Fort Worth, Texas – 1992 – 16-year-old Dorothy Marie Robards was a beautiful, intelligent girl. She was also every boy next door’s dream: long-legged with gorgeous brown eyes Robards was the most popular girl at Granbury High School. Robards and her mother Beth Burroughs, had a sisterly relationship, more so than that of parent and child. They chatted well into the night. Robards loved regaling her mother with tales of her many amours and her school achievements. Later, a court psychologist would claim, “When I saw them, they were quite affectionate in an overt fashion, hugging one another, finishing each other’s sentences. It wasn’t anything pathological, anything dark or disturbing. But they acted more like contemporaries than mother and daughter. They were like sisters who had grown up together.”
Her stepfather Frank Burroughs, a former navy petty officer Beth had met while still married to Robards’ biological father, Burroughs was a thorn in Robards’ side. At first he was competition with her mother’s affections and the feeling was somewhat mutual. If that wasn’t bad enough, Burroughs was a bossy guy who thought he had the right to discipline Robards. Big mistake. Worse, in the summer of 1992, Beth and Burroughs nearly separated. “At the time I failed my family as a father and as a husband. I caused grief. Marie had lost respect for me because of what I had done,” Burroughs would one day admit to the press.What that meant was that Burroughs had an affair and it was 15-year–old Robards who caught him in the act. Robards found her loathsome stepfather in their home with another woman when she returned home from school. Wonderful. Robards then had the distasteful task of informing her mother about her stepfather’s meanderings. It was easy to understand why Robards felt contemptuous toward her stepfather. “She withdrew from all of us,” Beth would later tell reporters. “And then one day she came to me and said, ‘I can’t stand being in this house. I think you should divorce him.’
In spite of the resulting conflict between Beth and Burroughs, they were determined to heal their marriage. Finally, Robards issued her mother an ultimatum: that it was either her or Frank. That was the beginning of the end of Robards’ relationship with her mother. Frank was in. Robards was out. Such a shame. Robards went to her paternal grandparents’ house but within a week she returned. Robards showed up on her mother’s doorstep but Burroughs wouldn’t let her enter the house. “It was this terrible scene, all of us outside screaming and crying at one another,” Beth would later say. “Marie was crying for me to take her back, and Frank was shouting at me, ‘You know the rule, and you can’t break it. The same thing that applied to my son should apply to her.’ He was making sense, I know, but I felt like he was making me choose between him and her.”There was no happy homecoming. Beth Burroughs didn’t want her anymore. She forced Robards to move in with her biological father. So much for the cozy mother-daughter relationship. “I never thought I was pushing Marie away. I thought that her move to Steven’s apartment would only be temporary and that Frank would soon change his mind,” Beth would state sadly.
38-year-old Steven Robards, a postman, was thrilled to have his daughter in his life. Robards had suffered from clinical depression but medication had largely cured him of his devastating bouts.His girlfriend, Sandy Hudgins, a single mother he met at a Parents Without Partners meeting, lived down the hall in Steven’s apartment building. Hudgins was a nice lady who was impressed with how hard Steven worked to make Robards happy. He bought Robards clothes and spent time with her. However, Steven lived in a small bachelor pad. That meant Robards had no bedroom. She had to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag. Hudgins told Steven his daughter needed her own room. Steven tried to accommodate his daughter by applying for a 2-bedroom apartment in his building, but it was difficult. And Steven wasn’t a good cook or a good housekeeper. Robards hated her new school, Eastern Hills High School. It was much larger than Granbury. Perhaps the socially introverted Robards felt overwhelmed. Robards often called her mother and begged to come home. She cried on the phone but her mother kept saying no and hanging up the phone. Clearly, Mother Dearest preferred her second husband over her child. Hudgins tried to fill Mother’s shoes but it wasn’t possible.
