Estranged wife’s story contradicts text messages
When law enforcement officials questioned Joanna McElrath, wife of Susanville city police officer Robert McElrath, about her husband’s whereabouts on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 1, she told them Robert had wanted to get drunk that night and gave an account of their evening together.
According to search and Ramey warrants, Joanna, 36, said when she woke up the next morning, Robert was gone. A Ramey warrant is issued prior to the court filing of a criminal case against a specific defendant because law enforcement believes there is probably cause to enter a residence or enclosed area to arrest someone.
Joanna was first interviewed the evening of Sunday, Jan. 2, the day Robert’s body was found near the railroad trestle at Devil’s Corral.
Joanna told law enforcement that Robert had called her earlier Saturday, Jan. 1, and said he wanted to get drunk that night. She said he told her to buy some liquor for mudslides and they could go to his Fifth Street place to have a quiet night without the kids.
According to the warrants, the McElraths lived at 580 Spruce St. but Robert also rented a place at 1714 Fifth St. The two separated in 2010, and Joanna allowed Robin Glen James, 46, to reside at the Spruce Street home for about three months. He moved out sometime in the last two months.
The warrants said the McElraths reconciled and Robert moved back to the Spruce Street home but due to a signed lease/rental agreement was forced to maintain and pay rent at the Fifth Street residence.
Joanna said she went to the store to buy vodka and Kahlúa. At one point on Jan. 1, she said she saw James and gave him a ride to Quarry Street because it was cold outside.
Joanna said Robert got off work at 6 p.m. and was already at their Spruce Street home when she got there. She said Robert went to get a shower and told her to fix him a mudslide, a drink that contains vodka, Kahlúa and milk.
She said she made the drink and he drank it while in the shower and then asked for another one. Joanna said Robert had at least two drinks before they went to the house on Fifth Street where they played cards, but Robert kept dropping his.
Joanna said Robert wanted another drink but had no ice so she went back to the Spruce Street home to get some.
When she returned, she said Robert was at the bathroom sink drinking out of the faucet and ingesting pills.
Joanna said she asked what he was doing and Robert said he was taking aspirin because he didn’t want a headache the next day.
They tried playing cards again and then Joanna said Robert fell asleep around 10 p.m.
Around 10:30 to 11 p.m. Joanna said Robert woke up and began yelling about the blood of dead Marines being on his hands. He walked through the house, sat in his chair and fell asleep.
Joanna said she went to sleep between 2 and 2:30 a.m. in a room in the rear of the house.
At 6 a.m., Joanna said she was startled awake thinking something was wrong and she noticed Robert was gone, as were his boots, car, phone, key, weapon and holster.
A preliminary search of the Fifth Street home showed Robert’s magazine, ballistic vest and badge were on a bed in the residence. His wallet, cell phone, duty Sig Sauer .40-caliber pistol and boots were gone. According to the warrants issued the week of Jan. 3, the weapon had yet to be recovered.
Dr. Susan Komfort performed the autopsy at the Shasta County Coroner’s Office. According to the warrants, it was observed Robert was wearing pajama pants, a T-shirt, a light long-sleeved shirt and black socks that were scrunched up in his boots rather than being completely pulled up. One boot was zipped and the other was not.
Autopsy results also showed the bullet entered Robert’s left cheekbone and traveled to his spinal cord at the base of his head stopping in the spinal area.
Komfort said a gunshot wound of this type could cause immediate paralysis due to the severing of the spinal area.
Robert also suffered internal wounds consistent with being induced post-mortem.
“Based on these findings it is likely the victim was shot on one side of the bridge, taken to the opposite side and thrown over the rail,” the warrant said.
According to the warrants, law enforcement received a tip Monday, Jan. 3, from a former resident. He contacted the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office and said he had a sexual relationship with Joanna in 2008.
The man reported Joanna asked him if he would be interested in getting rid of Robert so they could be together along with her children. She said she would just leave Robert but he would try to take the children. The warrants said the man informed Robert about this comment, but he didn’t believe him.
Law enforcement officials said the man helped break the case open.
According to the warrants, Wednesday, Jan. 5, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office issued search warrants at the Fifth and Spruce street homes.
Joanna was also re-interviewed and law enforcement noticed inconsistencies with her story. They also obtained her cell phone records and gave them to Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, an agency which was assisting in the investigation.
During the Jan. 5 search, Robert’s cell phone was found between the box springs and mattress at the Spruce Street home.
On Thursday, Jan. 6, Joanna and James were arrested on charges of conspiracy and attempted murder.
During a Monday, Jan. 10, arraignment they pleaded not guilty to those charges as well as not guilty to special allegations that the murder was committed for the purpose of financial gain, lying in wait and that James allegedly used the handgun during the felony and that action resulted in Robert’s death.