Tahoe connection: Family says killer was abusive man
The son and ex-husband of the woman who lived with escaped murderer Robert Charles Johnson for 14 years said he was abusive and constantly threatened her with their lives.
Johnson was captured by federal marshals Sept. 24 at his Gardnerville Ranchos home after being on the run for 31 years.
He is being held in Douglas County jail in Minden awaiting transfer to Colorado after waiving extradition.
Russell Burkett, 20, whose mother lived with Johnson, said the man he knew as Robert Fargo was a master manipulator.
Support Local Journalism
“He could sell ice to an Eskimo,” Burkett said Monday. “I hated him.”
Russell was 8 years old when his mother, whom The Record-Courier is declining to identify, met Johnson.
Russell’s father Kingsbury resident James Burkett said the couple was going through their divorce when Johnson entered the picture.
James Burkett said the couple’s divorce was amicable and that the two are still friends, but that his ex-wife told him she is still in fear of Johnson.
There is official record of one response by authorities to the Johnson home four years ago for a domestic dispute. Both Johnson and Burkett’s ex-wife were told to seek counseling.
The elder Burkett said the first clue he had to the state of the home was three months after his ex met Johnson.
“He destroyed their apartment in a drunken rage and stole her vehicle,” Burkett said. “I got a hold of him and he returned the vehicle.”
Burkett said Johnson took psychology classes to be able to manipulate the people around him.
“She kicked him out of the apartment a couple of times,” Burkett said.
He described helping his ex-wife move to Lake Tahoe and that Johnson broke into her home and made a copy of the key.
After Burkett’s ex-wife and Russell returned to the Valley, there was a fight at their home.
“Another time she called and said he pinned her up against a wall,” Burkett said. “I would head over there and he would always be gone when I got there.”
The morning after the fight Russell returned home from school because he forgot something and found Johnson coming out of a crawl space where he’d spent the night.
“This guy is a psychopathic nut case,” James Burkett said.
Burkett said Johnson managed to intimidate the woman by threatening to kill either he or his son.
“That’s the way he had her pinned,” he said. “We were in danger constantly and didn’t even know it.”
Russell Burkett, a Whittell High School graduate who is apprenticing for a plumbing company, said he and his mother were shocked when authorities took Johnson away.
“We were blown away when it happened,” he said. “Me and my mom used to talk about ways to get him out of the house.”
Russell said Johnson first struck him when he was 14 or 15.
“You could tell he was a waste,” Russell said. “He couldn’t ever hold a job.”
Russell said he and his mother planned to move again in the spring when Johnson was gone for river rafting season.
“Thank God this happened,” he said.
James Burkett said he didn’t want Johnson leaving Carson Valley with people thinking he was anything but a liar and a killer.
“He’s wearing two faces and the public is not seeing him for the murderer he is,” Burkett said.
Johnson portrayed himself as a loving family man in a jailhouse interview with The Record-Courier.
The newspaper made an attempt to contact Burkett’s ex-wife for this story.
Johnson was serving a 10-15-year sentence in Colorado for a 1973 second-degree murder conviction when he escaped in 1976.
He was convicted of the 1972 slaying of Michael Albert Lucas found dead from a gunshot wound on a hiking trail in El Paso County, Colo.
Investigators said the men were involved with others in marijuana distribution in El Paso County.
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User