In January of 1994 Shelly Kepley said goodbye to her father after spending the Christmas holiday together. Her father, Paul Gruber, headed back to his home in Muskrat Lake in Sandpoint Idaho. In the weeks following his visit, Shelly tried to get in touch with her father with no luck. She called and called and called and was never able to reach him on the telephone.
Shelly was worried, it wasn’t like her father to not return phone calls. Paul, a retired school teacher, had moved to Muskrat Lake after working 22 years at Incline High School near Lake Tahoe. He had inheriting some money, retired and bought a house by Muskrat Lake. In an interview with Forensic Files, Shelly said she could understand why he would want to move to Muskrat Lake area, she said it reminded them of Lake Tahoe slow-paced which she thought appealed to her father.
In February of 1994, Shelly got really worried and she had good reason. After not speaking to her father in weeks, a birthday letter came in the mail for Shelly’s son, but something didn’t feel right to her. She said in her interview with Forensic Files that a red flag went up because the note inside was very short and not very affectionate. She went so far as to pull out old birthday cards and compare handwriting and his signature, and it's a good thing too because as far as she could tell, they didn’t match.
She decided to call the local Muskrat Lake police department to check on her father, and what they found was extremely concerning. Police went to the home on Gypsy Bay Road and although there was no sign of a break-in, the house was completely empty. All his clothing was missing, guns, a computer and TV and most shocking, many of his personal papers were nowhere to be found.
Only weeks after the initial investigation. Paul's brand new truck was discovered abandoned with the keys still in the ignition and in March Paul's cell phone is found by the road.
Not getting any real answers, Shelly decides to set a trap. She leaves a message on her fathers phone, reminding him to send money for her husband's birthday and then waited to see what would happen. Sure enough, five days after leaving the message a letter arrives in her mailbox. The letter is addressed to her husband and is a birthday card with a check for $25. Obviously Shelly's whole message was a lie, her father had never promised to send money and it wasn’t even her husband's birthday. She was now 100% sure something horrible had happened to her father.
An investigation was launched and handwriting analysis was done, comparing the letter and check sent with known handwriting of Paul. The investigators said they matched
But Paul’s daughter and family knew it wasn’t his writing, they felt it in their gut. Something was wrong.
Police discovered that Paul or someone was still paying all his bills on time and they were even going to ATMs to get money out, sometimes they would go twice a day! They found that between $25,000 and $30,000 had been withdrawn in total, but this person was no dummy, every none of the ATM’s they went to had a camera - they had no solid proof that it wasn’t Paul taking the money out.
Shelly wasn’t giving up though, she had another idea.
She decided to call the post office and asked who was coming to pick up her father's mail, and they got a clue, a silhouette of a man going to Pauls mailbox, and it was not Paul
I think this says a lot about following your intuition and listening to your gut, even though all the evidence was pointing to Paul being fine, Shelly knew something was wrong and didn’t stop searching.
Immediately local residents felt that they recognized the man, they thought that it looked a lot like Darryl Robin Kuehl. Darryl had a connection to Paul, he had been working for him and he actually admitted that he had been picking up Pauls mail. And this is when things get even more wonky.
Police bring Darryl in for questioning and they hand him a photo of Paul and believe it or not, Darryl says he doesn’t recognize him and this is not the man that he knew as Paul
Investigators now believe someone is pretending to be Paul, so they ask Darryl to help them with a sketch. The sketch of the imposter is posted but no one recognized the person.
Over the next few months no sign of the real Paul or the imposter Paul show up but Investigators continue to search and keep an eye on the property, even though they still aren’t 100% sure anything has even happened to Paul.
There is one investigator though that always went back to something he saw in the house
It was a small rug. A rug that had been glued to the floor... and for good reason. After pulling the rug up, investigators found a strange mark on the floor, after testing for gunshot residue police concluded that the mark had been made by a ricocheting bullet. They then decided to test for blood with a Forensic File Favorite, Luminol. When they did, everything glowed.
The blood was then tested and came back with a positive match to the real Paul Gruber
But without a body, there was still no way to prove he was dead.
Now, I found two different versions of this timeline. In Forensic Files, they don’t mention it but in an article, I found from aboutforensics.co.uk it mentions that investigators were immediately suspicious of Darryl, like right after the initial interview. Either way, Darryl begins to move higher on the suspect list, even though they are still looking for the imposter he described.
Investigators start to look at his bank records, and they immediately find something of interest. Darryl was depositing large sums of money, sums of money that perfectly matched withdrawals from Paul's account, but Darryl had an explanation. He claimed that he was transferring the money to his account so that he could pay Paul's bills. This time, the police were not buying it.
They decided to go back to the birthday cards, they sent them to a new examiner and this time they came back as inconsistent and that Paul had not written the notes. The handwriting matched Darryl Keuhl.
A search of his property ensued and they found a horrifying room. Although Darryl had a wonderful reputation as a family man and a Mormon, oh and he had 7 kids! A hidden door in his house revealed a collection of throwing stars, big swords and military gear.
They found property belonging to Paul, including a boat!
But that wasn’t all, they found a .22 caliber with a homemade silencer.
Nearly two years after his disappearance, the investigators have a true breakthrough. On August 23rd, 1995 detectives ask a jailer who worked part-time as a carpenter and had actually worked on Paul’s home before he owned it, to check the grounds and see if any alterations were made that could be hiding a body. And he does. Under the house, there was an impression that hadn’t been there before. Over the many months of investigation, the ground had settled. Upon digging in this spot, investigators discovered what seemed to be an air mattress, rolled up inside was the body of Paul Gruber, he had been shot 4 times with a .22 caliber handgun.
After examination, it was found that the bullets did not match the handgun or the silencer owned by Darryl Keuhl. Even though they weren’t able to match the gun to Darryl, they did have something else. The stamps on each of the letters that he sent. Upon examination, the DNA on the stamps matched Darryl.
In May of 1996 he was put under arrest and charged with murder.
And almost as soon as he is in jail, he is plotting to get out. An inmate testified that Darryl said he would pay him and give him a car if he killed the prison officers for him, but the officers were on to him and even told him that they knew about his plot which I am sure left Darryl feeling really dumb.
The inmate who happened to be his cellmate also stated that Darryl had planned to kill the investigators on the case, the cellmate knew details about the case that no one but the real killer would have known.
Prosecutors believe Darryl had planned to kill Paul and take his money. Paul had trusted Darryl and hired him as a handyman around the home but Darryl took advantage of him and Paul's friendliness had ended in his death.
During his three week trial in 1997 Darryl claimed his innocence, sticking to his original claim that although he was found with all Paul’s property, he had never actually met the real Paul only the "imposter".
His lawyer event went so far as to say that he had been framed by this imposter. The state had asked for the death penalty in this case stating that Keuhl “exhibited utter disrespect for human life” and was “motivated by greed”.
The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder as well as charged him with counts of forgery and grand theft. They did not agree with the state however and Darryl was sentenced to life in prison.
Over the years Darryl has appealed his conviction, stating that “his attorney erred by failing to argue that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the jury’s verdict.” All of these appeals have been denied.
On June 19, 1997, Darryl wrote a letter to the Bonner County Daily Bee where he said "I was framed and false things have been used against me," and. "The real killer or killers are indeed still free and among you."
Darryl is currently imprisoned at the Idaho Correctional Center and will be eligible for parole in 2034, he will be 84 years old.
An interesting little tidbit I found was that the investigator thought that the sketch of the imposter looked like the artist who was doing it.
Including being covered in Forensic Files, this case was also covered in Discovery Channels “New Detectives” and Oxygens “Buried in the Backyard” which came out in 2019.