Mysteries of Northern Michigan: Good Hart Robison Family Murders

It’s widely considered the most notorious crime in Northern Michigan’s history. A family of six — all found murdered in their Emmet County cottage.

It’s been 46 years since, and still, the Robison family murders are unsolved.

Evan Dean takes us through the many twists and turns of this case in Part 3 of our special series: Mysteries of Northern Michigan.

“It kind of seems like a place apart,” said author Mardi Link.

A picturesque town along the shore of Lake Michigan. “I know Northern Michigan is beautiful, but it’s particularly beautiful.”

An Emmet County getaway spot, known for it’s beauty, but also made famous by a tragedy that happened decades ago.

Sheriff Pete Wallin said, “even to this day, it’s hard to imagine some this horrendous could have happen in the sleepy little town like Good Hart.”

It was the summer of 1968. A well-to-do family from Oakland County was spending their summer at a vacation home, that once sat right along this empty property.

But in July, the Robison’s summer cottage turned into the scene of a gruesome mass murder.

“It was a pretty grisly scene. They had been shot and the young daughter had been bludgeoned to death.”

All six members of the Robison family — Richard and Shirley, and their four kids, Ritchie, Gary, Randy and Susan — all found dead.

Even more horrific, their bodies weren’t discovered until weeks after they were murdered. “They were badly deteriorated. It was a pretty ugly scene.”

“Who would do such a brutal crime?” Mardi asks. “And what could the motive possibly be?”

The local deputies weren’t used to cases like this. They quickly called in the Michigan State Police.

“It obviously wasn’t a murder-suicide, they knew that. So they started looking at the neighbors. There was a tree trimmer that had been hired to trim their trees. They interviewed him and all his helpers. I know they just about emptied any halfway house, mental institution, they interviewed people at the state hospital.”

But all the while, police were actually starting to zero in on one man. “Their person of interest at the time was Mr. Robison’s business partner, Mr. Scolaro,” explained Sheriff Wallin. 

This downstate man, Joe Scolaro, who worked as a salesman for Richard Robison’s advertising company. The evidence against him quickly started piling up. “There’s time lapses in his alibi.”

“It looked like Richard had just discovered that Joe had been stealing money from the company,” said Mardi.

Wallin states, “appears to have been some embezzling. There was like $60,000 missing.”

And that’s not all investigators uncovered as they dug deeper into Joe Scolaro.

“He was also an amateur marksman,” Mardi explained. “He would travel around the state of Michigan and compete in trap shooting events and win.”

“They went to a firing range where Mr. Scolaro used to shoot,” Sheriff Wallin said. “And they found 22 shell casings at the range that matched the ones at the scene of the crime.”

After a 15-month investigation, police presented their case against Joe Scolaro to the Emmet County prosecutor. But weeks went by, and an arrest warrant was never issued.

“There was quite a bit of evidence at the time, but had they had the murder weapon and few more fingerprints, I think the prosecutor, Mr. Noggle, would’ve issued warrants.”

Joe Scolaro was a free man. It looked like the Robison family murders would go unsolved. But a few years later, a break in the case.

“An ambitious prosecutor down in Oakland County decided, hey the victims were from here. Maybe I can get an indictment,” said Mardi. 

And they did. In March of 1973, Joe Scolaro was to be arrested and charged with murdering the Robison’s. But Joe had learned of the impending charges. And when police went to arrest him — a stunning discovery.

“The officers went in and they found him dead by his own hand. He had shot himself in the head with a Beretta handgun.”

The prime suspect in the Robison family murders had taken his own life. And left behind, was a lengthy suicide note.

Sheriff Wallin explained, “he says I’m a liar and a cheat but I didn’t kill the Robison’s.” “Do you believe what he said?” “He failed polygraphs. He says he’s a liar and a cheat and a phony. You figure it out.”

Almost 41 years have passed. New technology has emerged. Evidence has been re-tested for DNA, but it hasn’t helped.

And more than four decades after their deaths, the Robison family murders are still unsolved.

“The case continues to be open. Maybe someday the murder weapon will get discovered. Until that time. It’ll stay open. And it may remain a mystery for years to come.”

And for some, one big questions still remains.

“I’ve always questioned — a family of six, how one person could do it. The question is — did he do it himself, or was there somebody involved with him. That’s the question.”