Living Next Door to John Edward Robinson, Or: What’s It Like Playing Atari in a Serial Killer’s House?Travis LeBlanc
This article is not going to be political. It’s just an interesting anecdote. John Derbyshire at VDare has his story about how he was once an extra in a Bruce Lee movie. This is my Bruce Lee story; a pre-Dissident Right brush with history. I’m going to tell you about the time I used to live next door to a serial killer.
There are apparently a lot of people into serial killers. They love watching documentaries about them, reading books about them, watching movies, listening to podcasts about them, etc. I’ve always thought serial killers were a pretty morbid thing to be into. It used to be pretty fringe and you looked with suspicion on the guy who seemed to know a little too much about serial killers. But now it’s a mainstream subcategory of True Crime. Netflix is pumping serial killer content.
In June of 2000, I got a voicemail message from my brother: “Just so you know, the John Robinson that is all over that news right now is the same John Robinson that was our next-door neighbor.” At first, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. I hadn’t been watching the news that day, and I wasn’t sure who John Robinson was. I’m not sure if I ever knew that his first name was John. I only ever knew him as “Mr. Robinson,” or maybe “Chris and Christie Robinson’s dad.” My family moved around a lot and I lived in six different houses throughout my youth. I thought it might be possible that one of those other houses contained a person named John Robinson.
So, I called up my brother to get clarification, and it turned out that ol’ Chris and Christie Robinson’s dad had become a serial killer. The decomposing bodies of five women were found in barrels on two different properties owned by Robinson, making national headlines. I hadn’t thought about that guy in 15 years, except fleetingly whenever I saw a bag of Guy’s potato chips. I will explain that last bit later. Guy’s potato chips will be an important motif in this article.
From age 4 to 8, John Edward Robinson was my next-door neighbor. This would have been from 1981 to 1985. Now, when I say he was my next-door neighbor, I don’t mean we lived in the same neighborhood or on the same street. I mean he literally lived in the house adjacent to mine. My brother was friends with his son. I remember playing Atari in his house. As the facts about his various misdeeds came rolling in after his arrest, I would find out that he killed at least two people while I lived next door to him, or possibly more.
John Edward Robinson is now considered the world’s first internet serial killer, although only half of his eight known victims met him online. His first two known victims were Paula Godfrey and Lisa Stasi (both 19), in 1984 and 1985 respectively, whom he killed while I lived next door to him. His third victim was Catherine Clampitt (27) in 1987. With these first three women, Robinson met them by promising them jobs at his non-existent companies. He would have them sign blank pieces of paper, kill them, and then type out a letter on the paper to their families saying that they never wanted to see them again. Then the killings stopped for a while as Robinson went to jail.
John Robinson was something of an anomaly. He was both a violent criminal and a white-collar con artist; a Renaissance Man of sociopathy. Serial killing, embezzling, fraud — he did it all. By the time I lived next door to him, Robinson had already been arrested for embezzling a few times. He was arrested again for fraud in 1987 and sent to prison for four years. While inside, he met 49-year-old Beverly Bonner, the prison librarian and wife of the prison doctor. Bonner fell in love with Robinson, and when he was released from prison in 1991, she left her husband to go live with him. He promptly murdered her. Oh, what would Andrew Anglin say? Nevermind. I’m not sure I want to know.
John Robinson had been interested in computers since the 80s when they were still a rarity and something only nerds knew how to use. I’m reminded of the 1985 song “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” by the Pet Shop Boys. There’s a verse where the narrator is bragging about how smart they are. After mentioning that they went to Sorbonne and got a doctorate in mathematics, there’s the line “I can program a computer.” Nowadays, you might hear that line and think “You and a bazillion other people,” but in 1985, that was a serious flex. 80s movies like Revenge of the Nerds or Weird Science depict nerds using their knowledge of computers to get one over on their cooler and more popular rivals. The image of computers was that you had to be pretty big-brained to know how to work the damn things.
