CW: Some discussion of violence, mentions of sexual violence
Scroll to the bottom for a glossary of people in this story.
*Note: Starred names have been changed out of respect for their privacy.
Haven’t read part two yet? Read it here.
A Tough Girl
Although 17 year old Robin Murphy would eventually serve as the star witness for the prosecution against Carl Drew for the murder of Karen Marsden, she was not initially cooperative with the authorities. As many of you know, the criminal world generally does not think highly of people who speak with the police, and the same seemed to hold true back then. For example, the sight of a friend talking to a police officer in low tones elicited this reaction from Robin, right in front of several officers:
‘What are you telling the cops?’ Robin screamed. ‘You shut your fucking mouth or I’ll break your jaw.’Scammell, p. 137
Robin was known to Detective Silvia from his time spent at Harbor Terrace; she spent a lot of time at *Melissa’s apartment. Silvia’s impression of her was that she was very tough, much more streetwise than others of the same age. She often appeared to be intoxicated, and often appeared to be trying to hook up with Melissa. He made a point of noting her intelligence, which he found to be exceptional in comparison to most of those she spent her time with. Perhaps significant is the fact that, in most sources I’ve come across, with the noteworthy exception of information proffered in future appeal hearings, it seems that Robin worked Bedford street for herself, not for Carl Drew or any of the other pimps. Being that Doreen Levesque’s refusal to work for Drew was supposedly the reason she was murdered, one might surmise that Robin had a stronger personality than that of her peers. Something about her obviously convinced Drew to let her be. Even when she appeared to be cooperative, and even when she appeared to be fragile and traumatized, Silvia seemed to feel that her words and behavior were calculated.
She sometimes lashed out in anger when someone or something irritated her. As noted above, this had been witnessed by the police on some occasions, in addition to her own testimony of fighting with Barbara Raposa shortly before Barbara was killed by Andy Maltais.
Robin: ‘She was on top of me, though I don’t like to admit that. I never lost a fight, but I was drunk – so that’s a good excuse, most definitely.’
Lawyer: ‘Could you beat her up if you weren’t drunk?’
Robin: ‘Her head would go through the windshield.’
Lawyer: ‘How would you have done that?’
Robin: ‘Barbara was only bigger this way than me,’ she said, cupping her hands like a bodybuilder and thrusting out her chest. ‘She wasn’t bigger no other way.’Scammell, p. 162
A Victim of Abuse
There was talk, from multiple sources, including Robin herself, that she had been sexually abused since childhood by Andy Maltais. While being questioned by Maltais’ defense attorney, Robin had stated:
‘I have known him for seven years…and any man that can pick up an eleven year old girl hitchhiking and want to fool around with an eleven year old girl has got to be a little sick…But I didn’t think that at the time…He told me that if I told anybody, I was the one that was going to get into trouble. He told me if I told my mother, that my mother was going to give me a beating and not think anything about this Andy guy – that it was going to be all my fault.’
‘He has an ejaculator and a dildo in the trunk of his car – carries around pills to give to these girls and get them high and don’t know what the hell their doing – gives sixteen year olds, gives them a pill – and he’s not sick? He’s normal? I mean, really, you know, is he normal?’
‘He called me up one morning and said he was jerking off in the bathroom. “Andy, what do I know, what do I care?” I told him.’
‘At the age of thirteen, I started going with somebody else. I started getting beatings from Andy for being out with other guys. He used to walk up and bang on the car window, saying I better get out of the car before the guy I was with got into trouble because I was a minor. I’d get out and he’d beat the shit out of me.’Scammell, pp. 159-160
In addition to this ongoing sexual abuse, Robin worked Bedford Street as a sex worker, according to most accounts I’ve come across. The way that these young women are discussed can sometimes lead readers to forget the very young age of some of these sex workers, including Robin. Indeed, several newspaper headlines discussing the murders in our local Herald News refer to, “a murdered prostitute” or “prostitute witness says…” Not “trafficking victim,” or really, “statutory rape victim.” In the U.S., it seems as though we have just begun to take stock of the fact that, although adult sex workers are sometimes victims, underage sex workers are always victims. Back in 1979, it seems as though this idea had not come to the fore, at least not among law enforcement and the courts. The fact is that it didn’t matter whether Robin claimed to be “working for herself;” each time an adult had sex with her, she was being abused.
