A piece of historical journalism by Olivia Jenkins
Evil fascinates us, and we want to find out what drives people to do such extreme acts – it’s normal to be curious about it. But why are people so interested in crime? Well, because we’re glad we are not the victim and we like to be scared… in a controlled way. Like many of us, I seem to have a fascination with crime and murders. Among many interesting cases taking place over the years, was the Robison case. With my slightly freaky obsession of googling ‘interesting crime cases’ and reading through lists of short summaries of weird and sometimes disturbing cases, I came across ‘The Good Hart Murders’ and decided to look in to it more. After reading through various articles, listening to interviews and watching YouTube videos where people talk about the case, I gathered all this information together to explain what took place in the late 60s.
This all took place in the summer of 1968. The Robison family were successful enough to be able to afford a summer home by Lake Michigan in Good Hart, where they spent that summer. The family consisted of Richard Robison, the father, Shirley Robison the mother (who were just a month shy of their 20th wedding anniversary at the time of the murders) and they had four children. Richard Jr (Ritchie), 19, Gary, 17, Randy, 12, and Susan who was just 8 years old at the time.
The family actually told neighbours at the cottage in Good Hart that they were going to be away for three weeks, travelling to Florida for some of their summer vacation, and then they would be back. So, when no one heard from them for three weeks, nobody was particularly concerned. A note was even left on the cottage door saying, ‘be back by 7/10)’.
The family never left for Florida and they were killed in that cottage, where they would remain for three weeks until their bodies were discovered.
The crime scene was only discovered three weeks later when a woman, over half a mile away from the cottage, was having a party and could smell an extremely strong, foul odour. The woman who discovered this strong smell contacted the caretaker of that area, Mr Bliss, to come and investigate the smell and hopefully get rid of it. Mr Bliss took another co-worker out with him to try and discover what this smell was but when they were approaching the Robison’s cottage, the caretaker actually notices some bullet holes in the window. When he got closer, he peered through the curtain gap and saw a human body decomposing on the floor. The curtains were slightly drawn but not the full way and Shirley Robison’s body was positioned in a way making it look as though she was sexually assaulted, though police say there was no sign of any actual sexual assault and think this was just done as a misdirection and the murderer did this on purpose.
The police investigation found that the murderer used a 22 calibre semi-automatic rifle from outside the cottage and shot it through the window five times. At least on bullet hit Richard Robison and he fell to the floor and that was when the murderer then came into the cottage and began shooting. It is believed that when the murderer got into the cottage he switched to a pistol, rather than the previous rifle he had used, and he used that to shoot the rest of the family. The killer then took a hammer and bludgeoned Richard with it, signifying that this was not a random killing and it was premeditated and directed at Richard Robison primarily instead of the rest of the family. The killer then took the hammer to 8-year-old Susan and killed her. The bodies were then left in this cottage for three weeks to decay, before anyone found them.
The crime scene was handled quite horrifically, although it was in 1968, but it was still badly handled. There was between 15 and 20 people that walked in and around the house, touching things and essentially messing with evidence, before the crime scene investigators arrived. If there was any evidence in there to arrest someone, it could have been altered. The Sheriff of Emmet County, the area in which this took place, just so happened to be on his only holiday in eight years at the time of this murder and it was therefore passed on to the undersheriff, who had only been on the job for a month, and he was the one in charge of Michigan’s biggest mass murder in history. When the hammer, one of the murder weapons, was found, one of the detectives picked it up with a used handkerchief to take a photo, messing up more fingerprints.
The first, and only suspect was found two weeks into the investigation - Joe Scolaro. He worked for Richard Robison in his advertising business. Scolaro was a former military sharpshooter, so he knew how to work a gun and owned many. He had also admitted to being involved in a few other crimes such as stealing from people and businesses and his motive for this murder is believed to be his embezzlement with Richard Robison’s company, at which he worked. Police made Scolaro take three different polygraph tests, two of which he failed, and the third came back inconclusive. Polygraph tests still to this day are admissible in court - it is not ‘actual’ evidence however they are thought to be relatively accurate, but not enough to arrest someone. The only other evidence from the crime scene, other than bullet casings and the hammer, was a bloody footprint made by the murderer. All of Scalaro’s shoes were tested against this footprint and there was a match, however the matching shoes were actually brand new and had never been worn before, but police found out he tended to buy two of a lot of things; if he bought a suit, he would buy two of the exact same, if he bought shoes… guns…
Police think he bought two pairs of this specific pair of boots; wore the first pair on the night of the murder and disposed of them, and the second pair were brand new. He also owned a gun – the exact same model as the one used to kill the Robison family although police determined that the one he had there, was not the one that was used in the murder.
Police found out where Scolaro went target shooting and combed the area with metal detectors. Two officers from Michigan State Police, found shell casings. They turn them into the crime lab, and they match. So, as far as they are concerned, Scolaro needs to be arrested and tried for first-degree murder. They put together a 200-page report asking the prosecutor of Emmet County to charge Scolaro with the Robison murder and put him on trial.
But they do not.
They decide it is not that simple and the county is a small community that does not have a lot of money for prosecution like this, and they never charge him.
Police then begin to investigate his motive – his embezzlement into Richard Robison’s company and when Scolaro finds out about this he decides to take matters in to his own hands…
One morning, the police in Birmingham receive a 911 call and they show up at an office to find Joe Scolaro dead. He committed suicide with a 25-calibre berretta, identical to the second gun that was used to kill the Robison’s.
He left a note. In that note he apologises to his mother, he apologises to everyone he owed money to (at the time he was being audited by the IRS and all of his business assets were being confiscated) and at the end of the notes he writes ‘P.S. I had nothing to do with the Robison’s – I am a cheat, but not a murderer’.