MISSING AND MURDERED IN THE MIDWEST: A podcast looking into crimes that made the headlines, starting in the Quad City area and expanding throughout the Midwest. Podcast host and News 8 Executive Producer Toria Wilson, dedicated her time into researching the murder cases that shocked us and the missing persons cases that left us with unanswered questions.
A REAL warning to all readers of this article and/or listeners of this episode: there are some extremely graphic and disturbing facts from this case.
On Friday, June 2, 2000, John Robinson was charged with sexual assault and theft.
But we know, and investigators had a hunch, that Robinson had done way more than what he was originally charged with. Now, with a search warrant in hand it was up to investigators to find proof.
That summer afternoon, Detectives Dawn Layman, Dan Owsley and Mike Lowther were tasked to enter the Robinson home and collect whatever evidence they could find. They started, in John's office. For the next five hours, those detectives cataloged and carried out things like:
- forged certificates
- blank piece of stationary with the signature from Lisa Stasi and envelopes addressed to her family members
- receipts from the Roadway Inn where Lisa stayed
- Social Security forms for Debbie and Sheila Faith
- e-mail addresses of the victims he would speak with
- credit cards and forms with some of his aliases such as James Turner
- documents for Hydro-Glo with Beverly Bonner’s name
They also took his 5 computers and all the floppy disks he used with them. The computers held 91,000 files that may or may not be evidence. Computer forensic specialist Mike Jacobson was assigned to the task of going through all of these files. Even files that had been deleted were retrieved.
While all of this activity was happening in and around the Robinson home you have to remember they live in a mobile home park, which was being operated by Nancy Robinson, John’s wife. Nancy saw the commotion happening but assumed it was one of the tenants being picked up for a minor crime.
It came as quite a shock when officers approached her office and informed her that her husband was being held at the detention center for sexual battery. The officers also asked her a lot of personal questions about her own sex life with John, including his presence on the BDSM websites.
Listen to the previous episode here:
Nancy said she knew her husband was on these sites but when confronted about it he said he was just looking around the internet and that was the end of that. Nancy was not only confronted by police in her office but also by reporters
It wouldn’t take long for Nancy to leave her job and the park itself and never return.
As the commotion continued at the park, some of the detectives visited the Need-Mor Storage facility on another search warrant for the locker John rented. Once the door swung open, investigators found collections of trophies from the dead women John interacted with.
That included Suzette Trouton.
Her belongings were in the storage unit including her Social Security card, birth certificate, passport application and her signature on 30 pieces of stationary with 40 addresses of her family members. There was a slave contract, a video the two of them made together, pictures, Suzette’s journal, a jewelry box and a Mickey Mouse watch.
That also included Izabela Lewicka.
Her driver's license and Purdue University ID were found. Izabela's slave contract with John and documents for a 1987 Pontiac Bonneville were in the unit. Photographs she brought with her to Kansas City of young woman, lying nude, on green and maroon bedding were also found.
The sex toys that were stolen from Vicki Neufeld were at the storage facility as well along with dozens of other toys and sexual equipment.
Investigators digging around the storage facility and the Robinson home wasn't the end and it wasn’t the last location officers searched.
Chapter one: From search warrant to search warrant
The day after the search warrants were executed was a blazing hot day.
It was Saturday, June 3 and investigators from half-a-dozen departments packed up and headed toward the 16-and-a-half acre farm that Robinson owned as well.
Some walked the entire property searching for clues with shovels in hand, others photographed and videotaped the buildings and vehicles on site. Some followed cadaver dogs. Others dove deep into a snake infested pond... only after officers shot at some of the snakes for divers to get in.
As investigators crawled across the property, helicopters flew overhead to get layout shots of the property.
The morning wore on, temperatures rose and the entire search seemed useless.
Can you imagine, all this time, this effort, these people sweating themselves half to death trying to find the ONE THING that would really nail John Robinson and they weren’t finding anything at the farm.
That is until a cadaver dog picked up a scent.
