Two UT students murdered decades apart, the difference in security then and now

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The brutal murder of Haruka Weiser last April shocked the University of Texas community and ignited a debate on campus safety, but few have spoken about an earlier killing with striking similarities.

Lost in the news and conversation of Weiser’s death has been the story of Rosalind Robison. She, too, was a bright young UT student. She, too, was abducted and killed.

“There was so much talk of the recent murder-a terrible tragedy-but she was preceded in death by Rosalind, and we do need to remember her,” said Silas Griggs, a former UT police officer who was on duty the night Robison disappeared. “She needs to be relevant today.”

Despite more than 30 years of separation, the two cases have clear parallels. Both women walked alone at night on campus. Both women appear to be victims of opportunistic killers. Surveillance cameras captured images of both women shortly before they were killed.

The cases have differences as well. Robison was kidnapped and taken off campus before being killed, perhaps the reason few have discussed her case recently. Weiser was murdered in the middle of campus. Her death has pushed UT leaders to overhaul security and call on the Texas Department of Public Safety for a safety audit, while the Robison killing sparked little public discussion of campus safety and few immediate changes to the campus, according to interviews and records obtained by KXAN.

“Rosalind’s disappearance wasn’t widely discussed on UT campus.” – Silas Griggs

On the evening of Nov. 17, 1983, Robison left her apartment at 10 p.m. She told her roommate she was heading to UT’s petroleum engineering building to pick up notes for a lab experiment. She’d be back in an hour, Robison said to her roommate, according to an Austin American-Statesman report.

Robison drove toward campus in her Oldsmobile Delta 88.

That same evening, James Otis Clary and Tommy Ray Jackson left a South Austin halfway house for parolees. The two were looking for money. They decided to case UT. They spotted Robison on a campus parking lot. As she approached her car, the two abducted her. They drove Robison to an ATM on 6th Street, ordered her to withdraw cash and then drove north, according to a sequence of events described in both media reports and court records.

Images captured by the ATM would be the last of Robison alive, and help lead police to her killers.

Jackson and Clary raped Robison. They parked her car at a gravel pit on FM 685 near Hutto. Robison’s hands were bound behind her back. She was shot once in the back of the head with a .25 caliber handgun and left for dead.

Soon after Robison’s disappearance, her roommate and friends began to worry and spoke with the media. Her roommate told the Statesman that Robison was safety conscious, an avid jogger and she made it a point to run at Memorial Stadium, “where it was well lit,” according to one article.

On Nov. 21, four days after Robison’s disappearance, Jackson was arrested near Airport Boulevard driving her car. He denied any involvement in Robison’s disappearance.

Exactly one month after she vanished, a passerby stopped at the gravel pit and discovered Robison’s body on Dec. 17, 1983.

After discovering Robison’s body, police indicted Jackson for capital murder. Clary was arrested months later. Clary testified against his accomplice, saying Jackson was the triggerman. The state executed Jackson in 2000. Clary remains incarcerated in East Texas.

KXAN examined every available Daily Texan and Statesman morning newspaper clipping from the time of Robison’s disappearance through Jackson’s trial, looking for records of safety changes made at UT.

There are no media reports of changes to the campus resulting directly from Robison’s death. Similarly, University of Texas police said they could not locate any records of safety changes made in the 80s, following Robison’s murder.

Jackson, left, and Clary, the men convicted of raping and killing Robison. Jackson has been executed.

Griggs said little was done because of the nature of the crime and police communication at that time.

“We were all essentially siloed; there was very little information sharing,” Griggs said. “Rosalind’s disappearance wasn’t widely discussed on UT campus.”

When Robison’s roommate reported the disappearance, the Austin Police Department took the case. A month went by before the body was discovered and even more time passed before Clary confessed.

“Only then did we realize, oh my God she was abducted from campus,” Griggs said. “That was a good month later, and I don’t think the dots were ever connected.”

Though it appears little was changed as a direct result of Robison’s abduction and killing, UT’s campus safety measures have evolved since the 1980s.

Griggs said local law enforcement agencies aren’t “siloed” anymore, since the creation of the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, or ARIC, an intelligence-sharing network of 17 Central Texas public safety agencies including UTPD.

