John Edward Robinson: The Spider’s Web by Lee Mellor

On October 7, 2002, a balding 58-year-old family man stood trial in Johnson County, Kansas for the murder of three women. There was nothing particularly novel about John Edward Robinson’s psychopathology. Like numerous serial killers before him, he was a psychopathic sexual sadist who murdered for financial gain and as an expression of ultimate dominance. Yet, Robinson would go down in criminal history as being the first serial murderer to acquire prey through the Internet: a technology that defines the early 21st century.

By the time this doughy spider began stalking the web for vulnerable females, he had already claimed the lives of Paula Godfrey (1984), Lisa Stasi (1985), Catherine Clampitt (1987), and Beverly Bonner (1993). The first flies to become trapped by his electronic threads were Sheila and Debbie Faith of Pueblo, Colorado. Their story is truly tragic. A homely 45-year-old widow, Sheila spent much of her free time searching online for a ‘good man.’ Her 15-year-old daughter, Debbie, was crippled by spina bifida and cerebral palsy, barely strong enough to operate her wheelchair’s joystick. After Sheila’s husband died from cancer in 1993, she began to frequent online BDSM forums, advertising herself as a submissive. Her sister reportedly admitted finding BDSM literature in Sheila’s possession which hinted that she was aroused by spanking. Perhaps a life of heartbreak had finally shaken loose Sheila’s inhibitions. Maybe by consenting to be hurt, she sought a way to exercise control over her personal pain. Whatever the case, in 1994, she met her dream man online. Purporting to be a wealthy executive, “John” offered to take Sheila on a cruise and pay for Debbie to attend private school. He would provide her with a job, and she could even ride horses on his farm like she had always dreamed.

In the summer of 1994, the Faiths set off on a two-week trip to visit friends in Texas. They scheduled a brief stop in Missouri along the way so that they could meet John in person. Sheila and Debbie trundled out of Colorado in their beat-up white van, as friends waved their goodbyes. They never arrived in Texas. That Christmas, Sheila’s sisters received type-written letters postmarked from the Netherlands, bearing what appeared to be the Faiths’ signatures. There were hints that something untoward was happening. Before her disappearance, Sheila had always written her letters by hand. There was also an uncharacteristically upbeat tone to her correspondences. To quote her sister Michelle Fox: “it was a happy letter, and Sheila wasn’t a happy person.”

In reality, Robinson had bludgeoned both Sheila and her invalid daughter to death with a hammer, stuffing their bodies into 55-gallon metal barrels which he had secreted in a storage locker in Raymore, Missouri. Somehow he had also managed to have the Faiths’ social security cheques forwarded to PO Box 215 in an Olathe, Kansas mail room. Over the next six years, Robinson regularly collected his victims’ social security cheques, investing the money in new criminal enterprises. It is estimated that he defrauded the American federal government of more than $29,000 between 1994-97 alone.

After several thwarted attempts to lure further prey through the Internet, in 1997, Robinson met Izabela Lewicka online. The 18-year-old Purdue University undergrad shared Sheila Faith’s penchant for BDSM. Born in Poland, Izabela had emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger sister at the age of 11. Though far from a problem child, by her late teens, Izabela was more interested in paganism, vampires and Goth culture than attaining good grades. Her father, a professor at the university, pushed her to work harder, but Izabela felt that he simply didn’t understand her. How could he? Unbeknownst to her parents, Izabela was heavily involved in BDSM, and had been a slave for years before finally parting ways with her master. On at least one occasion, she had allegedly visited a dungeon in Chicago to attend a function by Black Rose: a group for BDSM enthusiasts, cross-dressers and fetishists.

