Upon first impressions, there was nothing really remarkable about Heather Robinson’s upbringing. She was a much-longed-for child and her parents doted on her accordingly, though she was particularly close to her father. But when she was a teenager, Heather learned the unsettling truth about the man she called dad. And as we’ll find out, it turned her – and her family’s lives – upside down.
As far as Heather knew, her family had adopted her when she was still a small baby. And they believed that she was an orphan. In fact, thanks to them, she had grown up in a loving household in Illinois. However, her relatively normal and stable upbringing belied Heather’s harrowing start in life.
Growing up with her adoptive family, Heather was unaware that she had been born to Alabama parents Lisa and Carl Stasi. For her biological folks had married in 1984 and welcomed daughter Tiffany Lynn – later renamed Heather – soon after. But the marriage between Lisa and Carl wasn’t to last.
Yes, before the year was out the relationship between the two, who had since moved to Kansas City, had broken down. So Carl returned to the military, and Lisa and Tiffany moved into a domestic violence shelter known as Hope House. It was here, still in Kansas, that Lisa met a man going by the name of John Osborne. And he seemed to want to help the young mom and her baby.
In January 1985 Lisa and Tiffany checked into a room at the Rodeway Inn in Overland Park, KA. Furthermore, she told her family that John had paid for and organised their stay at the hotel. But her relatives seemed unsure of his motives. For instance, her sister-in-law urged the young mom to be cautious.
However, John’s offers of help must’ve been tempting to a vulnerable, single mother. For he had promised her a place to live, daycare for Heather and a new job in Chicago. And so she continued to trust her apparent benefactor. But little did Lisa know that John had already raised the suspicions of staff at the Truman Medical Center.
That’s right, because John had gone to the hospital in Kansas asking to be put in touch with white mothers. In fact, he’d claimed he was associated with Catholic charities and requested for young moms to be referred to him. Of course, this would come after the mothers had visited social services first. However, this alarmed staff, who were aware of so-called “baby brokers” who wanted caucasian babies to sell for profit. And adding to their suspicion was that John wasn’t interested in offering black mothers the same service.
Then, things came to a head on January 8, 1985. For Lisa paid a visit to her sister-in-law Kathy Klinginsmith’s home with Tiffany. And the next day, John turned up at the house to return the two to the Rodeway Inn. As Lisa left that day, Kathy had no way of knowing this was the last time she would be seen alive. However, Lisa did have one more exchange with a relative.
Indeed, for she made contact with her mother-in-law some hours after leaving Kathy’s home. Recalling that final conversation, Betty Stasi told how her daughter-in-law had been extremely upset. In October 2019 she told ABC’s 20/20, “She just called and she was hysterical. She was crying hard.”
However, it emerged that Lisa had been told by individuals unknown that Betty believed she was an unfit mother. As a result, she thought that her mother-in-law was trying to gain custody over her baby. But Betty reassured Lisa that there was no truth behind these claims. And, strangely, that’s when Lisa revealed she had been asked to add her signature to four blank sheets of paper.
Recalling her reaction to Lisa’s revelation, mother-in-law Betty told 20/20, “I said, ‘Don’t sign nothing.’ And she was just crying and then she finally settled down and she says, ‘Here they come now’… And she hung up. And that was the last time I heard from her.”
With that, Lisa and Heather disappeared. But their family members started to receive letters – apparently – from the young mom. For instance, 20/20 discovered that an extract from one had read, “I want to thank you for all your help. I’ve decided to get away from this area and try to make a good life for me and Tiffany.” However, according to the family, the letters were not handwritten, raising suspicion.
And Lisa’s mom Pat Sylvester was one of the doubters. For in 2000 she told ABC News, “[Lisa] couldn’t type enough to type a letter.” As a result, she developed suspicions over Lisa’s friend, John. “Did [he] take her baby?” Pat wondered. “The more time went by, the more worried we got. The more we began to realize that she might not be alive.”
And needless to say, Pat was equally worried about her granddaughter, Tiffany, who was just four months old at the time. Speaking of Lisa, Pat told ABC News, “She would never have let that baby go willingly. Never… He would have had to hurt her or something. She would have fought him tooth and nail.”
After their disappearance, a relative discovered that the man who’d paid for Lisa’s hotel room was actually called Robinson, not Osborne. But when John spoke to cops two months later, he said he’d had contact with Lisa. In fact, he claimed she was babysitting for someone. Furthermore, he said that Lisa wanted to cut ties with her family, which explained why she and Tiffany had vanished.
Still, Lisa and Tiffany’s loved ones thought there was something fishy about Robinson. However, they wouldn’t learn the harrowing truth about him until 2000 when something pretty odd kicked off. For it was then that John Robinson was arrested after a woman accused him of sexual assault. But that wasn’t all.
No, for John was also accused of stealing another woman’s sex toys. And although he had had plenty of run-ins with the police before, these allegations gave them cause to search his property. As a result, cops conducted a thorough examination of his farm near La Cygne, KA. And it was there that they discovered the remains of 21-year-old Izabela Lewicka and 27-year-old Suzette Trouten.
But the police search didn’t end there. Because investigators also visited a storage unit John rented in the neighboring state of Missouri. And here, shockingly, they discovered the bodies of three more women. They were: 49-year-old Beverly Bonner; 45-year-old Sheila Faith; Debbie Faith, who was just 15 (and Sheila’s daughter). Also, the deaths all had something in common.
Yes, all five of the women had died after being hit around the head with a blunt instrument. What’s more, all of the bodies had been stored in individual chemical drums. And Robinson had callously used Beverly’s name to hire the storage unit where he stashed her remains. Suddenly, Lisa’s family started to panic over their loved one.