Just before 1 p.m. the dog walked near a storage shed on the property, and sat right in front of several big barrels hidden among the weeds. The dog was aggressively sniffing the air, an indicator that it found something.
There were some smaller, blue plastic barrels and two 85-gallon, bright yellow metal barrels. Sergeant Rick Roth from the Lexena Police Department was first to approach them. He eased one of the big yellow barrels out from the brush and rolled it out into a clearing.
When he stood it up, a reddish-colored liquid began oozing out from the lid and the cadaver dog put its paws on the top of the barrel.
Sergeant Roth went back into the brush and grabbed the second barrel when a strong scent began wafting throughout the clearing. The distinctive smell, one that veteran officers knew too well, was the smell of death.
Johnson County Sheriff Deputy Harold Hughes approached one of the barrels with a pair of pliers and began to pry the moldy lid away. As the lid was pried off, the scent grew stronger... so strong it knocked Deputy Hughes damn near off his feet.
He regrouped and approached the opened barrel to find what appeared to be a decomposing body: purplish and bloated, sitting face down, in a foot of liquid.
Deputy Hughes pried open the other yellow barrel and found another body. Inside this one though, a pillow was sitting on top of the remains. It appeared as though this body had been in the barrel longer than the first.
Deputies resealed both of the barrels and processed them for fingerprints. They were loaded and shipped off to a morgue in Shawnee County, Kansas.
The coroner reopened the barrels and slide each body onto a plastic bag on the floor to begin his examination.
Chapter two: What's inside the barrels? What about the storage locker?
One barrel was a woman with long dark hair, whose genitals and nipples were pierced and were connected by a metal chain. A piece of cloth blindfolded the body. The left side of the woman’s head had a severe injury, which the coroner determined was a hammer blow because of the circular hole in her skull. She had no defensive wounds. The coroner estimated this woman had been dead between a couple of months to a year.
The second barrel contained another woman, with matted hair, and a sheer black shirt. The fluid she was encased in held some of the woman’s fingernails and pieces of duct tape. She also had no defensive wounds just two blows to her head that were also consistent with a hammer. This woman had been dead between six months and two years, the coroner estimated.
Both bodies were fingerprinted, a rib bone was removed for DNA testing. The first body was later identified through dental records as Suzette Trouton, the Michigan woman who met John on the internet.
The second body was also identified through dental records as Izabela Lewicka the Polish, college student whose Gothic appearance kept John close in person but at a distance in public.
Now that the autopsies were done, police had a better idea as to what to look for and found blood in the barn, trailer and shed on Robinson's property. The evidence led to search warrants for the rented locker at the “Stor-Mor” facility in Missouri.
But there were some complications that came with this: everything that investigators had found so far was in Kansas.
If MORE evidence was found in the storage locker, it would not only add to just how COMPLEX the case was was becoming but add a new state and new jurisdiction as well.
June 5, 2000 was a Monday. Investigators had already spent four days sifting through John’s farm and his home. Now, a fleet of investigators were headed to the storage facility.
On locker E-2 they cut the padlock, raised the door and front and center were three additional barrels.
Loretta Mattingly ran the facility. She saw the cops coming and saw them when they opened the locker. She said she never saw John Robinson bring the barrels in, but believes it happened around 1993-1994.
"All I know is, they’d been dead a long time," Mattingly said.
Some of the barrels were leaking acids, so much so that it was eating right through the barrel. Those were wrapped in thick plastic and held together with duct tape. Cat litter had also been spread around the base of these barrels in an awful attempt to try to cover up the smell.
One barrel, away from the other two, had written on the top of it “rendered pork fat”.
Fearing that the fluids would continue to leak out, police sent one of their officers to purchase several kiddie pools which the barrels were put in before being loaded and sent to the medical examiner’s office.
Inside the first barrel was a fully dressed corpse, wearing size 14 pants, a tweed jacket, a blouse and a scarf. A watch had the time stopped at 1:22 p.m. Like the victims from the first two barrels, there were no defense wounds just a blow to the head, possibly caused by a hammer.