But John Robinson saw their criminal potential of computers early on and threw himself into learning as much as he could about them. So when the internet came along, he was right on it from the beginning. He began frequenting BDSM chat rooms under the name SlaveMaster looking for submissive women. When he found one, he would promise them heaven and earth if they would move to Kansas and enter into an S&M relationship with him. The first person to bite was Sheila Faith, who moved from California with her wheelchair-bound daughter in 1994. Both were promptly killed upon arrival. Next was Izabela Lewicka, a 21-year-old Polish immigrant who met Robinson in a BDSM chat room. Now, I would think that if you were pushing 60 and found a 21-year-old willing to have sex with you for free, that woman would be a keeper. But no. John Robinson killed her shortly after she moved there from Indiana. Robinson’s last victim was 28-year-old Suzette Trouten, who moved to Kansas from Michigan to travel the world as Robinson’s sex slave and ended up dead.
What finally brought Robinson down was a few things. One of his potential victims managed to escape, and she went to the police. There were also a couple of ladies in the BDSM scene who were friends with one of his previous victims, and they committed themselves to bringing him down. Plus, there was the fact that Robinson’s name kept coming up again and again in missing persons cases. Eventually, police got grounds for a search warrant, and the rest is history.
That is the short version. I’m leaving out all sorts of villainy, or else we’d be here all night. Needless to say, even without the murders, John Robinson was a huge piece of shit. But I’m not here to give you his entire life story. If you want to know that, there are a bunch of documentaries out there, and three books. The only one I’ve read is Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John Douglas and Stephen Singular, but if you’re into this sort of thing, it will tell you about each one of his little scams and con jobs. I’m just here to recount my memories of living next to him.
The story takes place in a town called Stanley, Kansas, on a street called Arapaho. Neither the town of Stanley nor the street of Arapaho exist anymore. Stanley was annexed into Overland Park in 1985, and Arapaho became West 156th Street. Oddly, Arapaho Lane still shows up on Google Maps, but if you click on any of the houses, it gives you an address for West 156th Street. Weird.
I was born in Saint Louis, but when I was 4, my dad got transferred to Kansas City and bought a house in Stanley. Stanley was very white, very middle class, and very Protestant. We had to drive 45 minutes every Sunday to get to the nearest Catholic church.
Stanley was a small town, but did boast one local celebrity: pro wrestler Harley Race lived there. I was on the same wrestling team as Harley’s son Justin, although he was a few years older than me. Harley used to show up to our practices and meetups all the time. He was a friend of the family and once got us tickets to see him wrestle Ric Flair for the championship. He was a nice guy, but his wife was an odd duck, and some suspected that she was a cokehead.
There were only four houses on Arapaho Lane. There was the LeBlanc house. Facing my front door, the Robinson house was to the left. To the right was the Edwards house, which was Mrs. Edwards (a divorcee if I recall) and her daughter. My mother was good friends with Mrs. Edwards. Then, at the end of the street, there was the Davis house, which was an elderly couple.
Now, most of my memories about John Robinson himself are pretty hazy, but I remember people talking about him a lot. It was known all throughout town that John Robinson had been to jail for embezzling money from Guys Snack Foods. Guys is a regional potato chip company based out of Overland Park. The company claims to have invented the barbeque-flavored potato chip.
There are layers to understanding what John Robinson embezzling money from Guy’s Potato Chips meant to the people of Stanley, Kansas. First of all, these were more innocent times, and the idea that someone you knew had been to jail was quite shocking by itself. Secondly, he didn’t steal a bunch of money from just anyone, but from a beloved local success story. Guys started as a mom-and-pop shop in Kansas and now their chips were sold all over the Midwest. People bought Guys over Ruffles as a matter of local pride. John Robinson stealing money from Guy’s Potato Chips made his crime that much more treacherous. Third, the story was just more fun to tell: “You know Guys Potato Chips? You know Mr. Robinson stole a bunch of money from them?”
Lucky for John Robinson, his trial for embezzling from Guys occurred around the same time as the 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse which killed 114 people and dominated local news for a long time afterward. Had it not been for that, his embezzlement would have been a much bigger local news story. Regardless, everyone in my neighborhood knew about it. Robinson always insisted that he was innocent and that they got the wrong guy.
