Cheryl Brantner Murder: What Happened to Robert Brantner?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda: Night Terrors’ depicts how a 42-year-old mother of three, Cheryl Brantner, was found dead inside the bathroom of her Colorado Springs, Colorado, apartment in mid-December 1992. The police solved the case within a few hours, with the inexperienced perpetrator leaving behind a barrage of evidence.

How Did Cheryl Brantner Die?

On December 14, 1992, Bill Brantner, then 18, woke up at 6:00 am and prepared for school as usual. He woke his younger brothers before looking for something to wear. Bill could not find his red sweater and called out to his mom, Cheryl Brantner, but received no response. He went to his parents’ bedroom, could not see his mother, but heard the shower running. Assuming Cheryl could not hear him over the steam, Bill poked his head inside to witness a horrifying scene — his mom lying facedown in the bathtub water as the shower poured overhead.

Responding to his 911 call, the investigators arrived at the house on a cul-de-sac in northeast Colorado Springs. According to the show, Cheryl, 42, worked as a maternity nurse at Penrose Hospital. They noticed faint blood stains around the bathtub’s rim and initially hypothesized Cheryl slipped and fell accidentally. The detectives rolled her over and glimpsed a deep cut over her right eye. They think she was in the shower, obstructing the drain with her body, when she slipped, fell, and hit her head unconscious before drowning in the filling tub.

However, the coroner’s report indicated something else entirely. The autopsy determined she died of subdural hematoma — a deep bruising of the brain tissue, resulting in fractures to various veins and arteries. The medical examiner concluded an accidental slip and fall could not have inflicted that massive damage. The victim had to be struck repeatedly with a blunt object to cause that severe wound. The multiple blows to the head confirmed the 42-year-old mother of three had been brutally killed before being placed in the tub.

Who Killed Cheryl Brantner?

The police looked around the house to see no signs of struggle or forced entry. They also found no blood spatters on the bedroom or bathroom walls. However, the bed — stripped off, including the pillow covers — raised suspicions since it was extremely uncommon for someone to do their laundry so early. The CSI conducted a closer inspection but discovered no blood on or above the bed. Meanwhile, Bill waited with his younger brothers, Scott and Mike, in the kitchen with other officers.

The officers learned the father, Robert “Bob” Brantner, was a vocational arts teacher at a local high school and left for work very early. Upon further prodding, the children alleged they had heard a scream in the break of dawn, confirming the police’s suspicions that foul play might have been involved. One of the minor boys told the detectives he went toward his parents’ room to check but returned after the screaming stopped. He explained Cheryl suffered from terrible night terror episodes. Hence, the child did not think much when the screams halted.

The detectives met Bob around 9:00 am at the school’s wood shop, where he was taking a class. After informing him of his wife’s tragic death, the officers followed Bob to the teacher’s lounge for further questioning. However, the course of the interview changed when they received a pager from the coroner regarding the death as a homicide. While the art teacher was taken down to the station, the investigators interviewed Bob’s colleagues to learn he was supposedly an ideal father, a Boy Scout leader, and a dedicated public school teacher.

The officers searched Bob’s truck and found a love letter in the glove compartment. It was apparent from the initials at the bottom — “L.D.Z.” — that it was not from his late wife. With the possibility of an affair, the police wondered whether it was the motive. It became apparent when they discovered a bag filled with bloody linen sheets inside the vehicle’s trunk that Bob was not as clueless as he pretended to be. The homicide detectives ordered the C.S.I. to conduct another sweep of the bedroom as they started looking for the anonymous woman.

The police soon found Laura D. Zirchner (L.D.Z.) lived two houses down from the Brantners. They interviewed her to learn she was a single, divorced mother raising two kids. She confessed to having an extramarital affair with Bob for two years. Laura always admired Bob, whose kids belonged to the same Boy Scout troop as her children. The admiration for the Boy Scout leader soon turned into a romance, and Laura stated Bob always dropped by before going to school to take the lunch she prepared for him.

Where is Robert Brantner Now?

By then, the investigators were confident Robert Brantner AKA Bob was the killer, and their apprehension was confirmed when the C.S.I. reported finding a bloody three-feet length of a two-by-four plank stuffed behind the wooden headboard. The officers could not locate it initially since it was hidden well beyond normal sight. When confronted with the evidence against him, Bob initially lied about Cheryl hitting her head against the headboard during a bitter argument between the two before slipping and falling in the bathtub.

However, he could not explain the bloody plank hidden in the bedroom and the linen sheets inside his car. The prosecution hypothesized Cheryl might have thrown a fit after learning about Bob’s affair and threatened to take his kids away. They claimed Bob lost his cool, hit her in the head repeatedly, and staged the crime scene to make it look like an accident. On February 18, 1994, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years. Robert Brantner, now in his 70s, is presumed to be out on parole since his name is not on the prison roster.

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