Details of Disappearance Roberta was last seen in her hometown of Hartville, Ohio on January 4, 2018. Her husband of over fifty years, Phillip S. Snider, stated they left their home off Market Avenue northwest for a trip to Graceland, which was the late singer Elvis Presley's former home in Memphis, Tennessee and is now a major tourist attraction. A photo of Phillip is posted with this case summary.
According to Phillip, he and Roberta left early on January 4 in the white Ford F-150 pickup truck, drove 285 miles and stopped for the night at a Ramada Inn in Sparta, Kentucky. The next morning they drove the remaining 440 miles to Graceland, but then Roberta had a medical emergency and suddenly died in the parking lot of the Days Inn where they planned to stay.
Phillip stated he didn't call 911, because there was already an ambulance in an adjacent parking lot. He flagged down the ambulance and the emergency medical technicians took Roberta's body away, supposedly to a Memphis hospital. Phillip checked into the Days Inn alone at 11:00 a.m. on January 5, using Roberta's credit card to pay for his room. He spent the night, checked out of the hotel at 3:30 a.m. the next morning, and returned home to Ohio.
After Phillip arrived home and told relatives what happened, Roberta's brother called the Hartville Police Department to ask for help in finding Roberta's body so it could be brought home for burial.
The police initially believed Phillip's story, but then they discovered the state of Tennessee had no record that Roberta had died there, or any Jane Doe who matched her physical description. In addition, there are several businesses near the Days Inn and no one working there recalled seeing an ambulance in their parking lot on the day Roberta supposedly died, and surveillance cameras at the Ramada Inn in Sparta showed Phillip checked in alone, without Roberta, on January 4.
When investigators confronted Phillip about these inconsistencies, he changed his story and said Roberta had actually died the day they left Ohio, somewhere between the cities of Columbus and Cincinnati, and when he realized she was dead he covered her body with two large plastic bags and put it in the truck bed. He told no one what had happened. While en route back to Ohio after visiting Tennessee, he wrapped his wife's body in plastic and threw it off the Interstate 40 bridge into the Tennessee River. Extensive searches of the river turned up no sign of Roberta, however.
Police were still suspicious and Phillip took a polygraph, which he failed. They got a search warrant for his truck and permission to search his home, and brought a cadaver dog. The dog did not smell human remains on his truck, but did indicate the scent of human remains on a large plastic tub in the basement.
Inside the tub was the front of a bloodstained sweatshirt, which appeared to have been cut off; Roberta's family members identified it as a piece of her favorite shirt, and DNA later proved the blood was hers. Authorities got video from a gas station in Wooster, Ohio for January 4; it showed Phillip pumping gas, and that he was the only person in the passenger compartment of his pickup truck.
Phillip changed his story again and said Roberta died at home and he wrapped her body in plastic, took it to Graceland with him, and dumped it in the river on his way home. He could not explain the cut piece of sweatshirt or the blood during the interview with authorities, but the next day, January 31, after a relative of his confronted him, Phillip said he had cut Roberta's shirt off her after she died.
In the following months, authorities launched an undercover investigation of Phillip. He told an undercover police officer that on January 2, he and Roberta had a fight, and she went to sleep that night on the loveseat in the living room. The next morning, while she was still sleeping, Phillip covered her head with a cloth and struck her twice in the forehead with a stake hammer. He then tied a plastic grocery bag over her head, rolled her body into a plastic tarp, put the body in his pickup truck, and disposed of all the items he noticed had gotten blood on them.
Based on this information, police got a new warrant to search Phillip's new apartment (he had moved after Roberta's disappearance) and recover the loveseat. They found bloodstains, matching Roberta's DNA, on one of of the cushions. Based on all this evidence, Phillip was arrested on April 20 and charged with his wife's murder.
In August 2018, Phillip reached a plea deal and pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, evidence tampering and gross abuse of a corpse, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison with the chance of parole in 20 years. As Phillip was over 70 years old at the time of Roberta's murder, he will probably never be released from prison.
At his plea hearing, Phillip refused to say what he and Roberta had argued about the night before her death, or why he had killed her. His plea agreement required him to lead authorities to her body, and he initially maintained his story that it was in the Tennessee River. In September 2018, however, while he and the police were en route to the river so he could show them exactly where he'd put it in the water, Phillip recanted his statement and said he'd actually put Roberta's corpse in a dumpster near a restaurant in Bullitt County, Kentucky.
Investigators believe Roberta's body is in a landfill in Hardin County, Kentucky, outside of Louisville, but they do not plan to search for it. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
- Hartville Police Department
Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004. Last updated January 5, 2019; casefile added.