Murder of police officer Robert McElrath by wife Joanna McElrath investigated on Til Death Us Do Part

Mugshots of Joanna McElrath and Robin James
Joanna McElrath and Robin James were both sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the murder of police officer Robert McElrath. Pic credit: Lassen County Sheriff’s Office

Til Death Do Us Part is in Lassen County in northern California to investigate the murder of off-duty police officer Robert McElrath, who was murdered on New Year’s Day in 2011.

McElrath’s killers were his own wife, Joanna McElrath (nee Beckett), and her so-called boyfriend, Robin Glenn James.

On the night of January 1, 2011, the 37-year-old police officer was drugged using prescription narcotics before being driven in his own car to a railroad trestle above the Susan River in the Devil’s Corral area.

At this point, he was shot dead with his own service pistol, and his body was flung over the bridge.

Robert was drugged by his wife, Joanna, and James is thought to have been the one who fired the shot that killed him.

Robert’s remains were discovered the next day, and it took a little over a week for the sheriff deputies to arrest Joanna and James.

Joanna McElrath and James caught by cellphone texts

The murderous couple was undone by a series of texts made to each other on the night of the murder. The phone records showed Joanna explaining in detail to James how she went about drugging her husband. James responded by giving her tips and advice and insisting that she feed all the drugs to Robert.

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Later texts show them discussing the firearm to be used in the murder, followed by James telling Joanna that he’s on his way to Devil’s Corral.

Subsequent text messages show the pair discussing the aftermath of the murder and how to conceal their crime in relation to covering up fingerprints.

In March 2014, McElrath pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life. In the following December, Robin James also pleaded guilty to murder and was also sentenced to 25 years to life.

McElrath will be eligible for parole in 2030 and James in 2031.

Robert McElrath had served as a marine before becoming a correctional officer at Lassen County Jail. In 2006, he joined the Susanville Department and became a regular officer.

More from Til Death Do Us Part

Follow the links to read about more murderous marriages profiled on Til Death Do Us Part.

In November 2012, Cynthia Mueller (nee Smith) struck up a relationship with Charles Todd, and the pair plotted to murder Cynthia’s severely ill husband, David Mueller. Using a pillow and a plastic bag, they suffocated David to death.

In 2004, Michele Donohue stabbed her 53-year-old husband, Byron Wright, multiple times in the head and neck, and buried his remains in the backyard of their home in Washington state. She then managed to keep his disappearance a secret for ten years.

Til Death Do Us Part airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

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