- When Evil Came to Good Hart – “an up north Michigan cold case”
- by Mardi Link
- Publisher – The University of Michigan Press
- Copyright 2008
- 159 pages
Rating – 5.5/10
Review – For several years, I’d wanted to read When Evil Came to Good Hart. When I found a decently-priced ($7) copy online from the Goodwill in Traverse City, Michigan, I placed an order. Yesterday (Christmas Day 2015), I started reading and I finished the 159 pages in about 24 hours.
The Good Hart story has so many hooks, that it seems like a “can’t miss” for the true-crime fan. In June 1968, the six members of the prosperous Robison family from suburban Detroit headed north to their second home, a beautiful cabin in bucolic Good Hart, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The Robisons intended to stay the summer, but something went horribly wrong. In late June, all six family members (mother, father, three sons, and one daughter) were shot and killed inside the cabin. Police didn’t find the bodies until about a month later.
The investigation led to an employee of Mr. Robison’s Detroit-area advertising agency. The police found that the employee – a Harvard dropout – had been embezzling from Mr. Robison’s business. Apparently, Mr. Robison discovered the theft just before the murders. And the embezzling employee was a firearms expert.
There’s a lot to like in Good Hart. Author Mardi Link captures the town of Good Hart, which is still a vacation destination for urbanites who want to “get away.” Link describes Good Hart’s small-town charm and its residents in a vivid way that makes one want to visit – despite the murders.
The book also does a good job of describing the police investigation into the killings. Link had access to the original police reports and uses them to good effect. The reader feels the excitement and frustration of the police as they try to bring a murderer to justice.
As with the best true crime, you get a close-up view of the underworld without having to leave your easy chair. One part of the case took investigators to a convicted bank robber at Leavenworth prison who claimed to know who murdered the Robisons. The convict’s story took the police to an Alabama foundry (where the murder weapons supposedly had been “melted down”) and to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, where the bank robber’s accomplice was serving time. True-crime fans will enjoy the seamy “Leavenworth” material.
What Doesn’t Work
One major issue is that – even @ just 159 pages – Good Hart has far too much “padding.” The interesting material is – at most – 100 pages or so. Rather than doing more research on pertinent aspects of the case, Link includes lots of filler – a dull chapter on a book club, another chapter on the local gun culture, etc.
The padding is particularly frustrating because what Link does not tell the reader. She included almost no information on the background of the Robison family or of their alleged killer, Joe Scolaro. You don’t even get basic biographical information on the Robisons. (Given the Robison’s prominence, surviving family must have run obituaries in some newspaper. Why couldn’t Link track down them down for background on the victims?). Likewise, the reader wants to know more about Scolaro. For instance, why did he leave Harvard? What happened to Scolaro’s wife and children after the murders?
Link does make good use of the police reports on the case. Also, she references some old newspaper articles. But I found myself wondering if she’d done much original research. Did she track down those involved in 1968 or their surviving relatives? If so, you don’t hear about it. All of these “holes” in the story leave you thinking that Link left too much of the tale untold.
I saw a special on YouTube about the Good Hart case. While I prefer reading to watching, I have to admit that the YouTube video was better. It was to the point and didn’t meander down unrewarding tangents. For this reason, my copy of Good Hart will be heading to a local Goodwill very soon.
When Evil Came to Good Hart is worth a look. The case is interesting and Link provides enough good material to outweigh the bad. However, the reader has to enjoy Good Hart for what it is and not spend time thinking about its unrealized potential.