Jamie Taylor/River News
Robin “Bob” Mendez, 70, of Minocqua sits alone at the defense table prior to the oral ruling in his first-degree murder court trial Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad found Mendez guilty of murdering his wife, Barbara, 33, on April 28, 1982. Mendez is scheduled to be sentenced July 23.
5/7/2019 7:30:00 AM Mendez to be sentenced July 23
The final chapter in a long-running Northwoods mystery will be written July 23 when convicted murderer Robin "Bob' Mendez is sentenced in Oneida County Circuit Court.
Mendez was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife, Barbara, April 30 following a roughly two-week court trial. The verdict, delivered by Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad, came 37 years and two days after Barbara Mendez was struck from behind while wrapping up her workday as a teller at the former Park City Credit Union in Minocqua.
In a 90-minute oral ruling, Falstad found Oneida County district attorney Michael Schiek had proved beyond a reasonable doubt it was the victim's husband, and not a robber as the defense argued, who bludgeoned the 33-year-old Mendez on April 28, 1982. The credit union manager, Helen Koepke Gray, found the young teller on the floor of the credit union at approximately 7:30 p.m. April 28, 1982. However, her time of death was estimated to be approximately 5:15 p.m. as computer records show she was completing her final tasks at 5:13 p.m.
Bob Mendez, now 70, was charged with first degree murder in February 2018 after the Oneida County detective bureau, with assistance from the television show "Cold Justice," reopened the unsolved case.
At trial, the state argued Bob Mendez took advantage of a unique circumstance - April 28 was the first and only time Barbara was responsible for closing the credit union by herself - to remove his wife from his life before she could make public his illegal sexual involvement with a 14-year-old girl.
Falstad began her oral ruling by outlining why she did not find the defense argument that Barbara was killed by a bank robber to be persuasive. The defense put forth two potential suspects, Raymond Norris, who once confessed to being a getaway driver for someone named Scott who he said committed the murder, and the late Thomas Boze, who visited the credit union the afternoon of the murder and had a loud, attention-getting argument with his brother over the amount of a check to be cashed.
The defense evidence regarding Norris "is easily rejected because it's not credible nor was it corroborated," the judge said, noting that the timeline Norris offered does not fit with the other evidence and the injuries Barbara suffered were not consistent with being stabbed with a knife or pistol-whipped, as Norris suggested his accomplice did. Finally, photos of the scene and other evidence show Norris's statements about his accomplice being "covered in blood from his kneecaps to his chest" had to be false.
"There's no reasonable hypothesis or basis that Norris or accomplice Scott had any involvement with robbery or murder of Barbara Mendez," Falstad said, noting that Norris later recanted his story and admitted that he made it up in an effort to reduce his sentence in an unrelated federal matter.
As for Boze, Falstad said the evidence shows Thomas and his brother, Michael, visited the credit union between 1 and 1:30 p.m. April 28 at which time they had an argument about how much of his railroad settlement Michael should give Thomas. Thomas wanted $1,000 but Michael was only willing to write a check for $500. The two also ran into a roadblock because Thomas did not have the $5 necessary to open an account at the credit union. However, from the totality of the evidence, Falstad found the brothers, or at least Thomas, had to have returned later with the $5, (an individual membership card was submitted by the state has evidence) opened an account and cashed his check for $500.
"Once he got the cash money he simply had no reason to come back to the credit union that day," the judge said. "The court finds there's no reasonable hypothesis that Thomas Boze was involved in death of Barbara Mendez."
Falstad then turned her attention to the question of whether the state had proved its case that it was Mendez who killed his wife.
She began with Shari Anderson, a close friend of Barbara Mendez who testified that she had a long phone conversation with Barbara on April 27, 1982 in which Barbara confided that she planned to make her husband's favorite meal that night and attempt to talk to him about the problems in their marriage.
Falstad noted that Anderson described Barbara as "super sad and depressed" over the state of her marriage. "She was sick and upset because she could not solve their problems," the judge said, adding that it is reasonable to infer that Barbara did indeed speak to her husband that night about her concerns.
"Any disclosure (of his illegal sexual involvement with a minor) would have huge repercussions for Bob Mendez," the judge noted.
Falstad also found that it's reasonable to infer that Barbara told her husband that her boss had gone home sick on April 28 and that she would be alone at the credit union for the rest of the day. She also said it's reasonable to conclude that Barbara locked the door behind her last customer of the day, John Smylie, as he testified she walked him to the door.
"In applying common sense, the only reason she would walk him to the door would be to lock the door and he said she walked him out," the judge said. "The court finds the bank doors were locked."
The judge also noted there were no signs of forced entry to the credit union and no defensive wounds on Barbara's body, indicating she allowed her killer into the building.
Falstad went on to explain that she believed the defendant's daughters, Dawn Shape and Christy Wadas, when they testified that their father coached them so extensively in the weeks, months and years after the murder that they can no longer provide independent information as to whether he was home with them during the time the murder was committed or if he might have left at some point.
Mendez, she said, used his daughters, who were 13 and 11 when their mother was killed, to "construct an alibi" for himself, convinced them that law enforcement was the enemy and they would lose their only remaining parent if they did not repeat the timeline he gave them.
Falstad said she also found the testimony of the woman Mendez was sexually assaulting in 1982 (he was later convicted) to be credible. The witness testified she believed the defendant was in love with her and they would get married someday. She also relayed a comment she claimed Mendez made to her the night of the murder that he was "footloose and fancy free" now and admitted that Mendez had (illegal) sexual contact with her in the Mendez home approximately 24 hours after the murder.
As she continued reciting her findings, Falstad noted that the state's forensic consultant, Christopher Robinson, offered "sound, well-reasoned and credible" evidence that the parallel wound marks found on Barbara's head are consistent with a wonder bar, an item commonly used to upholster furniture which is the Mendez family business.
Also credible was the testimony of another woman who was involved with Mendez in the months after the murder who relayed a disturbing comment she said her then-boyfriend made to her while they were out dancing in Park Falls.
"How does it feel to dance to with a murderer?" Mendez asked her, the witness testified.
Finally, Falstad said she believed the testimony of two inmates who said Mendez confessed to the murder while they were sharing a cell block.
"The court finds that the information (from the inmates) is credible and the source would have to Robin Mendez himself," she said. "With that the court finds Robin Mendez did confess or admit that he is the person who murdered Barbara Mendez on April 28, 1982."
In summarizing her findings, Falstad found that Mendez had ample time to ride his motorcycle to the credit union, strike his wife over the head while her back was turned and get home in time to take a phone call from the 14-year-old before showering and heading to church.
"On April 28, 1982 Mr. Mendez saw an opportunity and he took it," the judge said. "Barb was alone at the bank. He went armed with a weapon with the intent to kill. He gained entry and killed his wife. He took some money but left $17,000 behind because this act was not truly motivated by money but was necessary to continue his sexual pursuit of a minor and not get caught."
Because the charge is based on the homicide statutes in place in 1982, Mendez faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce