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This summer, as always, the road between Petoskey and Mackinac City will be jammed with cars filled with vacationers and residents talking about the weather and the temperature of the water. However, 50 years ago, the summer’s topic of conversation was the murder of the Robison family, who were vacationing near Good Hart, Michigan.
The 50th anniversary opens up that ugly wound on the community and Mardi Link, a Traverse City author, has added new information to “When Evil Came to Good Hart,” her best-selling 2008 book on the murders.
Link said the new edition delves deeper into the “officially unsolved” murder — nobody has been convicted of the crime. Michigan State Police detectives put together a solid case implicating Joseph Scolaro III, the business partner of Richard Robison, but without the weapons and any fingerprints, or other evidence to tie Scolaro to the scene, the local prosecutor and later the Oakland County prosecutor did not bring charges.
Link recalls the day she was doing an interview on a Traverse City radio station when she received an on-air telephone call from the detective who had investigated the crime.
“I had tried to locate him for an interview him for the book, but couldn’t locate him in the pre-Google days,” she said. “Here he was living in my own hometown.”
Link and the investigator met for coffee and he told her an incredible story from 1974 that seemed to point to Scolaro as the killer. The investigator told her that he had just come in from fishing and was putting the boat away when his son received a phone call from a man wanting to talk to the retired detective. His son offered to go get his dad, but the caller told him not to bother but to tell him “it was Joe and he was right.”
The phone call might not have meant anything, if it wasn’t for the peculiar coincidence that Scolaro committed suicide shortly after the phone call.
“Within one hour of that phone call, Joe killed himself,” Link said When the family was murdered July 25, 1968, a full month passed before the bodies were discovered, and the advanced decomposition left little evidence. Scolaro soon became the primary suspect, because he at one time owned both types of guns used in the murders and failed two lie detector tests. Police suspected the murders were to cover up embezzling.
A letter Scolaro left behind for his mother to find after his suicide clearly stated, “I am a liar but not a murderer.”
Link said the murder investigation and prosecution might have been handled differently today, but she believes that it is not fair for anyone to stand in judgment 50 years later.
At the time of the murders, serial killer John Norman Collins came under scrutiny after it was revealed he knew one of the Robison children. Collins was convicted in 1970 of killing several young women — mostly college students in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area in the late 1960s. He is serving a life sentence.
Noted author Judith Guest fictionalized that scenario in her 2004 book, “The Tarnished Eye.”
Following publication of the book “When Evil Came to Good Hart,” Link wrote two additional crime stories, “Isadora’s Secret,” and “Wicked Takes the Witness Stand.” She also wrote two memoirs, “Bootstrapper,” about being a single mom in the north country, and “Drummond Girls,” about lasting friendships.
She is researching another crime topic which she hopes to turn into a book, and you can listen to her dramatic podcast about the murders on iTunes — search “Up North Cold Case.”
Mardi Link presents the 10th anniversary edition of “When Evil Came to Good Hart” Tuesday, June 5, 7 p.m.
1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos, MI 48864 In Meridian Mall Free www.schulerbooks.com
“Robison Family - 50th Year Forum”
Monday, June 25, 6:30 p.m. CTAC Civic Theater Sponsored by Petoskey District Library 461 E. Mitchell St. Petoskey, MI www.mardilink.com/events