Jack was one of the lucky ones to survive Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force as Technical Sergeant and went on to work at the Moncrief Army Health Clinic. At 65, Jack Robinson lived a tranquil life spending his retirement volunteering. It was what most Vietnam Vets wanted. Peace. Why then was this war hero murdered near an obscure boat ramp on the edge of the Congaree River? Twenty-two years later his daughter is still asking this same question.
Jack L. Robinson was born on July 24, 1931. Jack spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, and upon his retirement, he went to work at the local army clinic. Jack would eventually retire from the clinic as well. He had one daughter from a former marriage named Tammy. By 1996, Jack was newly retired and spent his time volunteering with his local democratic party, and at the local homeless shelter.
Three weeks after his 65th birthday on August 17, 1996, Jack Robinson drove ten miles to the Rosewood Boat Landing. This obscure boat ramp was nothing more than a concrete slab jutting down into the Congaree River. Even most locals didn’t know of its existence. A wooded area surrounded it, and there was a rock quarry nearby. There was a gravel parking lot of sorts and here is where three witnesses were parked waiting for a nearby concert to begin.
This wooded area is where Jack Robinson headed on his last day. He parked his car and witnesses said that he spoke to a Hispanic man. The two men walked off into the woods together. A moment later they heard a loud argument. They heard Jack say, “I can get you money,” and, “What do you want from me?”
A moment later Jack stumbled from the woods clutching his stomach. He had been stabbed in the stomach three times and was bleeding profusely. An ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital, but he would pass away a short time later.
The three witnesses gave their statements to the police, and together they came up with a composite drawing of the murderer. According to the eyewitnesses, the man was a short, Hispanic male only about 5’5” tall. He wore aviator sunglasses, had olive colored skin, had a mustache, and was between the ages of 25-35. By all accounts, he was a small man weighing around 150-180lbs.
Despite three reliable witnesses, the police are at a loss trying to find suspects. A year later a suspect is handed to them on a silver platter. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the right one and years would be spent trying to chase leads that didn’t exist.
November 1997, Max Knoten sexually assaulted and killed a family friend named Kimberly Brown, 30. Kimberly’s sister was having problems and so Kim was caring for her niece indefinitely. Knoten put Kim’s body in the trunk of the car then took her three-year-old niece, Layla with him to “look for your aunt.” Investigators would find the bodies of the two along the Congaree River.
Knoten was arrested relatively quickly after his alibi fell apart and he admitted to seeing the victim the night she went missing. He also immediately became a suspect in the Jack L. Robinson murder case. Admittedly there are a few coincidences, but there is very little in the way of evidence to link the two cases.
Links between crimes:
- Knoten dropped the bodies off in the Congaree River.
- Kimberly Brown had worked at the same army health clinic as Jack Robinson
- The scent dogs led investigators from the spot of Jack’s murder to a nearby business. Knoten happened to work there.
Discrepancies between crimes:
- Knoten is not Hispanic. He is a lighter-skinned African American
- Knoten wasn’t 25-30 at the time of Jack’s death. He would have been 19.
- He didn’t have a mustache at the time of Jack’s murder.
- He is 6’ 1” and has a large build
- Although his victim may have known Jack Robinson, there is no evidence to tie Knoten to Jack.
Despite these discrepancies, the authorities ran with this lead for years and even let Jack’s daughter, Tammy think that if Knoten ever got out of prison, they would put him on trial for her father’s death. Tammy believed this and went on with her life the best that she could. Years would pass, and in the mid-2000’s she was internet surfing trying to find some relatives when she came across her father’s case. Instead of showing it as solved, it was plastered all over the cold case page. His case was classed as “victim killed by the unknown suspect, no motives determined.”
Tammy was in shock. She felt as if she was transported by to 1996 and was starting all over. After researching further, she found the charges against Max Knoten had been dropped three years after his arrest. Cold case investigators now think the man was in this country illegally and think that’s why they are struggling to find him.
A little information on the area in 1996:
Up the road from where Jack was killed was a large open-air vegetable market. These markets tended to employ a lot of illegal aliens, and the owners would house and shelter them. This was a well-known fact, but it also clouds the investigation drastically. I contend, if the murderer was an illegal alien and was being sheltered by locals, then someone knows this man. Although investigations have been ongoing, no one has been to the market to spread flyers or interview the market owners.
Jack was also a volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Could the man have been from the homeless shelter? No one will ever know. It seems while the investigators were distracted with Knoten that no one ever visited this shelter to inquire about Hispanic males staying there. A lot of these shelters don’t keep excellent records, and most wouldn’t have those records 22 years later.
Another possible wild goose chase?
It would seem that once the investigators stopped focusing on Max Knoten on this case they turned their focus to the gay community. While the daughter is out doing interviews and trying to get media attention, the police are saying that her father was killed by a jilted lover. No one can verify this, but that’s the theory the investigators seem to be stuck on now.
My thought is whether the man was gay or not the investigators need to question the nearby business that hired illegal Hispanic males. That’s the first obvious step. Then question those that worked at the homeless shelter. Whatever this man’s sexual preference every avenue needs to be checked out.
What can be done now?
It’s a well-known fact that most cold cases are solved one of two ways. New advances in DNA testing will sometimes lead to the perpetrator. Unfortunately, DNA testing, in this case, has brought no answers. The other way to solve a cold case is to have new witnesses come forward. That is our best hope with this case. People don’t come forward for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are afraid. Sometimes they don’t realize the information they have is valuable. In reality, they may hold the one tiny piece that fits the entire puzzle together. Somebody knows this man. Please come forward.
Jack L. Robinson was willing to sacrifice his life in Vietnam for your freedoms. Don’t let this man’s death go unsolved. Where is the justice for this hero?
If you have any information, please contact the Richland County Sherriff’s Department
(803) 576-3000 or 1-888-CRIME-SC
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