Charlie Roberts, a 32-year-old truck driver whose 6-foot-2-inch frame had once served him well on the basketball court, slid from behind the wheel of a light-blue GMC pickup that clear Tuesday in late September.

The truck belonged to his wife'’s grandfather, Lloyd Welk. Roberts knew he could not use his own vehicle, a two-door Jeep Wrangler,— to haul all the material he planned to buy that week. The Jeep would have been too small.

So, earlier that day Roberts had walked to Welk’'s home, just a few short feet from his own front porch, and asked to borrow the pickup. The bed featured a white, locking cap that was perfect for concealing its contents.

Roberts said only that he needed to haul lumber, which was partially true. He would eventually use Welk'’s pickup to transport 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 wood beams.

But not today.

On this Tuesday, he would buy the thin plastic cables he needed for his plan. And on Thursday he would stop at a gun shop on Route 41 in Gap to buy, for $35, the 300,000-volt stun gun.

But Roberts would not tell his wife or her grandfather anything about those purchases. And to avoid their inquiries, he would empty the truck bed after each trip, storing his cache in an aluminum shed just off the side steps of his home at 1084 Georgetown Road, the main route through the small village of Georgetown.

Roberts was familiar with the small, one-story hardware store and its Amish owners. It sits near the intersection of Vintage and Valley roads, about two miles from his home. The drive there took only a few minutes.

The store had been open since 6:30 that Tuesday morning. A bell on the door jingled when Roberts entered. The inside was dimly lit, as usual. The only light filling the narrow aisles filtered in from a series of rectangular skylights in the ceiling.

Tools, packs of screws and nails and other hardware hung from hooks on walls of pegboard. Roberts picked out two packages of white zip ties and paid for them at the store’s only checkout counter.

A young Amish woman greeted him on this day, as she had in the past when Roberts stopped by. The customer did not make small talk. He never did. Unless someone initiated a conversation with him, Roberts rarely addressed the people he encountered.

The durable plastic strips Roberts purchased that Tuesday, Sept. 26, typically are used for cinching together wires or cables. But Roberts had a far different purpose in mind for them— as wrist and ankle restraints.

His ultimate plan, the sexual assault and slaying of young girls,— was in motion.

Started in carpentry

Though he supported his family the past seven years by driving an 18-wheeler, Charles Carl Roberts IV had worked previously as a carpenter. He could easily find his way around a lumberyard or hardware store — something he learned as a teenager and young adult.

His initial interest in the trade came in 1989, when his parents had decided to build a two-story home, one with five bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms for their four growing children, amid the rural countryside a mile south of Strasburg.

The family had been living in a one-story home on Wellington Road, a subdivision off Columbia Avenue in Manor Township. It was a short drive to work for Roberts’' father, who worked as a township police sergeant there.

The decision to build a new home played an important role in Roberts'’ upbringing. The oldest of four boys, he was the only one to be home-schooled entirely; his brothers were involved in athletics or other activities at Lampeter-Strasburg and Lancaster Christian high schools, from which they graduated.

Roberts’ mother, Teresa, reportedly worried about her oldest son’'s isolation. So she was encouraged when, during the four months of construction on the family'’s new home in Strasburg Township, Charlie, then 15, took a keen interest in the carpenters working on their new house.

"“He was always around when we were building their home,”" one of the workers remembers.

That, Roberts decided, is what he wanted to do with his life. More than two years later, in 1992, after her son had earned his diploma through the Lancaster County Home Schoolers Association, Teresa Roberts called the owner of the construction company with a question:

Would he hire Charlie?

The answer was yes.

Roberts started work at his first full-time job in April 1992. He was inexperienced, but learned the trade while out in the field. He worked as one of four carpenters on a “framing crew,” essentially piecing together the bare skeletons of new houses.

Yet Roberts kept mostly to himself and remained relatively unknown to the three other workers on the crew. They learned that he enjoyed basketball only when, in 1994, he injured a knee while playing and was forced to go on disability.

They knew, too, that he had met a girl, Marie Welk, though they didn'’t know that they had become close through a church youth group. The couple'’s relationship grew serious, even though she was still in high school, at Solanco. Out on the job, Roberts often referred to her as “his woman.”

After six months on disability, Roberts returned to the framing crew. But he quit construction in February of 1996. He took on a steadier, year-round job installing residential garage doors. By design or by coincidence, Roberts worked alone most of the time.

The quiet 22-year-old man had also asked Welk, a senior in high school, to marry him. She said yes, and the couple bought a new home near Lititz. Marie was 18 at the time, earning money as a clerk for a local health-care company, when she signed the deed to their first home, a $71,100 townhouse.

She was still months away from her high-school graduation when she and her fiance began planning for their November wedding. Roberts tried to think of something to make that day special.

He had an idea.

New career goal

Though Roberts was proficient at installing garage doors for Overhead Door Co. of Lancaster, he made it clear to his boss that he wanted to do something else with his life.

