Kidnapped: Kara Robinson survives abduction by serial killer, thrives in law enforcement
03/22/2018 4:26 pm PDT
Kara Robinson was kidnapped and attacked by a madman. The teen kept her wits and escaped, and helped catch the serial killer. Elizabeth Smart has the story.
Growing up in Lexington, South Carolina was a dream for young Kara Robinson.
"Everything definitely felt safe. I would play outside all the time, go on walks through the woods with friends, and never any problems," Kara tells Crime Watch Daily.
Kara had the freedom to roam. But that innocence was shattered on the morning of June 22, 2002, when the 15-year-old was at her best friend Heather's house.
"We thought it might be a good idea to go to the lake," said Kara.
But before grabbing their swimsuits and suntan lotion, a call to Heather's mom.
"My friend called her mother to ask if there was anything that she needed to do before we left the house, and her mom said 'Yeah, I just need you guys to water the flowers before you leave and that's pretty much it,'" said Kara. "Since Heather had to go take a shower I went and watered the flowers for her.
"So I was watering the flowers. I hadn't even gotten dressed to go, like, I was still in pajamas, basically, like a T-shirt and some shorts, and I noticed a car drive by.
"I noticed it going out of the neighborhood and then very quickly I noticed the car coming back into the neighborhood. It pulled into the driveway and the car parked, and a guy got out and he was just wearing a button-down shirt that was tucked in, and a baseball cap, nice-looking guy, and so he came over to me and he said 'I have some magazines and I saw y'all outside, and so I wanted to give these to you. Is your mom or dad home?' And I said 'No, this is not my house, this is my friend Heather's house,' and he said 'OK, what about her mom? Is her mom here?' And I said 'No, she's not here right now.'
"He was like 'Well OK, I can just give them to you and you can just leave them for her.' And I said 'OK, I'll take those and I'll just set them inside for her,'" said Kara.
The man moved in closer. Kara got a strange feeling.
"He kind of entered my personal space, and that was like, OK, this feels a little awkward, but then again he was handing me something, and he came to hand me the brochures with his left hand," said Kara. And with his right hand, "He came with a handgun and put it to the side of my neck."
The man then directed Kara to his car.
Did you feel like you had an option, or did you feel like This is it, I have to go with him, I have to do exactly what he says to survive?
"There was no question in my mind that I had to do what he said, because he was bigger than me and he had the advantage, he had a gun," said Kara. "My only thoughts were prayers to God that I would find a way out."
No way out. At least not yet. The horror was just beginning.
"So he put me in the back seat in a Rubbermaid container, put me in there and just kind of like set the lid on," said Kara.
Then he drove away, saying nothing. In the dark container, as Kara is lying balled-up in the fetal position, she is taking note of everything: every stop, every turn, every sound, desperate for clues to tell her where she's being taken.
"I was pretty familiar with the area and so I tried to pay attention to where he was going, that way I would know where I was, and I felt him get on the interstate," said Kara. "He drove for maybe 10, 15 minutes before he stopped, and when he stopped he opened the container and I could see that he had pulled over off the side of the road where maybe there were some trees or something. And that was like the first time that he spoke to me.
"He said 'I'm going to tie you up and I'm going to gag you.' He did remind me that he had a gun."
Was he calm about it, or did he seem agitated or anxious in any way?
"No, very calm."
What were you thinking at that moment?
"Just that I was going to go along with what he said," said Kara. "I needed him to believe that I wasn't going to try anything. So I just went along with him.
"He restrained my wrists and my ankles and then gagged me, and then he actually put the lid all the way on at that point and then he drove for a couple more minutes, and he parked and he said 'I'm going to get out of the car and I'm going to take you out, and I don't want you to scream.'
"So he got out of the car for a second, and I could hear like outside noises, people moving around, and for some reason my brain went to a gas station," said Kara. "I thought for some reason he was going to rob a gas station. And then he came back. And that was when he actually carried the container over to, I felt him carry it, and then set it down, and then he drug it, and at that point I could tell that he drug it over concrete, like the texture, and I could feel him drag over a threshold and the sound changed, and then he shut the door."
Kara Robinson, 15, was bound, gagged and stuffed in a container. Her kidnapper had taken her to an unknown location.
"It was a couple of minutes, and he opened the container and he said 'I'm going to take the gag out, I'm going to take the restraints off, but remember that I am the one with the gun. You can't scream. Don't try to escape.'"