Dental records proved the body as Beverly Bonner, the librarian from the prison where John served time who picked up her whole life to be with a man she had fallen in love with.
The second barrel contained another dead woman who was wearing jeans and a t-shirt that read “California: A State of Mind.” Fractures were found on the back and side of her head and her jaw had been broken: injuries consistence with a hammer blow. This body was the only one with defensive wounds as she suffered a broken right forearm.
The third barrel held a younger female who was found upside down and dressed in green knit pants, a green shirt and one sock. The body had a degenerative condition, a misshapen pelvis and severe blows to the head that were about the size of a golf ball.
The second and third barrels were in such a condition of decomposition that additional testing was required. It was later determined that it was Debbie and Sheila Faith: the mother and daughter who were promised financial help with the bills from Sheila's care.
Two bodies in Kansas.
Three bodies in Missouri.
John Robinson’s bond was immediately raised to $5 million.
National media outlets swarmed the small Midwestern towns. The New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today all covering the nation’s --- potentially the world’s --- first internet serial killer.
Chapter three: The Internet's first serial killer
As reporters tried to talk to neighbors, friends and family about John Robinson, police were trying to track down women who were alive who had contact with him.
The search turned up Alecia Cox, the strong, independent woman who was damn near killed by Robinson after she woke him up the morning she was supposed to die.
Another woman, Barbara Sandre was also contacted In Toronto, Canada. She had known John for decades and the last time they communicated, John was planning on moving to Canada to be with her. Unbeknownst to her at that time, she was his escape plan. Barbara was his way out of the shit-storm that eventually came crashing down on him.
But, if you remember, there are still three OTHER missing women who are linked to John: Paula Godfrey, Catherine Clampitt and Lisa Stasi. If you thought this case was hard as it is, these three women still to this day have not been found.
There was also the kidnapping of Lisa Stasi's infant daughter, Tiffany.
DNA testing proved that the baby John Robinson gave to his younger brother and sister-in-law was, indeed, Tiffany. It was the district attorney from Kansas, Paul Morrison, that had to tell Don and Helen Robinson where Tiffany had come from. By this time she was already 15-years-old.
Morrison also met with Tiffany’s biological father and Lisa’s husband, Carl Stasi, to tell them what happened. Instead of fighting for custody, all Carl wanted was to meet his daughter.
An FBI agent released a statement on behalf of Don and Helen Robinson.
It said that they were betrayed, but that they love their daughter. They said they never hid that she was adopted and while they didn’t know her birth parents, they were willing to help her find any information.
Nancy Robinson and her four children also released a statement:
“We as a family have followed the events of the last week in horror and dismay along with each of you. As each day has passed, the surreal events have built into a narrative that is almost beyond comprehension. While we do not discount the information that has and continued to come to light, we do not know the person whom we have read and heard about on TV. John Robinson is a loving and caring husband and father. We wait with each of you for the cloud of allegations and innuendo to clear, revealing, at last, the facts.”
John Robinson was again being described as the person who went to church; who refereed volleyball games; who fixed up ponds; the person who attended all the birthdays and holiday parties. Hell, he was hosting a cookout with neighbors and friends on Memorial Day weekend just days before his arrest.
Throughout my research and from what I can tell, he never showed anger or aggression towards his children or even his wife.
But you have to look at other serial killers in history. John Wayne Gacy is the best comparison because he was also a business and family man. So it was also quite a shock to everyone who knew him when it came to light that he had 30 bodies under his house and garage.
John Robinson had been able to get himself out of a bind in the past but now he was facing three counts of murder in Kansas, three in Missouri and nearly 60 counts of fraud, forgery, aggravated interference with the parental custody of Lisa Stasi’s child, the sexual assault of Jeanne Milliron and Vicki Neufeld, as well as the theft of her sex toys.
If he was convicted in Kansas on the three murders alone, he could be the first person executed since 1965.
Chapter four: The trial
John was arrested in early June 2000 in Kansas. He said that he had no money for legal counsel and the team that ended up representing him had his preliminary hearing pushed back from October to November and eventually February 2001.
Because of the highly publicized nature of the case, those who entered the courtroom had to be screened. Those in the media received passes and had to go through metal detectors. Armed deputies were also on standby.
The preliminary hearing outlined John’s crimes from the victims who were still alive to the family members of those who were dead. Even Nancy Robinson, who couldn’t bear to look at her husband of 36 years, gave a testimony.
People got up on the stand and talked about the sex, bondage, toys... electric this and whipping that. The courtroom was filled with an awkward feeling as everyone was uncomfortable. Kind of like a kid in a high school sex-ed class, there was blushing and jokes to try to ease the courtroom's discomfort.
The trial was set for January 14, 2002, but that date would come and go.
Robinson kept firing his legal team, he’d go through around three or four of them until his full trial. His defense, when there was one, would continuously argue that there was not enough time and too many documents to sift through as the impending trial crept up on them.
Some of Robinson’s lawyers tried to get evidence thrown out, such as the two barrels found on his farm’s property and his victim's things found in storage. They also didn’t want any pictures shown and tried to suppress all the BDSM information. Overall, more than a hundred motions were filed and argued over. In the end, the judge wasn’t having any of it and allowed everything and more to be presented.
The judge set a new trial date, September 16, 2002.
It took 15 days to seat a jury of seven women, five men and five substitutes. Over 500 people were asked if they could handle the sexual content of the case, let alone if they could handle deciding the life and death fate of another human being. The jury, lawyers and anyone who else set to testify was also under a strict gag order.
John Robinson's trial began October 7, 2002.
His defense argued that others may have been involved as some of the evidence wasn’t linked to Robinson. But the overall tone, wasn’t that they were trying to get John Robinson acquitted but that they were aiming to spare his life.
I don’t want to really get into the details of the trial itself, just a couple of key details you wouldn't expect from a case of this magnitude.
- On the first and second days of testimony, there were major arguments held over emails being used as evidence: their origin, are there duplicates, does this count as real evidence.
- On the third day, a radio personality was handing out t-shirts outside the courtroom that said “John E. Robinson Trial 2002: Roll Out the Barrels” and in small print directly underneath “of evidence”.
- A defining moment in the trial was when Nancy Robinson took the stand. When she walked into court that day her demeanor was deflated. When discussing the whereabouts of John on the day that Suzette Trouten was killed, Nancy had told investigators he was home around noon that day. But on the stand, she gave a more detailed account explaining that he was spotted taking his grandchildren to school, was home for lunch and when she came home that evening John was there cooking dinner.
The Kansas district attorney, Paul Morrison was stunned into silence. How did she forget all of these key facts? This wasn’t just a defining moment in the trial but also for Nancy and John’s marriage. Despite the lies, the affairs, the deadly schemes he worked on over the past three decades, she was going to stick by his side. I’m guessing she really took the whole, in sickness and in health thing from her wedding vows very seriously. She wanted to keep John alive.
If Nancy’s testimony, the t-shirts and the argument over emails wasn’t enough fun there was still a key piece of evidence that would have everyone on the edge of their seats, with their hands over their eyes, watching through the creases of their fingers.
The prosecution entered the sex tape that Robinson and Suzette created in the hotel room as evidence. Prosecution only wanted to show a nine minute snippet, but the defense raised hell arguing an edited version was misleading.
So, anyone under the age of 18 was kicked out of the courtroom while the jury, lawyers, families of the victims, John’s family and curious onlookers in the crowd watched 39 minute film.
The courtroom damn near transformed into one of those seedy adult entertainment places you see off the side of an interstate. While some shut their eyes, you could still hear everything. When the taped wrapped up, it was like that surreal moment of seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory again.
While this piece of evidence made the court proceedings a sort of freak show, the jury got a reminder why they were there in the first place
Next, the 85-gallon, bright yellow barrels that the bodies were held in were rolled up to the front of the courtroom feet away from John Robinson.
