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
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
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
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
"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