Robin Lee Row

We all know that not all killers are apprehended right away. Sometimes one has to wait for more forensic advances to get very far despite any suspicions one may have. And then there are the times were a person apparently becomes too confident in the fact that they have gotten away with a murder that they continue to do so to the point it becomes one question too many. Such is the case of Robin Lee Row. Not only did she get “sloppy” and not cover her tracks appropriately in 1992 but it brought even more questions and a bigger investigation into other things that happened in Robin Lee Row's past.

In 1976 Robin was about nineteen years old when her fifteen month old daughter, Christina died while they were living in New Hampshire. At the time of her death it was listed as SIDS. If Christina were to die today it is likely that a more extensive medical examination of her body would occur considering that while it is not impossible, it is more uncommon for a child of this age to die of SIDS. The prime time for a child to suffer from SIDS is between the ages of four and six months and most parent are told the risk greatly reduces once the child is a year old, which obviously Christina had surpassed. Again though, as I said it is not impossible and today a child who dies over the age of one without any medical explanation is not called SIDS, but called SUIDS (sudden unexplained infant death of a child), but it is not a common occurrence. At any rate Robin apparently moved on.

By 1980 Robin was living in California with her six year old son, Keith. They were living in a cabin and there had been a fire. The cause of the fire was a result of a portable heater that ignited the blanket that surrounded Keith. It is not clear when all the information on the investigation was discovered so I cannot tell you if investigators suspected Robin was involved in setting the fire that killed her son and either did not have enough proof or a district attorney refused to file charges. But, years later it was said that evidence showed that the door had been locked and that the heater was placed directly against the bed and the blanket. At the time of his death it was apparently ruled an accident and Robin got a $28,000 settlement from a life insurance policy.

By 1983 Robin had given birth to two more children, Joshua and Tabitha Cornellier. Some information states that they were a product of a marriage although I cannot find the name of the father. There was nothing in any of the research I found that even discussed their father being involved not just in their lives but also in any court proceedings that would follow. But to be fair I also never heard anything about Christina or Keith's father either or even their last names. It is also possible that Cornellier may have been Robin's maiden name but I cannot be certain. There is also indication that while Joshua and Tabitha did not carry the Row name, that Randy Row, Robin's next husband was their father, but again that is unclear.

What is clear is that Robin and Randy would eventually marry but by February of 1992 they were separated and while Robin, and most of her belongings were no longer in the duplex the couple shared in Boise, Idaho, the children and Randy still lived there. Joshua was now ten and Tabitha was eight years old. Robin was staying with her friend, Joan McHugh, apparently sleeping on her couch as she worked at the local YMCA and most of her belongings were in storage.

In the early morning hours of February 10, 1992 the duplex in which Randy and the children lived caught fire. It seemed rather apparently that the fire had began on the first floor while the occupants slept upstairs, and it was rather quickly determined that it was intentionally set. Investigators determined that a liquid accelerant was used and that the smoke alarm had been disabled. Randy and both children would die from smoke inhalation from the fire. Of course the investigators wanted to talk to Robin. They did not have to go too far to find her considering she had woken Joan McHugh up that morning telling her that she had a bad feeling about something going on at her house and the two had gone to the scene. According to Joan as they were driving all they could see were many emergency lights but no indication as to what was going on before Robin proclaimed to Joan that it must be a fire, although Joan states they were not close enough to even see any smoke yet.

Investigators were immediately suspicious of Robin due to a number of things, her demeanor, her history and from their investigation. They would learn that Robin had told many of her family and friends that Randy was physically abusive to her and had included things such as beatings, kidnapping and even rape. She apparently used this as her reasoning for the separation although it seems that no one had ever witnessed this. Of course if this were true the biggest witnesses would have likely been the children, but they too were no longer living. Within a short period investigators got a search warrant for not just the crime scene but also Robin's car, her storage unit and Joan McHughes' home. While initially they found little to arrest Robin for murder, they did quickly determine that she had been embezzling money from the YMCA where she worked.