"“My goal is to drive 18-wheelers,"” Roberts told a supervisor at the firm.

He was influenced by Marie'’s family, the Welks, who had operated a milk-hauling business since the 1940s.

In fact, Roberts was so enthused about one day driving big rigs that he asked his soon-to-be father-in-law, Ken Welk, to chauffeur him and Marie in one of his trucks on their wedding day. Welk drove the newlyweds from the Highview Church of God, in Ronks, to the reception in Manheim Township.

It wasn'’t Marie’s first time in a big rig. As a young girl, she rode along in her family'’s gleaming milk trucks.

On their wedding day, the newlyweds rode in the cabin.

“Charlie'’s father-in-law drove,” remembers the Rev. J. Thomas Lefever, who married the couple. “Everybody does their own thing.”

As a couple, Charlie and Marie had two goals:— to own a home and have a family. They had purchased a house, and the following year Marie became pregnant.

But when Roberts called in to work one day in November 1997, he delivered horrible news: The child was born prematurely and had died 20 minutes later. Roberts said he needed some time off.

The typically quiet, unemotional and even-tempered Roberts was clearly shattered.

At the funeral, the grieving father carried his daughter'’s casket from Georgetown United Methodist Church to the hearse, and from the hearse to the cemetery.

The infant'’s heart-shaped, marble gravestone was etched with a lamb.

The inscription, above the family name, reads:

ELISE VICTORIA

pledged to God

dau. of

Charles & Marie

born & died

Nov. 14, 1997

Years later, even after he and Marie would go on to have three healthy children, two copies of a photograph of Elise remained on display in their house — a small version in the living area, and a larger one in the couple’s bedroom.

When a visitor asked about the portrait, which had been taken shortly after the baby'’s death, one of the Roberts children replied, "“That'’s our sister.”"

A trucker’s life

In April of 1999, Charlie Roberts attained his goal of becoming a truck driver. He had earned the Class A license needed for driving 18-wheelers, and he didn’'t learn at any school. His father-in-law and other family members taught him how to do it.

Roberts was then hired by his in-laws'’ trucking company, and would later drive a Kenworth truck, pulling up to 50,000 pounds of raw milk from farms in southern Lancaster and Chester counties to dairies.

Again, Roberts had taken on a solitary job. And the hours weren'’t ideal; he worked from about 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., and rarely spoke to anyone while on his milk runs.

“"With this type of work, you don'’t very often get to see other drivers,”" one milk hauler who worked with Roberts said.

But Roberts'’ new job put him in direct but brief contact with numerous Amish families in southern Lancaster and Chester counties. Decades ago, milk haulers played an important role in Amish communities aside from simply carrying their milk to dairies. They also conveyed news of a death from one family to another.

Nowadays, the Amish more often notify the community and relatives of a death by using the telephone at a non-Amish family'’s home. Still, the haulers do become acquainted with the Amish families from which they pick up milk, and Roberts was no different.

At one of those Amish farms, though, the family made sure their children were out of the milkhouse when Roberts pulled in early in the evening, said a non-Amish acquaintance of the family. They did not like that he swore a lot and showed frustration.

"“It was like he didn'’t like his job,”" the acquaintance said.

But Roberts respected the Amish and their customs, members of Roberts’ family said. One Amish dairy farmer offered to allow Roberts to pick up his milk on a Sunday night, even though the Plain community frowns upon doing business on the Sabbath.

"“You may come by at 10,”" the farmer told Roberts.

But Roberts declined. Though it was less convenient for him, he waited to pick up the milk until after midnight.

On some weekdays, when Roberts arrived at their farms, Amish children would greet him by waving and calling out hello. Roberts, though, was intensely and uncomfortably shy. He often did not reply.

Roberts and his wife sold their home near Lititz in May of 1999, one month after he got the job driving truck. They lived briefly in a small apartment above the Welk family’'s trucking business before moving into a modular home owned by Marie'’s grandfather next door to the trucking company, on Georgetown Road in Bart Township.

But the big news around that time was that Marie was pregnant again. And in September, she and Charlie brought home a baby girl named Abigail. A son, Bryce, was born in 2001, and Carson followed in 2005.

Though he had the family he had always wanted, Roberts never stopped thinking about his firstborn daughter, the little girl who died at the hospital in 1997.

The death of Elise Victoria would serve as a constant source of pain to Roberts, — one far deeper than anyone knew, and the move to Bart Township, perhaps coincidentally, put him within footsteps of the infant'’s grave.

Another side

Though usually quiet, Roberts sometimes became visibly upset.

When he struck a Cadillac with his milk truck in April of 2003, he jumped out of his truck and approached the driver and passenger, but not to ask whether they were injured.

“He came over and said, "‘You didn'’t stop at that sign! You didn'’t stop at that sign!"’” remembers Wenceslao Munoz, a Chester County resident who sued Roberts for damages." “He did raise his voice. I said, ‘'Wait a minute, wait a minute. Yes I did.’”'"

