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Many in York suspected the girlfriend all along in Roberts' killing

The scene played out Wednesday, over and over, recognition of the lady in the front-page picture being led away in cuffs, followed by: "It was the girlfriend!"

Melvin Roberts, lawyer, former mayor, as well-known in York as anybody, maybe ever, was not some guy dead in a dope deal. Not some criminal who had it coming to him. This man was somebody, somebody special, 79 years old and tough and feisty.

And now the cops say his longtime girlfriend killed him.

"I knew it in my heart from the time Mr. Roberts was murdered," said Barbara McGuirt of York, who was one of so many to read about, hear about and talk about Tuesday's arrest of Julia Phillips. "It was the girlfriend."

Phillips, 66, was Roberts' girlfriend for about a decade, the woman on his arm at dinners and lunches and shows. The woman many here knew simply as "the girlfriend."

Phillips told police an intruder robbed and bound her on Feb. 4 when Roberts was killed outside his York home. That story, police say now, is a crock. Phillips was arrested Tuesday outside her Gaffney consignment store and charged with murder.

The woman so often arm-in-arm with Melvin Roberts remains in jail without bond.

"Mr. Roberts was my attorney," McGuirt said. "He was a compassionate man. A nice man. Something was never right about her story. The girlfriend's story."

At the Revis convenience store just around the corner from where Roberts lived and was killed - the home where Julia Phillips stayed so often over the years - clerk Shannon Childers said she sometimes saw Phillips come in during the second shift, afternoons and evenings.

"She'd buy a drink, that was it." Childers said.

That store was a regular stop for Melvin Roberts, and all the employees knew and respected him. Roberts was not somebody who just bought a cold drink. He would chat up the clerks, smile, ask them how they were, how the family was.

"Everybody here suspected the girlfriend from Day One," said Amanda Jenkins, another employee. "The only other thing people want to know, what they are asking is, did she do it alone?"

York police have not ruled out that Phillips' was not the sole attacker in the grisly death of Melvin Roberts. Phillips is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs about 115 pounds. Roberts was shot at, hit in the head, and died when he was strangled, police say.

Phillips had claimed - a story police now say they never bought - that she and Roberts were attacked by a man with an accent. Police now say she had gunshot residue on her clothes, and her story changed several times as investigators closed in.

"Her story never added up, everybody here said that, the employees, the customers, everybody," said clerk Michelle McConnell.

Similar words poured out at Sanitary Barber Shop on Congress Street, at convenience stores on main roads in all sections of the city. "The girlfriend!" so many said, including Sonny Walker and Buddy Owens sitting on a bench on Congress Street in downtown.

They knew Melvin Roberts. Everybody in York, just about, knew or knew of Melvin Roberts.

"I was just saying yesterday the police hadn't solved that case, and I pick up The Herald and there is the girlfriend on the front page arrested for killing Melvin," Walker said.

"Police say it was the girlfriend (who) did it," said Buddy Owens.

Store clerks made change all over the city Wednesday and fielded commentary from York residents who wanted to talk about the arrest of Phillips for killing a person so many knew. Everybody along S.C. 49 and U.S. 321 and S.C. 5 seemed to have a theory.

"Why would she do it?" asked clerk Heidi Aland at the store next to Roberts' law office on Liberty Street. "Money."

The crime transfixed York, and the arrest of the girlfriend was the juicy nugget to ratchet up talk of the crime.

Shaun and Haley Myers, brother and sister, both work at the Huddle House restaurant waiting tables and whatever else needs to get done, and have been there all shifts day and night.

Both remembered seeing Phillips come in by herself, with another lady or with Roberts. Customers on Wednesday even recalled seeing Phillips in the restaurant. The picture of Phillips in handcuffs jarred them.

It was the same jarring news in Gaffney - Phillips' hometown, and where she returned to after the killing in February - on Tuesday, after she was arrested right in the middle of downtown for the whole town to see.

"Most times she came in at night, by herself, ordered breakfast food like eggs, light stuff nothing heavy," said Shaun Myers. "She was small - and tipped real good.

"She would talk with people. Look at this. The police say she did it. You would never have thought this by the way she was in here."

Haley Myers recalled the last time she saw Roberts and Phillips together. They came in with another couple, she said, late at night for dessert. Roberts tipped well, as he always did.

"And now the police say it was her that killed him," Haley Myers said. "Right here in York. It was the girlfriend."

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