Now Lisa’s family had always feared that she and Tiffany were dead. But the gruesome discoveries on John’s properties seemed to confirm that they had both likely met an unfortunate end. And while their family would never learn what became of Lisa, they were about to discover what happened to her Tiffany.
For in 1985 around the time of Lisa and Tiffany’s disappearance, Donald Robinson and his wife, Freida, were looking to adopt. Prior to that, they had tried to conceive a child of their own for five years. But their prayers for a baby appeared answered when a relative told them of an infant in need of a home.
Intriguingly, Donald and Freida were told that the baby’s mother had committed suicide in a hotel room. So, with no one to care for the infant, she was now up for adoption. And the very next day, the couple met the child. Incredibly, since the relative had the paperwork, the two decided to take in the baby girl, calling her Heather.
For the next 15 years, Donald and Freida raised Heather in the belief that her adoption was above board. However, they were unaware that they had been scammed by their family member, who’d conned them into the adoption. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’d taken thousands of dollars of false fees from them in the process.
In fact, Donald’s family would only learn the horrifying truth in 2000 after John Robinson was arrested. That’s because it was he who had facilitated Heather’s false adoption. And Heather herself would later recall the moment her adoptive parents discovered they had been conned. Yes, in an exclusive interview with ABC’s 20/20, Heather opened up about the ordeal.
She said, “When I heard that John had been arrested… I remember [my adoptive mother] running up and down the stairs panicking. ‘How could he do this to us? We’re going to go to jail. This is horrible. Our lives are over.” But there was yet another factor to this unsettling discovery which would add to Heather’s pain.
Maybe you’ve guessed it – her adoptive dad Donald was, in fact, John’s brother. So she’d grown up treating the latter like an uncle. Consequently, as well as learning their relative was a serial killer, Heather’s parents feared they would lose their daughter. Donald later told 20/20, “It was really the only time I broke down.”
To make matters worse, there was an additional twist in this horrific tale for Heather. When she later sent her fingerprints off to the FBI, they matched those of the missing Tiffany Stasi. For the infant had had her prints taken in the hospital at the time of her birth. Furthermore, subsequent DNA tests confirmed that she was indeed the missing baby and daughter of one of John’s victims, Lisa Stasi.
As you’d expect, this revelation sent shockwaves through Heather’s family. Because she was just 16 at the time, and learning her true identity had an earth-shattering effect on the teenager. Recalling this difficult period, Heather revealed how the discovery had made her question everything she’d believed to be true.
Speaking of John Robinson, Heather said, “He had said I was born October 12, 1984. I was actually born September 3… The October birthday really hurt. I love Halloween and I love having my birthday in October. My first time celebrating the September birthday would have been my sweet 16. I celebrated that locked in my room, crying in bed, wishing I was dead and that I had never been born. That was my sweet 16.”
Looking back, Heather said she had always gotten a bad vibe from her adoptive uncle John. Indeed, she told 20/20, “[He] always gave me this really weird, off-putting feeling in the pit of my stomach… It’s like walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night while you know someone is behind you, approaching you closer and closer.”
What’s more, Heather revealed how John had propositioned her shortly before his arrest. For he had gotten close to her while dancing at a wedding and asked her sexual questions. Also, he’d invited his adoptive niece to run away with him. Fortunately, she declined and now believes that this decision probably saved her life.
For you see, Heather also had to face the fact that she probably witnessed her mom’s killing in 1985. As she tried to come to terms with her past, her biological family were eager to meet their long lost relative. For instance, in 2000 Heather’s father Carl even told ABC News it was his “right to see her.” But perhaps, touchingly, she felt differently about the matter.
Ultimately, Heather had been raised by a loving father in Donald and didn’t feel the need to connect with Carl. However, she did develop a relationship with her maternal grandmother, Pat Sylvester, who died in 2018. And Pat had always taken a more supportive approach to her granddaughter’s adoptive family.
For instance, in 2000 when Heather was first identified as Tiffany, Pat told ABC, “If our granddaughter is safe and happy, and these people have nothing to do with Lisa’s disappearance, and they’ve taken care of this child, we don’t want to take her away… But we want her to know that we’re her family and we love her.”
Revealing her relationship with Pat, Heather told 20/20 in 2019, “That was hard at times, but I did love her. She taught me to not have hate in my heart and to forgive John…because she did… I never could understand, and unfortunately, I didn’t understand it until after she died, so I never got to have that conversation with her.”
Meanwhile, in 2002 John Robinson faced trial for the murders of Isabella Lewicka and Suzette Trouten, as well as Lisa Stasi. He was found guilty on all counts and subsequently sentenced to death. Furthermore, in 2005 he admitted to five more killings and remains on death row with eight murder convictions to his name.
And despite the fallout, when Heather was 18 she was officially adopted by Donald and
Freida Robinson. However, even with her family status cemented and John behind bars, she was still unable to find closure. That’s because the body of her real mom Lisa Stasi has never been recovered, and it’s unclear how she died.
As Heather went on to explain to 20/20, “She had everything taken away from her… Justice and closure for me is finding her remains and giving her a proper burial. Closure is knowing exactly what happened, and peace is finally being able to definitively say Lisa was a person, this is what they did to her, this is where she is and then to be able to finally move on with my life.” Above all else, there’s one thing Lisa’s family would love to do.
You see, it’s their wish to one day locate Lisa’s remains and bury her alongside her mother, Pat, reuniting the pair. At the moment, they pay their respects at a headstone above an empty grave. However, it would give them a great deal of comfort to finally lay her to rest.
As Heather told 20/20, “I had hoped that…not only was this journey to help me find answers about Lisa, I wanted to try to heal and give closure to everyone else that was involved… I will never stop trying to find her. I will never back down. If I want something I will get it, I will never let go.”