I spent a lot of time around John Robinson’s fraternal twins Chris and Christie Robinson. They were the same age as my oldest brother. My brother was best friends with Chris for a while, but their friendship became strained over time. Chris Robinson was pretty ruthlessly bullied at school for being the kid whose dad stole a bunch of money from Guy’s Potato Chips. As they went into middle school, my brother drifted into the popular crowd while Chris remained a social pariah. From what I understand, Chris felt that my brother didn’t do enough to stick up for him.
One day, Chris Robinson and my brother got into a fight, and in the heat of the moment, my brother said “Oh yeah? Well, your dad is a criminal!” Chris went back and told his dad. About an hour later, John Robinson showed up at my house and chewed out my mom. John Robinson was really, really pissed that my brother called him a criminal. I don’t know if he was mad because he was protesting his innocence or if he thought it was wrong to use his crime as a weapon against his kid (which, to be fair, is a low blow). Whatever the reason, he was irate.
After that, my mother sat me down and told me that I was not under any circumstance to talk about the fact that John Robinson had been to jail. Don’t talk about it. Don’t joke about it. Don’t tell anyone. She told me that it wasn’t nice. That is one of my two most vivid memories of John Robinson.
One of my overriding impressions of the Robinson family was that they had a lot of cool stuff. They had a cool TV and an Atari with all the hot new games. They were the first family in my neighborhood to get a VCR. They had a swimming pool, one of two houses in the neighborhood with one. But by far the coolest thing they had were go-karts. John Robinson bought Chris and Christie go-karts — and not just one for both of them to share. He bought each of them their own damn go-kart.
When you are 6 years old and see some kids with their own go-karts, your natural instinct is to think their dad must be the coolest dad in the world, Guy’s Potato Chips be damned. I was never allowed to drive their go-karts, but I do remember riding in them while someone else drove. I can only imagine how much suffering I must have inflicted on my parents asking them why they couldn’t get me a go-kart too. In hindsight, I realize that all that cool stuff was probably bought with stolen money.
A problem for me in those days was that I was the youngest kid in my neighborhood by several years. When I was going into kindergarten, most of the other kids were going into middle school. I had no one to play with most of the time. Sometimes, but not often, my brother would take pity on me and let me tag along with him and his friends. More often, my mom would make him bring me along.
One day, when I was about five or six, the boredom and loneliness got to be too much and I got a rush of blood to my head. So I went over to the Robinson house and asked Chris if he wanted to play with me. I knew it was a long shot, but I figured it was worth it if for no other reason than the fact that they had fuckin’ go-karts. Understandably, Chris the 6th grader did not find the idea of hanging out with a kindergartener appealing. But then his mom came down and ordered him to go play with me, presumably out of pity.
I don’t remember what Chris and I did that day. I don’t even remember if we rode go-karts. But I do remember it ending with John Robinson walking out into his driveway and calling Chris in for dinner. That is my other most vivid memory of John Robinson. Yeah, it’s not much of a story, but it is my most vivid memory of him. It was memorable to me because that was the only time I hung out with Chris Robinson myself. All the other times were with my brother.
Whenever I tell people about having lived next door to a serial killer, there are a few things they always ask me, so I will preemptively address them.
The first is something along the lines of “Oh, that’s scary! I bet you feel lucky! Does that ever spook you?” The implication is that I dodged a bullet. Honestly, I’ve never felt like that. Serial killers have a type and John Robinson’s type was women. Sure, if I lived next door to John Wayne Gacy, I would probably be dead now, but honestly, I have never felt like I was in danger.
The other question I get is “Did anyone ever sense that there was something wrong with John Robinson?” The answer is yes. People knew there was something really messed up with John Robinson and there were rumors.
John Robinson put on a good front. According to my mom, he was charismatic, charming, quick with a joke, and had a lot of interesting stories. But something happened that irreversibly changed everyone’s perception of John Robinson. He was an Eagle Scoutmaster and taught Sunday school. One night, Mrs. Edwards’ house next door to me was struck by lightning and caught fire. John Robinson was the first person out there with a hose trying to do what he could to help put it out. He would occasionally make the local news for some bit of charity he did, or supposedly did. Considering it’s John Robinson, I wouldn’t rule out these charitable acts being staged hoaxes.
