ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — The April 29, 1990, murders of two young men in St. Charles County were devastating. The astonishing thing is that the suspects turned themselves in within hours.  Robert Shafer is on death row for taking the lives of two innocent people.

Jerry Parker and Denny Young were part of the LGBTQ+ community. They were out by themselves at Blanchette’s landing on North River Road. That’s when Shafer and another teen approached them to ask for a ride. 

The night went on, tensions escalated, until Parker and Young were shot and killed in cold blood.  On April 30, 1991, at 10 p.m., the pair gave themselves up to detectives from St. Charles County. 

The Netflix documentary, I am a Killer Season 1 Episode 8: Hunted features this case. The show premiered on August 3, 2018.

Robert Shafer

The Day of the Murder

In a written confession to police in the 1990s, Shafer confessed to his state of mind that day. He explains that he got high with his friend. From 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., he talked about “robbing some homosexuals and beating them up.” 

Later that day, Shafer said that he met his friend at home. He then went into his sister’s bedroom and got the .22 revolver and got five .22 shells from the kitchen. 

In the Netflix documentary, Shafer says, “The planning of what was supposed to be a robbery had nothing to do with killing anybody. That never played into it, initially. It just really spun out of control.”

Hunted

“This is a word that is kind of tough to use, it feels like predator and prey, but that is in fact what it was,” Shafer said. “We kind of stalked the victims.” 

Shafer and the 16-year-old approached Young and Parker at Blanchette’s landing on North River Road. They were looking for someone to rob.

Shafer said that they were heading to St. Peters to meet some girls. They asked Young if they would drive them for $5.

After some time of driving around, Young got suspicious of all the different directions. 

The Murder

“We ended up on Silver’s Road and I just told them to stop the car, open the door and let us out,” Shafer said. 

A fight started in the car. Shafer said as he was getting out of the vehicle, he ended up fighting with Young. 

While Shafer was struggling with Young, Parker took off down the road. 

“I chased him,” Shafer said. Shafer said that Parker wasn’t running in a straight line. “The road was uneven and he stumbled, and as he stumbled, I fired one shot.”

“I closed the distance, I walked up, and I fired one more shot,” Shafer said. “And as I got closer, I fired one more shot.”

“Mr. Young was at the front of the vehicle in the ditch. And he was trying to kind of scale his way out of the ditch. It was wet and muddy, and I fired one shot,” Shafer said. “And he fell backward, and I jumped down into the ditch, and kind of at the same time, I fired. Somehow or another, he turned and I fired one more shot. That was it.” 

Confession

Within hours of the murders, Shafer and his teen accomplice turned themselves into the police. They discussed how they would spin the story to the police. They said that they were the victims and that Jerry Parker and Denny Young were the aggressors and each of them was responsible for killing one man.

Phil Groenweghe, Chief Trial Attorney and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for St. Charles County, says that he did not believe Shafer’s claim of self-defense. He said that the wounds do not match the self-defense wounds. 

“Shafer struck me as very manipulative. He struck me as very cruel,” said Groenweghe. “He’s not nearly as smart as he thought he was.”

“To him, the fact that these victims were gay, he almost viewed that as a mitigating factor, that everyone would understand why he would want to kill two gay men,” said Groenweghe. “And he had some real issues with that.”

Groweneghe said he doesn’t know why Shafer held so much anger against the LGBTQ+ community

Backstory

“My mother was raised in an orphanage by Catholic nuns; very strict. She didn’t know how to be a mother. Even though she had all these children, she didn’t know how to be a mother,” said Juliette Shafer, Robert Shafer’s sister. 

In the Netflix documentary, Juliette said that their mother was unloving. Their mother would get into fights with their stepdad, and she would want him to leave the house. 

Juliette said she doesn’t remember a happy holiday or any happy times within the house where she grew up. 

Juliette recalled that her brother Robert was always happy. She said that he made friends easily and knew what was always going on around town. 

“But yet, for some reason, he just gets blamed for everything. He just couldn’t do anything right,” said Juliette. “He was getting spanked all the time, or just beatings, basically.”

At 15, Juliette left their childhood home, and while she was gone, Robert went into the Navy for a bit. When he got out, he did not want to move back in with his parents.

Juliette told him to live with her in St. Charles. She said everything was going well, Robert was happy, and he even babysat for her. 

But then, six to nine months into living with Juliette, the murder happened. 

Three years after his arrest, Robert Shafer was found guilty of both murders. Yet, many continued to believe that he had only killed one of the victims. 

Childhood abuse

“I just didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. But I almost understand it, you know, the anger,” said Phillip Shafer, brother of Robert Shafer. “I am not condoning what he did, I don’t agree with it. But I can see it happening.”

Philip said that Robert had asked him why their mother didn’t love them. Phillip said that he would wake up to see his mother beating Robert while he was asleep. 

“Because it did seem that way, cause other kids were kind of spared,” said Phillip. “They never had to suffer that. We were almost like, hunted.”

Phillip said that their mother would call them a derogatory word for men of the LGBTQ community. Phillip said that even now it would upset him still because he was offended that his mother would call him that word. 

Phillip said that word still messes with Robert. “I never had anything happen to me. Robert did, so there could be a difference.”

Phillip said he remembered the street where this guy would have young boys in the neighborhood come over and play video games at his house. 

“We know what that means today. I mean all the young boys in the neighborhood,” said Phillip. “I think it affected Robert.”

Aubrey Martin, Robert Shafer’s childhood friend who was also a victim of abuse, said that it started when they were 13 or 14. They would earn money for what they did. When Martin said he would get $50 to $75, when Shafer left the van, he would have $150 to $200. 

Martin said that they never talked about what happened in the van. He never knew the extent of Shafer’s abuse. 

“I believe it made Robert do violent and damaging things,” said Martin. “He never put it together that him shooting those two guys was like getting rid of or atoning for the damage that had been done to him in his life.”

“Whether Robert sees it or not, he targeted these two gay guys because he’d been molested,” said Martin. “That is exactly how I feel. That is exactly how a lot of people feel.”

The Endings

Within weeks of receiving the death sentence, Robert Shafer began appealing. In 2004, a court ruled that he had not understood the implications of waiving his right to an attorney. His death sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole. 

Shafer’s friend served 11 years in prison.