The nightmare began for Mary Mewes the day her only daughter, Robin, suddenly disappeared Sept. 15, 1990. It continued for 15 years, until last week, when Robin Mewes was finally found, safe and well.
After searching unsuccessfully through the years, the moment she had been waiting for finally came. An Illinois State Police investigator called to say he talked with Robin June 13 and confirmed her identity.
Her mother was in disbelief.
“I was afraid to believe it,” said Mewes. “Our hopes have been shattered in the past. I was a little fearful to be joyous.”
Mewes heard from the investigators weekly during the new search which was reopened in January of 2005. His relentless efforts culminated in a meeting with Robin at an undisclosed location.
“It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together, and each detail they uncovered provided a clearer view of the final picture,” said Mewes.
However, the mother and daughter have not reunited. Nor has Robin Mewes contacted her brother, Bill.
“I am leaving the ball in her court,” said Mewes.
Behind the story of lost and found is a bizarre tale that could be the foundation for a book or a movie.
As Mary Mewes tells it, the story began during Robin’s freshman year at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1989. The Paris High School honor student made the dean’s list the fall semester, but at the same time was dealing with eating disorders and emotional trauma. Her psychological health deteriorated to the point that Robin decided to leave campus, return to Paris, and work for a semester while voluntarily undergoing counseling at the Human Resource Center.
She was assigned to counselor Debbie Rudolph, who involved Robin’s brother and parents, Mary and Bob, in counseling sessions to support Robin’s recovery. Eventually, Robin became more and more disturbed, and the other family members became suspicious of Rudolph’s tactics.
Robin eventually made accusations against her mother as part of intergenerational satanic abuse. She claimed they were connected with a highly organized three-state cult.
When her parents attempted to remove Robin from Rudolph’s care, the teen vanished. Three months later, Rudolph vanished as well.
One day, Robin asked for the family car to visit a friend. She never arrived, and has been missing since, although numerous attempts have been made by the family to locate the young woman who was 19 at the time.
“I felt that we were ignored by both the Paris Police Department and the Human Resources Center when Robin vanished,” said Mary Mewes. “With the help of friends, we distributed and posted “missing” fliers and began to explore all avenues we could.”
Mary Mewes points to “false memory syndrome (FMS)” as the reason for Robin’s disappearance. FMS is when clients are falsely convinced by therapists that they have had negative experiences which in fact they have not.
According to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, “People caught in the grip of FMS believe that current adult problems all result from childhood trauma. They assume new identities as “sexual abuse survivors” and refuse to have contact with anyone who does not agree with this newly adopted history. Once kind and loving to their families, they now estrange themselves from them.”
The FMSF reports that about 18 percent of the families surveyed by the Foundation say they have been accused of being part of “an intergenerational cult that dressed up in robes, sacrificed babies and engaged in cannibalism and bestiality.” However, “no evidence supports belief in such an international cult.” In addition, the foundation has received reports of abduction and abuse by space aliens or abuse in past lives, but “there is no scientific evidence for these beliefs either.”
Such was the case with Robin, her mother said. Beginning in January, her trail led ISP investigators from Paris, through Terre Haute, Ind., to Indianapolis, Ind. There, Mary Mewes says, Marion County Deputy Sheriff Dana Mitchell falsified an affidavit in order to change Robin”s identity.
The mother reports that both Rudolph and Mitchell were interviewed and admitted to their roles in Robin”s disappearance. No charges have been filed against either of them. Both are now retired and Mary Mewes has been told the statute of limitations has expired.
Robin cooperated with investigators when they located her, Mary Mewes said.
When she learned of the interview with Robin, she first called her son Bill and then her sister.
“The hardest part of the investigation was that I had to keep my mouth shut because I didn”t want to hurt the investigation,” said Mary Mewes, normally a talkative, jovial woman.
“I knew the day and time frame, but there have been so many starts and stops during the current investigation that I wasn”t sure it was going according to plan,” Mary Mewes said.
When Mary and Bill Mewes were interviewed in January, progress began.
“This case was never handled the way it should have been. No one cared at first to look any further than the surface. We might as well have been branded as guilty by the Paris Police Department and Chief Gene Ray, as well as the Human Resource Center,” said Mary Mewes.
The police department held to the theory that Robin was no longer a minor at the time she disappeared and thereby legally able to do so.
“Our family was never investigated as to whether Robin”s statements were truth or allegations. Only when ISP investigators opened the case this year were Bill and I interviewed at length and our backgrounds checked,” added Mary Mewes, whose husband Bob died from leukemia in 2002.
