Missing mother found dead

Published Jul. 4, 1998|Updated Sep. 13, 2005

At 3 a.m. Friday, in the interrogation room of the small Texas jail, the 15-year-old girl spilled out the story of how she helped kill her mother.

One by one, Valessa Robinson, her boyfriend, Adam William Davis, and Jon Michael Whispel described how they used a syringe and a knife to kill Valessa's mother, Vicki Robinson, said Hillsborough sheriff's detectives.

The teens told the two detectives where they had left her body.

Six hours later, back in Tampa, authorities began searching woods west of Sheldon Road, less than 5 miles from the Carrollwood house where Vicki Robinson had lived. They quickly found her body at the end of a dirt road about a mile into the woods.

"It's horrible," said Hillsborough spokeswoman Debbie Carter. "It's pathetic to think this could happen, that a child could murder her own mother."

Robinson's friends and family struggled Friday to come to terms with her death.

"It's hard to forgive anybody at this point," said Vicki Robinson's brother, Tom Klug. "The family's been torn apart."

Accompanied by detectives, Valessa Robinson returned Friday night to Tampa on a commercial flight. She was listed as a missing or endangered runaway by authorities, so they needed little paperwork to return her to Tampa, where she was charged with first-degree murder in her mother's death.

Dressed in a V-neck T-shirt and bell-bottom jeans, Valessa did not speak as she was walked to a cruiser for the trip to the county's juvenile assesment center. When a reporter shouted, "Valessa, are you sorry?" she nodded yes.

Davis and Whispel, both 19, are also expected to be charged with first-degree murder. They were wanted on warrants for stealing Robinson's van and remain in a west Texas jail awaiting transfer to Tampa in a few days. If convicted of her murder, they could face the death penalty. Such a punishment, however, is unlikely for a 15-year-old. Both the Florida and the U.S. supreme courts have ruled that a defendant who was 15 at the time a murder was committed is too young to be executed.

Vicki Robinson, a 49-year-old real estate agent and divorced mother of two girls, was last seen early Saturday at her home. Her boyfriend, Jim Englert, reported her missing Saturday evening after she failed to call him for a planned trip to the beach that afternoon. Officials believe Robinson was killed between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Saturday. The three teens were seen several times in Tampa over the next couple of days: at a Carrollwood coffee shop, a pizza restaurant in Town 'N Country, an Ybor City tattoo parlor.

Valessa Robinson, Davis and Whispel quickly left town when police started to look for them. They were captured Thursday after a high-speed chase on a Texas highway. Police had tracked them by purchases they made with Vicki Robinson's credit cards.

Detectives John Marsicano and James Iverson flew to Texas late Thursday to interview the three teens. Davis and Whispel, who are being held at the Pecos County Jail in Fort Stockton, and Valessa Robinson, who was in juvenile detention in Odessa, immediately began talking about the crime.

"They were very eager to tell us what happened," said Hillsborough sheriff's Capt. Rocky Rodriguez.

Officials would not say how Vicki Robinson was killed, but said cement was not used in the crime. The teens had been spotted buying cement at a Tampa hardware store.

Robinson's body was taken to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy.

Davis and Whispel refused an attorney and waived their extradition rights at a special hearing at the Pecos County Jail on Friday, Pecos Sheriff Bruce Wilson said. Wilson refused to allow reporters to attend.

Vicki Robinson's 1994 Nissan Quest minivan was impounded at a garage at the Sheriff's Office in Fort Stockton. The tires were shredded from shots fired by deputies during the chase, a bullet hole was visible in the front quarter panel, and the rear end was dented.

A number of items remained inside: an old-fashioned lawn edger, a hoe, a brown leather suitcase, a cooler, a keyboard, an electric guitar case, a copy of The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, a partly eaten loaf of bread, a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, a bag of Gummi bears.

In Tampa, Hillsborough sheriff's detectives searched for evidence at Robinson's home at 4221 Cartnal Ave.

Hillsborough Deputy Dale Russell, who works as a community resource officer in the neighborhood, said that a crime like this once was rare, but it's important for people to realize it can happen to anyone.

"It's unfortunate that things have gotten this way, but it seems like every time you pick up the newspaper or turn on the television you see something like this or something similar," Russell said.

Paul Mones, who has studied parricide and is the author of When a Child Kills, said about 300 children kill their parents each year in the United States. About 3,000 parents kill their children each year.

"Children have much more to be afraid of than parents do of their children killing them," Mones said in a phone interview from Portland, Ore.

About 70 percent of the parricide cases are boys who kill their fathers as a result of physical abuse. It is rare that a girl would participate in the killing of her mother, Mones said.

"We are fascinated because this represents an ultimate rebellion of a teenager," Mones said. "We believe that kids should love and honor their parents, and this is the underbelly of family life."

_ Times staff writers Valerie Q. Carino, Linda Chion-Kinney, Rick Gershman, Tim Grant and Angela Moore and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Valessa Robinson, 15

A sophomore at Sickles High School in northwest Hillsborough, she lived with her mother, Vicki, and sister Michelle, 17, in a $186,000 Carrollwood home owned by her grand-parents. Michelle had gone to St. Louis to spend the summer with her father, Charles Robinson. Vicki and Charles Robinson divorced in 1994.

Valessa started dating Adam Davis after a classmate introduced the couple a year ago. She worked at a McDonald's in Carrollwood and was last seen by her boss at midnight June 26 when she came in to pick up her paycheck. Friends said Valessa was a regular at Tampa rave clubs, including Cream.

Vicki Robinson was concerned about her daughter's relationship with Davis, family members said, and planned to get her counseling. She also intended to send her to another school, believing that some friendships Valessa had made at Sickles were undesirable.

Compiled by Susan Clary

Adam William Davis, 19

Nicknamed "Rattlesnake," Davis was born in Little Rock, Ark. His mother left the family when he was a child and Davis was raised by his father, Kenneth, in Tampa and Zephyrhills. Kenneth Davis died in a motorcycle accident when his son was 13. Davis bounced between relatives and lived in South Dakota, Oregon and Arizona. He eventually returned to Tampa.

In 1995, when he was 17, Davis was arrested six times in Tampa on charges of car theft, shoplifting and larceny. Two years later, Davis pleaded guilty in two separate incidents to stealing a motorcycle and burglarizing a business in Lincoln County, Ore. A warrant was issued for his arrest in June 1997 after he violated his probation and fled the state. Four months later, Davis was arrested in north Tampa. Police found him living in an abandoned house. He was found guilty of grand theft, burglary, criminal mischief and armed trespassing and served six months in jail.

In May, Davis was charged with child abuse after police accused him of helping Valessa Robinson run away from her home. He was awaiting trial. Davis started a job at the Denny's Restaurant in Carrollwood on June 21. He was fired when he didn't show up to work Sunday.

Compiled by Susan Clary

Jon Michael Whispel, 19

Whispel lived in Town 'N Country and went to Webb Junior High and Jefferson High School. No one answered the door Friday at his home. A small tricycle sat beside an algae-filled swimming pool in the back yard.

Whispel worked at Winn-Dixie and Papa John's Pizza. He had no criminal record in Florida until October, when he was arrested along with Davis. Police said the two teens broke into an abandoned north Tampa home and ransacked it. Authorities said the teens stole a 10-inch knife and a 120,000-volt taser gun.

Compiled by Susan Clary