Detroit detectives Lloyd Stearns and John Flis zero in on Joe Scolaro, who they suspect embezzled $60,000 from Richard Robison’s ad agency and then murdered the entire Robison family to cover it up. Not only does a bloody footprint at the crime scene match a pair of Joe’s boots, the gun evidence, failed polygraphs and lack of a solid alibi make Richard’s former business associate look like a very guilty man.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie follow Lloyd Stearns and John Flis as they chase down leads and hurtle over the obstacles set by Emmet County’s Prosecutor and Attorney General.
Hooked up to a polygraph, Joe Scolaro answers police questions about the guns he owns – a nine-shot semi-automatic .25-caliber Beretta and an Armalite AR-7 survival rifle. He supposedly bought the first gun, and another exactly like it, from a friend the previous spring. Joe claims he gave the second Beretta to Richard Robison for personal protection. As for his Armalite AR-7 survival rifle, he apparently bought it from his brother-in-law and then returned it. While giving this information, Joe fails three polygraph tests.
At the crime lab, Hugh Fish tests ballistics for Joe’s Beretta. Although he concludes Joe’s Beretta is not one of the guns used to kill the Robisons, Hugh believes Richard’s Beretta might have been. Detectives Stearns and Flis initiate a manhunt for this gun and the AR-7. With everyone in Northern Michigan owning a gun, the search proves tedious. It is also disappointing, as none of the guns or ammunitions tested by police are a match.
The search for the guns momentarily cools, but in 1969, a year and a half after the murders, Stearns and Flis spot Joe at a makeshift target range on his father-in-law’s property. It prompts them to interview his brother-in-law, Herbert Johnson; he gives them access to the property to search for AR-7’s shell casings. They find twenty-one in total but at least five of them were a match.
However, procuring a warrant for Joe Scolaro’s arrest from Emmet County Prosecutor Donald Noggle and Attorney General Frank Kelley proves to be futile. Stearns and Flis compile a 300-page document stating their case against Joe, including motive, means, failed polygraphs, considerable time without an alibi and strong gun evidence. It sits on a desk for weeks. When Donald and Frank finally read the report, they tell the detectives that the evidence is all circumstantial and that it would be premature to issue a warrant.
Frustrated, but unwilling to give up, Lloyd and John dig deeper into Richard Robison’s life. They learn that not all his colleagues thought well of him and that he may have been having affairs with his secretaries – namely Wanda Hensley. When asked, Wanda tells the detectives that Richard made advances but she rebuffed them all. During her employment at Richard’s ad agency, she married a jealous and possessive older man. Carter wonders if Richard Robison’s sexual advances towards Wanda motivated her husband to kill the Robison family.
Detectives Lloyd Stearns and John Flis also revisit the golden medallion that coroners found around Richard’s neck. On it is a curious inscription that reads: “Richard, to my chosen son and heir. God bless you. Roebert.”
Living family members do not recognize the medallion or the name “Roebert,” but when the detectives survey Richard’s business dealings, they find a link between the mystery benefactor and a multi-million-dollar real estate investment Richard was about to make. “Roebert” allegedly was going to take the Robison family to these properties on his private jet after their vacation. The detectives never figure out who “Roebert” is or if he is even a real person. Some think he was Richard’s biological father. Others say that Richard suffered from psychosis and made him up.
Desperate for a lead, Emmet County Sheriffs Zink and Fosmore enlist the help of a local psychic named B. Anne Gehman. She tells them that a riding stable, a church and a yacht harbor are involved with the murders, but nothing ever comes of these “revelations.”
Five years after the Robison family murders, Detectives Stearns and Flis circumvent Prosecutor Donald Noggle’s decision and go after Joe Scolaro with the help of Ronald Covault, the chief assistant to the Oakland County Prosecutor. However, before police can arrest him, Joe commits suicide.
Whether Joe Scolaro was responsible for the Robison family murders or not, another suspect emerges after his death – John Norman Collins.
More widely known as “The Co-ed Killer,” John Collins preyed upon and murdered seven college-age women in the late 1960s. Although it’s a tenuous link, John Collins and Richard Jr. were students at Eastern Michigan University and knew each other. But the investigation into “The Co-Ed Killer” as a suspect in the Robison family murders doesn’t last long due to lack of evidence.
By the end of this episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, show hosts Carter and Wenndy still can’t shake the fact that Prosecutor Donald Noggle and Attorney General Frank Kelley stonewalled attempts to arrest Joe Scolaro despite evidence. They question whether someone high up on the judicial chain was protecting him.
While our money is on Joe Scolaro for the Robison family murders, we can’t help but wonder whether he acted alone or had an accomplice. And who was Roebert? Did he factor into the murders at all or was he just a figment of Richard Robison’s imagination? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and let us know what you think!