Overland Park People who knew John E. Robinson Sr. before he became a suspect in five murders say he was active in many community events, although he often left those groups in a lurch by getting into legal trouble.
At different times in the 1970s and early 1980s, Robinson was a Scout master, a church elder, a homes association leader, volleyball referee and T-ball coach. He even wore a Santa Claus suit and handed out treats to children in his neighborhood.
"He was quite convincing in the roles he undertook," said Scott Davis, a former neighbor in the Stanley community of Overland Park, who became a Robinson enemy after Davis' father entered into a bad business deal with him. "Call it yin and yang, call it Jekyll and Hyde or whatever. ... He was a promoter."
Robinson, 56, is charged with two counts of capital murder in Kansas and three counts of first-degree murder in Missouri in the deaths of five women found in barrels in June. Two bodies were found on Robinson's property near La Cygne, Kan., and three more were found in barrels in a Raymore, Mo., storage locker.
Authorities have said Robinson trolled the Internet for sex under the name "slavemaster," where he may have met some of his victims, though officials have also suggested financial motives were involved.
Robinson's Kansas preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 2. He is being held on $5 million bond.
Robinson tried to use his civic activities to his advantage when he was charged in court with illegal business practices. When Robinson faced charges in 1985 in Clay County, Mo., Circuit Court for allegedly violating his probation on an embezzling conviction, he paid a private organization, the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, to prepare a booklet for the judge detailing his volunteer work.
The report detailed Robinson's work with the Boy Scouts as a Cub master and a Scout master at least four times in the 1970s. But Robinson, an Eagle Scout, was removed as Cub master in 1981 because he had pleaded guilty to stealing from an employer, Guy's Foods in Liberty.
The report also noted that Robinson also taught Sunday school and helped organize the Presbyterian Church of Stanley in the late 1970s. He was an elder at the church from 1979 to 1980.
None of that impressed Clay County Circuit Judge John Hutcherson, who withdrew Robinson's probation because of allegations he had another side -- using prostitutes, carrying a handgun and possibly being involved in the disappearance of a young mother, Lisa Stasi, and her baby, Tiffany, according to court records. Hutcherson's 1985 ruling was reversed on appeal. Another theft conviction in Kansas soon put Robinson behind bars for six years.
'Lawyer had no inkling'
One of Robinson's lawyers at the time, Bruce Houdek, knew his client had a long history of swindling employers and business associates. But he said Robinson appeared to be "a regular guy" in his personal life.
"I never had any inkling ... that he was doing anything but trying to help people" in his volunteer endeavors, Houdek said.
Robinson also was active in the Sunflower Officials Assn. as a referee while his children played volleyball, baseball and basketball. By the mid-1980s, he led the association's volleyball officials, assigning referees to games at area schools.
Former association commissioner Joe Ensminger said Robinson "left me in quite a lurch" when he went to a Kansas prison in 1987 without telling the association.
"All of a sudden he's not available, and we can't find him," Ensminger said. "It was kind of funny. I thought he'd be available any day."
At the time Robinson also was head of the homes association in the Stanley neighborhood of Overland Park, where he served as "unofficial caretaker" of the neighborhood pond and horse trails, Davis said. And in 1977, Robinson joined the board of directors of the Blue Valley Sheltered Workshop in Kansas City and pledged to raise $1 million to help developmentally disabled people.
"He was a young guy with a lot of drive, so we figured: We'll just make him board president," said Paul Reiff, former executive director of the workshop. But Robinson used Reiff's name at city hall to have himself named "Man of the Year" at a luncheon of the Kansas City Area Association of Sheltered Workshops. Reiff was oblivious to the ploy until Robinson rose to accept a plaque Robinson had ordered.
When the ruse was revealed, Robinson resigned from the workshop board, leaving Reiff to mend relationships with other agencies and civic groups. "I walked the streets of Kansas City for days, trying to straighten out that mess," he recalled.
Family bewildered, too
Robinson's apparent double life has left everyone bewildered, especially his own family.
After authorities discovered the five female bodies in barrels last month, an attorney for Robinson's wife and children issued a statement on their behalf. "We, as a family, have followed the events of the last week in horror and dismay along with each of you," their statement read. Those events included Robinson's arrest on battery charges linked to alleged sadomasochistic encounters with women who met Robinson through his "Slavemaster" presence on the Internet.
According to his family: "We do not know the person whom we have read and heard about on TV."