Shortly after Izabela’s 1997 “disaster with my master,” she had met John Edward Robinson online, quickly becoming entranced by his psychopathic charm. If she moved to Kansas City, the “Slavemaster” promised to train her to become a professional dominatrix. First, however, she would have to take on the role of his personal slave. Robinson sweetened the pot by offering to take her travelling in Europe. Izabela found the prospect enticing. Explaining to her parents that she was taking a summer internship at a Kansas City publishing house, on June 8, Izabela left for Missouri in her 1987 Pontiac Bonneville. It wasn’t necessarily a lie: Izabela did help design the covers and layout of Robinson’s Manufactured Modular Home Living magazine. In return, he was more than happy to use the Faiths’ disability cheques to pay for his nubile young slave’s arts and fencing classes. Robinson’s wife, Nancy, claims to have thought that “Izzy” was merely a friend of her husband’s who helped out occasionally with his work. In truth, John and Izabela were partners in the whips n’ stirrups industry, and business was booming.

Izabela did actually enjoy a life of relative autonomy in Kansas City. Beginning in 1997, the dark clad damsel was a regular customer at A. Friendly’s bookstore, where she purchased writings on the occult, witchcraft, vampires, and magic. She even joined a live action vampire role playing game, where she appeared in white make-up and went by the character name “Special.” In retrospect, Izabela seemed to enjoy pretending to be somebody else. To some, she would pass herself off as Robinson’s adopted Czech daughter, while claiming to be Danish to others. Sex, identity—she had made everything into a game—one which she would ultimately lose.

When three months came and went without any word from their daughter, Izabela’s parents drove to her address in Overland Park, Kansas, only to find that it was a p.o. box. Unable to squeeze any information from the people who ran the mail centre, they sombrely returned to Indiana. Soon after, a curt reply to one of the e-mails they had sent to Izabela’s account arrived. Purporting to be from Izabela, it asked them “what the hell” they wanted, and chastised them for harassing her. The message also insisted that they contact her at a new email address: izabela..@usa.net.

By Thanksgiving 1997, Izabela’s father sent her an email written completely in Polish:

“I write in Polish because I am not one hundred percent positive that your letters are coming from you. As you know, anyone could create an email account and sign it as you. If you would telephone, I would feel much, much better.”

The reply insisted that henceforth they communicate in English:

“I’ve told you I’m happy. I’m well. I have a wonderful job and a wonderful man in my life who loves me. I want to be left alone. I don’t know how I can make it any clearer.”

At one point, over their sporadic communications, Izabela informed her parents that she was now married. But whenever they asked to see her, she claimed she was too busy.

***

Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Robinson had rented an apartment for Izabela in Olathe, passing her off as his adopted daughter. The lease ran from March 1, 1998, to February 28, 1999. Come autumn of 1998, Izabela adopted the surname “Lewicka-Robinson” and began wearing a ruby wedding band on her left ring finger. Things started to get truly strange in 1999. A paper trail indicates that Robinson transferred Izabela to Olathe’s Edgebrook apartments in January before the previous lease had expired. That summer, Izabela walked into A. Friendly’s bookstore wearing a silver studded dog collar. She was accompanied by a man fitting Robinson’s description. Izabela informed the owner that the gentleman in her company would be collecting her books from now on.

Sometime in August, Izabela telephoned a friend in Indiana, relaying some exciting news: she was leaving to visit Europe. Doubtlessly, Izabela felt that Robinson was finally making good on his promises. Alas, it seems that the psychopathic Slavemaster had simply tired of his toy. One night in 1999, he crept up on Izabela with a hammer as she lay sleeping in her first floor apartment. Two blows to the skull later, she was dead. Cramming her lifeless body into an 85 gallon drum, he drove it out to his farm in Linn County, and placed the barrel in some brush near the shed. With the help of a small time criminal, Robinson sold Izabela’s 1988 blue Hyundai. Long after her death, her parents would continue to receive e-mails purporting to be from their daughter. The last of these was received in 2000, claiming that she had been travelling in China. Later, it would be learned that Robinson had access to Izabela’s email address. Her password translated to “rat” in Polish. It is a sad irony, that after two years in Robinson’s company, Izabela had never caught scent of the biggest rat of them all.

