This month, it’s been 28 years since the World Wide Web, as we know it, was born. British computer programmer Tim Berners-Lee had created a prototype of what we would now recognize as the web, and on Aug. 7, 1991, his prototype went live. He and his collaborator, Robert Cailliau, a Belgian engineer and computer scientist, envisioned many uses for this new invention, from document sharing to online help. Little could anyone have expected that as the World Wide Web grew into the ubiquitous communication tool it is today, that it could become a useful tool for predators.
The first man (that we know of) to use the internet to lure his victims to their deaths was John Edward Robinson. Robinson presented himself as an upstanding member of his Pleasant Valley Farms community, a wealthy suburb of Kansas City. He was married and the father of four children. He volunteered as a Scoutmaster, a tee-ball and volleyball coach, and Sunday school teacher.
But behind closed doors, he was a very different man. He frequently cheated on his wife and beat her, and he starved his pet dog and horses.
At the same time, he was engaging in multiple counts of embezzlement, fraud, theft, and check forgery. Authorities say that he never worked a real job that he didn’t steal from in one way or another.
Yet when he would get caught, time after time, he was just given probation and ordered to pay restitution. The toughest sentence he ever received was 60 days in jail.
In the early 80s, he formed a couple of shell companies, including one “consulting firm” named Equi-II.
It was this company that Paula Godfrey thought she would be working for when she answered a help-wanted ad in 1984. Once she was “hired,” Godfrey told her friends and family that Robinson was going to send her away for training. She was never seen again.
Her parents filed a missing persons report with the Overland Park police. During their investigation, the police questioned Robinson, who claimed he had no idea where she was. Then, several days later, her parents received a typewritten note, signed by Godfrey, stating she was “OK” and that she needed some time away from her family. Since Godfrey seemed to be alive and was of legal adult age, the police dropped the investigation.
Meanwhile, Robinson had invented a “charity” women’s outreach program, claiming he wanted to offer single mothers and women down on their luck with jobs and other help. He reached out to hospitals, homeless shelters, and other places where destitute women might be found.
In early 1985, he got a hit from a local hospital. They referred him to Lisa Stasi and her infant daughter, Tiffany, who were staying at a Kansas City battered-women’s shelter. When he spoke with Stasi, he gave the name John Osborn and promised her job training, housing, and even daycare for her daughter. He took her to a Rodeway Inn in Overland Park, just outside of Kansas City. Over the course of the next few days, he told Stasi he would be sending her and her daughter to Chicago for job training, and that she would need to sign four blank sheets of paper so he could let her family know where she was. Her family members, particularly her sister-in-law, did not trust Robinson, and urged Stasi not to go. But the desperate mother believed in the successful businessman. She got in his car, baby Tiffany in her arms, and was never seen again.
The next day, Stasi’s sister-in-law called the Rodeway Inn to check on her. They told her the room Stasi had stayed in had been paid for with a company credit card. The company: Equi-II. The signature on the credit-card receipt: John Robinson.
Stasi’s brother and sister-in-law went into action: while her sister-in-law went to the police, her brother went to Equi-II’s offices to confront Robinson about Stasi’s whereabouts — where Robinson threw him out of the office.
That evening, Robinson told his brother and sister-in-law that he had found an infant they could adopt. The baby’s mother, he told them, had committed suicide. He had them sign what looked like legal adoption papers, along with $5,500 cash. Then his wife handed them a healthy infant girl — which Robinson had just shown up with hours before. The family threw a large party at the Robinson home to celebrate the happy occasion.
Later, Stasi’s sister-in-law began receiving typewritten letters signed by Stasi, claiming to be fine. Again, without clear evidence of a crime, the police dropped the missing persons investigation.
Soon afterwards, Robinson’s “business partner” cooperated with federal authorities to bust him on some of the many illegal activities he was engaged in. He was arrested for probation violation, but his sentence was later overturned. Once again, despite a lengthy criminal record, Robinson was allowed to walk free.
Then, in 1987, a young woman from Wichita Falls, Texas, named Catherine Clampitt answered an ad in the newspaper for what sounded like a dream job, with lots of travel and even a new wardrobe. She packed her bags and left for Kansas. Soon afterwards, she went missing, and her family never heard from her again. They filed a missing persons report in June, but police could find no evidence that Robinson was involved in her disappearance.
Soon afterwards, Robinson was finally sent to prison for fraud. While in prison in Kansas, the “model inmate” suffered a few small strokes. In 1991 he was transferred to a Missouri prison for fraud and violating probation. Prison administrators recognized that Robinson was exceptionally smart, and he was put to work on their computer systems, where he implemented a system that saved the prison hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was probably here, in the Missouri prison’s computer lab, where Robinson was first introduced to the internet.
It was also here where he met prison librarian Beverly Bonner. He wasted no time in seducing her, and when he was released in 1993, Bonner divorced her husband and moved into the apartment Robinson rented with Equi-II’s credit card. Telling friends and relatives she had taken a job with Robinson that required a lot of traveling, she had all of her mail — including her monthly alimony checks — forwarded to a PO box. Like too many women who came to know John Robinson, she was never heard from again — but someone was still cashing her alimony checks.
By now, the internet’s potential as a perfect recruiting tool had become apparent to Robinson. He began trawling the BDSM chat rooms and message boards using the name “Slavemaster.” In 1994, he befriended Sheila Faith on one of these chat rooms. Like he had done so many times before, he portrayed himself as a wealthy businessman offering Faith a well paying job and payment for her disabled teen daughter, Debbie’s, medical care. The Faiths moved from their Colorado home to the Kansas City area. Believing they would be traveling, Faith had their mail — including their Social Security checks — forwarded to a PO box. They were never seen from again, but someone was still cashing their Social Security checks.