Imagine an extremely bland courtroom, one that you could step into literally anywhere in the country, contrasted with these women's round coffins. It was striking and something no one could look away from. The barrels were rolled into court not once, but twice.
The second time was during closing statements. As Morrison wrapped up the prosecution side of the case, he said there weren't many terms to describe Robinson except for "sinister".
Sinister, in that there were rotting bodies in barrels. As he said that line, he tapped the top of the bright yellow bin and the echo from the hollowness rang throughout the courtroom.
He would do it again saying John made his victims, but more specifically in his words Suzette, valueless. John killed her and put her in a barrel like a piece of valueless trash. Every time Morrison talked about John’s victims, he went back to the barrels and tapped them, letting the ringing break the silence of the room.
The defense tried to claim that none of the cases were connected by a common scheme, there were unanswered questions and not all of the killings were premeditated. In the end, the defense said if the jury had ANY doubt, they should find him not guilty. The defense even tried to victim shame for the sadomasochism thing and that riled up Paul Morrison.
Getting back up in front of the jurors he made it a point that there was no evidence anyone else who could have done this.
“In John Robinson’s world when he’s done with you, he throws you away," Morrison said. "These are trash barrels for John Robinson and tombs for his victims.”
Chapter five: John Robinson today
On October 29, 2002, John Robinson was found guilty.
After taking a day off, the jury came back for the sentencing phase and tried to determine if John Robinson should live or die in the state of Kansas.
The state called no witnesses, but the defense called Nancy Robinson. She tried to make it a point that this person, the one found guilty, was not the man she knew. She tried to soften the hearts of the jury saying that one of their grandchildren visited John in jail, gave him a big hug and said, “Papa, orange is not your color.”
It was that moment John Robinson showed his first sign of emotion as he hung his head and cried.
Paul Morrison also got his turn with Nancy again and asked her if she had any reason, any reason at all to leave her husband now. The line of questioning actually angered her and she said, “I don’t know.” Morrison could see it in her eyes that he hit a nerve and he immediately backed off.
It took nearly two days and, after a mishap over one of the jurors reading over a damn bible verse, the 12 jurors were unanimous.
John Robinson would die at the hands of the state. Jurors would later come out and say that if John’s children might have spoken in court, they could have been persuaded.
In Missouri a year later, a prosecutor tried to work out a deal with Robinson if he could lead investigators to the bodies of Lisa Stasi, Paula Godfrey and Catherine Clampitt.
If he would have done that, it could have been used against him in Kansas, so he refused. But it’s still clear to this day that the only way to those women’s bodies was if Robinson cooperated.
So, in a bizarre deal, Robinson acknowledged that only the prosecutor had enough evidence to convict him of capital murder and while it’s technically a guilty plea, it missed any specific acceptance of responsibility.
Today, John Robinson is 75-years-old and remains on death row.
In 2005, Nancy filed for divorce citing incompatibility and irreconcilable differences after 41 years of marriage.
In 2006, Lisa Stasi’s daughter, now known as Heather Robinson, filed a civil suit against Truman Medical Center and a social worker named Karen Gaddis. Heather claimed Gaddis was the one who told John Robinson about Lisa and her baby as Robinson hunted for unwed mothers with white babies.
There's no word on how much she got in that case and she could still win a $5 billion lawsuit against Robinson himself, but it's not money she wants.
In 2019, Heather founded “The Lisa Stasi Effect", an organization and a podcast to answer questions about her mother’s disappearance. She wants to find the remains of her mother, Lisa Stasi, answer questions about what happened to her and finally bury her in a marked, yet empty grave.
As long as John Robinson is alive though, those closest to the victims who were never found can only hold onto hope that something, anything, will make Robinson just tell them where they are.
But John is a con-man, a man who has controlled or has tried to control every woman in his life and right now he’s doing just that over Lisa Statsi, Paula Godfrey and Catherine Clampitt long after their final breaths.
Let’s just hope they are found before his final breath.