Springfield police investigating Branson homicide suspect in connection with alleged Springfield rape
A short version of this ran in the News-Leader.
Jessica Lawson found the note because the fridge was looking empty.
She drove the short distance to the Kum & Go at 3352 E. State Highway D in Springfield shortly after 9:30 p.m. on March 23, she said, because she didn’t have any soda or bottled water for her two young daughters at home.
It was supposed to be a short trip. Instead, she became involved in a criminal investigation that started with a mysterious note at the counter alleging kidnapping and rape and escalated into a physical confrontation with the suspect — a man named Sean D. Roberson.
Less than a week later, a manhunt would end with Roberson being pulled from a Taney County lake. Authorities have charged Roberson with first-degree murder and three other charges in connection with the death of 18-year-old Andros Valentin-Vargas, whose body was found strangled and left covered with water in a bathtub in Branson on March 29.
Lawson and her husband spoke to the News-Leader about the Springfield incident on March 25 and 26. Following the charges filed against Roberson in Branson, Springfield city spokeswoman Cora Scott would not comment on whether he was being investigated in connection with the Springfield incident. An affidavit filed in Greene County circuit court on April 22 in support of a search warrant, however, confirms that police investigated his role — and that Roberson alleges that the sex was consensual.
The clerk was occupied with another customer when Lawson went to the register at the Kum & Go on March 23, Lawson said, so she set down the drinks she wanted and went to rest her left hand on the counter. It brushed against something — a ball of wadded-up paper towel.
“I could see part of the word ‘kidnapped’ on it,” she said, recalling the incident on March 25.
She asked the clerk if he knew what it was, she said, and he said he figured it was trash. But she opened it.
She saw this message (sic).
“My name is [woman’s first name] and what I’m about to tell you is 100% true, Please HELP ME: The man I’m with has kidnapped, raped and is threatening to kill me. He lives a something-wood south apartments.”
Whoever had written the note had run out of space. On the back, the message continued: “right across sugar maple [room number].”
On the front, rotated 90 degrees, was one additional message.
“Please help I have a baby.”
Lawson dialed 911. The message came in at 9:44 p.m., city spokeswoman Cora Scott said last month.
Then, Lawson said, she called her husband Justin.
A dispatcher told her to stay at the convenience store, Lawson said, but she decided she needed to get home, so she could watch the kids and Justin could go to work.
It hadn’t occurred to her at first, Lawson said, but then she and Justin realized that “sugar maple” might refer to a similarly-named apartment building across from their own.
Justin Lawson prepared to go over; Jessica convinced his brother, who lives in their building, to accompany him, she said.
“Why wait 30 minutes [for police]?” Justin Lawson said of the decision.
They found a room number that matched one in the note, Justin said, and knocked on the door.
“It took the guy about a minute, minute-and-a-half to answer,” he said.
They could see a woman in the back when Roberson answered the door, Justin said, and they asked if a woman with the name in the note was there. The woman answered affirmatively, Justin said, but Roberson didn’t want to let her out of the room.
Words between Roberson and the woman escalated, Justin said, so he stepped between the two of them in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Sensing an opening, he said, the woman bolted out of the room, out of the building.
“And that’s when the guy grabbed my throat,” Justin said.
Lawson, his brother and Roberson got in “a pretty good tussle,” Justin Lawson said, but eventually Roberson freed himself and took off the way the woman had gone.
Jessica Lawson, meanwhile, had steered the woman into her apartment and locked the door, she said. Later, her brother’s fiancee came over to stay with the woman and the Lawsons’ kids when Jessica stepped outside, she said.
Another altercation between the Lawsons, Justin’s brother and Roberson ensued near their apartment, the Lawsons said, but Roberson returned to the apartment before Springfield police officers arrived.
As they waited for police, Jessica Lawson said, the woman told her she wrote the note in the convenience store’s restroom after convincing the suspect to go there for alcohol.
Justin Lawson, who works the overnight shift at the Kum & Go, said he checked surveillance footage when he arrived at work that night.
“You could see the guy buying his liquor, and when he turned to the door, that’s when she threw the napkin up on the counter,” he said.
According to the affidavit, the woman said she met with Roberson for lunch at a Branson restaurant on March 23. Afterward, the document states, the woman said that Roberson drove her to an empty parking lot, where the discussion escalated into an argument, and Roberson raped her.
The woman then said that Roberson drove her to the Springfield apartment, according to the affidavit, and raped her four more times over the course of the evening. In a daily media report, Springfield police listed the event as occurring between 12:15 p.m. and 9:54 p.m. on March 23.
According to the affidavit, Roberson stated that the woman came to Springfield willingly, and that the sex was consensual. He told an officer that he had recorded a portion of the sex act on his cell phone, which would prove it was consensual, according to the document, but was then unable to locate the video on his phone.
“Roberson said his phone was new and he was unable to locate the video, not knowing if it was accidentally deleted or simply hidden in a folder inside the phone,” the affidavit reads.
A detective seized Roberson’s cell phone as evidence, the affidavit states, but noted that the storage device, or SD card, was missing.
It is not clear from interviews or the affidavit who lived in the Springfield apartment. Roberson spent approximately 24 hours in the Greene County jail on March 26 and 27 because of an unpaid parking ticket, but was released when he posted $165 bond. His address was listed as being at that apartment building. The first-degree murder charge, however, lists him with a Branson address.
On April 2, according to the affidavit, a Branson man told Springfield police that he had been letting Roberson sleep on the couch in his apartment after Roberson was released from prison.
According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, Roberson was convicted of second-degree burglary on June 5, 2012 in Douglas County. His two-year sentence sentence suspended, he was placed on three years probation. That probation was revoked on Oct. 2, and Roberson was in prison from Oct. 5 until being released on parole on Feb. 27. According to public Facebook posts, he had recently gotten a job at a Red Lobster.
According to the affidavit, the Branson man said Roberson vacated his apartment on March 27, but left behind a micro storage device, the document states.
A search warrant was granted to allow police to search the storage device. According to a search of online court records, no charges have been filed against Roberson in connection with the Springfield incident.