Additionally, Robin Murphy’s own account suggests that her characterization as a “prostitute” perhaps had a layer of coercion involved. At her 2017 parole hearing, Robin stated that she had moved in with a woman in 1979 (she did not share the name, but it was likely *Melissa).
The woman, who was a prostitute, told Ms. Murphy that she would have to engage in prostitution if she wanted to continue living in her house. Ms. Murphy maintains that she was not a prostitute and only engaged in prostitution on one occasion.The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Parole Board Decision
The idea that she was not a sex worker contradicts the accounts of police noted in Scammell’s book, so I suppose it is up to the reader to decide who to trust more. But I do find it interesting to note that *Melissa’s characterization in said book is that of a “den mother” of sorts. Tweaking perspectives a bit, this is not a far cry from a “Madam.”
I take note of this abuse for several reasons, and none of them include excuses for her behavior, as I’m certain some will assume. First, I noticed that, in all of my research on the subject, that this is barely mentioned at all. Perhaps this is due to the fact that authors and journalists are concerned that they might appear too sympathetic to a murderer. Perhaps it is because the bulk of writing on these murders occurred decades ago, when people in general were less enlightened about the issue of sexual abuse. Regardless, I find her abuse to be noteworthy, and directly related to her behavior and personality.
A consequence of the permissive environment on Bedford Street, where it was no secret to police (who reportedly passed the time in the very same bars as the pimps, drug dealers, and sex workers) that illegal activities were going on, was the unchecked victimization of very young people like Robin, who went on to commit violence, and like Doreen, who fell victim to such violence.
Detectives had communicated with Robin’s parents on several occasions (her stepfather and her mother). They explained that they had taken Robin to a psychiatrist before, who had administered a personality test. The doctor expressed to them that he felt Robin may have answered in such a way as to make sure she wouldn’t be diagnosed with anything, or, how her mother put it,
Robin may have thought that if she told the truth, the results would show she shouldn’t be allowed to live in a normal environment.Scammell, p. 145
Robin’s friends had expressed similar concern for her mental state; Melissa stated that,
Robin likes to hurt people…She scares me.Scammell, p. 105
This was coming from the woman who Detective Silvia had seen bash another woman’s head on a sidewalk in a fight. She was no wimp. For her to be “scared” of someone was significant. Although I am not sure I believe it, personally, if Robin’s 2017 statement about Melissa’s coercive behavior is true.
Another friend of Robin’s named *Tanya, who was actually the subject of Robin’s previously mentioned jaw-breaking threat, stated that:
Robin is a very sick person. She needs any help she can get – desperately.Scammell, p. 140
Someone in the position to do something about it should have cared about this, before Robin committed acts that would destroy lives, literally and figuratively. It should have mattered to someone that Robin and other teenagers were walking the streets, being preyed on by adults, with apparent impunity. When the adults around you let you down from a young age, you develop defense mechanisms to survive the world. It seems that in Robins case, this was acting out as the tough-girl.
Regardless of her anger, her criminality, her drug abuse, her violence, her lies – it does not change the fact that whatever adults were around her had failed to protect her, time and time again.
Robin & Karen
Even before the time of Karen Marsden’s murder, she and Robin had a weird relationship. Robin moved in with Karen after apparently breaking up with *Melissa. I have seen them described as best friends and as lovers, but according to police accounts, it seemed that Robin frightened Karen. On the surface, it was surprising to see the younger girl, still a teenager, possessing such powers of intimidation over 20 year old Karen. Perhaps Robin’s severely traumatic background could be a partial explanation for why she’d be harder and “tougher,” in a way, than Karen. Karen had people in her life that she loved and who loved her back, such as her son, her grandmother, and more. She was leading a “risky” lifestyle due to her addiction to drugs, but she at least had people asking after her, perhaps providing her with some level of grounding in life outside of Harbor Terrace and Bedford Street. I have very little information about Robin’s support system, but they seemed to be ill equipped to handle her, at best. Robin appears to have been involved in the world of crime from a far younger age than Karen was. She operated mostly on her own, living apart from her parents at Harbor Terrace, perhaps crashing on couches, more often than not.
