Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John E. Robinson, Sr.: The Slavemaster

Dishonesty is the Best Policy

If it wasn't for the photographs that placed him in London singing at the Palladium and the witnesses who saw him chatting with Judy Garland, the story that a teenage John Robinson toured with a troop of Eagle Scouts and gave a command performance before Queen Elizabeth II would be dismissed as one of the countless fabrications Robinson spun. An Eagle Scout at 13, Robinson told his fellow performers that he was planning on entering the priesthood and would someday work in Rome. No one knows whether this was what Robinson really wanted to do with his life or if this was just his way of getting attention. What friends interviewed years later remember most about him was his quiet, studious nature and endearing smile.

A former Scout leader who knew Robinson when the teen lived in Cicero, Ill., recalled a hard-working and motivated youngster whose ability didn't equal his drive.

"He didn't talk a great deal, but when he did talk, it was to produce an effect that he wanted," Richard Shotke told the Kansas City Star. "He was shrewd. He was aspiring to more than he was capable of, quite frankly."

Robinson dropped out of sight for a few years, leaving the Catholic prep seminary in favor of a trade school, where he planned to learn the radiology profession. Robinson never finished his training, but that didn't keep him from getting a job as an X-ray technician outside Kansas City, Missouri. It was 1965 and was the first time Robinson was known to have perpetrated a fraud.

His first job was with a children's hospital where he papered the walls of his office with fake diplomas and certificates. From his lack of skills with his infant patients, his colleagues suspected that he was either a fake or one of the most incompetent technicians ever to practice the craft.

Josephine Bermel, who worked with Robinson at his first hospital job, remembered that Robinson was a nice-enough guy, but that there was no way he could have been a certified technician. Bermel told the Kansas City Star that Robinson struggled especially with young patients. They dont understand when you say Take a deep breath. And positioning is important and the machinery is intimidating, she told the paper. We had to teach him how to do it.

The 21-year-old pathological liar was married at the time and his wife, Nancy, had just given birth to their first child.

His incompetence led to his dismissal from the hospital staff, but Robinson was undaunted. He eventually found a job in a laboratory run by President Harry S Truman's former personal physician. This change of employment publicly revealed the earliest indications of Robinson's personality disorders and led to his first criminal conviction.

Dr Wallace Graham
Dr Wallace Graham
 

Dr. Wallace Graham was a busy physician with a thriving practice when he offered Robinson a job as an X-ray technician in 1966. He recalled later that he was impressed with Robinson's achievements in Boy Scouts and his extensive credentials in radiology. Graham was highly regarded in the community, but he was a trusting and naive healer who turned out to be an easy mark for a man like Robinson.

Robinson quickly began stealing from Graham and taking liberties in the medical office. He drained the practice's bank account to the extent that six months after John was hired, Graham was unable to pay Christmas bonuses to the staff. In the meantime, Robinson bragged to colleagues about his new ranch and lakefront property. In addition, Robinson sometimes engaged in sexual liaisons with both office staff and patients. He had sex with one patient in the X-ray lab by pretending his wife was terminally ill and unable to accommodate his needs.

The unexplained loss of revenue prompted an audit of the practice's books, which pointed to Robinson as the source of the embezzlement. Not for the last time, Robinson's ability to feign sincerity and remorse would result in a slap on the wrist by the criminal justice system. He was escorted from the medical practice in handcuffs by deputies and charged with stealing $33,000 from Graham.

In 1969, Robinson was convicted of theft. Because it was his first offense and he pledged to make restitution, a Jackson County, Missouri, judge sentenced Robinson to three years of probation. No one could know at that time that a succession of similar white collar crimes would keep Robinson on probation for the next two decades. While he was under court supervision, Robinson killed at least eight women.

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