Sarah "Cindy" White

Sometimes the most difficult thing for me to do when it is a day in which I have decided to blog is to find a case in which catches my interests at the time.  That is always dependent on my mood of the day it seems. Today it seemed almost more difficult.  As a general rule I tend to make Sunday's my blog day.  But as we all know life sometimes gets in the way and so that does not always happen. I have not been as active here this month due to being out of town and also working on other things but I knew today I had to take the time to sit down and work on this.  If I get frustrated and just pick a case that does not grab me the day becomes extremely long and it seems I will procrastinate a lot so that is why I find it important to find one that strikes me as interesting.  Today after many searches to find that right case I finally settled on the case of Sarah White.  The truth is, there is not an extreme amount of information on this case and even still some of that in wholly inaccurate. This case has surely reminded me that you cannot trust everything you read on the Internet, but I will get into that later.

I came across this case as I decided to look up high profile cases in my state of Indiana. Some of course I knew already; some I have even blogged about and some just did not seem to capture me enough to give it the attention it probably deserves.  And then I found this one. Reading through articles and information I found myself often teetering not on the guilt or innocence of Sarah White but the circumstances surrounding the case.  It took Sarah White several years but she has openly admitted to setting the fire to the home of Charles and Carole Roberson on December 31, 1975.  The fire not only took the lives of Charles and Carole but also of their four children (ages 4-7).  The question no longer is if she did it but the debates seem to surround why she did it and if after forty years in prison if she should be released.  To answer some of those questions we must go back to at least 1975.

In the fall of that year Sarah White was released from a mental institution in Indianapolis Indiana after being a patient for a period of ten months.  According to her current attorney she had been placed there due to "involuntary paralysis" after suffering from emotional trauma.  Now, just what that trauma was is debated.  Most things you will find say that she had been sexually abused by her father and that had triggered her psychosis.  However, I found in the comments of at least one article someone who claimed to be Sarah's brother stating that the sexual abuse by her father was in fact not true.  Now, of course we cannot know that it was actually her brother, if what "he" said was true or even if he would truly know, but what we do know about it is that Sarah did not come out with this allegation until many years after her trial.  In another comment on the same article someone claimed that they lived near the area of the Roberson home when Sarah was living there and claims that sometime prior to the fire in which the family was killed Sarah had what seemed like a psychotic incident in which she placed herself in the middle of the road claiming she had been hit by a car.  The poster went on to claim that she continued this until EMT's and police arrived and determined she had in fact not been hit by a car.  Again, in fairness I must state that we cannot know who this person who posted really was or if the incident was true, although they claim records could be found through the police department. At any rate, after her release from the mental institution Sarah went to live with the Roberson family in nearby Greenwood Indiana. I found nothing on how she knew the couple or for certain the situation in which led them to move her into their home.  Some reports state that she was simply taken in by the family as she was just 18 at the time and both her parents were no longer living (although she had several siblings it seems), while other reports claim that she was brought into the home as a live in nanny to the Roberson children.  What happened after that, leading up to the murders seems to be much of a debate so at this point, at least for now, let's move on to the night of December 31, 1975.

Neighbors of the Roberson's would call 911 when they saw the fire at the home. It seems that they were the ones who also found Sarah White coming out of the home.  The claims were that she appeared to be hysterical and many stopped her from going back into the home to help rescue the family.  Sarah would be taken to the hospital to be treated for burn injuries to her arms.  From most accounts I found, those injuries seemed at least a bit severe.  She would tell investigators that she was sleeping on the couch (her 'bed" as she called it) when she was awakened when she discovered the Christmas tree was on fire. She claimed that she went to wake Charles and Carole Roberson and that she and Carole went to rescue the children.  She stated that she had climbed out of one of the back bedroom windows and expected Carole to start handing her children but that had never happened.

Of course an investigation into the fire and the deaths were launched.  It was determined that all six of the Roberson family members died from smoke inhalation and from carbon monoxide due to the fire.  An expert would later claim at Sarah's trial that the deaths would have occurred fairly quickly....2-3 minutes.  Fire investigators determined that the fire had been deliberately set and of course this put Sarah under suspicion since she was the only household member to survive.  I should point out here that again, although many of the things considered evidence of arson, especially during this time period have been disputed, the fact that Sarah set the fire, is no longer at question. She has openly admitted starting the fire many times (I have seen no retraction from that) over the past several years even if it did take her many years after her trial to do so.  So of course once investigators determined that the fire was a case of arson they looked more into Sarah.  

One of the biggest things that was looked into was the fact that just two days before the fire Sarah's grandmother's home had caught fire.  According to prosecutors a mere four hours before the Roberson's home was set ablaze Sarah had spoken to her sister in law, asking many questions about the fire surrounding her grandmother's home and the aid that was available to the family members, such as if organizations were helping with basic needs such as clothing and other items.   Prosecutors would claim, and apparently demonstrate at the trial, that Sarah's claim that the tree had caught fire, apparently spontaneously, could not have been true as it was a flame retardant tree and they showed that the tree would have melted before catching fire. They would also claim that although her arms were apparently burnt her clothing (pajamas as everyone was in bed) was extremely flammable and yet were not damaged in any way.  That pretty much covered the how, but what about the why?

