By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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He mentally shelved the plan and in 1973 moved to Titusville, east of Orlando where he began work as a mental health counselor. The following year he met Pam Ascanio, a petite and outspoken community college employee. The pair moved in together by the end of the year.
Robert Sr. was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1977 and died within months. On his deathbed, he made Robb pledge to do everything possible to discover Harrison's true fate. He bequeathed to his son a metal file cabinet filled with pages of beautifully handwritten notes and copies of all the letters he had written since Harrison vanished.
Robb married Pam in 1982 and they settled into a comfortable life, but he never escaped the ghosts of his father and brother. "My brother's disappearance became one of the main focal points of my relationship with my father," Robb says. "It sort of defined our relationship, and after he died, I just felt very strongly like I had to honor that commitment to him."
In the late Nineties, Robb resumed his quest with a zeal that alarmed Pam. "I knew how important it was to him, but I didn't know when I married Robb that I was marrying his brother," she says.
Robb filed more information requests, wrote more letters, and spent hours combing the Internet. The responses to his inquiries were more or less the same as this one from U.S. Sen. Bob Graham in January 2001:
Dear Robert: Thank you for your recent letter and for sharing with me the reply you received from the Central Intelligence Agency. After a thorough review of the responses you have received from all the agencies my office has contacted on your behalf, it is clear that I would be unable to facilitate any administrative remedy regarding your concerns....
Ultimately all of Robb's research yielded only enticing tidbits: a 1963 CIA document requesting information about Spencer Meredith, mostly blacked out; a letter sent in 1999 from the Department of Justice acknowledging that the FBI had information about Harrison in its Foreign Counterintelligence file, along with a refusal to provide anything from it.
As the years went on, Robb's zeal increased. Adding to his determination were encounters with the terminally ill people he counseled. "I just had so many people tell me about all the regrets they had, all the things they never did," he says. "I swore to myself I wouldn't die with that kind of regret."
In early 2005, Robb concluded he had only one option remaining. He began thinking again about a public protest. "I knew it had to get attention, and I knew it had to be in Miami," he says. "That's the only place where [I thought] there might be someone who knows something about what happened."
In March 2005, he drove his old VW minibus down to South Florida, looking for a suitable spot. He passed the bunkerlike Herald building on a lark, and the radio tower behind it caught his eye.
"I'd seen it before when I was in town for a convention. I knew it was perfect for getting attention," Robb says. "I mean, talk about media access!"
He videotaped the tower from both the Venetian and MacArthur causeways, taking careful note of the gated walkway from the mainland to the concrete base, which appeared accessible by boat. A spectacle atop the tower would back up traffic for hours, he surmised.
Robb returned home to Scottsmoor, his new home just outside Titusville, and began searching the local classifieds. He found a pontoon boat and trailer for $4500.
Next he had to make sure the people who would see his protest knew its purpose. So he pulled out a packet he'd compiled in 1998 that included copies of photos from yellowed newspaper articles about the Revenge's crew and Spencer Meredith. There were also articles and his own five-page summary about the boat's demise. He photocopied the packet and around 100 pages of documents from his files: letters to and from congressmen, redacted CIA and State Department documents, pages of testimony from the Coast Guard inquiry. Then he filled envelopes with the information and addressed them to police, the Herald, Miami New Times, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and local TV news stations.
He mailed the packets Monday, January 2.
Around 9:00 p.m. this past January 3, he hooked up the trailer holding the boat and climbed into his 2002 brown Toyota Tundra. He was 50 miles out of Scottsmoor, already jittery with adrenaline, when the Check Engine light came on. He turned around and headed home. He called a friend to inspect the truck, who couldn't find anything wrong with it. By then the evening was half over.
Robb left again in the predawn hours of January 4, making it to Miami by noon. Soon he was on Watson Island, checking and rechecking his equipment. Then he put in and motored out into the bay, slowly driving back and forth past the Herald building, quietly contemplating the fact that, likely as not, the next day would be the strangest of his life.
For the rest of the day and evening, he tooled around the bay. He phoned Pam, who had, she says, "really mixed feelings about all this." He explored a mangrove island where he had to sit out the early evening when his boat was grounded at low tide. By midnight he was back in the boat and out on the bay, lying on his back while the waves rolled around him. He lifted his head and saw the Herald building over the gunwales. Then he fell asleep.