PELICAN BAY — In the front yard of a dilapidated mobile home, the irregular rectangle of freshly dug dirt, turned to mud by the rain, didn’t look particularly unusual Tuesday evening.On the porch were small American flags left from July 4, and Neola Robinson’s four-door Ford with handicapped license plates was parked in the driveway.But that patch of dirt was attracting a stream of vehicles to 1501 Partridge Court to get a glimpse of where investigators had been busy the day before, digging up Shorty Robinson’s body.Robinson, a 57-year-old welder, had been missing since Memorial Day weekend 2010.On Tuesday, Neola Robinson, 62, was in the Tarrant County Jail facing a murder charge. Her bail was set at $150,000. Shorty Robinson was reported missing by his employer on June 16, 2010, after he hadn’t shown up at work for two weeks, then-Police Chief Gilbert Towns told the Star-Telegram in July 2010.Towns said Neola Robinson told investigators her husband left on Memorial Day with another woman. Investigators reported that the last place they could find that he was seen was a local bar on May 28.But if he left with a girlfriend, officials asked, why did he take no money, personal belongings, his vehicle or his Harley-Davidson motorcycle?Texas Rangers were called in to assist Pelican Bay police.In a news release Tuesday, Sgt. Lonny Haschel, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, said: “New information came to light leading investigators to the residence at 1501 Partridge Court. “A warrant was obtained for the property and the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office assisted Texas Rangers in the search. The search of the property on July 15th resulted in the exhumation of the body of Mr. Robinson.”The news release gave the dead man’s full name as Pleasant Ervin Robinson.Neighbors’ suspicions“We called her ‘Cotton,’ and he went by ‘Shorty,’” neighbor Lanie Lindsey said Tuesday evening.Lindsey shared other neighbors’ suspicions that Neola Robinson might have had something to do with her husband’s disappearance.“I actually heard [Neola Robinson] tell someone at a bar, ‘You shouldn’t sit by me, I might kill ya.’ She laughed, then everybody pretty much just stopped talking to her.”But Lindsey said the suspicions deepened as Shorty’s friends refused to believe he’d leave town without saying goodbye, and without telling his boss.“And get this,” she added, “he left his Harley, his prize possession. He was a biker. Who would do that? That’s when people started getting suspicious. If he was going to take off, he’d have told someone.”On the other hand, the neighbors were perplexed at how Shorty Robinson ended up in a grave outside the couple’s mobile home on a corner lot.“How was it,” asked Carolann Wheless, who lives a couple of doors down, “that this handicapped woman was able to dig a hole big enough to bury a body, let along drag a body to it, and in the front yard? And then for it to go unnoticed for three years?”‘Very dependable’In a Star-Telegram article in July 2010, Shorty Robinson was described as having been married several times and having served prison time for driving while intoxicated. Still, friends and relatives said, Robinson was a loyal friend and a devoted employee.“He has worked for me for almost 10 years,” said Michael Wright, co-owner of TJ Machine & Tool in Azle, where Robinson was a welder. “He called if he was going to be sick. He was very dependable.”Wright said he filed a missing person report with Azle police June 16 after Robinson was absent for two weeks straight.“For him to disappear is not like him at all,” Wright said. “His work was his life. He has a 401(k), a paycheck and tools here.”‘All kinds of secrets’Neighbor Evelyn Smith said that a few days before she moved into her mobile home in 2010, she saw police at the Robinson home, apparently looking for clues to Shorty’s disappearance. As months passed, she’d visit with Neola Robinson whenever she’d see her in the yard. She said Neola claimed Shorty left her for another woman.“She stuck to that story for three years,” Smith said. “She was steadfast.”In recent weeks, Smith got the impression that Neola Robinson was having financial difficulty. She recalled visiting her a few days ago to see if she’d like some squash and tomatoes from Smith’s garden once they ripened.Smith said Robinson seemed grateful for the offer and remarked that she had just returned from the community center in Azle where she picked up a fan because her air conditioner was in bad shape.“I feel like she was a nice little old lady who couldn’t get around good,” Smith said. “But to think there was a cadaver out here … I don’t know. I’m baffled.“I guess life has all kinds of secrets, and you never know which ones your neighbors are keeping.”‘As serious as it gets’Wheless said that when she moved into the neighborhood, there was talk about Shorty Robinson’s disappearance and suspicions about his wife. She asked police if she needed to be worried but was told there was no danger.“But then we learn they’re pulling someone out of the front yard,” she said. “Well, that’s as serious as it gets.”She said that Monday evening at dinner, her little boy said he wanted to pray for the “dead guy in the yard.”“That’s something a 3-year-old should never have to say,” Wheless said.But they did pray for him, she said, and for his family.“Now they know he just didn’t take off to Mexico,” Wheless said. “Now they can have a service for closure.” This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST