ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis man appeared in federal court on Thursday to be sentenced for repeatedly cyberstalking, harassing, and threatening to rape multiple women in the area and elsewhere in the country.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri said Robert Merkle, 54, pleaded guilty in March to five felony counts: three counts of cyberstalking and two counts of interstate communication of a threat.

According to the plea, Merkle admitted to harassing women in the St. Louis area and across the country for several months, while he was on parole for similar crimes with different victims.

“This lengthy prison sentence and the term of supervised release will prevent him from harassing women for nearly nine years, and hopefully deter him from engaging in similar behavior ever again,” U.S. Attorney Sayler A. Fleming said.

The federal investigation into Merkle’s threats began in January 2022, when a woman told the Town and Country Police Department that a man she’d met on a dating site more than seven years earlier sent a series of suspicious text messages. The messages hinted that he had made a copy of her house key and was planning to enter her home and rape her.

The FBI obtained a court-approved search warrant for Merkle’s home and cell phones. Investigators determined he had used emails, multiple cell phones and a service that can send texts anonymously to harass women.

Investigators say Merkle met several women who he threatened through dating sites and worked with another woman in contacting them. A sentencing hearing is planned for June 21 after Thursday’s plea. Merkle could be sentenced up to five years in prison for the threats.

Merkle was also charged with harassment from 2017-2018 in St. Louis and Jefferson counties. He was sentenced to three years in prison on those charges.

In a letter to the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the case, one of Merkle’s earlier victims wrote, “He has a deeply rooted problem, where he seemingly gets a thrill out of tormenting women online and via text.” She said dealing with Merkle was, at times, “crippling.”

The judge sentenced Merkle to 71 months in prison, plus three years of supervised release. During that that time, he’ll be barred from using or possessing electronics and accessing the internet without permission.

Merkle also faces another pending harassment charge in St. Louis County Circuit Court.