Over a lunch break from his job as an auto mechanic, the urge suddenly struck Danny Sprecker to have sex with an elderly former neighbor. Forty years later, Sprecker is still paying for that urge. And because of a recent ruling by the state parole board, he’ll continue to do so for another few years at least.
Sprecker was 24 years old on May 14, 1973, when the urge overtook him. He had felt a similar desire before, including in 1968, when he tried to rape a 10-year-old Manhattan girl. He had been convicted and imprisoned for the attempt, but was released on parole after a few years. This time he knew his intended victim, 75-year-old Minnie Donaldson, because they had been neighbors. She lived at 430 Bluemont, across the street from the home where Sprecker had grown up until getting married and moving a few blocks away.
Sprecker has never said and perhaps never knew why he was drawn to Donaldson, but he later confessed to detectives that he entered her home that noon hour with sexual relations in mind. Yet when he forced her at gunpoint to disrobe, he was overcome with revulsion at the thought of what he had intended to do.
According to testimony at his preliminary hearing, Donaldson assured Sprecker that if he would simply leave she would say nothing about the incident to authorities. But Sprecker chose another course of action.
He pumped two bullets into her torso, a third creasing her face, and two others into her arms. Then he ran from the house and returned to work. A neighbor who heard the shots discovered the wounded Donaldson and called for help. A police officer, who had been trained as a medic in Vietnam, arrived first and attempted to administer CPR. But it was too late; Minnie Donaldson died a few minutes later.
Danny Sprecker returned from his lunch break and went back to work. Meanwhile, detectives wrestled with the question of who might want to kill an elderly woman living alone. Since there was no sign that anything had been taken and the woman was not known to have been well off, robbery was dismissed as a motive.
The fact that Minnie had been found undressed at mid-day suggested another explanation. One of the detectives, a veteran investigator named Bill Helferich, remembered the incident with the child a few years earlier and knew that Sprecker had lived nearby. When a records search revealed he had recently been freed on parole, authorities went to his apartment.
There his wife allowed them to take his handgun, a match for the one used in the shooting, as well as unspent ammunition. Sprecker was picked up, questioned and by nightfall arrested on a charge of first-degree murder.
Jim Morrison, now an attorney in private practice here, was a new county attorney at the time, and the Donaldson case was his first murder prosecution. Morrison laid out the case at a preliminary hearing, persuading Judge Jerry Mershon there was sufficient evidence to bind Sprecker over for trial.
Faced with both Sprecker’s prior record and the prospect of a conviction, his defense counsel negotiated the charge down to second-degree murder, and Sprecker pleaded guilty before Judge Lewis McLaughlin just five months later. He got a sentence of 30 years to life.
In the nearly 40 years that have intervened, Sprecker has come up for parole nine different times. Every single time, he’s been passed over. The most recent hearing was earlier this month, when the parole board again denied his release. In doing so, it cited the “serious nature of the crime,” plus his history, notably the previous attempted rape conviction. Having been denied parole, Sprecker was returned to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, where he has been incarcerated since 1994. He’s also been held in Topeka, Lansing, Norton, Larned, ElDorado and Ellsworth. He’ll come up again in March of 2016, when he’ll be 67.
If authorities ever figured out what drove Sprecker to do what he did to Minnie Donaldson those 40 years ago, it hasn’t been disclosed. At the time of his conviction, psychological evaluations of accused criminals were not required prior to trial, and none was conducted on Sprecker prior to his conviction. While such evaluations almost certainly have been conducted since then, the results are not part of the public portion of his record.
Meanwhile, the house where Minnie Donaldson lived and died has long since been replaced by another structure. But for those who came to be involved, the memory occasionally lingers.
“Every once in a while I drive down Bluemont and say, ‘Oh, yeah,’” mused Morrison.