Parents of slain woman's baby testify in serial killings trial
By Sue Miller Wiltz
OLATHE, Kansas (Court TV) -- Don and Helen Robinson testified Monday that they never suspected Don's trusted big brother of foul play in arranging their daughter's 1985 adoption.
But prosecutors allege that the adoption was a fraud perpetrated by John E. Robinson Sr. one day after he killed the baby's 19-year-old mother, Lisa Stasi.
Robinson is on trial in Kansas for first-degree murder in the death of Stasi, whose body has never been found. He is also charged with two counts of capital murder in the deaths of women whose bodies were found on his rural Kansas property. Once this trial is over, he will be tried for the murders of three other women in Missouri.
Last week, relatives testified that Lisa Stasi and her 4-month-old daughter, Tiffany, had disappeared with Robinson on Jan. 9, 1985. But Robinson told investigators at the time that she and her baby had left town with a man named Bill.
Monday, Don and Helen Robinson told the court that they flew from Chicago to Kansas City to pick up their baby daughter on Jan. 10, 1985. He said his older brother told him the baby's mother wanted to give her up for adoption when she was born but that a social worker had talked her out of it. Disowned by her family, he said, the young mother left her baby in a shelter, checked into a hotel and killed herself.
John Robinson also told him the baby's name was Tiffany, he said. "We named her Heather Tiffany Robinson," Don Robinson testified. "That was the name her mother had given her, so we wanted to keep that in some way."
During a break in testimony, the defendant walked over to his brother who briefly smiled and shook his extended hand. On cross-examination by the defense, he admitted he had been "fairly close" to his brother and had always looked up to him.
Helen Robinson testified that she and her husband had tried to get pregnant on their own. But because of medical problems, they began to look into adoption. They signed up with Catholic Charities and the Lutheran Church but were told they faced a long wait. Other agencies were too expensive or looking for parents of a different race.
Then she said she read an article in a parenting magazine that suggested they ask friends and relatives if they knew any attorneys who handled private adoptions. The couple said they raised the subject with the defendant at a 1983 family reunion. "He told us he knew of an attorney who handled adoptions and he'd get in touch with him for us," said Don Robinson.
In early 1984, the defendant called to let the couple know that an attorney by the name of Doug Wood was willing to work with them and that a baby should be ready in October. But, Don Robinson said, his brother also explained that he would serve as the go between them and the attorney because "Doug wasn't very easy to get along with."
At that point, the Robinsons borrowed $2,500 and wrote out a cashier's check to Robinson's business, Equi-II, to start the adoption process. The couple also fixed up a room in their house for the baby and put a crib on layaway. In September, Helen Robinson testified, she quit her job at Ace Hardware in anticipation of the baby's arrival.
Don Robinson said he never met Wood but that the attorney had called him once. "I did talk to somebody one time who said he was Doug Wood," he stated.
But October came and went with no news about a baby. "I don't remember the exact reasons but it fell through," Helen stated.
Then, in early January 1985, Robinson called. He said he had found a baby girl for them and they should come quickly to Kansas City to pick her up. He met them at the airport and drove them to the offices of Equi-II, where they signed what they thought were official adoption papers and gave him a second $3,000 check, made out to Wood. In return, Don Robinson said his brother handed them a wallet-sized photo of their new baby daughter. In court, Don Robinson identified the photo as one that Stasi's relatives previously said was Tiffany Stasi.
From there, they drove to the Robinson home, then in Stanley, Kansas, where Robinsons wife, Nancy, and the rest of the family were waiting. They held a joyous family reunion, taking lots of photos of the baby, and left the next afternoon.
That summer, Don Robinson said he received copies of the adoption papers in the mail. He identified the papers in court and confirmed that he and his wife had signed them.
Upon learning in the summer of 2000 that his brother had been charged with capital murder, Don Robinson said he was in "total shock. Theres no way I would have expected that."
His family would soon become even more intimately involved in the case than they ever imagined. "My daughter looked it up on the Internet" at the time of his arrest, Helen testified. "She showed me the missing person's report related to herself and Lisa Stasi."
At first, Helen Robinson said she didn't believe the Web site pictures of Tiffany Stasi were actually her daughter. But the next morning, when Heather was asleep, she and her husband went through her baby album and discovered she was wearing the same outfit and that both pictures appeared to be a part of the same series. She said her adopted daughter, now 18, still lives with them in the Chicago area.
A fingerprint examiner also took the stand Monday to confirm that prints taken from Tiffany Stasi at the time of her birth in September 1984 matched those of Heather Robinson.
Three other witnesses -- including Doug Wood, who is up for reelection as Johnson County commissioner, a district judge and another attorney -- briefly took the stand and said their signatures on Heather Robinsons adoption papers had been forged. Wood also said that while he had briefly rented office space to Robinson, he had never helped him with any adoptions nor accepted any money.
A former correspondent for Newsweek and People Weekly, Sue Miller Wiltz is currently writing a book about Robinson for Pinnacle Books. She is covering the trial for Courttv.com.