For most of the four decades he lived in the Kansas City area, John E. Robinson Sr. proved a master persuader.
As a young man, he convinced hospitals he was a certified X-ray technician and persuaded them to hire him. Later, he impressed others, and they named him to lead fundraising efforts. From at least the mid-1980s on he lured investors into putting money into somewhat exotic agricultural schemes. At the same time he told other people that he could help them find jobs and better lives. They believed him.
Time after time they wound up disappointed.
Then there were the eight women who hoped he would escort them to a better life. They ended up dead.
Authorities discovered two of their bodies stuffed into barrels on Robinson’s property in rural Linn County, Kan., and three stuffed into barrels in a rental storage unit in Raymore. Three other bodies never were found.
Robinson lured most with promises of jobs, job training or better lives. Several shared his interest in exotic sex acts: bondage, discipline and sadomasochism.
At home on evenings with his family in Olathe, Robinson played father and grandfather. He was married for 41 years. An Eagle Scout, he served as a scoutmaster or cubmaster at least four times. He taught Sunday school and volunteered as a church elder. At one point he led his homes association.
But he spent his days creating a false world in which he was a CIA agent or a wealthy man about to depart on his yacht for faraway ports of call.
In the words of a prosecutor, Robinson was a liar “of galactic proportions.” He lied about everything imaginable, and he was good at it.
When he started was unclear. Robinson grew up in Cicero, Ill., and attended junior college but did not get a degree. By the middle 1960s, when he was in his 20s, he was working in Kansas City as an X-ray technician at General Hospital and Children’s Mercy Hospital. He covered the walls of his office with bogus degrees, certificates and citations. Bumbling and poor results got him fired.
He persuaded Wallace Graham, Harry S. Truman’s personal physician, to hire him as an X-ray technician. That job ended after Robinson embezzled at least $33,000 — and perhaps three times as much — by falsifying Graham’s signature on checks.
In the mid-1970s he formed a medical management consultant business, swindled investors and pleaded no contest to fraud. After going to work for Guy’s Foods in Liberty, he was charged with stealing money from the company. He pleaded guilty.
In the 1980s he started a company that supposedly would make its shareholders money by selling water-based home gardening systems. He also ran an Overland Park corporation. At times he described himself as a consultant in medical, agricultural and even charitable ventures. Along the way he joined a sheltered workshop’s board of directors and pledged to raise lots of money. His main achievement was maneuvering himself into being named its Man of the Year. Then he stepped down.
But the worst of his swindles involved the women he killed.
In 1984 he persuaded Paula Godfrey, 19, a graduate of Olathe North High School, to work for him. He picked her up at her Overland Park home, telling her father he would drive her to Kansas City International Airport for a flight to San Antonio, where she supposedly would take a clerical skills course. Instead, he argued with her over a debt, took her to a Belton motel and clubbed her over the head with a lamp. Her body never was found.
Early the next year, Lisa Stasi, 19, of Kansas City, disappeared. She had met Robinson after he told a Truman Medical Center social worker he was a businessman trying to help young, unwed mothers. Stasi’s baby, Tiffany, had been born months earlier. He killed Stasi with a blow to the skull. Her body never was found. After forging adoption papers, Robinson turned Tiffany over to his brother and sister-in-law in the Chicago area. They believed his story that the child’s mother had committed suicide. Neither the parents nor the child learned the truth for a decade and a half.
In 1987 a onetime drug abuser seeking to rehabilitate herself answered a Robinson come-on and moved from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Overland Park. Catherine Clampitt, 27, went to work for Robinson. They argued over money. Robinson clubbed her over the head at a Belton apartment. Her body never was found.
In 1994 Robinson lured Sheila Faith and her teenage daughter, Debbie Faith, from Pueblo, Colo., with promises of world travel and a private school for Debbie, who had a disability. He killed Debbie and Sheila with a pipe.
Robinson rented a mailbox where he had the Faiths’ Social Security checks sent. The checks kept arriving for years. Meanwhile, the Faiths’ relatives received letters saying the two were heading to Australia with a wonderful man. Their bodies were found in Raymore.
In the early 1990s, while imprisoned in Cameron, Mo., Robinson grew acquainted with prison librarian Beverly Bonner. Her husband divorced her in 1994 after she took up with Robinson. Then, saying she was taking a job that required overseas travel, she disappeared. Meanwhile, her husband regularly mailed $1,000 checks intended for Bonner to an Olathe post office box rented by Robinson. In January 1997, Robinson killed Bonner, 49, with a blow to the head. Her body was found in Raymore.
In June 1997, Izabela Lewicka, a Purdue University student whose scientist parents had moved to West Lafayette, Ind., from Poland when she was 11, headed west. She said she had lined up an internship in Kansas. Friends described her as an artist, dreamer and rebel with interests in paganism, goth, bondage and discipline sex.
Robinson told her he was an international book agent who could give her a chance to illustrate books. He rented her an apartment, and she helped him publish a magazine for the mobile home industry. Last seen in fall 1999, she was found in a Linn County barrel.
Robinson’s eighth known murder victim became his undoing. In February 2000, Suzette Trouten, 27, of Newport, Mich., met him on the Internet. Friends said she had an interest in exotic sex acts and moved to Kansas to pursue a business and personal relationship with Robinson. He stuffed her body in a barrel left in Linn County. He sent letters to her family, signed and addressed by Trouten before he killed her, that said all was well.
In spring 2000 Trouten’s sister, Dawn Trouten, reported her missing and pointed police toward Robinson.
Police began watching his home and tracking his movements, telephone records, and bank and credit-card statements. They found a payment to an Olathe animal clinic for boarding two dogs that belonged to Trouten. Relatives said she never was apart from them.
Police soon tracked encounters between Robinson and two new acquaintances, both of whom reported bad experiences with him. Then Robinson started trying to persuade an out-of-town woman to move to Kansas City with her child. And he tried to manipulate a homeless teenager into becoming his mistress.
Having seen enough, authorities arrested him June 2, 2000. The next day they began finding bodies.
In fall 2002, a Johnson County jury convicted Robinson in the murders of Trouten, Lewicka and Stasi. For two of the murders he was sentenced to death. The next year he pleaded guilty in Cass County to killing Godfrey, Clampitt, Bonner and the two Faiths.
When: 1980s-2000 | What: Promised women money and sex; tortured and killed eight. | Where: KC area. | Outcome: Imprisoned on a Kansas death sentence.