Three days after Randy and the children died Robin was arrested and charged with grand theft. Her bail was set but apparently it was either too high for anyone to afford or no one would pay it, so she remained in jail. Reports say that while she was there Joan McHughes began working with investigators and agreed to tape any telephone calls she received from Robin. However, whether she recorded them or the jail did as protocol is unclear at the time. Joan did agree to work with investigators in getting Robin to talk about the night of the fire.

Joan had apparently already told authorities about the strange way Robin had woke her up the morning of the fire but they needed way more than that. So, investigators told Joan to tell Robin that sometime during the night she had walked downstairs and had not seen Robin asleep on the couch where she said she was and Joan wondered where she was. In the first phone call in which this was said Robin told Joan she could not remember where she was. However, Joan tried again and this time Robin would claim that she had been out in her car talking to her psychiatrist. Several red flags would revolve around this story. First, if Robin had her own car why did she need to wake Joan up in the middle of the night when she had a “terrible feeling” something was going on at her house and secondly, what was she doing talking to a psychiatrist on the phone at nearly three in the morning? Joan would point out to her that she was still obviously a suspect in the murders of her husband and children and that she should tell the authorities about talking to her psychiatrist as that would establish an alibi for her. Robin refused to tell Joan, let alone authorities the name of the so called psychiatrist she was talking to.

Finally on March 23, 1992 investigators believed they had enough to charge Robin with the murders and the arson and did so at the jail where she remained on the grand theft charges. Her trial would begin in January of 1993 and last through until March. She was charged with three counts of first degree murder and an additional charge for arson. For the murders the prosecution was seeking the death penalty.

My research did not give a lot of information about the trial itself as far as what evidence that was presented aside from the fact that investigators had determined that Robin had obtained over $270,000 in insurance on the three victims prior to the murders. The last had been obtained just a few weeks before. While even if Robin's claims of abuse by Randy were to be proven true, it seems it would have had little impact on the murders themselves but it does appear that either the prosecution or the defense brought this up for their own reasons. The prosecution wanted to show that Robin had attempted to make people believe at least during the separation that Randy had been abusive to her, causing her to leave, and in addition possibly to tarnish his image to the point that she may have attempted to divert attention on her after the murders. It obviously did not work. The prosecution apparently had several witnesses who would attest they had never seen Randy be abusive toward Robin, or at least in the way she had described. But, keep in mind, even if the abuse stories were true, there was never any claims against the children, nor was Robin in immediate danger of abuse at the time of the murders. The jail house tapes were made and the prosecution was sure to point out that despite her claims to Joan McHughes that she was talking to her psychiatrist, she refused to name him and apparently the defense either did not address it at all or they too were not given a name.

Obviously with all of this the jury did not seem to believe that Robin was innocent. They found her guilty on all charges. In December of 1993 Robin Row was given three death sentences for the murders with an additional twenty years (to be served concurrently, meaning at the same time) for the arson. The judge called her a pathological liar at sentencing. She became, and apparently remains the only woman on Idaho death row. Her appeal was dismissed in August of 2011 and while it seemed to be the last of her state appeals it seems that she may have federal appeals left, but I am uncertain of that. By December of 2013 she had served the sentence for the arson but it was little consultation considering the death sentences remained.

Authorities have never charged her in the deaths of her other two children. It has been said that after all this time it would be nearly impossible to prove that her daughter, Christina died from anything other than SIDS despite suspicions. But, Idaho authorities believe that there is enough proof to charge her in California for the death of her son Keith. However, at least at this point there is no reason to do so. First, of course she's serving her time in Idaho and awaiting death there. While I have little information about what the situation is with the death penalty in Idaho is at the current time, California has halted executions at this time and have battled for nearly a decade on the legalities of things. It appears to be smarter to leave things as they are now and if by some slim chance Robin would be granted an appeal that could result in a possible release in Idaho then California could charge and hold her. The chances of that happening are slim.  


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