Paul V. Coates – Confidential file, Jan. 1, 1960
January 1, 2010 | 2:00 pm
Extermination for 19-Year-Old Son
This is the story of a murderer -- a cop-killer.
He's 19 years old. His name is Alexander Robillard. On Aug. 5, 1959, he pumped six bullets into Officer Gene Doran of the Hillsborough, Cal., Police Department.
Officer Doran, the father of two teenage boys himself, had stopped young Robillard on a routine check of his car -- which, it developed later, was stolen -- when the killing occurred.
Now, Robillard is in San Quentin's Death Row, awaiting execution. He was sent there a few weeks ago after a Redwood City jury of nine men and three women determined that he should die.
Yesterday, I talked to a woman who challenged their decision.
"If anyone should be on Death Row, it should be me," she said. "I take full responsibility for what Alex did."
The woman was Mrs. Mary Robillard, 46, the schoolteacher mother of the condemned youth. Alex is the oldest of her five children.
Tall and dressed in black, she sat in thin nervousness as she talked.
"His father," she began, "is an alcoholic. We were well-off when Alex was born. But after World War II broke out, the gold mine which my husband owned was ordered closed down by the government. We didn't get a penny. My husband never got over that.
"The more he drank, the more he took it out on me and the children. Mostly Alex, because he was the oldest.
"The boy tried to protect me," she continued, "as well as his brothers and his sister. I'm afraid that was my first mistake. I let him take too much of the burden."
At her son's trial -- which provided headlines for the San Francisco papers -- Mrs. Robillard testified that between the ages of 7 and 15, Alex was the buffer between his father's alcoholic rages and the rest of the family.
It was his responsibility to keep his father out of the family car, to hide his father's shoes to keep him from wandering off to buy more liquor, to track him down at the bars when he went off on a toot.
Her husband threw stones, iron pipes and foul epithets at Alex, she had testified, and more than once gathered Alex and the other children around him, fondling a vial of cyanide, threatening suicide, and explaining in gruesome detail how he would die.
"But Alex loved his father," Mrs. Robillard continued. "Possibly he loved him more than he loved me. I couldn't get through to the boy. Maybe I was insisting too much on things that weren't important."
Manners, education, dignity, status -- these are the things I got the feeling were important to Mary Robillard.
In the late '40s she went to work to support her family, when it became obvious that her husband couldn't. First, she was a social worker, but that was too depressing. Then she became a schoolteacher.
"By the time Alex was 15," she said, "I'd lost him. I couldn't get through to him. I had him placed in a foster home."
The tears. "I did it for his sake. If only I could have made him believe that. I told him. I've told him so many times, but I still don't know whether he believes me."
Alex's first brush with the law was in December, 1958. He was convicted of burglary. When he finished his six-month sentence, he apparently went wild. He went on a spree which reportedly included armed robbery, stolen cars, bad checks and long hours of gambling in Reno and Las Vegas.
'So This Was Wrong'
Through more tears, Mrs. Robillard added, "He was brought up to believe that we'd always have lots of money. This was wrong."
Mary Robillard was different from most mothers of most criminals who end up in prison for life, or in Death Row. She didn't say, "I can't understand why he did it."
She accepted her guilt, her blame, along with her shame.
"If I had only had wisdom when he was growing up," she concluded, "my son wouldn't be in Death Row today."