Secrets about Catholic priest's 1966 murder unearthed by reporters in Buffalo
Priest with crucifix (Shutterstock

Newly revealed police records threw open the long-dormant murder case of a Buffalo monsignor, and show evidence of a possible coverup.

Monsignor Francis J. O’Connor’s body was found floating in Scajaquada Creek on March 13, 1966, and the following day detectives interviewed Robert Armbruster, a young reporter who had worked for the priest at the diocese newspaper and admitted to being physically attracted to him but had fantasized about hitting his head with an ax, reported The Buffalo News.

“He admits that he has had homosexual inclinations toward the monsignor and has had occasions when he pictured himself hitting the monsignor over the head with an ax,” reads the March 14, 1966, police report, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information request filed by The Buffalo News with the Buffalo Police.

No charges were filed against Armbruster or anyone else, but the newly revealed records show police considered him a suspect right away.

Armbruster, who was 24 at the time, told police O'Connor had taken him under his wing at The Magnifant and gotten him a room at a local boarding house, and he considered the older man a father figure and friend.

He claimed to have learned of the slaying while watching the evening news, about five hours after the monsignor's body was discovered, but the pastor of a nearby Catholic parish told police Armbruster had suddenly stopped by just moments before the priest got a phone call informing him of O'Connor's death, and he told the younger man after the call ended.

“Bob went to pieces, shaking and wringing his hands and pacing back and forth, he said, ‘Now at a time like this, at this happening, you regret any differences that may have taken place,'" Rev. James N. Connelly Jr. told detectives.

Another man who lived at the boarding house told police that he was present when Armbruster got a call notifying him that O'Connor was dead.

“The call concluded with Armbruster saying, ‘Thank you, father, for telling me.’ After the call ended, Armbruster asked [the boarder] if he knew that O’Connor was dead. [The boarder] says Armbruster appears shocked,” the police report says.

Detectives asked New York state police to search for mug shots or other records related to Armbruster on March 17, 1966, but they didn't find anything, and the FBI concluded that his fingerprints did not match those taken from O'Connor's car.

Armbruster left Buffalo days later and told relatives and a fellow reporter that he was uneasy being targeted by police, who clearly considered him a suspect.

But he was never charged in the case and died several years ago, the newspaper reported.

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