A serial killer was exposed after police discovered the bodies of multiple women at his home, connecting him to several missing persons cases in the area surrounding Kansas City, Missouri, throughout the 1980s and ’90s. But the most shocking element in the case was not the murders themselves, but rather the story of one of the survivors.
John Robinson was arrested in 2000 for sexual assault, after which the truth was revealed that he had given the infant daughter of one of his victims to his brother, who had raised the child without any idea of her true roots. The arrest shook Robinson’s family as the secrets of his past began to unravel.
For Heather Tiffany Robinson, then 15, the discovery led to years of confusion, anger, grief and doubt as she began trying to reconcile the life she should have had with the one she had been living.
“When I heard that John had been arrested … I remember [my adoptive mother] running up and down the stairs panicking. ‘How could he do this to us? We’re going to go to jail. This is horrible. Our lives are over,'” Heather Robinson told ABC’s “20/20.”
“That was the first time I ever saw my dad cry.”
In 1985, John Robinson approached his brother, Donald, and sister-in-law with the news that he had found a baby for adoption. At that point, Donald Robinson and his wife had been trying to conceive for years and had begun considering other options around that time. Robinson told them that a woman had killed herself and that her child was now available, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Former Johnson County, Kansas, District Attorney Paul Morrison told ABC that Robinson extorted his brother for several thousand dollars in “fees” and provided forged adoption documents.
And then, one day, Robinson showed up with a baby in his arms.
The little girl’s name was Tiffany, but the couple renamed her Heather Tiffany Robinson and raised her for the next fifteen years, believing that she was legally theirs.
“All the evidence is pointing toward the fact that [Robinson’s brother] did not know, and I still believe that’s the case,” Morrison told the Chicago Tribune in 2000.
However, behind the falsified story of Heather Tiffany Robinson’s adoption lurked the true story of Tiffany Stasi’s kidnapping.
After a fight with her husband in 1984, Alabama native Lisa Stasi took her daughter with her to the Hope House, a women’s shelter not far from Kansas City. There, the 19-year-old mother met John Robinson, who appeared at the house promoting a program supposedly designed to help downtrodden women get back on their feet and find work, according to ABC.
“He had gone to several of these shelters and hospitals telling social workers about this program that he had,” Morrison told the network.
The scam worked, and Stasi agreed to meet with Robinson, who promised her he could secure a job for her in Texas, as the Chicago Tribune reported. On the way to the meeting, Stasi stopped to talk with her sister-in-law, Kathy Klinginsmith, who felt there was something off about Robinson and began to worry.
She was the last person to see Lisa Stasi alive.
It’s still not known how many hours passed between Stasi’s death and the moment Robinson showed up to deliver baby Tiffany to his brother’s home.
“Literally that next day, his brother and wife come into town, and there’s John Robinson — without Lisa Stasi of course — with that baby,” Morrison told ABC. “There’s a family picture that was taken that day of him with a big grin on his face, bouncing that baby on his knee, with all the other family.
“Every time I look at that picture I’m thinking like, ‘What’s he thinking? Was it an hour before he killed your mom? Was it four hours before? Was it the day before?’ It couldn’t have been very long. And there he is, grinning like a Cheshire cat for that picture.”
As the years passed, Lisa Stasi’s family eventually came to accept that she was dead.
“We were just hoping that someday we would find the baby,” Klinginsmith told the Chicago Tribune. “I think we always thought deep down that something terrible had happened to Lisa, but we always hoped that the baby was OK.”
Meanwhile, Heather Robinson was growing up with a family that loved her. Although ignorant of her past, Robinson still said that she sometimes felt uneasy around her “Uncle” John.
“[John Robinson] always gave me this really weird, off-putting feeling in the pit of my stomach,” she told ABC. “It’s like walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night while you know someone is behind you, approaching you closer and closer.”
On more than one occasion he caused her to feel uncomfortable, but she never imagined the depth to which he had deceived his family.
When police went to Robinson’s property in Olathe, Kansas in 2000, they planned to charge him with two counts of sexual assault following abusive relationships he had developed with multiple women in the late 1990s. At the house, authorities discovered the remains of two victims in large barrels on the property. According to the Chicago Tribune, three more barrels containing three more victims were found in a storage unit belonging to Robinson just two days later.
He was eventually charged with and convicted of eight murders, including that of Lisa Stasi. Stasi’s remains, however, were never found.
Heather and her parents were horrified. Feeling that her life had been built on lies, the teenager did her best to hide from media attention and the sudden onslaught of painful realities.
The Robinsons feared they would lose their daughter after Heather’s biological family came forward, seeking a relationship with her.
“That was the whole problem — that we had was the possibility of losing you,” Donald Robinson told her in a “20/20” interview. The 15-year-old chose to remain with her adoptive family during the years that followed, and at age 18, after several years of sorting through the emotional turmoil, grief and identity confusion that John Robinson had caused her, she was legally adopted by the parents who had raised her as their own.
She decided not to pursue a relationship with her biological father, Carl Stasi, even though Stasi desperately wanted the chance to connect with his daughter.
“It’s my daughter. I want to meet my daughter. My daughter’s alive. I have a right to see her, and I want to see her,” he told ABC. But the connection proved too painful for Robinson, who refused Stasi’s requests.
She did establish a relationship with her grandmother, Pat Sylvester, who always felt that taking Heather away from the home she had known and loved would only cause more damage to an already devastated girl.
“If our granddaughter is safe and happy and these people have nothing to do with Lisa’s disappearance, and they’ve taken care of this child, we don’t want to take her away,” Sylvester said. “But we want her to know, that we’re her family and we love her.”
The relationship would ultimately become a source of healing for Heather Robinson, who said that her grandmother encouraged her to forgive her “uncle” and let go of the anger that was tearing her apart.
“She taught me to not have hate in my heart and to forgive John … because she did,” Heather Robinson said. “I never could understand, and unfortunately, I didn’t understand it until after she died, so I never got to have that conversation with her.”
Even though she has found healing in forgiveness, Robinson says she wants closure and believes she won’t be able to achieve it until she is able to find her mother’s remains. She says she will never stop searching for answers.
“Closure is knowing exactly what happened, and peace is finally being able to definitively say Lisa was a person, this is what they did to her, this is where she is and then to be able to finally move on with my life.”
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