***

Robinson’s final victim would be 27-year-old Suzette Trouten: a bisexual nurse’s aide, forced to supplement her meagre $10/hour income by working part-time at a Big Boy restaurant. As with the Faiths and Izabela Lewicka, Suzette’s past had been a turbulent one. Growing up in a broken home in Michigan, she had been sexually abused as a child, and had attempted suicide. A hardcore BDSM practitioner, Suzette had served two masters, and was a Gorean submissive. Robinson ensnared Suzette Trouten using a nearly identical modus operandi to the one he employed on Izabela Lewicka. The two began communicating when he responded to an ad Suzette had posted in 1999 on the Fetish/BDSM website ALT.com (spelling and grammatical errors have been left in tact):

I am a 27 year old female who has been in BDSM for the last 11 years. I was owned from 16 to a year ago. I am 5’6” long brown hair, dark brown eyes, olive skin tone. I have a good shape and is a total slave. I live in Lower Michigan close to Detroit. I enjoy bondage, spankings, whips, is some what of a pain slut. No scat, blood, animals, no children… this is hard limits that will not be testeddddddd!!!!!

On September 11, 1999, Suzette received a reply from midwestmaster@email.com: Read your ad. Let’s talk about the possibilities – John Rob. Within a matter of days, Suzette had agreed to be Robinson’s slave, even signing her emails “On bended knee, Suzette.” The brunette gushed to her family and friends about the rich Missourian who had offered her $65,000/year to travel the world with him while she cared for his elderly diabetic father. Those closest to her thought it sounded too good to be true; Suzette was often prone to exaggeration. Still, they were glad to see her happy.

Under the auspices of meeting his father, Robinson bought Suzette Trouten flights to Kansas City in October and November. While there, she signed contracts for a car and an apartment lease, along with a 25 page slave contract containing over 100 rules. Robinson manipulated her into providing him with her e-mail passwords, and snapped photographs of her posing in the nude.

Upon returning to Michigan, Suzette boasted of being picked up by a millionaire in a limousine who had introduced her to his crabby “Papa John.” Strangely, Robinson’s real father had died in 1989, begging the question: “was Suzette lying?” Her mother, Carolyn Trouten, is adamant that the story was far too detailed to have been fabricated. Perhaps Suzette met an accomplice of Robinson’s. If so, did this unknown third party have any idea what Suzette’s “master” had in store for her?

While she lingered in Michigan, Robinson pressured Suzette to apply for a passport and to look into obtaining a nursing license in Belgium. His eager new slave dived headfirst into both pursuits, determined to transform her dreams into reality. Finally, on February 13, the reluctant mama’s girl left Michigan in a Ryder Truck packed with her belongings. Along for the journey were her two beloved Pekingese dogs, Harry and Peka. After an exhausting 14 hour drive to Kansas City, Suzette arrived on Valentine’s Day. Robinson greeted her with a bouquet of flowers, and checked her into room 216 of the Guest House suites in the affluent suburb of Lenexa. He promptly left, explaining that he would be back to see her soon. Suzette took the opportunity to set up her Compaq Presario desktop computer. She messaged her mother to let her know that she had arrived safely.

The next seventeen days of Suzette’s life consisted of sitting around her room, watching television, or chatting over the computer. She was in contact with her mother on a daily basis. From time to time, Robinson would pop in for a spot of S&M, which brightened her mood. Still, Suzette spent her first week in Missouri feeling despondent. Three days after arriving, the apartment manager had informed her that dogs were not allowed on the premises. Robinson had offered to keep little Harry and Peka in a kennel, leaving Suzette feeling lonelier than ever. At one point, she wrote to a friend on ICQ messenger: “I came. I saw. I want to go home.”

