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'Have you ever been sexually assaulted?': Alleged online stalker indicted by federal grand jury

Robert Merkle, 53, is already in custody on a similar state charge. Some of his text messages were used in a motion for pretrial detention.

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis man with a prolific history of threatening to rape women across the country online is now facing federal charges.

A federal grand jury indicted Robert Merkle on two counts of interstate communication of a threat and three counts of cyberstalking.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri charged Merkle with crimes affecting five victims, identifying them by their initials in the indictment. The alleged harassment took place between June 2021 and January 2022.

Each of the five counts could carry a five-year prison sentence if Merkle is convicted.

Merkle, 53, is already in custody at the St. Louis County Justice Center on a harassment charge, which came just months after he completed parole supervision for four previous harassment convictions in Missouri.

Merkle was released from prison on parole on October 2, 2020, after serving two years of a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to six charges of harassment stemming from events in 2017. 

He completed his parole sentence in October 2021.

That same month, federal prosecutors allege Merkle began sending threatening text messages to one of five women for whom he is now charged with cyberstalking.

All of the alleged victims in the federal indictment are from out-of-state.

Federal prosecutors say police found the cellphones Merkle used to text the victims in his home.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also filed a motion Wednesday listed several of the threatening text messages in a motion to keep Merkle detained while he awaits trial.

The October 2021 messages include:

  • “have you ever been sexually assaulted”
  • "This is an old friend"
  • “I am thinking about breaking into your house and (expletive) your (expletive) brains out”
  • “have you ever been (expletive) against your will?”

Messages from June 2021 to another victim include:

  • “I would love to know your address"
  • “I (expletive) and think about coming to your house some night really late, getting in, (expletive) you with no grace at all, and just start having really hard sex.
  • “I’d love to know your address.”
  • “I like to (expletive) and think about coming to your house some night really late …

Merkle sent similar text messages or emails threatening rape to the three other victims listed in the indictment, according to federal prosecutors.

“The weight of the evidence is strong against the defendant, as the messages were sent from cell phones in the defendant’s possession or an email account under the defendant’s control,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang in her motion for pretrial detention filed Wednesday. “While the government has no specific information the defendant would flee, he is currently in custody in St. Louis County awaiting trial in for Harassment in the First Degree.

“The government does believe that the defendant is a threat to the community and based on the circumstances of the offense, there is a serious risk that the defendant will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, or threaten, injure or intimidate, or attempt to threaten, injure or intimidate a prospective witness.”

St. Louis County charges

The charge out of St. Louis County states Merkle contacted a former partner claiming he had a key to her home and that he planned to break in and rape her.

When police responded to the victim’s address, Merkle allegedly told her to stop calling the police, according to court documents.

A warrant issued for Merkle’s arrest states that he is considered a “substantial risk to the crime victim.”

Victims of his previous crimes told the I-Team that their cases reflected a failure in Missouri’s system to let victims know the terms of a perpetrator’s parole and whether reports of parole violations were being taken seriously.

RELATED: Missouri state senator, I-Team working to get answers for stalking victims

Missouri state senator Jill Schupp has been in contact with Merkle’s previous victims. Multiple victims have told the I-Team that they contacted the FBI and there could be more victims in other states.

The victims in Merkle’s federal indictment are from out-of-state.

While Merkle was on parole, the I-Team learned that he lived in northern Illinois with his parents. They filed for a protection order against him, and neither Missouri nor Illinois corrections officials could provide details to the I-Team or the victims about his whereabouts for the remainder of his parole sentence.

Court documents showed Merkle had a St. Louis City address.

RELATED: 'He's hunting again': Victims of convicted dating app harasser say he's back

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