Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John E. Robinson, Sr.: The Slavemaster


For years, Don and Helen Robinson tried without success to have a child on their own and to adopt a baby through traditional placement services. The couple, who lived in metropolitan Chicago, were beginning to come to terms with the idea that they would never raise a child when John Robinson mentioned that he had contacts with an attorney in Missouri who handled private adoptions and that John would act as a liaison for Don and Helen.

That was in 1983, and for the next two years -- after the Robinsons paid a $2,500 retainer to John's imaginary lawyer friend -- John Robinson put into place a plan to procure a child for his brother. If the scam was successful, he probably intended to expand it to "help" other childless families realize their dream of adoption. Several times in the following months, Robinson put Don and Helen on notice that an adoption was imminent, but the child never materialized.

John's scheme required locating pregnant, single women and he knew exactly where to go to find them. Putting on his civic philanthropist facade, Robinson approached local pregnancy programs and social workers to alert them to a new program he and several fanciful leading businessmen "from the East Coast" had created to serve single moms who needed a helping hand.

Karen Gaddis, a former social worker at Truman Medical Center in Independence, Mo., testified at Robinson's trial that he came to her in late 1984 for referrals. Gaddis testified that Robinson said he was looking for young mothers, preferably white women, who had no close ties to family members. He showed her an apartment in Overland Park, Kansas, where the women were to stay.

Gaddis knew Caucasian babies were valued on the adoption black market and because Robinson never provided her with any paperwork about the program, she never referred any women to him.

"I think he thought we were a real fertile ground for young women that nobody would be looking for," Gaddis told NBC's Dateline when the Robinson story broke.

Robinson's setback with Karen Gaddis was only a temporary one. In January 1985, at a shelter, John Robinson met 19-year-old Lisa Stasi and her 4-month-old baby, Tiffany. Stasi was estranged from her husband, who had reenlisted in the Navy and deployed to the Great Lakes Naval Base outside Chicago. She was poor, uneducated and unworldly, making her the perfect target for a man like John Robinson.

Lisa Stasi, victim
Lisa Stasi, victim

Robinson convinced Lisa that his program would help her become self-sufficient by telling the emotionally vulnerable teen what she wanted to hear. Robinson's program provided daycare, job training, housing and a monthly stipend. The only catch was that she would be sent to Texas for job training for a few months. The program was demanding, he told her, and she would hardly have time to contact her family. That's how he explained away the four blank sheets of paper he wanted her to sign.

On January 9, 1985, Robinson -- who told Stasi that his name was John Osborne -- arrived at the home of Lisa's sister, where she had left Tiffany. "Osborne" never spoke to Kathy Klinginsmith, the sister, but left a very strong impression on the woman.

"I just remember I was so frightened," Klinginsmith testified at Robinson's trial. "I wanted to run after and get her, but I was too scared."

Klinginsmith's instincts were correct. The next day, Lisa phoned her mother-in-law and in a panicked voice, said "they" had told her she was an unfit mother and that Betty Stasi wanted custody of Tiffany. Betty denied the claim to her hysterical daughter-in-law, who was reconsidering her agreement with Robinson.

Her last words to her family were cryptic: "Here they come," she said as she disconnected the phone. Lisa's family never heard from her again and no clues to her whereabouts have ever been uncovered.

Two days later, Don and Helen Robinson returned to Chicago with their beautiful 4-month-old adopted baby girl. In exchange for an additional $3,000 fee to John's "lawyer," the couple received extremely convincing adoption papers with the forged signatures of two lawyers and a judge. John told them Tiffany's mother committed suicide in a domestic violence shelter. On the day Don and Helen took Tiffany home, Kathy Klinginsmith and Betty Stasi filed a missing persons report with law enforcement in Kansas and Missouri.

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