Robert Gross, linked to unsolved killings, to face trial on stalking and gun charges

Federal prosecutors plan call about 30 witnesses and present more than 200 pieces of evidence in the trial of a man who has been charged with stalking and gun crimes but has also been linked to a series of homicides since the 1970s.

Robert J. Gross, 67, is accused of illegally possessing firearms and stalking women who worked at massage parlors. Gross appeared in U.S. District Court in Kansas City Tuesday for a pretrial conference on the federal charges.

Gross is scheduled to go to trial May 13 on four counts of stalking, three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and three counts of receiving a firearm while under indictment. The trial is scheduled to last about four days, federal prosecutors told U.S. Magistrate Judge Lajuana M. Counts.

During Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors said many of their witnesses speak Mandarin and would need a translator. Many of the workers at the massage parlors are from China.

Court documents filed with the charges said Gross has a history of interest in prostitutes, including deviant sexual and violent behavior, particularly against women, dating back to at least 1975.

Last year, The Star published a six-part series about Gross’s life and his alleged ties to a string of unsolved homicides, arsons and other crimes, mostly against women.

John P. O’Connor, an attorney who is representing Gross, said Tuesday that the series was “highly” prejudicial against his client. Gross has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and has maintained his innocence.

O’Connor told Counts that he plans to file a motion to sever the weapons charges from the stalking allegations.

No plea agreement is expected to made before the trial, he said.

No witnesses were expected to testify on behalf of Gross, but O’Connor said he may question several of the prosecution’s witnesses. O’Connor said his portion of the trial should last about half a day.

Federal prosecutors have accused Gross of stalking multiple victims between Oct. 1 and Dec. 22, 2017. Gross allegedly traveled from Missouri to Kansas in an effort to harass and intimidate his victims, according to the charges.

During that period, Gross fell under police suspicion in a rash of property crimes and stalking reports by employees at massage parlors in Johnson County and in Lawrence.

Employees alerted local police after their cars were keyed, their tires punctured and their windows smashed out.

Surveillance video from the Lawrence massage parlor on Oct. 1, 2017 showed a man, determined by federal authorities to be Gross, walking around the business naked, fondling himself, wrapping his arms around an employee and attempting to touch her face, according to the federal complaint. Gross faces prosecution in Douglas County for that assault.

As a result of that investigation, law enforcement officials in Kansas City put Gross under surveillance by a task force of local and federal officers while he was out on bond.

According to court records, Gross spent several weeks amassing a collection of guns, handcuffs and other security paraphernalia.

Federal agents wrote that they saw Gross go to a surplus store in Kansas City, Kansas, and purchase two black shirts with the word “SECURITY” on them, four pairs of handcuffs and two balaclava-style masks. A store manager later told authorities Gross had been in the store two weeks earlier and bought two pairs of handcuffs.

Federal agents later observed Gross inquiring about guns, including an “Uzi-type” firearm, at a gun show at the KCI Expo Center. A federally licensed dealer said Gross asked him about powerful guns, said he was a cash buyer and “seemed very nervous.” Gross went back to the gun show the next day and examined a Luger handgun, according to the charges.

For a convicted felon, even handling a gun at a gun show can be charged as a felony.

Gross was later arrested after he allegedly paid $350 for two 12-gauge shotguns from a seller he had found online.

Since his arrest in December 2017, Gross has been held without bond at a federal detention center.

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Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.