“They believed what Robin was saying because she believed it,” said Mary Mewes. “Her whole childhood was recreated by this counselor, with full knowledge of HRC director Jack Young, who sat in on a few counseling sessions.”
In 1995, when Robin”s disappearance was listed with the National Center for Missing Persons, Young said Rudolph was not fired from the facility, but left voluntarily and that during her employment she had practiced a form of psychotherapy which was inconsistent with that used at the HRC.
One mystery not solved in the case files is the disappearance from ISP of a 2,000 page report of past research.
“The new investigators relied on my notes and my memory to fill in the blanks and get off the ground,” Mary Mewes said.
She kept searching for Robin through the years because of a deep longing to find her.
“That”s my child. Nothing is more precious to parents than their children,” she said. “How dare they do this to us and to Robin. What hell she”s gone through! Part of my persistence is anger, and part the old Missouri mule – the easiest thing would have been to roll over and play dead, and we weren”t willing to do that.”
The Mewes family hired private investigators. They posted fliers throughout the U.S., contacted radio and television news, and appeared on the Sally Jesse Raphael and Jane Whitney talk shows. Mary Mewes interviewed with magazines, newspapers and anyone who would listen, and endlessly scoured web sites.
The case was reopened after Mary Mewes discovered late in 2004 a pertinent piece of information which had been overlooked .
“The current investigators told me that was the biggest break in the case for 15 years,” said Mary Mewes. It allowed the three state agencies to combine resources and assist with the case, she explained.
Finally the pieces began falling into place.
“The sequence of events from the time Robin left the house became known,” said the mother.
She raves about the professionalism, kindness and warmth of the investigators.
“The skill and tenacity of the people involved with Robin”s investigation enabled them to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Mary Mewes said.
She says she learned years later that Rudolph was clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia 10 years prior to counseling with Robin, and that Rudolph was under investigation at the time because she was giving so many false reports of satanic abuse.
“When investigators interviewed Rudolph, she admitted that she planted the ideas in Robin”s head and that she knew we were not guilty of satanic abuse,” said Mary Mewes. “She has never been held accountable for what she”s done to us and to others.”
Mary Mewes eventually solicited the help of Congressman Tim Johnson (R-15th district) and Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet), who arranged financial assistance and cooperation of the ISP.
“We may never know why Robin experienced an emotional breakdown during her first semester of college. When she came home for a semester leave and went into intensive counseling, we believed we were doing what was best for her.”
Within 60 days of reopening the case, the new investigators located Robin. But it took another three months to weave through bureaucracy and conduct the interview.
“You could ask me to take a cement truck to Robin, and I would find a way to get it to her,” one investigator told Mary Mewes when he left to interview Robin, armed with the mementos from home.
The investigation revealed that Robin, now 33, has graduated from college and earned a master”s degree and is enjoying success in her career, Mary Mewes added.
Just knowing she is alive and successful has released Mary Mewes from her nightmare.
She does not plan to contact Robin, but has provided all family information to her if she wishes to contact them.
“I had worries that she was destitute, homeless, cold, wandering the streets,” said Mary Mewes. “If I don”t ever know any more than I do right now, I”ll die a happy woman. I”ve had 15 years of hell, but now that”s over.”
Mary Mewes” faith has sustained her, along with prayers of friends.
Before Robin”s dad died, he told me he regretted that he would never see Robin again.
“I told him he might see her in heaven before I do, and if so, to give her a big hug for me and tell her I love her. If not, to send me a sign, and I”d continue the search.”
Mary Mewes believes the sign came Thanksgiving Day, the second year anniversary of her husband”s death, when the idea suddenly popped into her mind to initiate one more search for information. And so she tried.
Illinois State police have determined that Robin has been positively identified, according to Capt. Bruce Zywiec of Zone 5 investigations, and are changing her status to “no longer missing or endangered.” Zywiec does not expect any criminal charges in the case.
If Mary Mewes could change two things, she would have checked the credentials of the counselor seeing her child and not accept them at face value, and she would have terminated the counseling sessions the minute she saw a change for the worse, and sought help elsewhere.
At home, a party is planned for friends and family and the professionals who have written a happy ending for the story about a mother”s love that transcends all else.
“It”s a “Celebration of Life” party proclaiming that Robin is alive and well, even though she is not with us,” said Mary Mewes.
“My door and my heart will always be open,” said Mary Mewes regarding a reunion with Robin.