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Prosecutors hope more victims of online stalker come forward after arrest made

Investigators tell the I-Team that a suspect with history of harassment could have more victims.

ST. LOUIS — Robert Merkle spent years in prison after texting violent threats to women. Those texts explained in vivid detail how he wanted to rape and murder them.

Soon after, he was paroled. Some of Merkle's victims tell 5 On Your Side's I-Team that he’s at it again. Merkle now sits in jail facing a familiar charge. That news brings relief to his victims and other women he's contacted.

“I started receiving more and more messages as the months went by,” said Megan, who asked us to conceal her last name. “So just knowing that this really scary person is locked up, that’s progress right there. That’s a great start.”

Megan is from Georgia. Last summer, she started getting texts from a number she didn’t know. For months, they got more violent and she firmly believes they were from Robert Merkle.

“Texting me about wanting to do sexually violent things," Megan said. "It was just really scary to be getting those text message from someone that you’ve never met before.”

Investigators believe Merkle harassed more women than just Megan, only months after serving a sentence for the exact crime committed years earlier.

“I know he wasn’t arrested for my case,” she said. “Out here it was closed, which was a huge disappointment.”

This time, Town and Country Police arrested Merkle.

Court documents show Merkle reached out to a former girlfriend by text. At one point, Merkle texted her that he had a key to her residence and that he was going to break in and rape her.

Records show another threatening text which told her to stop calling the police.

She didn’t, and after reading the violent texts, officers found and arrested Merkle within 24 hours.

“It was disturbing,” said Sgt. Jeff McNutt. “Which prompted the quicker… quick response because it was very specific, very detailed. It wasn’t hard to find him.”

McNutt said his officers went to a manufacturing company where Merkle worked.

“He was very specific and in the communication he sent, which was made it easy for us to be able to identify it as Merkle.”

When Merkle saw the officers, he tried giving his phone to a co-worker. The FBI got it anyway, along with multiple electronics and SIM cards they found when searching his apartment.

Those devices could show who Merkle contacted since his release.

“If you threaten someone with rape, obviously that’s going to meet any threshold to be able to charge someone,” said St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell. “Obviously that’s something that we’re going to take seriously.”

As Merkle sits in jail for a new charge of harassment, Bell tells the I-Team he believes there are more victims.

“These particular allegations and I think it is important to get this information out to the public,” Bell said. “So that people know that they have places that they can go, they have support.”

Prosecutors hope women like Megan will speak up.

“The fact that somebody is getting some justice makes me so happy,” she said. “I know I’m not just speaking for myself but probably the numerous other victims that are out there.”

Sources tell the I-Team that the FBI is still trying to unlock Merkle’s phone. It’s a process police say could take days or even months.

If you believe you’ve been contacted by Merkle you're urged to contact local law enforcement.

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