If we go back to Karen’s interactions with police when she was still alive, we find more insight into Robin, and into their relationship dynamic at that time. When detectives Silvia and Joaquim of the FRPD were finally able to coax Karen, with the help of her friend *Charlene, to speak with them, they were hoping to get more information from her about the murder of Doreen Levesque (at this point unaware that she had already spoken to State Police Officer Fitzgerald, telling him that Carl Drew had murdered Doreen). Instead, she mentioned Robin when explaining why she did not want to talk to them. Robin had relayed a vivid threat from Carl Drew (or, one might say in retrospect, from both herself and Carl Drew) a few days after she and Karen had spoken to state police at the behest of Andy Maltais:
Robin Murphy had come by Karen’s house in a car with [Charlene], and all three girls drove over to the Freetown-Fall River State Forest…After following a long maze of dirt roads, they came to a secluded lane in the heart of the woods…The woods were empty, but there was evidence of from the ruts in the roadway and under the tall pines that other vehicles had been there in the recent past…Ahead of them was a dark, weathered structure, a table of stone or wood, among the trees. Robin said, ‘The altar.’ It was here, she said, that Carl Drew had told Robin Murphy he was going to kill Karen Marsden and Charlene. He would offer their souls to satan. He would inject battery acid into their veins. He would leave their bodies in the green water by the side of the road.Scammell, p. 63
Remember the Satanic aspect to this tale? I know, it has not been brought up in quite some time! (Never fear, it will be discussed in great detail in another installment.) This “altar” in the forest was allegedly the location of the “cult” activities of the Harbor Terrace crowd, where chanting and animal sacrifice took place. It is difficult to say whether these threats were coming from Carl Drew, or if Murphy was making this up to suit her own purposes. She clearly did not like that Karen was talking to the police so much.
Personally, I do wonder if this indicates that her involvement in the murder of Doreen Levesque was more than she would eventually claim. I wonder if Karen and *Charlene knew some details of Robin’s level of involvement. Perhaps Robin’s instinct for self-preservation, the tools she had developed in her troubled life to protect herself, were kicking in. I can’t help but think that big, bad Carl Drew, who was known to beat the girls who crossed him, would simply communicate threats directly; why use Robin as a messenger? These are just my opinions, though; we will likely never know for sure.
A Star Witness
There were a lot of red flags popping up from Robin’s behavior around the time that she contacted the authorities to tell them what she had witnessed of Barbara Raposa’s murder. This alerted police that she was perhaps trying to “get in front of” potential legal problems and avoid them for herself. First of all, she chose to give her statement about what she’d witnessed happen to Barbara on February 9th, the day after the last time Karen Marsden had been seen. Andy Maltais had been in police custody for about two weeks at that point, so the timing is interesting even when considering her stated fear of reprisal from him; if it was only her fear of him stopping her from contacting the authorities, why wait two weeks? Additionally, Robin was using drugs and drinking often; this was not entirely unusual for her, but there was an increased frequency and an erratic edge to it. She was also conspicuously probing for information from the Bedford Street crowd, always speaking to those who had been interviewed by the police, wanting to know exactly what the police knew (Scammell, ch. 20).
Eventually she was sent to stay with a friend in Texas for witness protection. While she was gone, she had a telephone conversation with *Melissa in which she claimed to have murdered Karen so that they could be together, presumably to prove her devotion and/or desire to get back into a relationship with her. Melissa approached the police with this information. Additionally, *Charlene, the friend who accompanied Karen and the police to the Rez previously, and who was a minor player in Karen’s murder, related her account of the incident after being contacted by police. An important point to note here is that Robin did not originally indicate that Charlene was present when Karen was murdered; the police contacted Charlene of their own accord. At this point, Robin was brought back to Massachusetts and arrested.
Robin not only agreed to testify against Carl Drew for the murder of Karen Marsden; she also changed her story regarding what happened to Doreen Levesque. At this point, she claimed that Karen had also been present during Doreen’s murder, and that she was severely impacted by the experience. This, she said, was the reason Karen was murdered; because Carl Drew felt she would soon tell the police everything. She claimed to have been an unwilling participant in killing Karen; if she hadn’t done as she was told, she would have also been murdered out there in the woods. Additionally, she added that, “[*Colin] retrieved a can of gasoline from the back seat of his car, poured it on the body and burned it” (COMMONWEALTH vs. CARL H. DREW. 447 Mass. 635), a detail left out of her original accounting of what happened. It is somewhat confusing due to the convoluted nature of her testimony at this point, but she seems to imply that the motive was to silence Karen, but the “sacrifice to Satan” aspect played a role simultaneously. She added that Doreen’s murder was part of a satanic sacrifice as well.
