Tammy Downs can no longer see the area along the Congaree River where her father was fatally stabbed 21 years ago. So she placed a cross and some flowers across the Rosewood landing, where three young people witnessed the killing that remains unsolved.
“There’s got to be somebody out there that knows something,” said Tammy Downs, 59. “It’s just a matter of them coming forward and telling it.”
Jack Robinson, an Air Force veteran and retired laboratory employee at Fort Jackson’s Moncrief Army Health Clinic, was stabbed four times in the upper body by a man at the Rosewood boat landing the evening of Aug. 17, 1996. He was taken to a hospital, where he later died.
Law enforcement never got a chance to interview him.
“The assailant was already there,” said Deputy Chief James Smith of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, an investigator now on the case. “It looked like it was some sort of pre-designated meeting.”
Three young people were hanging out at the boat ramp around 6 p.m. that evening, Smith said. They saw Robinson and a man walk toward them before turning and walking into a wooded area near the river. A short time later, the two men sounded like they were fighting.
“They heard Jack Robinson say something about, ‘I’ll give you money’ or ‘I’ve got money,’” Smith said, adding that the motive for the killing appears to be robbery.
Robinson ran from the woods and toward the young witnesses, holding his abdomen.
“He told them he felt like he was dying,” Smith said. Robinson later died at Palmetto Health Richland.
One of the witnesses described the suspect for a sketch artist, but Smith knows sketches are not always reliable. A large hunting knife was found near the crime scene days later, but after being exposed to the elements, and because of the limitations of DNA testing at the time, investigators could not determine whether the knife was related to the crime.
“They followed up on a number of leads, possibilities and nicknames,” Smith said, “but they just were never able to develop anything concrete.”
Forensic investigators will soon go through the evidence, including Robinson’s bloody clothing, with improved DNA technology in hopes of finding new clues, Smith said.
Downs said her father, one of eight children, grew up in the Olympia Mills Village area. She, too, spent part of her childhood in that part of Columbia.
“I don’t know what he would be doing down at the boat landing,” she said. “I never even knew that boat landing existed until all of this happened.”
Robinson, who lived a quiet life in an apartment on Decker Boulevard, did not have any enemies, his daughter said. Over the past 21 years, she has tried to answer the questions that remained after his violent death.
There appeared to be some resolution in December 1997, when the suspect in a double homicide also was charged with Robinson’s killing. However, investigators later dismissed the charges, citing a lack of evidence to tie him to the crime, Downs said.
Downs maintains Twitter and Facebook pages to refresh people on her father’s case, and she got the case included in a book about cold cases. Her adult sons encourage her to keep putting the information out there. She has amassed folders and notes over the years from her conversations with investigators about her father’s case, which she has talked with her sons about.
“I’ve told them I will continue fighting for this until we get justice or until the day I die,” she said. “So if I do die, they can continue on with it if I don’t have that day.”