Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Sensational Murder of Helen Jewett

A Suspect Revealed

With an Axe by H. Paul Jeffers
With an Axe by H. Paul Jeffers

That night, citizen-officers Dennis Brink and George Noble went to the address on Maiden Lane to ask about one Frank Rivers.  According to H. Paul Jeffers in With an Axe, they soon learned that the clerk in question was actually Richard P. Robinson.  (It was common practice in the male youth culture to adopt a pseudonym for going to houses of prostitution.)  Robinson was 19 and his address was a boarding home at 42 Dey Street.

The investigators went there and woke a servant girl, who confirmed that Richard Robinson boarded there, sharing a room with James Tew, also a clerk.

Tew responded to their knock. Another bed in the room was occupied and they woke that person as well.   According to several sources, Robinson immediately said, This is an odd business.

Yet he showed no surprise or any other emotion when they identified themselves as police officers.   They ordered him to get dressed and accompany them to the station house on Chambers Street.  As he complied, they asked if he owned a cloak and he acknowledged that he did own a silk and wool cloak.  Although he said it was hanging there, he did not wear it to the police station.  Instead, he grabbed a frock coat.

Likeness of R.P. Robinson
Likeness of R.P. Robinson

On the clothing that he did wear, the officers noticed a white spot on the trousers.   They recalled the white fence in the backyard of 41 Thomas Street.

Instead of going directly to the police station, they took Robinson to the Thomas Street house, letting him know that they believed he had killed a woman there that night.  Some writers speculate that they ascribed to the philosophy that to confront a killer with the victim was a good way to extract a confession.  Yet that was not the case with Robinson.  All he said was, I certainly did not.

There were seven more night patrol officers at the scene when they arrived, as well as the magistrate, Oliver Lowends, and the city coroner, William Schureman.

They led Robinson up the steps and down the hall to Helen Jewetts room.   Her body still lay there on the bed and Robinson was forced to look at her.  They watched him but he showed no signs of agitation or distress.  Instead, he insisted that he had been home that night, asleep in his bed.  His roommate, who had come with him, confirmed that Robinson had indeed come in but he waffled on the actual time. 

Then Robinson made a narcissistic gesture when he told those who were there that under no circumstances would he blast his brilliant prospects with such a ridiculous act.   He repeated this statement, noting that he was only 19, but the police arrested him anyway.

As several officers carted him away, others examined the evidence they had found.   Besides the cloak and hatchet from the yard, beneath the pillow on Helen Jewetts charred bed was a mans handkerchief.  Its initials did not match those of Richard P. Robinson.  Oddly enough, according to Patricia Cline Cohen in The Murder of Helen Jewett, Robinson actually knew about this item and said   that because of it, hed never be convicted.

Yet Mrs. Townsend insisted that only one man had been in Helens room that night: it had been Frank Rivers, a.k.a. Richard Robinson.   She had seen him there and no one else had come in.  Others affirmed her report.

Robinson continued to deny his involvement in the brutal attack, but the investigation was picking up momentum.