Thursday, July 01, 2004

Dialing up Death


Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John Douglas with Stephen Singular ($7.99 Pocket Star Books, 397pp. paperback)

Before your next foray into a chat room or online dating read this frightening account of a man who slipped through the cracks of the justice system for years. By the time the law caught up with him he had defrauded dozens of businessmen and investors of hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment schemes. He was suspected in the deaths of 11 women, six of whom were eventually found dead in metal barrels on his property. They had been there for years, some over a decade.

Although the book suffers from a dry, plodding, just-the-facts-ma’am style, the facts themselves are compelling enough. John Robinson went from eagle scout to family man to con artist to pimp and serial killer with surprising ease. How did Robinson continually defraud small companies, big corporations (like Mobil Oil) and individuals and never do time? He spent twenty years pulling cons before he ever spent a day in jail, and by that time he had already been connected to several missing women. There were a lot of suspicions, but no proof of anything.

When he got out of jail he was a full-fledged computer geek. The cons gave way to internet chat rooms, where Robinson met numerous women whom he tried to convince to meet him in Kansas City where he lived. He promised them jobs and apartments and told them he would take care of them. With one exception, every woman who made the journey wound up dead. One victim had moved to Kansas City with her disabled teenaged daughter and Robinson murdered them both.

The story is disturbing on two levels: first of course, the actions of Robinson himself, who seemed to be a dedicated family man, active in his community and a doting parent and grandfather by day, and a stark raving predator by night. Actually it was the other way around; his wife of 30+ years maintained she never had any idea of his double life because he was always home by 5 p.m. He did all his dirty work during the day. Equally disturbing is the failure of law enforcement to connect the dots sooner. Even after the disappearance of two women connected to him, police did rudimentary investigations and dropped the matter for lack of evidence. Letters from the missing women that seem to be forgeries are never even examined (fingerprints, DNA). Any armchair detective would have taken the matter further.

This compelling story raises two questions which are never adequately answered. The first is the nature of the killer’s psyche, a man so effectively divided that he is practically a split personality. There is a brief analysis of his character, but it adds no depth to the portrait of the killer. It would have been useful to hear from a criminal psychologist on the matter.

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