The Robin Row Case: the Final Betrayal of Motherhood

Robin Row
Robin Row. Mug Shot

Robin Lee Row killed her husband and two children in order to collect on their life insurance policies.

On February 10, 1992, a fire broke out on the first floor of an apartment where Robin Row's estranged husband and two children were living. When the firemen arrived at the burning building they discovered the bodies of Robin's husband Randy Row, 34, and their children Joshua, 10, and Tabitha, 8. All had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

It was determined that the fire had been started in two places on the first floor of the apartment and a liquid had been used to ignite the fires. It was also determined that the circuit switch to the smoke alarm had been flipped to the off position and that the furnace fan was set to run continuously, which would speed up the circulation of the smoke throughout the apartment.

The Investigation

Robin Row had been staying with her friend, Joan McHugh, because of marital problems. In the weeks prior to the fire, Row had been telling McHugh and other friends that her husband had kidnapped, raped and physically abused her and that she was planning on getting a divorce.

A Terrible Feeling

On the night of the fire, Row awakened McHugh at 3 a.m., telling her that she had "a terrible feeling that there was something wrong at the house." To put her mind at ease, McHugh went with Row to check on the house and her children. As they turned onto her street they could see the lights of emergency vehicles and Row told McHugh that there must have been a fire. At that point, they could not see any smoke. It was a "guess" on Row's part.

When they got to the house Row was informed that her husband and children had died as a result of a fire. Because of the nature of the fire Row became a lead suspect in the police investigation.

When the police searched her car they discovered copies of six life insurance policies taken out on the Row family totaling around $276,000 and naming Robin as the full benefactor. The most recent policy was purchased just 17 days before the fire.

Also during the search, it was discovered that Robin had been embezzling money from her job as the manager of the bingo games at the YMCA. She was arrested, charged with grand theft and put in jail.

More Victims?

The investigation also uncovered that Robin had previously lost two children. Her baby daughter died in 1977 from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and her son Keith died in 1980 in a what was ruled as an accidental house fire.

Fabricated Tales of Abuse

Detectives also surmised that Row's previous statements that Randy had abused her were lies. There were no police reports or visits from child services as she had claimed. They also discovered that Row was sexually involved with McHugh's oldest son.

An Untold Alibi

With the evidence pointing heavily at Robin, the detectives continued to investigate her and solicited help from the friend that Robin had been staying with while separated from her husband.

The friend began recording phone conversations and prompted by the detectives, she lied and told Robin that on the night of the fire she had awoken and gone downstairs and was surprised to see that Robin was not there. Robin told her that she was outside in the car, talking with her psychiatrist until around 4:30 a.m. Joan suggested to Robin that she tell the police since it would give her a solid alibi as to her whereabouts on the night of the fire.

On March 23, 1992, Robin was arrested for three counts of murder. At no time did Robin ever tell the police believe her alibi.

The Final Betrayal of Motherhood

On December 16, 1993, Robin was found guilty of the crime of premeditated murder and she was sentenced to death. During her sentencing Judge Alan Schwartzman called her a pathological liar and went on to say, "Robin Row’s actions represent the final betrayal of motherhood and embody the ultimate affront to civilized notions of maternal instinct,” adding “Maternal ’prolicide’ — the killing of one’s own children — is the embodiment of the cold-blooded, pitiless slayer — a descent into the blackened heart of darkness.”

Currently, Robin Row is the only death row inmate in Pocatello Women's Correctional Center (PWCC) in Pocatello, Idaho.​

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "The Robin Row Case: the Final Betrayal of Motherhood." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, September 8). The Robin Row Case: the Final Betrayal of Motherhood. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Robin Row Case: the Final Betrayal of Motherhood." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 29, 2022).