They were in his apartment. And although Kara didn't know exactly where she was, she had a plan to gather as much information on her captor as she could.
"I was trying to read his mail, I was looking at the magnets on his refrigerator. And I knew who his doctor was. I knew who his dentist was, and I knew the serial number from the inside of the Rubbermaid container," said Kara. "Because I knew that I was going to escape, I wanted to learn about him. So I did try to have some conversation with him. He had some lizards and some fish. I asked him about those. I got him on the topic of, he was in the military, and found out he was discharged from the Navy."
The man engaged Kara in conversation too.
"He was cordial to me. Like, that sounds so crazy, but he was polite," said Kara.
Polite, and with pencil in hand --
"He asked me a bunch of questions and was writing down the answers," said Kara. "My name and whose house I was at, and if I had any previous sexual experience, if I had a boyfriend, and wrote it all down."
As abductor and abductee each conducted their desperately different fact-finding missions, Kara prepared herself for the inevitable.
"People don't kidnap young girls and not sexually assault them," said Kara. "So I knew that was coming."
And it does. With a knife and gun within her kidnapper's reach, over the next several hours, the man raped Kara repeatedly.
"I definitely placed a high value on my survival," said Kara. "At one point he said 'We're going to watch the news and we're going to see if you're on the news. Let's see if anyone misses you.' And I had been kidnapped eight hours earlier, so of course I wasn't on the news at that point, and he was like 'Well, nobody misses you.' You know, continually he told me that he was going to let me go, and he said 'And then it's your choice what you do.' He said 'You can go to the police and you can always be the girl who was raped.' And so it always stuck in my mind that there was going to be this stigma attached to me. From then on I was going to be the girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was raped."
Through all of that, Kara Robinson tried to remain strong. But that strength was challenged when the man put her back in the container.
"There was one point that I definitely lost it and had a panic attack," said Kara. "He told me he had to go make a phone call, and at that point he put me back into the container, and he said 'You've been good so far, basically, so if you promise that you're not going to scream, I won't gag you or anything.'
"He put me in there, and at that point the lid was mostly on, but I started to basically hyperventilate and have a panic attack. He came back in there and he said 'What's the problem?' And I said 'I can't breathe,' and he said 'OK, well I'll leave the lid open as long as you don't make any noise,' and he did, and then he went back and continued his phone call.
"He was calling his wife," said Kara. "He said 'You're going to be here a couple days. So at some point you're going to have to eat.' And he made me smoke marijuana with him and he gave me a Valium."
It's now time to turn in.
"He put handcuffs on my wrists and he had a rope coming up from the bed frame, and on the end of the rope there was one of those C-clamps, and so that was attached to my handcuffs, so my hands were kind of up here, and then I had a restraint on my right leg which was attached to the bottom of the bed, the bed frame there. And then he was just like 'OK, we're going to go to sleep.' In the same bed. He was right next to me."
The predator and his prey fell asleep. Then in the early-morning hours, Kara sees the moment she's been so patiently waiting for: her chance to escape.
"I woke up the next morning, he was still asleep, and I knew that that was it, that was the time," said Kara.
"I woke up before the sun even, and I heard him still sleeping," Kara Robinson tells Crime Watch Daily. "And I sort of knew when he was sleeping was going to be the most feasible time."
The most feasible time to make a run for it. But in order to leave without waking the sleeping monster, Kara can't make a sound, or much movement.
"My hands were kind of up here, and so the first thing that I did is I tried to kind of reach my hand to unscrew that C-clasp, and I couldn't quite do it," said Kara. "There was just enough room that I could kind of get it to my mouth, and I used my teeth to unscrew it. I still had my hands in handcuffs. And then I was able to kind of slowly wiggle down to my ankle enough to un-attach that to the bed, and then I just kind of slid out of bed without waking him up."
She's out of the bed.
"Got my clothes back on and I went into the living room, went to the door, and at the front door, right beside the door, there was like a coat closet and it had one of those accordion-style doors on it, and it was metal, and so you know, that's like a noisy door, and there was stuff, like the vacuum cleaner and the Rubbermaid container was also right there in the little foyer area, and so I moved the container, I pushed the vacuum in and unlocked the door.
"And I knew that that door was going to make noise whenever I closed that accordion door. So basically in one motion I closed the door and opened the other one. And his bedroom window looked out onto the front door, basically. So I just knew he was going to wake up when he heard that and I knew he was going to be able to see me, so I just did it as fast as I could, and I ran," said Kara.