Prosecutors would claim that the motive was simple, she was a jilted lover and took revenge out on Charles Roberson and his family.  How did they come to this conclusion?  It was said that nude pictures of Sarah and love letters to Charles from her were found in his wallet.  Now, I have to say I take issue with this evidence to come to the conclusion that the prosecution decided.  Sarah was apparently 18 at the time of the fire and Charles was 45.  At her trial it seems that her attorney's did not appear to address this issue or if they did they apparently seemed to contend that Charles and Sarah may in fact have been having an affair, as the prosecution claimed.  This just seems, for lack of a better term, icky, to me.  Something just does not feel right about this theory. But, to be fair, anything is possible so let's look at that issue.  If in fact they were having an affair then not only do you have the issues of adultery, but you have the issue of the major age difference and the fact that it was apparently obvious to everyone it seems that Sarah had emotional issues. Was this not addressed properly at trial because of the whole theory that we do not speak "ill" about the dead and to do so would put Charles Roberson in a bad light? Who knows.  But, at any rate, it seems that the jury believed at the very least Sarah had in fact started the fire that killed the family and she was convicted in May of 1976 on one count of arson and six counts of murder.  She was given a life sentence without parole for each count of murder and a term of 5-20 years on the arson charge which considering the other charges really did not matter. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections website she has no possible date for parole and he only hope would be clemency by the Governor to which her attorney's have been trying for at least the last twenty years without success.  She is currently the longest serving woman in the prison system in Indiana.  

It seems that at her 1987 clemency hearing she had for the first time admitted setting the fire.  I am unclear if it was also at this point that she brought up other issues. All I could really find was that she began "talking" "several years" after her trial and in 2015 the show Facing Evil with Candace DeLong appeared on Investigation Discovery.  Much of the information found on the Internet surrounds discussions of this show.  I admit that particular show is not one of my favorites and in fact, although I no longer have that station and only get it when there is a special, it was not one that I would watch or DVR much. This particular episode seems to have garnered a lot of criticism. For one, Sarah's family claims they were not spoken to about anything, especially concerning Sarah's allegations of abuse against her father.  It seems that even local reporters out of Indianapolis claim that the program was rather one sided and extremely sympathetic to Sarah White.  It was said (although, again I have not seen it) that DeLong agreed with Sarah White's attorney that she should be released from prison and has served her time. DeLong has apparently been quoted as claiming that Sarah White was the "fifth innocent child" of this tragedy.  It was on this program that Sarah told a "new" version of her story.  I say new, although it may not be as new as it seemed, but it definitely was not the story she gave investigators in 1976 or was presented at her trial, or her 1978 appeal, so I cannot say just when this story was first told, but it was apparently told to Candace DeLong.

It was in this program that Sarah admitted to the fire, claiming that she had indeed set the fire but that she had not intended for anyone to die, she simply wanted the house to be destroyed so that she would have ample reason to move out.  Ok, so why did she not just simply move out?  Well, according to Sarah she was unable to because not only had she been sexually abused by her father but also by Charles Roberson, and his wife, Carole.  She would claim that Charles Roberson forced her to watch pornographic movies and have sex in front of other men.  She would say that Carole Roberson was not only aware but participated in the actions.  She stated that sometime that winter she had tried to leave the home and that Charles Roberson locked her in a bedroom.  She claims that he soon returned with a kitten and that he ripped the head off saying that if she ever tried to leave that is what would happen to her also.  So, why then in 1976 when prosecutors were discussing the supposed "affair" between Roberson and Sarah did she never tell investigators (or her defense bring up) these allegations against, not just her father, but also the Robersons? Her simply answer was that she was too embarrassed to admit it then and in essence that time has made her braver.  Of course her current lawyers claim she had an inadequate defense at her trial.  I am unsure that they are completely wrong but sometimes when that is true the defendant has as much to blame for that as the lawyers do.  

So now, as I said earlier the issue is not whether Sarah White is guilty of the crime she was convicted of, but whether she has served her time and should be released.  Sadly it seems, at least in my opinion that there are those who want to alter facts to make the case seem more sympathetic to White. I found an article discussing this case in which they claimed that she was 16 when she committed the crime.... that is not true.   Sarah's birth date is listed as June of 1957 according to the Indiana Department of Corrections website.  To make her 16 makes her sound even more of a child.  That same article in fact showed a picture of fellow Rockville Corrections Inmate Sarah Jo Pender as being Sarah White.... Sarah Jo is much younger than Sarah White.  I see no reason to alter facts of the case to necessarily garner sympathy, not that I am necessarily sending any Sarah's way.  The simple facts of the case is surely to find her supporters as they are.  This was a young girl who obviously had mental issues (no matter what the reasons behind them were) who likely did not have adequate treatment (that is hard to get now, let alone in the 1970's) who moved in with a family who likely was ill equipped to deal with her. If we believe the poster about the incident in the middle of the street she does not sound as if she was well enough to have been released.  Then there was apparently and obviously something going on between Sarah and Charles Roberson it seems. Whether it was consensual or not is not likely something someone will ever know completely for sure but a relationship between an 18 year old girl and a 45 year old man is rarely ever a good thing. 

There are a few other realities to this case though too.  First, this woman did in fact murder six people, four of which who were children.  Secondly, she has spent all but a few months of her adult life in prison.  Who would she live with if she were released?  How she function?  It does not sound as if her family is ready to open their arms to her so does she just get released into society? As a family member of someone who has spent time in the Indiana Prison System I can tell you that post release support is NOT there.  It is not that there is not much, it is that there is NONE. I have seen a situation in which in order to be granted parolee certain conditions are to be met and when they were not the parolee was literally dropped off in the street.  I have also seen the fight it takes to get parole revoked in clear situations of violations.  No, Sarah White would not function in society.  I may have a different attitude if I felt she was getting mental health services in prison but that not only is rare but does not seem to be something that she is either getting or it is in fact not working by the sounds of things.  Was her sentence a harsh one? Yes and no.  There is a part of me that feels sorry for the 18 year old unstable girl that received 6 life sentences and wish that if her story of abuse by Charles Roberson, or even his wife were true that she had taken it out on them....   Then there is the part of me that says she is right where she needs to be and continue to stay there because she took the lives of four innocent children who in no way could have done anything to deserve their fate.  

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