Two days later, Robinson arrived with some (astonishingly timely) good news: they were leaving for California on March 2. Once they arrived in the Golden State, they would pick up his yacht and sail for Hawaii. Suzette lit up like an electric chair. From that moment on, her communications took on a decidedly optimistic tone. Of course, Robinson had likely been monitoring her e-mails, and noting that he was losing control of his slave, decided to sprinkle a little sugar in front of her. There would be no palm trees in Suzette Trouten’s future, only false hopes and a hammer. As she awaited the big day, Suzette passed her time having rough sex with Robinson, and building a website for “The International Council of Masters”—an order of BDSM doms to which he claimed elite membership.

***

On March 2, Janet* from Nova Scotia—a fellow BDSM practitioner and close friend of Suzette’s—received a message from Suzette’s Hotmail account, informing her that she was leaving for California. Janet replied promptly, wishing her well and mentioning that she had taken Suzette’s advice, and parted ways with a master who had mistreated her. To Janet’s astonishment, a reply from Suzette’s account arrived within an hour. The suspicious looking communication, ostensibly written by her friend, claimed that she was just about to unplug her computer when she saw Janet’s reply. It read:

“If your [sic] interested in a MASTER who is really great, write him. He is a great MASTER. His e-mail addy is eruditemaster.email.com…”

Janet was certain that someone other than Suzette had sent the e-mail. Firstly, she and Suzette usually communicated over the ICQ messenger service. More telling were the inconsistencies in Suzette’s use of language. Where she would usually call Janet “sis” and end her communications with “love you babe,” this particular e-mail ended with “hugs.” Furthermore, Suzette never spelled “master” in capital letters, and was certainly not the type to recommend a suitor for her confidante. Janet decided to play along, hoping to learn more about the malevolent entity that had hijacked her friend’s email account and identity. She contacted eruditemaster@email.com and began mining for information. Eventually, it would find its way into the hands of the police.

***

Meanwhile, the Trouten family had concerns of their own. Despite Suzette’s promises to call her mother regularly, Carolyn had had no oral communication with her daughter since March 1. Where the longest they had ever gone without speaking was three days, now Suzette sent only letters and e-mails. Moreover, there was something fishy about them. Though the first letter bore Suzette’s handwriting, it had been dated February 28th and sent from Kansas on March 6—four days AFTER Suzette had supposedly left for California. Concerned, Carolyn called Robinson on his cell. He informed her that Suzette had refused his job offer, and had left with a man named “Jim Turner” to sail around the world.

On March 21, 2000, individual members of the Trouten family began to receive suspicious e-mails from “Suz”, in which she misspelled the names of her beloved dogs, and claimed to be living on a boat with Jim, even though she was famously terrified of open water. Four days later, Suzette’s older sister, Dawn, contacted the Overland Park police service to explain that Suzette had hooked up with a local man named John Robinson, and subsequently gone missing.

Around March 31, the Troutens began to receive type-written letters bearing Suzette’s signature at the bottom. Each letter had been sent from San Jose, California on March 27th, and had obviously been written by somebody who was much more literate than Suzette. But if John Edward Robinson was still in Kansas City, who on earth could be posting the letter? Did Jim Turner really exist?

***

Following Dawn’s call on March 25, the Overland Park police acted immediately. In 1985, they had investigated the suspect, John Edward Robinson, in the disappearance of 19-year-old Lisa Stasi , and her newborn baby. When, fifteen years later on April 13, 2000, two detectives decided to pay a visit to Robinson’s former parole officer, they were shocked to learn that a number of missing women had been connected to the conscienceless conman. Leaving the meeting with a file 12 inches thick, Overland Park police began preparing for the possibility that they were dealing with that most heinous form of intra-species predator: the serial killer.

***

Beginning in late March, 2000, a joint task force of investigators from Overland Park and nearby Lenexa worked tirelessly for ten weeks before finally shackling the Slavemaster. Contrary to the veneer of affluence and success he portrayed for his victims, in reality, Robinson lived with his wife Nancy in an Olathe trailer park, flatteringly named Santa Barbara Estates. Though far from destitute, the community made Overland Park look like Beverly Hills.