I’ll tell you a John Robinson story that you won’t find on Wikipedia or any of the documentaries. Maybe it’s in one of the books, but it wasn’t in the one I read.
Earlier I mentioned that there were no other kids my age in my neighborhood and so I had no one to play with. There was one slight exception to this. At the end of Arapaho, there was Mr. and Mrs. Davis. They had a grandson who was my age who would sometimes stay with them. He was only there every once in a while, but when he was there, I would go play with him.
I don’t even remember this kid’s name. I only remember two things about him. The first was that his parents were divorced. The second thing is that he always referred to the place he lived as “the blue house.” I guess this was as opposed to whatever color his dad’s house was. But the funny thing was that I never, ever heard him refer to the place he lived as “home.” It was always “the blue house.” He had such-and-such toy, but he didn’t have it with him. He left it at “the blue house.” Perhaps to him, “home” was a place where he lived with his mom and dad, and because he didn’t have that, he didn’t have a home. Just a blue house and a whatever house. I did go to his house one time, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t blue.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis were fairly old, and Mrs. Davis had part of her leg amputated. She had a golf cart that she would use to get around outside if she needed to get the mail or pick up the newspaper. The Davises were also big believers in John Robinson. When John Robinson said that he was innocent of embezzling money from Guy’s, Mr. and Mrs. Davis believed him. They thought he was a great guy.
One time, the Davises went to Chicago for a two-week vacation. Before they left, they gave Chris Robinson the keys to their house so he could water their plants while they were gone. When they got back, they found out that all of their bank accounts were now empty. John Robinson must have gone through their house and found their bank information and cleaned them out.
Here’s the cherry on top. The Davises had the snazzy floodlights in front of their house. John Robinson always admired those floodlights. While they were gone, he ripped those floodlights out of their yard and put them in his. When confronted, he showed them a receipt, which was probably forged. He insisted that it was just a coincidence that someone stole their floodlights at the exact moment that he went out and purchased the exact same floodlights with his own money. The balls on this guy. He destroyed this couple, and he didn’t care if they knew it was him. In fact, it was like he wanted them to know.
Mr. Davis told everyone about what happened, and after that, Mr. Robinson was persona non grata around the neighborhood. So to answer the question, yes, people knew that John Robinson was a bad man and that there was something wrong with him. But did anyone suspect that he might be a murderer? There were rumors.
There was a guy who lived in the neighborhood named Carl Keaton. He was a contractor and actually built our house on Arapaho. In addition to contracting, he also did a little bartending on the side. When you are a bartender, you pick up a lot of gossip. People come in from all over (police, courts, media), have a few drinks, and start getting loose-lipped and telling secrets. Apparently, Mr. Keaton had picked up some rumors that some women had gone missing and that John Robinson was suspected of being involved. He told some people around the neighborhood.
There was another time when my mother and Mrs. Edwards went to the theater together. While there, they ran into a friend of Mrs. Edwards who worked at the county sheriff’s department. Mrs. Edwards introduced my mom to him as her next-door neighbor. The guy looked at my mom and said “You’re not Robinson, are you?” I guess there was something in my mother’s response letting him know she was not, because the next thing the guy says was “Oh, we’re gonna nail him!” Then he started telling my mom about all this dirt they had on John Robinson. The missing women and all this other shady stuff he was connected to but that the police couldn’t get a smoking gun on. Apparently, just laid it all out. He told her, in my mom’s words, “more than I wanted to know.”
So to answer the question, yes, at least some people in my neighborhood knew that John Robinson might very well be a murderer. Some speculated that John Robinson’s eldest son John Jr. might be involved. John Jr. was working at the hotel where Lisa Stasi was staying when she went missing. Her last phone call ended with a knock on the door and Stasi saying “They’re here.” The “they” implies that there was more than one person at the door.
So that’s my story about living next door to a serial killer. Hope you liked it.
Sorry if you were expecting my normal material. I’ll get back to being racist and making fun of wignats next time.
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