In the summer of 1968 Richard Robison and his wife Shirley from Lathrup Village in Detroit took their four children to their holiday cabin in an idyllic location next to Lake Michigan. Just weeks into their holiday horror came to their door when all six were brutally murdered in the isolated spot by a gunman who was able to use the seclusion to slip away unseen.The bodies of the Robison’s lay dead for almost a month before they were discovered, leaving police with little forensic evidence to work with in order to find their killer.
Almost 50 years later these brutal murders remain officially unsolved, but with a twist in the tale, one man has always been a prime suspect in this case. A man who when it appeared the police were closing in took his own life and any truths he may have held about these murders with him.
The gruesome murder scene inside a handcrafted wooden cabin in Good Hart was only discovered when people in a neighbouring cabin began to detect a foul odour, unbeknown to them it was the smell of decaying bodies. Caretaker, Chauncey Bliss had built all these cabins and it was he who discovered the horrific scene when he went to investigate the smell and check in on the family. Expecting a dead animal which had crept in under the cabin’s floor, he did not expect to find a slaughter house.
The Good Hart Murders
Pathologists were able to estimate from the condition of the bodies they had been killed four weeks before their discovery placing the date the Robison family were murdered on 25 June 1968. The time in between their deaths and discovery meant the bodies were heavily decomposed which prevented a full assessment of their injuries and made checking for evidence of sexual assault or obtaining forensic evidence from the bodies themselves difficult. Furthermore, this crime took place in 1968, years before many of the advances in technology and methodology for forensic science had been developed. If these murders had been carried out today, whoever killed this family would have most likely found themselves in a prison cell quicker than they thought.
At 42 years old, Richard Robison had done well for himself. He was an advertising executive who owned a magazine called ‘Impesario’, putting him on a good income. His wife, 40-year-old Shirley Robison, was a housewife looking after the home and family. Their children, 19-year-old Richie, 16-year-old Gary, 12-year-old Randall and 7-year-old Susan had enjoyed a stable and loving upbringing with their summers often spent in the picturesque area of Good Hart at the family’s cabin.
All six members of the family had been shot using two different weapons and two family members, Richard Robison and his young daughter Susan, had also been beaten with a heavy blunt object, most likely a hammer. A shattered front window suggested the first shots may have been fired from outside of the cabin before the gunman came in to finish the job.
For police, their first task was to investigate any reason why the Robison family may have been targeted and whether anyone associated with them may have had reason to want the family dead. Police have always believed the main target of the murder was the father and husband, Richard Robison, which begs the question, if he was the target why did the killer go on to kill the entire family? There is a big difference between one murder and six, including the slaughter of four children.
“Financial gain just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be the only motive for such a horrific display of violence against an entire family.” – Author Mardi Link
Richard Robison has been portrayed as simply a wealthy father and husband, however, there have been suggestions of underhand dealings in his advertising business which were not exactly in his client’s best interests and more in his own, some shady liaisons with secretaries within his company and a possible background of mental illness, although it is difficult to know how substantiated these reports are. This may be a more complex individual than first thought with behaviour potentially being the catalyst for someone to murder his entire family. Whoever did this was capable of personal one on one violence with both gunshots and hammer blows being used to kill the family.
The Prime Suspect
30-year-old Joseph Scolaro, known as Joe, worked with Richard Robison. He was a staff member who police discovered had been embezzling money from the magazine and his boss during the time the family were on holiday in their cabin to the tune of around $60’000. With little other to go on about why this family may have been murdered, this was the only lead and possible motive the police had and it was one they focused on. Police thought Robison had found out about the fraud and betrayal in a phone call while they were at the cabin.
Evidence found multiple phone calls between Robison and Scolaro on the morning of the murders. Their theory was that Scolaro had driven out to the cabin and killed the family before Robison could take action about his embezzlement. It is believed from the time of the last phone call between the two, Scolaro had enough time to drive from Detroit to Good Hart and carry out the murders. He did not have a solid alibi for that time period to account for his movements.
