, USA
Status: Committed suicide when officers attempted to arrest him in June 1978

An ex-convict and one-time California sheriffs deputy, Hohenberger was linked with the abduction, rape and murder of five Morgan City, Louisiana teenagers over a three-month period of 1978.

Two of the victims were discovered on May 25, their bodies secured to weights and dumped in a septic tank; a third was found two days later, with all three reportedly strangled after sex. Still missing at the time of Hohenberger's identification were 14-year-old Bertha Gould, vanished from a high school fair on May 11, and 16-year-old Leah Rodermund, lost on a trip to the neighborhood drugstore.

FBI agents described sex as the motive for slayings committed by Hohenberger, a drifter since his release from prison who found temporary employment around Morgan City. As an afterthought to the case, city councilmen passed an ordinance requiring all transients to register and have their fingerprints taken by police, in an effort to "discourage the criminal element from coming down here and looking for a job."

Robert Karl Hohenberger

No one ever learned for certain what made Robert Karl Hohenberger kill. He died as police tried to arrest him in Washington state where he fled after a killing spree in spring 1978, according to news reports.

Doug Rodermund remembers the uncertainty and fear that gripped St. Mary Parish that year when Hohenberger, a former California lawman, is believed to have kidnapped and killed five teenagers.

Rodermund was 17 then. The body of his little sister, Mary Leah, was never found.

"Everybody was pretty much afraid to go out in the evenings," Rodermund said recently from Houston. His parents relocated there years ago, soon after their 16-year-old daughter's disappearance. "For three or four months it was sheer terror."

Mary Leah Rodermund disappeared on her way to a Morgan City drugstore in early March. Her captor called her parents demanding money and let her tell them she was all right. The Rodermunds never saw Mary Leah again.

"He had been a policeman. He knew what it took to get control of someone," said Duval Arthur, a St. Mary Parish detective then and now police chief in Berwick.

Arthur said he and other investigators theorized that Hohenberger, who had served as a sheriff's deputy in California before fleeing a rape charge there, used his badge to induce his victims to accompany him.

In Baton Rouge today, no one is going anywhere with a strange man, badge or not, Arthur said.

According to new reports, Hohenberger's obsession with kidnapping and victimization began long before he arrived in Morgan City. He had kidnapped and raped at least four people in California and escaped prison before fleeing the state.

"He wasn't one of those that would hide to do what he did," Duval said. "It was always in public."

And always on Thursday evenings, just after dark, Arthur said. Hohenberger took his victims from public places like shopping centers, convenience stores and Morgan City streets. Profilers from the FBI helped local investigators in that case as well, but the break police needed came from the killer's penchant for public abductions.

According to news reports, several men saw Hohenberger's last two victims, 14-year-old Martha Gould and 15-year-old Judy Adams, talking with a strange man, and followed him. Their description tipped off a police officer in Tacoma, Wash., who looked at buying a car from Hohenberger.

When officers tried to arrest Hohenberger, he struggled with one of them, news reports said, and his gun "went off," killing him.

"We didn't want him to die. We had a lot of unanswered questions," Doug Rodermund said. "Like what he did with my sister."

Morgan City, Louisiana serial killer profile: Robert Carl Hohenberger

September 29, 2010

Robert Carl Hohenberger is a name that likely still strikes fear in the hearts and minds of native St. Mary Parish residents who are more than a few decades old.

Hohenberger may have been Morgan City, Louisiana’s first known serial killer. No one knows for certain what caused the former California police officer to victimize and kill in the manner in which he did.

Once thing is certain though, and that is that the families of Hohenberer’s victims will never know what drove him to the violent killings that left South Louisiana in utter shock in 1978. Hohenberger committed suicide when officers attempted to arrest him in Tacoma, Washington.

I talked to a friend earlier this evening about her recollection of the events surrounding the murders. As Morgan City is such a small city, she knew most of the victims. She even recalled walking back and forth to school while carrying what she described as a small pocketknife. It is difficult to fathom the terror likely felt by citizens of Morgan City during that time. She confirmed that it was a difficult time indeed - certainly to children and their families.

Hohenberger tortured his victims before taking their lives. To add even more insult to injury, he disposed of their lifeless bodies in the most disrespectful of ways, including in a septic tank.

The body of one of his young victims, 16-year old Leah Rodermund, was never found, leaving her family with more questions than answers. Rodermund disappeared in March of 1978 while on her way to a drugstore in Morgan City. Her parents reportedly received a ransom call from Hohenberger, but never heard from their daughter again.

Investigators who worked the case believe that Hohenberger may have used his badge to allow him to capture his victims.

California authorities believe Hohenberger left victims in the wake of a prison escape there, and they were fairly certain that he was the perpetrator of numerous violent attacks there, prior to traveling to Louisiana.

Hohenberger nearly always kidnapped his victims from public places, which ironically enough, turned out to be a crucial break for investigators. A break came in the case when he was spotted talking to his last two known victims, 14-year old Martha Gould and 15-year old Judy Adams.

A short while later, officers in Tacoma, Washington were tipped off that Hohenberger may be in their area. When he was about to be arrested, he became involved in a scuffle with officers and his gun went off and he was shot. Hohenberger died before investigators could gather additional information about his crimes. Hohenberger took his sick secrets to his grave – secrets that will never be revealed.


MO: Ex-convict rape-slayer of teenage girls.

DISPOSITION: Suicide by gunshot to avoid arrest, june 1978.