Detective Dan Owsley had the unenviable task of collecting the Robinsons’ garbage bags from the curb every Tuesday and Friday at 4 AM. Weeks of sifting through their trash produced some promising leads. These included documents related to checking accounts, credit cards, telephone bills, and e-mail addresses. As Robinson had taken the halfhearted precaution of shredding these papers, each had to be meticulously pieced back together. One finding of particular significance was a bill for a storage locker at Raymore’s Stor-Mor-For-Less. Another pearl plucked from Robinson’s rubbish was a document indicating that the couple were using the Internet service provider grapevine.net. Filing a subpoena to obtain records from Grapevine, Email and Hotmail, the investigators soon learned that all of the e-mails sent to Suzette Trouten’s family and friends after March 1, 2000, purporting to be from Suzette, had actually been sent from Robinson’s trailer. The IP address of the “eruditemaster” who was speaking with Janet in Nova Scotia was also traced to the residence. Similarly, an Express Mail receipt for a parcel sent to one Jean Glines in California shed light on how the Troutens were receiving letters from the Golden State.

By examining credit card, hotel and phone bills, the investigators were able to determine the names and locations of each mistress Robinson was harbouring. On May 4, they recovered a phone bill for a land line at the Linn County farm. The record showed that at 11:43 AM on March 1, a call had been made from the property to Nancy Robinson’s office. This was in keeping with the investigators’ theories that Suzette Trouten had been taken to the countryside shortly before or after Robinson had murdered her. That Nancy Robinson was aware of her husband’s infidelities was confirmed by a type written letter they had also recovered from the garbage:

…Why is it you just can’t control yourself?… You know you can only push a person so far… I hate it when you talk to me like I’m stupid. I do appreciate the fact that before you have sex with me after being with somebody else you wipe your dick off, all though it is a turn off.

***

Surveillance of Robinson had commenced on March 29. His wife, Nancy, worked in the office as Santa Barbara Estates’ property manager, which left her unemployed husband free to roam the suburbs of Kansas City in his Dodge Ram. The surveillance team were amazed to discover the sheer number of submissive women whom Robinson had convinced to travel to hotel rooms in Kansas and Missouri to be dominated. Often, he would spend most of the day popping from one mistress to the next, leaving investigators torn between the need to remain unseen and the greater necessity of protecting anybody else from being killed. Ultimately, Robinson’s callous treatment of his surviving slaves would play a crucial role in his downfall.

***

On Monday April 24, an unemployed psychologist named Liz Kelly* arrived in Kansas City to meet Robinson. The two had hit it off on BDSMcontacts.com earlier that spring, and after speaking at length, he had offered to find her employment, wiring her $100 to help with her travel expenses. Liz, whose BDSM kinks were basically limited to spanking, was more than a little disturbed by the slave contract that Robinson had sent her. At the same time, she was so desperate for security and employment that she decided to try her luck. As he had ordered, she brought a bag of sex toys with her, and met him at a hotel in Overland Park. After some discussion, Robinson agreed to reword the slave contract. Unlike Izabela Lewicka and Suzette Trouten however, their sexual chemistry stank. Liz didn’t want to wear the dog collar he had brought for her. Robinson disapproved of the way she fellated him. Liz didn’t want to swallow his semen. Robinson insisted that he could sweeten it by eating more celery. Liz relented, but then complained when he started snapping photographs of her. She thought he hit her too hard. Flustered, Robinson lambasted her for being an “unsophisticated” slave and told her to go back to Galveston, as he would soon be flying out to Israel.

