Solve a Crime?
By Mardi Link 4/27/09
Thats the question participants at the Petoskey Public Library will consider at an upcoming forum addressing Northern Michigans most notorious unsolved mass murder.
In June of 1968 all five members of the Detroit-based Richard Robison family were ambushed inside their Good Hart cottage. After more than four decades the crime remains officially unsolved, despite an exhaustive investigation by both the Emmet County Sheriffs Office and the Michigan State Police. Law enforcements chief suspect committed suicide in 1973, just days before a rumored indictment and arrest.
How do you activate interest in a cold case when the crime scene is gone, the suspect is dead, the murder weapons were never found, and the evidence is ancient? You rally the bookworms.
First among those is Petoskey high school English teacher, Rick Wiles. At the time of the murder Wiles had been receiving a subscription to Impresario, the monthly arts magazine that Richard Robisons company published. Wiles began keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles on the case and eventually wrote a lengthy, unpublished research paper detailing the investigation and delving into the possible psychology of the named suspect, Joseph R. Scolaro, III.
Wiles research led him not to the police but rather to other literary types like himself. Namely Royal Oak psychologist and author Eleanor Payson, whose book The Wizard of OZ and Other Narcissists dissects the personality type Wiles attributes to the Robison family killer; and to Indiana writer and criminal attorney Frank S. Perri, who writes in forensic periodicals about the new idea that white collar criminals (theft) can become red collar criminals (murder) when they believe they are in danger of being exposed.
Chief suspect Scolaro worked for Richard Robison. During his two-plus years of employment, more than $100,000 disappeared from the companys bank account. Richard Robison discovered the theft the morning of his, and his entire familys, murder. Was Scolaro a white collar criminal turned red? Wiles thinks so and has urged current law enforcement to deliver the case into the arms of Michigan State Polices behavioral science office, a resource that was not available in 1968. According to director R. Wolford, his office only investigates suspects in cold cases when requested to do so by an outside agency. In this case, that would be the Emmet County Sheriffs Office.
Wiles says he waited for years for a journalist to write a book about the case that would inspire a public call for continued investigation. In July 2008, my book, When Evil Came to Good Hart: An Up North Michigan Cold Case, was published by the University of Michigan Press. As a daughter of Michigan, the same age to the month of the youngest victim, Susan Robison, 7, I thought I was writing the book for an audience of one. Me. I had wondered about the case ever since I was a little girl.
After the book was published I was surprised by the amount of correspondence I received from readers like Wiles who, like me, had been following the crime for all these years. Some of those people were bookworms in their private lives, but influential officials in their public ones. I was invited to give a presentation to a book club that included a member of Congress, a supreme court judge, a representative from the attorney generals office, criminal attorneys and a university regent. They, like me, wondered who killed the Robisons, and why.
Two other bookworms interested in this case are Petoskey librarians Barbara Cook and Drew Cherven. Cook helped organize the upcoming forum and Cherven has cataloged a collection of research on this case in the librarys reference department. The collection, much of which was donated to the library by myself and Wiles, includes seven boxes and several binders of police reports, newspaper articles, research papers and interviews. When asked how many people have accessed the collection, Cherven exhales loudly and just says, Lots!
Bookworms no doubt, every last one of them. But can they help solve a murder? Attend the forum and find out.
Summerset: A Forum on the Robison Family Murder Tragedy is sponsored by the Friends at the Carnegie and will be held Monday, May 18 at the Petoskey Public Library 451 E. Mitchell St. beginning at 7 p.m. It will include a panel discussion by local researcher Rick Wiles, former Emmet County Prosecutor Wayne Richard Smith, and author Mardi Link, followed by a question and answer session. It is free and open to the public.
Mardi Link is a author of the forthcoming book, Isadores Secret: Sin, Murder & Confession in a Northern Michigan Town, to be published this summer by the University of Michigan Press. She lives in Traverse City.