The Version the State Sticks With
Here is the rub when it comes to the “official” accounting of the “Fall River cult murders,” the overall stance taken by the prosecution that resulted in Carl Drew’s conviction. It is essentially implied, by the state via Robin Murphy’s testimony, that Carl Drew conducted his criminal enterprises under the auspices of Satan; when exacting revenge, keeping the girls who worked for him in line, and all the other actions involved in his criminal lifestyle, his power to wield over others came from Satan. In return, Drew worshipped him and offered up the blood of his enemies as tribute. Dual motivations: profit from street dealings, and power from Satan.
It is very noteworthy, however, that official documents do not play up the satanic angle nearly as much as media reports and police do in interviews. In some cases, documents don’t even use the word “cult,” instead simply saying “a group of people.” Alternatively, many media reports have not only placed great emphasis on the “satanic cult” angle, but have gotten key facts completely wrong. For example, this article states that:
Murphy made national headlines in 1980 when she testified that Marsden was killed as part of a satanic ritual lead by Carl Drew and Andrew Maltais. Murphy said she was present when Marsden was beaten, stabbed and beheaded in Westport.
She also accused the men of killing her friends, Barbara Raposa and Doreen Levesque.O’Connor, The Herald News
As we know, Andy Maltais was not involved in the murder of Karen Marsden, and was only marginally associated with Carl Drew. From the body of information that I have researched so far, I am convinced that any connection to the satanic when it comes to Maltais existed solely in the minds of investigators at the time. Raposa’s murder was not a satanic ritual and had no connection to Carl Drew. This excerpt is just one example of the frequent misreporting when it comes to this case; with the passage of time, it seems there is no great cry for increased accuracy, either.
I do believe that, in this way, my initial thoughts of “Satanic Panic” and exaggeration are founded. Although I will address the other side of that in the next installment.
Since the time of her incarceration, Robin has continued to alter her story, most notably when she claimed to have fabricated all of it.
In January of 1983, the state was preparing to bring charges against *Warren, the man who, according to Robin’s account, participated in the murder of Doreen Levesque; the charges against Carl Drew for this crime were “quietly dropped” since the state felt it would not be worth the expense when he was already serving life without parole for Karen Marsden’s murder (Scammell, p. 295). When Robin was being prepared to testify against Warren as previously agreed, she said:
She had lied about everything. She said her attorney made her do it. She said her knowledge of the Levesque case was entirely hearsay, from her friend Karen Marsden.Scammell, p. 295-296
In addition to claiming no personal knowledge or connection to the murder of Doreen Levesque, she later addressed her story of Karen Marsden’s murder at her 2004 parole hearing:
‘I believe Carl Drew was guilty of killing Karen and many, many other women in the area,’ Murphy told the board. ‘I believed he belonged in jail, but also knew justice was not taking place. So I made the story up.’
Murphy said she made up the story by piecing together second- and third-hand accounts of what was going on with Drew and the alleged Satanic cult.
‘Karen Marsden told me that Carl Drew killed other women and that he worshipped the devil, before she died,’ Murphy said. ‘(Karen) was running from (Drew) the last time I saw her alive.’
Murphy also claims she told then-Assistant District Attorney David Waxler that she was lying all along. She said the current real estate attorney ‘lost his job’ due to the situation.Religion News Blog
Robin was granted parole in 2004. She seemed to be doing well; in fact, the Boston Herald took notice of the fact that she was hired for a customer service position with the state unemployment office by former Massachusetts State Representative and current State Auditor Suzanne Bump.
Suzanne Bump — who’s vying to be state auditor — defended her hiring of a paroled killer who served 24 years for the Satanic cult slaying of a young hooker, hailing the ex-con’s turnaround as a ‘success story.’
‘I consider Robin Murphy’s story a success story and an indication that the system of rehabilitation and re-entry works,’ Bump said yesterday of hiring Murphy in 2009 to a customer service job in the state unemployment bureau.Wedge, Boston Herald
*I have to interject in the story here – “a young hooker” ? Really? Are you a real journalist, Dave Wedge? Too much trouble to write with an iota of respect for murder victims and their families? I guess I shouldn’t expect much better from the Boston Herald, though.*
Her success would be temporary, however; in 2011, she violated her parole and was sent back to prison (O’Connor). She had been caught up in a drug bust; her car was pulled over, and her passenger had heroin in her purse, in addition to being a felon. Although Robin herself was not using drugs, the conditions of her parole forbade her from being in the presence of drug transactions or felons. She worsened her mistake by lying to the parole board about this, claiming that the woman was merely an acquaintance she was giving a ride at the time. In reality, it was her girlfriend who she had known for years.
