When 38-year-old Steven Robards began suffering stomach pains and stiffness in his limbs on 18 February 1993 in Fort Worth, Texas, his 16-year-old daughter called on a neighbour worried about what was happening to her dad. His condition deteriorated quickly, he began foaming at the mouth and losing consciousness and although an ambulance was called he died soon after his symptoms began. The tragic loss of a man still in his prime witnessed by his teenage daughter is bound to leave an impact and Dorothy Marie Robards, known as Marie, struggled to deal with his death. The coroner ruled Steven Robards death as a heart attack and his family tried to move on with their lives.
Within two years, however, this story took a dramatic turn when Marie, by then 18-years-old, was arrested and charged with the murder of her father in October 1994. An arrest that came after she had made a tearful confession to a school-friend that her father had not died from a heart attack as everyone thought but that she had poisoned him, using barium acetate stolen from her school chemistry lab and slipped into his dinner on the night he died. Marie Robards had murdered her own father.
Patricide is a rare crime and it is one most often carried out by male children. There have, however, been a handful of cases around the world where not only has it been a female child carrying out the chilling act but that child was only a teenager at the time. Stacey Lannart shot and killed her father when she was 18-years-old after suffering years of abuse at his hands. In a similar case, 15-year-old Bresha Meadows killed her father with a shotgun after he had allegedly been violent and abusive within the family household for as long as she could remember.
In 2001, two teenage brothers Alex and Derek King, aged 13 and 14-years-old, were convicted of killing their father with a baseball bat in an attempt to go and live with a man who had been grooming them. In all of these cases, the father’s death was clearly a homicide. In the case of Marie Robards, however, murder was not considered. No one knew that this young girl had made the decision to harm her father and keep her actions to herself.
When Marie Robards was arrested, police officers wanted to know why she had taken the life of her own father. They asked her if he abused her, if he was violent towards her and she told them no, he hadn’t harmed her at all. Why then, they asked, would you want to kill him? Her response was almost as devastating as the act itself. “I just wanted to be with my mom,” she told them. “So bad that I would do anything to be with her.”
An investigation into this case was carried out by American journalist Skip Hollandsworth and reported in Texas Monthly Magazine entitled ‘Poisoning Daddy’, which discovered the background of Marie Robards and the complex relationship with her mother so deeply wrapped up in this crime. Marie Robards’ parents, Steven and Beth Robards, had divorced when she was 3-years-old and Marie began living with her mother. Beth remarried within a year of her divorce, marrying Frank Burroughs and the family settled in Granbury just outside Fort Worth. Marie grew up into a beautiful, intelligent and happy teenager who saw her father around twice a month.
When Marie was just shy of her 16th birthday her life changed when she came home and found her stepfather in bed with another woman. She told her mother what she had witnessed but was dismayed when her mother decided to stay with Frank Burroughs and try to rebuild their marriage. Frank had been Marie’s stepfather since she was 4-years-old. She looked up to him and admired him and his betrayal of her mother hurt her deeply. Marie became withdrawn, refusing to communicate or engage with her stepfather. She told her mother she should divorce Frank, but her mother refused and Marie chose to leave the family home.
After living with her grandparents for a short time, Marie moved in with her father Steven Robards after her stepfather refused to allow her to return home. Steven Robards was delighted to have his 16-year-old daughter move in with him. He was in a new relationship with a woman and settled in his job as a mailman. Marie desperately wanted to live with her mother and would phone begging her to let her move back home. Pleas that were not heard and Marie’s mother remained behind her stepfather’s stance that as Marie had chosen to leave home she could now not return.
Marie appeared to settle more over those next few months. Her grades were good in school and she came across as a happy teenager. On the 18 February 1993, however, after stealing the poison from her chemistry class she poisoned her father by adding the chemical to his food. Barium acetate is highly toxic to the human body and when ingested it attacks the central nervous system causing life-threatening symptoms. Marie Robards watched from the doorway as paramedics battled to save her father but his life ebbed away in front of her eyes.
After her arrest, Marie Robards was released on bail until her trial. Blood samples taken from Steven Robards after his death were retested and found to contain over one and half times the normal level of barium acetate. It was determined due to the seriousness of her crime, Marie would be tried as an adult despite the fact that she was just 16-years-old at the time of the murder. Her defence team hoped to show that Marie did not intend for her father to die, she simply aimed to make him unwell in an attempt to be able to go back and live with her mother.
Marie was 19-years-old at the time of the trial in 1995 and her defence pushed forward with the notion that Marie didn’t know barium acetate could kill, looking for a manslaughter verdict instead of the more serious conviction of murder. The prosecution, however, said Marie fully intended to kill her father and didn’t tell the medical professionals when he was dying what she had done so that they could help him. She simply just stood and watched in silence. The jury was swayed by the prosecution and Marie Robards was convicted of murder and sentenced to 28 years behind bars, to serve a minimum of 7 years before she could be eligible for parole.
At her sentencing her defence put her on the stand where she broke down and cried, telling her father’s family how sorry she was for her actions. In 1998, an appeal against her conviction failed and she remained in prison for 8 years before she was released on parole in 2003. She is now understood to be living under a new identity to try and move forward from her past.
If Marie Robards had not confessed to her friend of what she had done a year earlier, no one would have known her actions or that Steven Robards had, in fact, been murdered. A young girl desperate for the attention of her mother saw harming her father as a way of allowing her to return to the family home she craved. Whether or not Marie Robards intended to kill her father, her plan did not seem to take into account the full consequences of her actions with her focus solely on being reunited with her mother. Had she remained silent, Marie Robards would have got away with the perfect murder.