Polk County Sheriff’s Special Victims Unit detectives, working with prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office 10th Judicial Circuit (Jerry Hill), agents from the Department of Law Enforcement, and deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, arrested 67-year-old Robert Joseph “Joe” Gallager, DOB 5/15/1944, of 702 North E Street in Lake Worth, on Friday, April 20, 2012, after a Polk County grand jury indicted him on two child sex abuse charges stemming from crimes he committed 43 years ago.
“This is the oldest case we have ever prosecuted in Polk County, to the best of our knowledge, and it is also one of the most horrific cases we have ever investigated,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “This victim’s story is gut-wrenching, but she insisted on coming forward and following through with prosecuting the suspect. It is her desire that anyone else who has ever been a victim of crimes such as these will have the courage to do the same thing, regardless of when the crimes occurred. We are proud of this victim for being so brave, and it is our desire that Joe Gallagher spend the rest of his life in prison.”
According to the investigation, between the years 1969 through 1973, Gallagher sexually abused his stepdaughter from the time she was 11 years of age until she was 15 years of age, in the home they shared in Lakeland, Florida. The victim never told anyone about the abuse she suffered. Gallagher threatened to burn her house down or to cut the brake lines on her mother’s car if she told anyone.
As a result of the sexual abuse, which occurred two to three times per week, the victim became pregnant at the age of 14. On May 5, 1973, she gave birth to a baby boy. She was 15 years old at the time. The baby boy died a day after he was born, due to respiratory issues and congenital defects. He was buried at Lakeside Memorial Park in Winter Haven.
When the victim gave birth to the baby boy, Gallagher told her to make up a story that she had been drugged by a boy at Crystal Lake Park in Lakeland and must have gotten pregnant then. This is the story she told her mother, and it was not questioned.
Gallagher tried to continue the sexual abuse against the victim after the baby was born, but she threatened to tell her mother that he was the baby’s father, and the abuse stopped. Gallagher divorced the victim’s mother a few years later, but not as a result of these crimes.
During the early 90’s, when the victim was in her 30’s (she was born in 1958), the victim reported the abuse to her mother and her sister, at the advice of her psychiatrist. The victim began asking her sister last year to help her report the crimes to detectives in Georgia where she lives, to see if it was too late to press charges.
Detectives in Brooks County, GA, contacted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year and asked if they would be able to charge a man for crimes he committed 43 years ago. PCSO detectives consulted with the State Attorney’s Office, and together they researched and found that crimes of this nature have no statute of limitations. Because the crimes committed against the victim were capital offenses when they occurred in 1969, and would have had to have been presented to a grand jury, after a complete and thorough investigation this case was presented to the grand jury on Thursday, April 19, 2012. The grand jury returned an indictment against Robert “Joe” Gallagher for one count Felony Capital Rape, and one count Forcible Carnal Knowledge, which are 1969 statutes.
On Friday, April 20, 2012, with the assistance of FDLE and Palm Beach County deputies, PCSO detectives arrested Gallagher at his home without incident, where he made a full confession to the sexual abuse against his then-stepdaughter. Gallagher waived extradition and agreed to return to Polk County to be booked into the Polk County Jail. He is in the process of being booked in at this time.
"I brag about our deputies and detectives all the time for the wonderful work they do fighting and solving crime. But what really makes them stand out as being the best in the nation, is the compassion they have for victims and their families. After hearing this victim's story, the Special Victims Unit pooled their money and purchased a beautiful headstone for the little baby boy's grave -- a grave that has been sitting for 43 years with only a small marker. Now that an arrest has been made, and a baby's memory has been honored, hopefully this victim and her family can have some sort of closure. I give my detectives all the credit for that." - Sheriff Grady Judd