UT had just over 48,000 students and 44 UTPD officers in 1983. Back then, police would give van rides to students at night, Griggs said. That ride service has since ended, but Bob Harkins, associate vice president of campus safety at UT, told KXAN he hopes to bring something similar back to UT.

Harkins said campus officials would like to tap into the popularity of ride-hailing apps by using them to shuttle students around campus at night. The university is also considering adding golf cart rides for students headed to a parking garage after dark.

Today, UT has over 50,000 students and 74 UTPD officers. Since Weiser’s death, Harkins said UTPD has stepped up foot and bike patrols.

The Jeanne Clery Act of 1990 requires all colleges and universities that receive federal funds to disclose crime statistics data. Clery was raped in killed at Lehigh University in 1986, and her parents pushed for the federal legislation.

Across UT, there are 174 emergency call boxes that are yellow and have a blue light on top. Those boxes offer a direct line to emergency dispatchers.

Emergency call box activations per year

  • 2012   –   306 
  • 2013   –   324
  • 2014   –   339
  • 2015   –   285
  • 2016   –   97 (through May 5)

Source: UTPD

Throughout UT campus, the call boxes have been activated between 285 and 339 times per year from 2012-2015, according to UTPD.

Harkins said the call boxes can be useful, but nowadays nearly everyone has a lifeline in their pocket or purse.

“They give a visual presence of safety,” Harkins said, regarding call boxes. “Now, you may have to run 100 yards to get to one, when you’ve got your cellphone in your hand and all you had to do was press 911 to get the help you want.”

A student-run volunteer program called SURE Walk, which provides a male and female walking escort around campus at night, is also available during fall, spring and summer semesters.

Perhaps the most important aspect of campus safety, Harkins said, is student awareness. Students must be mindful of their own safety and take fewer safety risks. Cellphones can offer a quick way to call 9-1-1, but they can also distract walkers.

“I’m trying to do all those physical things,” Harkins said, referencing the safety improvements. “But I’m wasting my time, if I can’t get you to help me … As a female or a male, be careful about walking by yourself down dark streets or alleyways.”

Since Robison’s death, UT has also installed numerous surveillance cameras across campus. KXAN requested the locations of those cameras, but UT declined to release them, saying the exact location of each camera is not public information. In many places, the cameras are visible, such as the ones angled down at the streets outside Darrell K. Royal Stadium.

Those cameras captured images of Weiser the night she walked alone the night of April 3, 2016. Police said the suspected killer can also be seen pulling a shiny, rigid object from his waist as Weiser passes by.

“This case presented the worst of all worsts,” Harkins said. “It just pushed it over to the far end of the spectrum of bad things you worry about happening on campus.”

Weiser was killed just a half mile from the spot where Robison was abducted decades earlier. As she was walking back to her dorm, Weiser decided to take a shortcut along Waller Creek.

Weiser’s route passed the stadium, where 17-year-old Meechaiel Khalil Criner was prowling, according to police.

As Weiser passed Criner at 9:30 p.m., he followed her down toward the dimly lit creek path. Two hours passed by before Criner reemerged alone, with a limp, carrying what appeared to be Weiser’s bag, police said.

Weiser never made it home. The next morning, a friend reported the young student dancer missing to UTPD. The same day, Criner was found burning objects in an abandoned UT building. Police later said they found some of Weiser’s belongings in that burn pile.

Criner has been charged with capital murder. He is awaiting trial. At the time of his arrest, he was homeless.

This summer Harkins said UTPD is working closely with both UTPD and code enforcement to reduce issues with “aggressive transients” in the area.

Campus officials have increased safety communications to students and requested that college deans and department chairs include safety discussions in course syllabi.

The university also called on the DPS to check campus lighting needs, and the university is working on securing facilities around campus, according to a news release. DPS is expected to release a comprehensive safety audit in August.

UTPD and campus safety measures can help save lives, but ultimately people have to be aware of their surroundings, Griggs said.

“Often, now, I see women texting. They’ll go to their car and leave their car door open and they’ll text,” Griggs said. “And I think of Rosalind, and I want to just scream out to them, ‘close your door and drive off.’”

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