Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 21, 2008

Author fascinated by the Robison case

'Other 7-year-old girl' haunts Mardi Link

By VANESSA McCRAY

TRAVERSE CITY -- July 1968 found a 7-year-old Mardi Link seated in the back of her family's car, headed north for a camping trip.

She already wore her bathing suit underneath her clothes in anticipation of the vacation. Her father listened to a Detroit Tigers game on the radio. Then, a stop in the sportscast. The voice that interrupted announced the gruesome discovery of six bodies in a bullet-ridden cabin near Good Hart. The victims: A downstate family, from Lathrup Village, summering in northern Michigan. Among the dead was daughter Susan Clair Robison, age 7.

"It just really stuck with me that this other 7-year-old girl who I had never met, would never meet, was killed doing the exact same thing I was," Link said.

The 1968 unsolved slayings of Richard and Shirley Robison and their four children lurked in the back of Link's mind through journalism school at Michigan State University and when she moved out east for a newspaper reporting job. Link periodically checked up on the case, its trail cold from the start because the victims weren't found for nearly a month.

"(I) always had this folder of information that I was slowly adding to," she said.

When Link moved to Traverse City in 1990, she continued to keep tabs on the murders. And now, 40 years after the crime that made such an impression on her as a young girl, Link authored a book aimed at telling the true story of the murders and the investigation. The upcoming "When Evil Came to Good Hart: An Up North Michigan Cold Case" will be published by The University of Michigan Press in hardcover and paperback editions.

Link's book is the latest volume inspired by the Robison murders. James Pecora of Lansing released "Dead End" in 2006 and Judith Guest penned 2004's suspense novel "The Tarnished Eye."

This is Link's first "book-length work," but she didn't originally plan on turning her piles of personal research into a book. The self-proclaimed Court TV addict pitched the project to an editor through a "blind e-mail."

"She responded (and) voila, I had a book contract," Link said.

She filed Freedom of Information Act requests, obtained files from Emmet County and the Michigan State Police and interviewed Good Hart locals. The publisher's approval came in March 2007 and by November, Link turned in the book.

"I was trying to tell, from various angles, what really happened," she said. "The main character of the book is really the investigation."

Many aspects of the case intrigued her. Richard Robison, an advertising man and publisher of the arts magazine Impresario, was "complex" and a "grandiose thinker" with "dogmatic opinions about art," Link said.

The Detroit Free Press reported in 1970 that Robison's advertising agency swindled thousands of dollars from its top client Delta Faucet. That news story exposed other money problems and also told how Robison "promoted" a $100 million business venture, though specifics of the plan were flimsy. Link details the convoluted money mysteries in a chapter called "Following the Money."

Armchair detectives, authors and law enforcement officials mulled numerous theories about who killed the family. Link believes Robison's business associate Joseph Scolaro committed the murders alone or with hired help.

She shares her suspicion of Scolaro's guilt with police investigators. Emmet County Sheriff Pete Wallin credits Link for producing "one of the best" accounts of the homicides.

"It's probably the most factual one that I've seen (on) the investigation," Wallin said.

Link, who for six years edited the book review magazine ForeWord based in Traverse City, is planning her second book. It will examine the century-old mystery of a murdered nun in Isadore, located in Leelanau County.

But the Robison case continues to haunt, and its resolution remains elusive.

"The idea that it was an entire family is just devastating. As I was working on this book they became real people to me," Link said.

The author has scheduled several area appearances to promote the book, to be released by mid-July. Events include a 7 to 9 p.m. July 24 visit at Horizon Books in Traverse City and a 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 7 stop at McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey. Lansing's Pecora also will be at McLean & Eakin Monday.