When Liz returned to Texas she learned that there were no connecting flights from Kansas City to the holy land that day. She telephoned his business, but hung up quickly when Robinson answered. Furious, she sent him an e-mail demanding that he stay out of her life and return her bag of sex toys from Kansas City. Robinson replied with veiled threats: he would keep her contract and photographs in the event that she continued to bother him. Regarding her assortment of dildos, paddles and butt plugs, he would consider the matter.

After several more nasty e-mail exchanges, Liz Kelly had had enough. On May 22, she contacted the Overland Park police. As a result, John Edward Robinson was now under investigation for aggravated sexual battery, felony theft, and blackmail. Combined with similar complaints of mistreatment from a second “slave,” and circumstantial evidence implicating Robinson in the disappearance of Suzette Trouten, the task force finally had the impetus they needed to arrest him and search his various properties and rental spaces.

***

Eight days before they made their move, the investigators obtained Robinson’s business records, and noticed he had written thousands of dollars worth of cheques to “Izabela Lewicka”:  a name unfamiliar to them at that point. In one incidence, he had even made it out to “Izabela Lewicka-Robinson.” The final cheque written for her was dated August 1, 1999. It was followed by an August 23 cheque to “Two Men and a Truck” moving company, and then no more. The detectives hearts sank. In all likelihood, Izabela Lewicka had met the same horrific fate as Lisa Stasi and Suzette Trouten.

***

On Friday June 2, two detectives from Overland Park arrested John Robinson at his trailer in Olathe. He was charged with sexual battery, theft and blackmail. The decision had been a hasty one, made the previous day, after wiretaps on his cellphone indicated he was attempting to entice a 17-year-old mother to his Linn County farmhouse. He had promised to take care of her and her baby in exchange for sex. The resemblance to the Lisa Stasi case was chilling.

After Robinson was handcuffed and taken into custody, a three man team including Dan “Trashman” Owsley began searching the suspect’s double-wide grey and white trailer. There was no shortage of evidence. By the end of the day, they had accumulated the following items linking Robinson to the disappearances of Lisa Stasi, the Faiths, and Beverly Bonner:

– A receipt from 1985 indicating that Lisa Stasi had stayed at the Rodeway Inn

– A blank piece of paper marked only by Stasi’s signature, including an envelope addressed to her brother

– A 1999 statement of Debbie and Sheila Faith’s social security benefits

– Scraps of paper with John Robinson’s various e-mail address scrawled across them

– An application for an employment identification number filed by Beverly Bonner

– Robinson’s address book with the name “Beverly Bonner” crossed out twice under “B”

Once they had removed more than a dozen boxes of evidence from the trailer, they drove to Robinson’s 10′ x 15′ storage locker in Olathe. Snipping the hasps with bolt cutters, the investigators entered unit B18 and recovered:

– A Compaq Presario computer belonging to Suzette Trouten

– A yellow legal pad listing Suzette’s friends and family members, along with their phone numbers, residential and e-mail addresses

– Suzette’s passport application, driver’s license, and Social Security card.

– 42 envelopes made out to different members of the Trouten family along with 31 sheets of paper marked only with the words “Love ya, Suzette”

– Suzette’s journal, textbooks, and jewellery

– Dildos, butt plugs, electrodes, a collar, a speculum and electrical device belonging to Suzette Trouten

– A video cassette that would later be revealed to show Robinson and Suzette engaging in BDSM sex

– Three bags of sex toys, one of which had been stolen from Liz Kelly

– More of the Faiths’ Social Security statements

– Social security cheques made out to Sheila and Debbie Faith

– Izabela Lewicka’s social security card, driver’s licence, passport, high school diploma, Olathe public library card, resident alien card and a document granting Robinson power of attorney over her

– Nude photographs of Izabela Lewicka and Suzette Trouten

– Slave contracts for Izabela Lewicka, Suzette Trouten and Liz Kelly

***

Despite the damning evidence gathered from Robinson’s trailer and storage locker, his fate was truly sealed at 9 AM the next day, when a K-9 Search and Rescue team descended upon his farm in Linn County, Kansas. After several hours scouring the property, one of the dog handlers requested that Sergeant Rick Roth move one of two large barrels away from the shed. The handler’s collie seemed to have picked up a scent, but the container was obstructing the search.  When Roth turned the barrel onto its side to roll it away, blood began to spill out onto the grass.  Suddenly, the air became thick with flies and the stench of decay. Loosening the bolt with pliers, a crime scene technician removed the band, broke the seal, and pried opened the drum.  Inside, a female corpse lay curled in the foetal position, stewing in its own juices. A forensic odontologist would later identify the remains as those of Suzanne Trouten. Nobody was surprised when the second barrel revealed another body, this one even more rotten than its predecessor. Once upon a time it had been a girl named Izabela Lewicka. Come Monday, the bodies of Sheila and Debbie Faith, along with Beverly Bonner were found in barrels at Robinson’s Stor-More-For-Less locker in Raymore, Missouri. The spider’s own eggs had hatched and devoured him.

***

After unsuccessfully pleading “not guilty” to the murders of Izabela Lewicka, Suzette Trouten and Lisa Stasi, in January 2003, John Edward Robinson was sentenced to die in an Olathe, Kansas courtroom. For Stasi, whose body still remains undiscovered, Judge John Anderson III gave Robinson a life sentence. Since reinstating the death penalty in 1976, Kansas has yet to execute a single inmate. Unfortunately for Robinson, he had also been charged with murdering the Faiths, Paula Godfrey, Catherine Clampitt and Beverly Bonner in Missouri, and the inhabitants of the “Show Me State” lived up to their motto. Ever cunning, Robinson refused to cooperate until he was offered a deal: if he acknowledged that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to convict him of capital murder in the remaining six slayings, Missouri would not seek capital punishment.

Today, John Edward Robinson sits on death row in Kansas’ El Dorado Correctional Facility. He refuses to admit to the murders or offer any insight into his crimes. Robinson is a strong suspect in at least one additional homicide, though many believe his real body count is far higher than eight. It is a rare serial killer who claims his first victim in his forties (though not unheard of, see the case of “Russell Williams” also in volume 1 of SKQ).

***

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Slavemaster murders was that Robinson’s MO remained reasonably static over a 16-year-period. Before the computer age, he had ensnared five of his original six victims through personals ads. This particular ruse harkened back to 1907 when an axe-wielding female serial killer named Belle Gunness placed a notice in the classified section of major mid-western newspapers reading:

Personal — comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

The remains of the numerous suitors who had flocked to Gunness’ property were found hacked to death in 1911, when her farm mysteriously erupted into flames.

Variations on this “Lonely Hearts” approach would later be employed during the First World War by French blue-beard Henri Landru, by Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez in the 1940s, and most famously by bondage enthusiast Harvey Murray Glatman between 1957-58. John Edward Robinson simply translated this standard ruse from a print to digital format. He was not the first or last murderer to do so. Nevertheless, he will always be remembered as the Internet’s premiere serial killer. If Jack the Ripper can be said to have “gave birth to the 20th century,” then Robinson can surely make a case for having spawned the 21st.

About the author: Lee Mellor is the author of Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Murder and its counterpart Rampage: Canadian Mass Murder and Spree Killing. A Ph.D candidate studying violent serial offenders at Montreal’s Concordia University, Lee is also the editor-in-chief of Serial Killer Quarterly and co-founder of Grinning Man Press. In 2008, he was voted the #3 singer-songwriter in Montreal next to Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright. 

Sources

Berry-Dee, Christopher. The Voices of Serial Killers. Berkley: Ulysses, 2011.

Godwin, Maurice. Tracker: Hunting Down Serial Killers. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005.

Norman, John. Imaginative Sex. New York: E-Reads, 2009.
Wiltz, Sue. Slavemaster. New York: Pinnacle, 2004.