Family of man wanted for killing Josh Kruger says the 19-year-old and the journalist shared sex and drugs
The assertions by Robert Davis’ mother and older brother add new complexities to a killing that has garnered national attention.
The family of Robert Davis, 19, who is accused of killing local journalist Josh Kruger, said that Davis was just 15 when he and Kruger began a years-long relationship involving drugs — and that Davis told them Kruger was threatening to post sexually explicit videos of him online before, police say, Davis shot Kruger.
Those assertions by Davis’ mother and older brother in recent interviews with The Inquirer add troubling new complexities to a killing that has garnered national attention. Their account, they said, is drawn from recent conversations with Davis, and from the years of watching his life unravel as he tried to keep the relationship and his drug addiction hidden.
Kruger, 39, was killed after a man entered his Point Breeze home in the middle of the night, police said, and shot him seven times at the base of his stairs. Surveillance video near the scene and tips from Kruger’s friends and family led detectives to Davis, and a warrant was issued for his arrest a few days later. Police described the pair as acquaintances, and said Kruger “was trying to help [Davis] get through life.”
The family’s contentions come as detectives separately discovered and are investigating what multiple law enforcement sources have called explicit photos and messages in Kruger’s phone. The sources, who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, did not say whether the images or messages were connected to Davis, but said they were “disturbing” and have been turned over to the department’s Special Victims Unit for further analysis.
Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Vanore said the contents of Kruger’s phone are part of the investigation as detectives seek to learn more about why he may have been killed. But critical details of what happened, he said, lie with Davis, who remains at-large.
“I think he could answer a lot of questions if he comes into custody and surrenders,” Vanore said. “It might help us put all this together.”
Damica Davis said her son called her on Friday, just hours after Philadelphia police burst into her South Philadelphia home looking for him. She urged him to turn himself in, she said, but before the call ended, he frantically tried to explain himself, though he stopped short of admitting to the crime.
“He was scared,” she said. “He said ‘... He wanted me to do some stuff I didn’t want to do and if I didn’t do it, he said he was going to blackmail me.’”
‘Put the pieces together’
Damica Davis and her older son Jaylin Reason said in an interview that Davis faced mental health issues from a young age. He struggled to control his anger in school, his mother said, partially because of the absence of his biological father in his life, and often got into fights. When he was about 15, she said, his troubles intensified after he started sneaking out in the middle of the night and coming home high on drugs.
They said Davis told them he was seeing an “older white woman” he met online who “worked for the government.”
They frequently saw the name “Josh” pop up in messages on his phone, they said, and when they asked who Josh was, Davis told them it was the woman’s brother, who was gay.
It was only later, in their call with him Friday, they said, that Davis told them he had been seeing Kruger all along.
Kruger worked for the city, including the Office of Homeless Services, from 2015 to 2020 — which lines up with when they said Davis initially told them he’d started seeing the woman who worked in government. And they’d followed Davis to Kruger’s block on Watkins Street before, they said, desperate to find out where he was going and getting drugs. They trailed behind and watched as he turned onto Watkins Street, but then couldn’t figure out which house he was going into, they said.
For years, Damica Davis said, “We’ve only had pieces of everything. We could never put the pieces together, and now everything is coming out and we see what’s going on.”
Davis sometimes returned home with expensive gifts, such as designer belts and Gucci pants, they said, and would tell his family the woman bought them for him. He’d sometimes stay out until early morning, they said, and return under the influence of drugs. They found needles, pills, and other drug paraphernalia in his pockets, and believe he became addicted to meth.
Damica Davis said that she tried to get help for her son but that resources were limited. He never stayed long at any rehabilitation facilities, she said, and other institutions “treated him like a prisoner.”
His drug use escalated. He struggled to hold a job and sometimes scrapped spare parts and metals. He was arrested in August and charged with trespassing after police said he broke into a building at the Navy Yard and was acting erratically. The charges were dropped after the security guard who witnessed the incident failed to appear in court.
Davis’ family said he was home the week Kruger was killed, and behaving like his normal self. On Friday morning, Reason said, he returned home from his girlfriend’s house about 3 a.m., and his brother came home about 4:45 a.m. with his cart of scrapping materials. They argued for a bit about why Davis was out so late, Reason said, then Reason went to his room.
Then, at 6:01 a.m., Philadelphia Police and SWAT Officers burst through the door with a photo of Davis and a warrant for his arrest.
But Davis was gone. Reason and his mother said they don’t know where he’s hiding.
Damica Davis said that if her son did kill Kruger, there’s no excuse. But she, too, wants answers.
“It’s tragic what happened,” she said. “But I feel like my son is a victim in this, as well.”
A difficult past
Kruger, for his part, was transparent about the struggles in his own life. He has said he was homeless for years and was addicted to crystal meth and used intravenous drugs. While on the streets, he wrote in 2017, he relied on sex work, his religion, and the kindness of others to survive.
“I saw a lot of trauma and acted out of a lot of pain,” he said about that time of his life.
He said he started making changes in 2013. He said he got sober and wrote for blogs and alt-weekly publications about his experiences. Then, in 2015, he was hired by the city. Over five years, he oversaw the mayor’s social media platforms, and acted as spokesperson for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.
He returned to writing in 2021 and for various outlets including The Inquirer, he typically wrote about the issues that intersected with his life, including living as a gay man with HIV, addiction and harm reduction, and city and state politics. He became known for his strong positions and activity on social media, and grew a following.
Police sources say he was concealing parts of his life, and that meth was found in his bedroom. Still, news of his death left many shocked and devastated. City and state leaders shared statements celebrating his life and support for vulnerable communities.
Police, meanwhile, are working to figure out how it all fits together.
“We’re looking at everything as part of the case,” Vanore said.
Staff writer Chris Palmer contributed to this article.