Beth made no promises to Robards about returning home, even when Robards wrote her a letter saying she was suicidal. “I immediately called Marie and told her life was too precious for her to say things like that,” Beth would later reflect. “I really thought Marie was only being overdramatic in the way teenagers can be.” It was unfortunate that Beth didn’t have the good sense to take her daughter’s often grief seriously. In time there would be a death in the family, although it would not be Robards’. And over tim, Robards’ situation did seem to improve. “She never talked back to Steven. She was always cooperative. She even asked me if she could help me wrap Christmas presents,” Hudgins said. “In all honesty, she was what you wanted a teenager to be.”
At school at least, Robards still excelled. She played the clarinet in the school band and took art classes and dance lessons in her spare time. She was a straight-A student, especially in chemistry. She had access to chemicals most people wouldn’t place in a teenager’s hands. Robards concocted a good plan and a good poison. Eventually Robards would discuss her shocking crime with an odd admission. “It’s one of those mysteries—a teenager’s desperation. For whatever reason, Marie did feel permanently trapped. She … had been thinking that if she could burn down Steven’s apartment when he wasn’t there, she would be able to be reunited with her mother.” But at the time, Robards was planning something even more sinister. She would use barium acetate to kill her father. Then her mother would surely want her back. Incredibly, it wasn’t her hated stepfather that Robards would poison. It was dear old dad. One night he went out to get the family Mexican food. When his back was turned, Robards sprinkled the poison onto his taco. He mentioned “it was too salty,” but “he ate it anyway.” Within an hour the poor man writhed on the floor in agony. Robards went down the hallway and knocked on Hudgins’ door. Soon an ambulance was called. Although Robards could have told paramedics how her father had gotten sick, she said nothing and allowed her loving father to die. She had committed the perfect murder.
Robards returned home expecting to remain there, however she received quite a shock. Beth told Robards that she was taking Robards to Florida and they weren’t going with Burroughs. Robards was devastated. “I told her that Frank and I were still having problems, and so I was moving out,” Beth said. “Marie stared at me. ‘You had this plan all along to take me to Florida?’ she asked. I told her I had found a job there, and we were moving, and we were going to be together again, the two of us. Marie looked like she couldn’t breathe.” She would never have poisoned poor daddy had she known her mother was abandoning her stepfather once and for all. However after they moved to Florida, Beth was worried that Robards had become manic-depressive. She sent her daughter to a counseling center, which did little good. Then, in June, Burroughs arrived in Florida to try to patch things up with Beth. But in another almost unbelievable twist, weeks after his arrival Robards found a note in Burroughs’ pillow case from the other woman. Beth recalled, “Marie said to me, ‘Mom, you can put up with him if you want to, but I don’t have to. I miss Texas, and I’m going home.’” Once again, Beth chose her husband, staying with him in Florida.
About a year passed. Robards enrolled at the University of Texas. Some of the students were mystified by the elegant girl because she was so reserved and unwilling to talk about herself. Some girls swore that she told them her father was living, and others thought she said he had died. In drama class, Robards listened to her peers read Hamlet. Like King Claudius, “an erring human being, not an inhuman monster,” Robards broke down and confessed her crime to a classmate, who called police. Robards was arrested in Austin and placed in Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Centre. During her trial, Robards insisted she hadn’t wanted to kill her father. She only wanted to sicken him so she could return to her mother. However, it was revealed that Robards was obsessed with knowing how humans die, and she wanted to become a medical examiner. A teacher named Tracie Arnold testified that the Principal of Robards’ high school told her not to admit to police that the chemical was in the classroom. The school also hid the poison on campus.
“Marie had strong values in every aspect of her life,” Beth told the court. “She insisted that she was going to remain a virgin until she got married.” The jury was unconvinced and convicted her with first degree murder. Robards was sentenced to 28 years in prison with the possibility of parole. After only seven years, Robards was paroled in 2003. She now lives freely under an assumed name. Hudgins went through a terrible depression for years after her boyfriend’s murder. “I haven’t loved anyone since Steven,” she stated. It was a tragic combination of a self-centered desperate girl, and a cold, rejecting mother, that resulted in Steven Robards’ murder. To be fair, two women were responsible for Robards’ murder. It wouldn’t have happened had Robards’s mother had more compassion for her only child.