STRANGE HISTORY AND TRUE CRIME
The Unsolved Mystery of the Robison Family Murders
The smell was overwhelming that July day in 1968 as Chauncey Bliss approached the cabin he had built years earlier near the community of Good Hart, on the Lower Peninsula’s northwest coast. Bliss was a carpenter who had constructed many vacation homes along the glistening shore of Lake Michigan. Now he served as the caretaker of those homes, which he had collectively named “Blisswood,” and which included among their number a residence occupied by the Robisons, a rich family from the Detroit suburb of Lathrup Village.
As police dug into Richard Robison’s business dealings, they came up with a lead. Though Robison presented himself as a prosperous executive, his companies were in trouble. He was engaging in funny business with the finances for “Impresario,” and was telling colleagues and family members about various deals he had in the works, though no one knew much about them. One of the most revealing discoveries was that, while he was in Good Hart, Robison had left his business in the hands of 30-year-old Joseph Scolaro III, an employee who was embezzling money from Robison. (The amount was later revealed to be about $60,000.) Police theorized that, during a phone call between Robison and Scolaro hours before the murder, Robison revealed that he had found out about the embezzlement. At that point, according to police, a panicked Scolaro took off from Detroit, drove several hours north to Good Hart, and killed the family before Richard Robison could come forward with details about Scolaro’s crime.
Circumstantial evidence supported this conclusion. Scolaro had been out of contact with friends, business associates, and family for twelve hours on the day of the murder, and police couldn’t find anyone to support Scolaro’s alibis as to where he was that day. Officers also discovered that shell casings found at a shooting range that Scolaro frequented matched casings police had found at the scene of the crime. In addition, Scolaro failed two polygraph tests and delivered inconclusive results on a third. To officers, Scolaro became a prime suspect.
However, because police couldn’t find the murder weapons, nor any eyewitnesses to the crime, the prosecutor in Emmet County, where the Robison’s cabin was located, didn’t press charges. Frustrated, state police officers worked with prosecutors in Oakland County, where the Robisons lived, to continue the investigation. In 1973, Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson was ready to charge Scolaro with conspiracy to commit murder. However, before officers could apprehend their suspect, Scolaro shot himself in the head, effectively ending Brooks’ attempt to prosecute him. Scolaro left behind a suicide note in which he said that he did not kill the family, but many students of the case, as well as the state police and the Emmet County Sheriff’s Department, still consider him the chief suspect.
That’s not to say that Scolaro is the only person who has been accused of killing Richard Robison and his family. Critics of the “Scolaro as killer” theory say that Scolaro couldn’t have driven to Good Hart, shot the Robison family, and driven back to the Detroit area in the amount of time for which he didn’t have an alibi. Some people suspect that John Norman Collins, who was convicted in 1970 of killing a female college student in Ypsilanti (and is a suspect in the killings of several other co-eds), was somehow involved in the Robison murders. Collins attended Eastern Michigan University at the same time Richie Robison did and is even said to have possibly roomed with Robison during orientation week.
Another proposed suspect is the caretaker, Chauncey Bliss, an eccentric whom some Good Hart locals believe committed the murders after his son, who was friends with the Robison boys, died in a motorcycle accident shortly before the Robison murders. According to this theory, Bliss felt slighted by Richard Robison in the days following the younger Bliss’s death and took his revenge by killing the family. (Police didn’t regard Bliss as a suspect in the Robison murders.)
Other suspects have been suggested and discarded, and the case is officially unsolved. Forty-five years after the murders, the community of Good Hart remains a popular vacation destination for “down staters” looking to get away from it all. Unfortunately, for the Robisons, their attempt to “get away from it all” ended during a violent encounter after which they would never return.
For more information on the Robison murders –
When Evil Came to Good Hart by Mardi Link (An excellent nonfiction book about the murders. I highly recommend it.)
Dead End by James J. Pecora (Essentially a nonfiction book but changes the names of the family members and various characters)
The Tarnished Eye by Judith Guest (a fictionalized version of the Robison story)