According to Mardi Link who wrote the book When Evil Came To Good Hart on the case, Scolaro said he was at a plumbing convention and spoke with a number of clients on that day, however, no one remembers seeing him or can provide statements backing up his claims. Furthermore, he failed two lie detector tests and gave inconclusive results on a third test about the murders.
At the murder scene, police found shell casings and a bloody footprint that they were sure had been left by the killer. A pair of brand new shoes were found in Joe Scolaro’s possession which matched the shoe print left at the scene, however, the shoes were clean and had never been worn meaning police could not prove that while the shoes were a match, it was Joe Scolaro who had been at that cabin at the time of the murders.
A gun owned by Joe Scolaro was also similar to one the police believed had been used in the murders, but the gun itself was not an exact match. Digging deeper, when they checked the shooting range used by Scolaro who was a former military shooter, the shell casings they found there did match those at the crime scene. More evidence that could link Joe Scolaro to the Robison family murders but it was not solid enough evidence to bring him in on charges of murder.
With no murder weapon, no witnesses and only theories on a motive, no charges were brought against Joe Scolaro or anyone else for the Robison family murders for five years. Detectives didn’t want to give up on this case and continued to work with prosecutors in both Emmet County, where the crime took place and Oakland County, where the Robison family lived.
Investigations into the murders were still ongoing during 1973 and it was becoming known that the prime suspect was Joe Scolaro. On 8 March 1973, police were called to his office block where they found the body of Joe Scolaro, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Scolaro had left a suicide note before he took his own life and in it he wrote that he did not kill the Robison family and had no knowledge of who had committed the crime.
Although Joe Scolaro was the prime suspect in this case and many still believe is the most likely person who carried out these murders, no charges were ever brought against him and with his death, no opportunity is now available to find out any truths from him.
In the years since the murders there have been other suspects looked at. These have included the caretaker, Chauncey Bliss, who found the bodies of the Robison family. He knew they were at the cabin that summer and being the man who built the cabin, he knew the layout and the surrounding area well. Motive, however, was problematic when looking at Bliss as a suspect. He had lost a son in a motorbike accident very recently before the Robison’s were murdered and some have suggested he was angry with Richard Robison over his response to his son’s death. A revenge killing born out of grief is, of course, possible, but it seems rather farfetched under these circumstances. It is not believed that Chauncey Bliss has ever been a suspect in the eyes of the police.
Another name that has surfaced with these murders is John Norman Collins, a man believed to be responsible for a series of murders between 1967 and 1969 in Southeastern Michigan. His victims were all teenage girls who were abducted, beaten, raped and murdered. Collins was only convicted of one murder in 1970; however, he is believed to be responsible for all murders linked to the ‘Michigan Murderer’. Collins was suggested as a suspect in the Robison family murder case due to a connection with the family’s eldest son Richie. Both attended the same University in Eastern Michigan and it is possible they knew each other but no motive has ever been put forward for Collins to carry out these murders and they also do not fit his MO. As a result, many have discarded Collins as being a viable suspect in this case.
The murder of the Robison family is unfortunately just one of a number of unsolved murders of entire families. This includes the gruesome murder of the De Ligonnes family, where Agnes Depont de Ligonnes and her four children were murdered in their beds in Western France with a shotgun. After a missing person’s report was filed for the entire family including the father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes, police officers found the bodies of Agnes and her children buried in the garden of their home. Xavier has never been found with many believing he killed his family and fled.
When people have been wronged, particularly if violence was involved, they want justice and want the person responsible to be held accountable for their actions. In some cold cases, new information does come to light without forensic evidence, such as new witness testimony which can reignite a case. For others however, the case files remain untouched as more years pass with no new clues. In the case of the Robison murders, while many believe the killer has been identified, justice for this family has never been obtained and the individual who took six lives, in what must have been a terrifying ordeal, has got away with murder.