By 1996, the Robinsons had to sell their home and estate and move to a trailer park, where his wife worked as a property manager. Robinson, now with multiple computers, was spending even more time on BDSM chat rooms and message boards.
The following year, he met a young college student, Izabela Lewicka, online. She dropped out of college and moved from her home in Indiana to the Kansas City area to be with him, telling her parents she was taking an “internship” at Robinson’s business.
Lewicka didn’t disappear right away. He put her up in the apartment he paid for with the Equi-II credit card. She enrolled in a community college, and began going by the name Izabela Lewicka Robinson. She wore a wedding band, and although Robinson purchased a marriage certificate, it was never picked up. She did, however, sign an extensive “slave contract” with Robinson.
Troublingly, however, she would only communicate with her family via e-mail.
Then, in 1999, Lewicka told her friends she was going on a trip with Robinson. She was never seen again — but her family continued to receive e-mails from her account.
Only weeks after Lewicka went missing, Robinson met Suzette Trouten, also in a BDSM chat room. He offered her a well paying job caring for his father (who had actually been dead many years) and traveling the world on his yacht. She packed up her things and her two Pekingese dogs and relocated to Kansas.
Robinson put her up in a motel room and had her dogs boarded, telling her that the motel didn’t allow pets. After she did some work at his office, he made her sign an extensive slave contract, as well as several blank pages of stationary. They would be too busy traveling, he told her, for her to mail letters home.
She continued to keep in contact with her mother by phone, as well as a friend via e-mail. On March 1, 2000, the date they were supposed to leave for their round-the-world trip, Robinson checked her out of her motel room and picked up her dogs from the boarder. No one heard from her after this, and, ominously, an animal-control officer was called to an area near the Robinson home — there were two Pekingese dogs left abandoned in their carriers, without collars or identification.
After not hearing from her for days, her mother called the numbers Trouten had given her. Robinson, who was supposed to be traveling the world, answered. He told Trouten’s mother that she had run off with someone and stolen money from him. He claimed he didn’t know where she was. But her mother didn’t believe Robinson. The two were close; if Trouten had fallen in love with someone and moved away, she would have told her mother.
Then her mother received some typewritten letters signed by Trouten. She was suspicious — the letters didn’t sound like her daughter. First of all, Trouten didn’t know how to type. And the letters were nearly perfect, yet Trouten was a horrible speller. Desperately trying to find out what had happened to her daughter, Trouten’s mother filed a missing persons report with the Lenexa police. Unlike the Overland Park police, who had received earlier missing persons reports connected to Robinson, the Lenexa police took the case seriously. They dug into Robinson’s past and found a trail of missing women in his wake: Lisa and Tiffany Stasi, Paula Godfrey, and now, Suzette Trouten.
Around this same time, two women had gone to police with reports of sexual battery against Robinson. They both told similar stories: they had been lured in by Robinson on BDSM chat rooms, where he made promises of well paying jobs and international travel. Instead, when they arrived, he sexually assaulted them and, in one case, stole hundreds of dollars in sex toys. This theft charge now gave the police probable cause to search Robinson’s property.
On June 2, 2000, nine police vehicles rolled up on Robinson’s residence to arrest him for sexual assault. They also had search warrants not only for his home and property, but also for a storage unit he rented and his family farm in La Cygne, Missouri.
At his home, they seized his five computers, as well as several blank sheets of stationary signed by Lisa Stasi.
In the storage unit, they found Social Security cards, drivers licences, and other paperwork — including signed slave contracts — belonging to Suzette Trouten and Izabela Lewicka. Lewicka had not been reported missing and wasn’t on law enforcement’s radar, but finding these items raised their suspicions.
The next day, police raided Robinson’s family farm in La Cygne. There, forensic investigators found two 55-gallon metal barrels. Each contained the body of a woman in an advanced state of decay. These women would later be identified as Suzette Trouten and Izabela Lewicka. Both had been killed with a blow to the head by a small, blunt object — most likely, a hammer.
Kansas police contacted Missouri police and obtained a search warrant for a storage unit Robinson had rented in Raymore. Inside this storage unit, they found three more barrels containing the decomposed remains of Sheila and Debbie Faith and Beverly Bonner. All three had suffered a blow to the head from a small, blunt object, like a hammer.
In 2002, he stood trial in Kansas for the murders of Trouten, Lewicka and Stasi, as well as other charges such as fraud, forgery, kidnapping, and interfering with parental custody (for taking Tiffany Stasi). After the longest criminal trial in Kansas history, in 2003 he was convicted on all counts. He received two death sentences for the murders of Trouten and Lewicka. Because Stasi had been killed before Kansas reinstated the death penalty, for her murder, he received a sentence of life imprisonment. He also received five to 20 years for interfering with parental custody, 20 years for kidnapping Trouten, and seven months for theft.
After his conviction, he stood trial in Missouri for the murders of Godfrey, Clampitt, Bonner and the Faiths. He agreed to plead guilty to these murders in order to avoid the death penalty — but did not agree to lead authorities to the bodies of Godfrey, Clampitt, or Stasi. Witnesses said that in his plea, he did not show any remorse for his crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Then in 2015, the Kansas State Supreme Court vacated the Trouten and Stasi murder convictions on technicalities, but upheld the Lewicka conviction — and with it, its death sentence. Robinson remains on death row at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
The bodies of Godrey, Clampitt, and Stasi have never been found.