Dad ULYSSES HERBERT ROBERSON II has finally been convicted in the 1986 murder of his 4-year-old son. He had a history of abuse towards the boy's mother, who did not have custody and only saw her son two days a week. Dad seems to be a creepy Manson/Svengali type, who managed to exercise near total control over his "women." Despite that, the Mom had attempted to get custody back in early 1986. She had discovered the little boy was being abused in November 1985 and last saw him in December. Dad beat her up and broke her jaw in January 1986 for asking "too many questions." The only reason the case finally broke open is that another "common law" wife finally broken her silence after 15 years and admitted she had seen the boy's dead body.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Sentencing ends 24-year-old South Lake Tahoe murder case
Published: Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010 - 11:15 am
On a humid summer day in 2001, South Lake Tahoe police Detective Martin Hewlett was far from home, but finally close to getting answers to questions that for years had nagged at him about Alexander Sol Olive.
In 1986, the 4-year-old, red-haired boy disappeared from his home in the Sierra Nevada town, launching an investigation that would eventually involve detectives from several local and federal agencies, and 23 years of hard work.
Inside a small FBI conference room in Cleveland, Hewlett listened as a witness described what she saw one day, in the winter of 1985-86:
"I saw him dead in the bathtub," said Raj Roberson, who for 15 years had refused to talk.
Hewlett remembers those words as a marker: He was near the end of a long journey.
"We were finally getting information that all the investigators, up till that point, were trying to get," said Hewlett, who took over the case from another detective in 1996. "This is what we have been waiting for so long – to find out what happened to the child."
The witness was the common-law wife of Ulysses Herbert Roberson II, who authorities had long believed killed Alexander, his son.
Roberson, who isn't Alexander's mother, declined to speak to The Bee, saying she's writing a book about her experiences.
Roberson's account cracked the case and sealed the fate of a man prosecutors said was manipulative and abusive, lured women with lies about his mystical powers and forced them to do his bidding.
On Jan. 6, Ulysses Roberson, 59, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on a second-degree murder conviction in the death of Alexander, also known as Salaam.
In a packed South Lake Tahoe courtroom were law enforcement officials who had a hand in the case. Hewlett, who is now South Lake Tahoe's acting police chief, was there.
To the end, Ulysses Roberson maintained his innocence. His attorney argued Alexander isn't dead.
"It's sort of a bittersweet ending," said Tom Conner, who retired as a South Lake Tahoe police commander. Conner was the sergeant-in-charge on the evening Alexander's mother, Rosemary Judith "Judy" Olive, reported her son missing and said Ulysses Roberson had assaulted her.
After Ulysses Roberson's conviction, Conner said it still haunts him that Alexander's body was never found.
A difficult start
For 15 years after the first report, investigators knew only – mostly from one witness's account – that on the day Alexander disappeared, his father had beaten him and left him naked in a cold garage. The witness, Pamalar Lewis, lived with the Robersons in Tahoe Keys, in the winter of 1985 and 1986.
She testified that she saw Ulysses Roberson carry a blanket into a van before driving off. Lewis said she believed the blanket contained Alexander.
In a 1986 statement, Lewis told detectives that Raj Roberson and five toddlers and infants were in the same van. When they returned that night, Alexander was missing.
What happened after Ulysses Roberson drove off in the van remained a mystery for years because Raj Roberson, the only other adult in the van, rebuffed attempts to talk to her.
At that time, Judith Olive worked as a nurse in San Francisco and saw her son at least two days a week, she said. Yet the distance was not enough to keep her away from Ulysses Roberson's control.
It was a cult-like, fear-ridden environment, Olive said. She and other women even gave him their paychecks.
'Get the demon out'
In a February 1986 court document seeking custody of her son, Olive said that in November 1985, she had discovered her son had been physically abused. He was frail, she said, and had bruises on his face.
Olive told authorities that she learned her son had been hung upside down by his ankles with shoestrings. Ulysses Roberson had told her that Alexander was evil and had to be disciplined – to the "verge of death" – to "get the demon out" of him.
The last day she saw her son was Dec. 19, 1985, she said. And when she returned to South Lake Tahoe, in January 1986, Ulysses Roberson told her Alexander had been sent to Muslim school. When Olive continued to ask questions, she said, Ulysses Roberson beat her, broke her jaw and for weeks did not allow her to go to a hospital.
In March 1986 police stepped in.
Officers showed up at the two-story house on Monterey Drive to look for Ulysses Roberson, but only Lewis was there. She talked to police, reluctantly.
Then other women, who were or had been involved with Ulysses Roberson, walked away, shut their doors or hung up their phones.
"Some were even confrontational," Hewlett said.
After Alexander's disappearance, investigators sought out a dozen women from Seattle to Los Angeles.
With only some blood on a blanket and little conclusive physical evidence to go on, detectives struggled to determine what happened to a boy his mother described as loving and having a "gift of faith."
"Our case remains open, with no active leads, at this time," South Lake Tahoe police Detective Ken Hunt wrote in a 1990 report. "With the passing of time, there has been no sign of Salaam Roberson being alive."
No letting go
Investigators refused to let the case turn cold.
"The death of a 4-year-old, you just can't give up. There's no way," said FBI Special Agent Chris Campion, who teamed with Hewlett in 1996.
"Judy Olive was a very strong advocate for her son," Campion said, adding that Olive had written to the agency when he was first reported missing. "If we were ever tempted to let go of the case, she wasn't going to let us."
Hewlett and Campion – with help from other FBI agents, police detectives and El Dorado County district attorney's investigators – devised a new strategy.
"We started to develop relationships with witnesses in the case we felt were important," Hewlett said.
Throughout the late 1990s, investigators went back to the women. By then, Raj Roberson had moved to Cleveland and Lewis was living in San Francisco.
Ulysses Roberson, meanwhile, was in a Washington state prison, convicted of abusing one of his sons and raping a 13-year-old Seattle girl.
"We were hoping that the link between the women and Ulysses was severed and because of the time that has transpired that they would be more willing to talk," Hewlett said.
Finally, a breakthrough
FBI agents knocked on Raj Roberson's door in late 2000. She was still reticent, Campion said, but the agents left a letter promising that what she said would not be used against her. She agreed to talk in exchange for partial immunity.
Raj Roberson confirmed Alexander's death.
"The district attorney did not feel they had a prosecutable case until Raj's statement," Campion said.
Raj Roberson told investigators that Ulysses Roberson admitted to her, on the day of the boy's disappearance, that he had killed Alexander. When she started crying, he shoved a gun into her abdomen (she was pregnant with his sixth child) and threatened to "blow everyone away" if she did not pull herself together.
She said that later in the evening she saw Ulysses Roberson load the van with food, blankets and a box she believed contained Alexander's body.
The family went for a long drive, she said. Ulysses Roberson told her not to look where they were going or he would kill her. She crouched down in her seat.
During one stop, she said Ulysses Roberson left for about 45 minutes, taking with him something that he never brought back.
Detectives said she vaguely recalled the side of a freeway and railroad tracks, but no landmark details that could help in a search.
"I wish we had the body," Hewlett said. "But even so, there has been a murder of a young child. This is a 4-year-old who's never had the opportunity to attend kindergarten. He's never had some of those joys of growing up."