Real Names: Clarence and Geneva Roberts
Case: Unexplained Deaths
Date: November 18, 1970 and November 29, 1980
Location: Nashville, Indiana
Case[edit | edit source]
Details: Fifty-two-year-old Clarence Roberts and his brother Carson owned a hardware shop in Nashville, Indiana. Clarence was a hard worker and was regarded as a pillar of the community. Clarence and his wife Geneva had married in 1941; she had come from humble beginnings and stood by him as he built his business, raising four children and moving into progressively nicer surroundings, as the Robertses eventually acquired three luxury cars and a large house. However, the profit from Clarence's hardware store was insufficient to finance this upper class lifestyle, and the Robertses were in heavy debt. To cover the large expenses, Clarence sold his hardware shop and rolled over the capital into several grain elevators and an apartment complex. Misfortunes sunk these real estate investments, and Clarence hit his low point financially when Sheriff Warren Roberts, Clarence's own brother, was ordered to repossess two of Clarence's luxury cars. The repossession occurred in October of 1970 while the Robertses were left desolate and desperate.
One month later on November 18, 1970, a fire destroyed a shack on the Roberts family property. One body was discovered, burned beyond recognition. It was identified as that of Clarence Roberts. On November 29, 1980, ten years later, another fire destroyed the Roberts residence. Two bodies were discovered. One was identified as Geneva Roberts, and the other was identified as Clarence Roberts. The strange case of a man dying twice became the talk of the town. No one is sure what really happened to Clarence. Did he die in the first or second fire? Or could he possibly still be alive, murdering two or three people in the process? These questions continue to haunt this bizarre case.
Suspects: Two days before the first fire, Clarence was sighted at a tavern in Morgantown, another town in Brown County, where he bought dinner for a hobo and offered him work doing odd jobs around his house. The vagrant collapsed unexpectedly and complained of an ailment, and Clarence volunteered to take him to a doctor. However, a police search of the clinics and hospitals of Brown County and all adjacent counties turned up no record that the vagrant was admitted for treatment.
A shotgun was discovered in the ashes of the first fire. Some believed that Clarence, overwhelmed by being under a mountain of debt and depressed from losing his cars and money, committed suicide and died in the first fire. Others, however, suspect that Clarence may have murdered the vagrant on the night before the "death" and placed the man's body in the fire, watching the conflagration while hiding in the woods.
Although it was suspected that Clarence had shot himself with his shotgun, an autopsy revealed that no shots were fired into the body. Also, blood evidence showed that the body found in the 1970 fire was most likely not Clarence's. Blood drawn from the corpse was type AB, while Clarence had type B blood in accordance from medical reports found in his US Army service record. Another mismatched piece of evidence was a masonic ring belonging to Clarence was found in the ashes, but oddly undamaged by the fire's intense heat. Adding to the speculation was that 1970 was the same year that Clarence paid for multiple life insurance policies on himself, naming Geneva as the beneficiary.
The inconsistent evidence from the first fire caused the insurance agencies to deny Geneva claiming the annuities to Clarence's life insurance. The Robertses asked to have Clarence declared dead; however, the judge denied the request, citing insufficient evidence. A pathologist came to Geneva's side, believing that the body found in the shed was Clarence's. Geneva appealed, and the courts upheld the denials, which was disheartening for her. Losing everything, Geneva moved into a more squalid house in the lower class area, and took a job working in the kitchen of the local Howard Johnson's to make ends meet.
Years later, neighbors reported a strange man lurking near Geneva's house who avoided contact with anyone. While it seems likely that Geneva had resumed dating after Clarence's death, the fact she denied contacting such a man, nor allowed anyone inside her house fueled speculation that the strange man was not a new boyfriend, but was in fact Clarence who had exhausted his savings and could no longer afford to be on the lam, thus returning to Geneva.
Another factor that added to the gossip was that local shopkeepers said that Geneva often bought large quantities of beer from them when she did her food shopping. As Geneva had diabetes, she tended to eschew alcohol when with others, which fueled belief she was harboring someone.
The police set up surveillance on the house, photographing everyone that came and went from the house. However, they did not locate the mystery man. Local reporter Helen Ayers became friendly with Geneva. She believed that Geneva was hiding something - or someone. She had visited Geneva several times at her house. She recalled that Geneva would always meet her on the back porch and never let her inside. Helen also interviewed Clarence's sister who lived near the house. She said that she could hear Geneva talking with the man. However, she claimed that the man's voice was not Clarence.
In 1980, nearly a decade to the day after the first fire, a second fire burned down Geneva's house. The discovery of two bodies, one Geneva's, suggests several possibilities. One theory is that Clarence returned and murdered both Geneva and the strange man in a jealous rage. Another theory is that Clarence was indeed the strange man and that he and Geneva committed suicide together to allow their children to cash in on their life insurance. Yet another theory is that an unknown third party killed Clarence and Geneva and set this fire.
Investigators determined that the second fire was definitely arson, and that an accelerant, presumably turpentine, was was placed from the bedroom to the back door. They, along with the pathologist, are convinced that Clarence was the second victim, but some believe that the body belonged to someone else.
Extra Notes: The original airdate of the segment is December 14, 1988.
The judge shown in the segment was an actual Brown County magistrate, who adjudicated the lawsuit between the insurance company and the real Geneva Roberts. He reprised his ruling in the re-enacted court case, telling the actress playing Geneva Roberts that she has lost her case and recommending appellate action.
Results: Unresolved. Authorities looked into the possibility that the first victim was a thirty-eight-year-old drifter from Kentucky named James Woodrow Hatcher, who vanished in 1968. However, X-rays of James' body determined that he was not the murder victim.
Authorities are certain that the second body found belonged to Clarence. X-rays and dental records from Clarence matched the body. In regards to the 1980 fire, a grand jury determined that Geneva was murdered and that Clarence died accidentally while setting the fire. They believed that he passed out either from alcohol consumption or from the fire's fumes.
Authorities are also certain that he was responsible for the murder of the first victim. In fact, a grand jury indicted him for kidnapping and murder in 1975. However, the victim's identity remains a mystery.
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