In her bare feet, Kara Robinson ran for her life.
"I just thought for some reason he was going to wake up and he was going to shoot me through the window, but I was out," said Kara.
Kara ran, scanning the parking lot for anyone who could help. Then she spotted a car.
"I ran out in front of the car and waved my arms and stopped them and went to the driver and said 'I was just kidnapped, I just came from that apartment,' and I turned and pointed to it. 'It was the guy in that apartment right there, so remember it.' They were of course like shocked, you know, a young girl with handcuffs dangling just ran out in front of their car," said Kara.
"It was two men, a middle-aged gentleman and like a younger guy," said Kara. "I said 'Take me to the police department,' and they did."
The men drove her to the Richland County Sheriff's substation -- but the reaction she gets is not the one she expected.
"The deputy that was there, I felt he did not believe anything that I was saying, and I was like 'I still have handcuffs on one of my wrists,'" said Kara. "And I just felt like he didn't believe me. It was definitely pretty infuriating, because I was like, Here I am, like, I've actually done what I set out to do, like, I escaped, and now I'm in an area that should be a safe zone, and now I'm being treated like I'm lying about this."
The deputy calls Kara Robinson's mother. Her missing daughter has been found.
"The most emotional part was whenever they called her, they said 'We have your daughter,' and I could hear her over the phone, I could hear her say 'Kara, you have Kara?' And that that was one of the most emotional moments for me."
Before deputies took Kara to a hospital, they took her back to where her 18-hour horror had taken place.
"The investigator said 'We're going to put you in the car real quick and we're going to head over to the apartments and we're going to see if we can find this guy,' and I said 'You know, the guys that brought me in, I showed them what apartment,' and of course they were in shock, so we went back to the apartment complex, we were trying to identify it, and I was like 'I'm not going to remember,' because I had crammed so much information in my brain at this point."
Remember, Kara had memorized all she could about her kidnapper: the magnets on his refrigerator, the names of his doctors, the serial number from inside that container. And she remembered something else, something she saw in the apartment.
"I knew that there was a woman living there, I knew that she had red hair, you know, 'cause I saw the long red hair in the hairbrush," said Kara. "So whenever we were able to go back to the apartment complex, and I wasn't able to point out the specific apartment. There was a property manager riding around on a golf cart, and so the investigator stopped him and said 'This is the information that we have, do you know what apartment it is?' And the apartment manager was like 'Yep, I know exactly what apartment that is.'"
"It's a pretty big apartment complex, and time was of the essence," said Richland County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Stan Smith.
After Kara Robinson described her kidnapper's physical appearance and the red hair she saw in a brush, the apartment manager led investigators right to the monster's front door.
"It was his apartment that he shared with his wife," said Deputy Chief Stan Smith.
But by the time cops arrived, the man was gone.
"He had woken up and realized that he had to get out of there," said Smith.
But the clues Kara's abductor left behind were abundant, and vital. Investigators learned his identity: Richard Marc Evonitz.
"We had not heard of Richard Evonitz. He was not on our radar at all," said Deputy Chief Smith.
Deputies got a search warrant and went through every inch of Evonitz's apartment.
"We began to gather information about where he worked, got some cellular telephone records, different cars that he had access to," said Smith.
In a metal foot locker, investigators found a clue to a potentially even more sinister past.
"One of the things in that foot locker was a newspaper from Spotsylvania, Virginia, and the headline was that these two sisters' bodies had been located in a river there. That was pretty telling based on the circumstances involving Kara, him having that newspaper," said Smith.
Had Evonitz done this before? Deputies called in the FBI. A manhunt was launched and the clock was ticking. Investigators tracked down Evonitz's family.
It turned out that his wife and mother were on vacation, unaware of what had been going on back at home.
"The incident with Kara, he chose that particular time because his wife and his mother had left to go to Disney World," said Deputy Chief Smith.
Shell-shocked, the family agreed to meet with authorities.
"During that meeting a sister wanted to speak to the detectives privately, and she was able to give us significant information about where Evonitz was," said Smith. "He had reached out to her, she indicated he was in a motel about 30, 40 minutes away, so we immediately dispatched a team. I went to that location myself, and we ultimately hit the room, and he was gone."
Had Evonitz been tipped off?
"We basically had a serial killer on the loose. At this point in time we had a dangerous individual, we believed he was armed. I received word that his phone was in the Jacksonville, Florida area, so we knew he was heading south," said Smith.