Robin appeared before the parole board again in 2017. The board expressed that they did not know what to believe since Robin had not only denied any participation in the crime she was convicted of, but had lied directly to them about the nature of her parole violation. They simply did not find her trustworthy, and her request for parole was denied.
Robin Murphy is not easy to figure out. Several prominent figures involved in this story, including former Detective and current State Representative Alan Silvia, former Detective Paul Carey, and even the author Henry Scammell, have expressed their belief that she was manipulative and conniving, trying to hide behind her youth when, in reality, she was the primary orchestrator of satanic horrors. Upon learning of Robin’s statement that Karen Marsden had been present at the murder of Doreen Levesque, for example, Detective Silvia’s response was:
‘Everyone already knew Karen Marsden saw the Levesque murder; she practically told us as much last winter. The only reason she didn’t spell it out was because she was protecting Robin, her best friend. So how does Robin repay her? By cutting off her fucking head!’…’And now Robin’s going to find a way to turn this whole goddamned thing around to make it look like somehow Robin was protecting Karen’…’And if that doesn’t work, she can throw herself on the mercy of the court as “almost an orphan” because all of her friends are either dead or in jail.’Scammell, p. 243
The thing is, though, she was almost an orphan. And that does matter, even if all of the horrors that she described inflicting are true. Science has definitively told us that human brains are still developing in our adolescent years. And the abuse that she suffered since childhood is verified by many other parties in addition to her own accounts. In this way, she is a victim, even if she is also an offender. Many are both of these at once. It does not necessarily mean she should be free, but it is a fact nonetheless.
In terms of her claims that none of the story is actually true – well, this is, of course, difficult to believe, since other witnesses have attested to some aspects of the story.
But guess what? There are additional reasons to interrogate the official record of what happened. Many of these reasons are brought up by the big bad himself; the alleged leader of the cult, and former heavyweight on Bedford Street: Carl Drew.
I’m up to my neck in researching his claims, and in all honesty, I don’t know what to think. We’re going to hash it out together, dear readers. Next up, I’m going to talk about Carl Drew; what others have to say about him, and what he has to say for himself. I’m going to talk about the Fall River Police Department in the 1970’s. And I’m finally going to talk about Satanism in Fall River: what has been alleged, what has been verified, and “Satanic Panic.”
To Be Continued…
Brown, C. (April 22, 2003) “Cult Murders” killer Murphy wants new trial. The Standard-Times. Page A1. Retrieved from https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20030422/NEWS/304229996
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. (November 1, 2017) Decision in the matter of Robin Murphy. Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2017/12/19/murphy%20rod%202017.pdf
COMMONWEALTH vs. CARL H. DREW. 397 Mass. 65. Bristol County. November 4, 1985 – March 12, 1986. Retrieved from http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/397/397mass65.html
COMMONWEALTH vs. CARL H. DREW. 447 Mass. 635. Suffolk County. September 5, 2006 – November 9, 2006. Retrieved from http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/447/447mass635.html
Laskey, M. (2016) Sex, Satanism, and Sacrificial Slaughter: The Fall River Cult Murders, 1979-1980. Retrieved from https://www.cvltnation.com/sex-satanism-sacrificial-slaughter-fall-river-cult-murders-1979-80/
N/A. (March 24, 2004) Cult killer Robin Murphy says she made up the story. Religion News Blog. Retrieved from https://www.religionnewsblog.com/6571/cult-killer-says-she-made-up-the-story
O’Connor, K.P. (March 28, 2017) Parole board questions Robin Murphy’s credibility at release hearing. The Herald News. Retrieved from https://www.heraldnews.com/news/20170328/parole-board-questions-robin-murphys-credibility-at-release-hearing
Scammell, H. (1991) Mortal Remains: A True Story of Ritual Murder. Harper Collins, NY.
Wedge, D. (October 29, 2010) Suzanne Bump defends office’s hiring of paroled killer. Boston Herald. Retrieved from https://www.bostonherald.com/2010/10/29/suzanne-bump-defends-offices-hiring-of-paroled-killer/