After 26 Years, A Mother Will Finally Get Justice For Her Daughter

by Kristen Mae

Cape Coral Police make arrest in 26-year-old cold case

One evening when I was 10 years old, my mother asked me to sit down with her. Her face looked weird, tense in a way I’d never seen, like she was trying not to cry, but…more than that. My heart raced as she told me that something terrible had happened to my friend Robin from school. I thought, She broke her arm. Or, She is very sick. But my mother told me Robin had died. That someone had killed her.

At 10, murder was still an abstract concept, something that happened only to other people or maybe even only in movies. But it definitely never happened to children. When I tried to picture Robin’s murder, I imagined a man with one of those bank robber masks, with the cutouts for the eyes and nose, shooting her. I imagined that the bullet had not hit any vital organs, that she was in the hospital, precariously near death but not beyond saving. I remember thinking that they needed to check Robin’s heart again. I’d watched so many movies where you thought the main character was dead, but then they’d check for a heartbeat one last time, and lo! It was a mistake! They’re alive after all.

Because she knew I would learn the details at school, my mother told me the entire story; that my kind, happy, always-laughing friend Robin Cornell, along with her 32-year-old babysitter Lisa Story, had been suffocated and sexually assaulted. I asked over and over, “How could anyone be so mean? Why are there such mean people in the world?” My mother had no answers for me.

In the days following, the entire town held its collective breath while we waited for the police to catch the killer. News of the murders persisted for months, then slowly dissipated until it was reduced to an annual recap. Over the years, the case was featured on America’s Most Wanted 3 times as well as national news organizations. It became one of the longest running open homicides in Cape Coral, Florida.

And Robin’s friends did not forget her. I know I am not the only one who, upon reaching a life milestone, thinks of Robin and how unfair it is that she does not get to reach those same milestones. She should be my age, should have had a chance to go to college, get married, buy a house, have children. Every year around the anniversary of the murder, my Facebook feed lights up with memories of Robin, my little elementary school friend. The other school friends I’ve caught up with over the years post pictures and articles about her. We cry and remember. For 26 years we’ve been holding our breath waiting for Robin and Lisa’s killer to be found.

Yesterday, we finally exhaled. In an emotional press conference on September 28th, Cape Coral police chief David Newlan announced the arrest of 54-year-old Joseph Zieler. Zieler has been charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of sexual assault, and one count of burglary. He was recently arrested on a separate charge, but his DNA brought up a hit in CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System; it was a match for the DNA found at the scene of Robin and Lisa’s deaths.

Joseph Zieler

At the news conference, when Chief Newlan said, “We got him,” the room erupted in applause. Robin’s mother Jan spoke as well, saying, “I’ve just dreamt about this day, never knowing if it was ever going to happen, but I never lost faith, and I never lost hope…I could not be more grateful today, I could not be more happy, I want my daughter and my friend to finally rest in peace.”

When someone you care about is violently murdered, you want two things for them: Justice, first of all, and secondly, that they are not forgotten. We, Robin’s friends, all promised each other and Robin’s mother Jan that we would not forget her sweet daughter. It has been an easy promise to keep; Robin has never left our hearts. And now, thanks to the scientific miracle of DNA evidence, we will finally get the other thing we’ve wanted for so long: justice.

Robin Cornell and Lisa Story