Cops spotted him and a high-speed chase ensued.
"We received word that he had been stopped in Sarasota, Florida," said Smith.
Evonitz pulled a gun.
"He did not comply with police commands. A K-9 was sent to the car," said Smith.
Evonitz put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
When Kara Robinson heard her kidnapper and rapist committed suicide, there was anger.
"I was just kind of mad that he sort of got the easy way out," said Kara.
And surprisingly, a tinge of disappointment.
"I remember just hoping that they could catch up with him, because I wanted to have my day in court across from him," said Kara. "I wanted him to look at me across a courtroom and know that choosing me, that was his biggest mistake."
"Well, it was case closed as far as Kara's case, however, based on the find in the foot locker, and starting to piece together Mr. Evonitz's background, well, this investigation wasn't done yet at all," said Deputy Chief Smith. "We were able to forensically link Evonitz to the disappearance and murder of the two sisters in Spotsylvania."
It was the unsolved case of 15-year-old Kristin Lisk and 12-year-old Kati Lisk, who were abducted from their front lawn and murdered by Richard Evonitz. And shockingly, cops were also able to link Evonitz to another cold case in the same county: the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Sofia Silva.
"We don't have too many serial killer, serial rapists, that come onto our radar. That's what Evonitz was," said Smith.
Reportedly, fibers from Evonitz's furry handcuffs used on Kara Robinson were also found on the three other girls.
And unbelievably, Kristin Lisk's palm prints and fingerprints were found on the inside of Evonitz's trunk five years after her abduction.
Some wonder, Are there others?
"I was not even remotely surprised, you know, he was so calm, and he was so calculated and so prepared that there was no sense of surprise that he had done this before," said Kara.
Having learned about the other girls he kidnapped and murdered, do you feel confident that had Kara not escaped and essentially saved herself, that she too would have been murdered?
"There's no doubt in my mind," said Deputy Chief Smith.
Kara Robinson had been through hell. It was time for the healing to begin. There was one person in particular who would play an instrumental role in that recovery: Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
"Shortly after her kidnapping, I met with her and her family in my office," said Sheriff Lott. "She was a survivor and she was a fighter and she was a warrior, and she wasn't going to be a victim."
"He sort of immediately took me under his wing and treated me like a family member," said Kara.
"I've got daughters myself," said Sheriff Lott. "I kind of adopted her as one of my daughters too and wanted to make sure that she continued to be that survivor. So we bonded."
So when Kara was looking for a summer job, Sheriff Lott had an idea.
"He was like 'Well, you can come work at the sheriff's department if you want,' and so I started doing administrative work for a couple years, I did it through college," said Kara.
In college, Kara was studying to become a teacher, but she loved working at the sheriff's department. So she decided to combine her two passions, and she became a school resource officer.
"Merge the gap, that blends the best of both worlds," said Kara.
While a cadet at the police academy, Kara had managed to keep her story close to the vest. That is until the day her cover was blown.
"I was actually in class at the academy and the instructor started teaching on my case," said Kara. "One of the first slides was a picture of Kristin and Kati Lisk and Sofia Silva, and I saw it and I just went 'Oh no.'
"And so at the end of the class and I went up to her and I said 'I just want you to know that Kara is me,' and her face just turned blood-red, and she was just like 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry,'" said Kara. "So at that point she then told other people in the academy leadership, and they came to me and they were like 'We want to nominate you for an award at the academy.'
"Then I was given an award for courage and bravery at the academy at my graduation," said Kara.
Today, Kara Robinson is married and has taken some time off from the sheriff's department to raise her two small boys. She says she made the decision the moment she was abducted, and from that point on, to never be a victim. She's a survivor.
"I think that to say you're 'a victim,' then someone took something from you -- nothing was taken from me. I refuse to give that man that power," said Kara.
Has it changed who you are?
"I will say that I am who I am because of what happened to me, but it did not make me who I am," said Kara Robinson. "I am who I am because of what happened to me, sure, but it doesn't define who I am by any means."
One more note about the foot locker deputies found at the home of Richard Evonitz: Investigators say along with the newspaper headlines about the abductions, they also found detailed notes that he wrote to himself while carefully planning the abductions, as well as the pressed white button-down shirt he wore during his attacks. His wife told deputies she had always wondered what was inside, but her husband forbade her from ever opening it up.