Patricia Welsh, Munoz’'s wife and a passenger in the car that day, said she, too, remembers Roberts walking up to them after the accident.

"“He was angry. He accused us, ‘'You were speeding over that hump.'’ He kept saying it was our fault, it was our fault,”" she said.

At a deposition in the case earlier this year, Roberts acknowledged there was a brief confrontation at the scene of the accident, on Route 896 in Chester County. But he denied being angry at, or making accusations against, Munoz.

An arbitration panel in the case sided against Roberts, and with Munoz and his wife. It found Roberts liable for $7,500 in damages.

When things did go his way, Roberts seemed to take it for granted.

After a big snowstorm hit the county, a few residents in the village of Nickel Mines noticed that Roberts’ milk truck was snowed in. So before he showed up to begin his route that day, some neighbors grabbed their shovels and cleared a path for him.

The volunteers watched as Roberts showed up for work, hopped inside the cab, started the engine and drove off without a word.

Carrying out plan

During the week before the murders, Roberts appeared unusually comfortable in social situations. At the dairy, he chatted with co-workers and appeared at ease, as though he had made an important decision and was sure of it, police later said. Toward the weekend, though, he again became quiet and withdrawn.

In the early hours of Oct. 2, Charlie Roberts pulled his truck into a dairy about an hour from Lancaster County. He had finished picking up milk from the large tanks at each farm on his route.

When he finished unloading his truck at the dairy, Roberts prepared to pull away and drive home.

“See you tomorrow, Charlie,” the next hauler to unload called after him.

“Yeah, I’ll see ya,” Roberts replied.

Roberts drove to the Nickel Mine Auction, parked his truck and drove home in his own vehicle. He went to sleep after 3 a.m. and awoke some four hours later to a brilliant Monday morning.

He and Marie got out of bed between 7:30 and 7:45 and got the two older children ready for school at nearby Bart-Colerain Elementary. Roberts dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and button-down shirt. For his height, he was lean, less than 200 pounds. He wore a baseball cap over his brown, buzzed hair.

At around 8:45 a.m., he walked his children to the bus stop nearby and, just as they were boarding, reportedly called them back off the bus. He wanted to give them another hug, and remind them that he loved them.

About 15 minutes later, Marie drove off for a meeting of her prayer group. She expected her husband to report for a routine, mandatory drug test for his job. He did not go.

Instead, he again borrowed the GMC pickup next door, saying he needed to haul some lumber. He loaded up the 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 wood planks, stun gun and other supplies from the shed, and left a note for his wife and each of his children at home.

"“I don'’t know how you put up with me all those years,"” he wrote to Marie. "“I am not worthy of you, you are the perfect wife you deserve so much better. We had so many good memories together as well as the tragedy with Elise. It changed my life forever I haven'’t been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible."

"“I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness it seems like everytime we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn'’t here to share it with us and I go right back to anger.”"

In separate letters to his children, Roberts said he loved them and that they were good. He then slipped behind the wheel of the pickup and drove about two miles back to Valley Hardware.

He needed just a few more items for his assault, including eye bolts and two more packs of zip ties. He paid for his hardware at 9:14 a.m. and walked outside, where the sun was shining and the skies were clear, before quickly turning back. He made a second purchase at 9:16 a.m.

The checklist Roberts had scribbled was complete: tape, eye bolts, tools, nails, wrenches, hose, binoculars, earplugs, batteries, flashlight, candle, wood and tape. He had been keeping the list in a wire-bound notebook inside the cab of his milk tanker.

Roberts also packed a few other items on his list: a 9 mm handgun, 12-gauge shotgun, .30-06 bolt-action rifle and about 600 rounds of ammunition. He had all the supplies necessary for a standoff.

Roberts had already screwed 10 eye bolts into one of the wood beams — each about 10 inches apart from the next — and apparently intended to lash the girls to them.

And he had purchased K-Y jelly, a sexual lubricant. It became clear only later what he had planned, what dreams had haunted him in recent years, what abuse he claimed to have inflicted on two young relatives decades ago.

Roberts got behind the wheel of the pickup truck and drove to the Nickel Mine Auction building at Mine and White Oak roads.

On this Monday morning, he pulled up outside the auction building and bought a $1.25 soda from a machine. Roberts sipped the drink while keeping an eye on the West Nickel Mines School less than a quarter mile away.

The Amish children were at recess. Some of the children he knew as residents of the farms from which he hauled milk.

Several passersby, including a member of the school board, noticed the man standing in front of the auction house that morning.

One of them noticed that, when the teacher called her pupils inside minutes later, Roberts walked to the pickup truck, got in and started driving toward the yellow schoolhouse.

Tom Murse is the digital editor at Lancaster Newspapers. He can be reached at tmurse@lnpnews.com or (717) 481-6021.