Melvin Roberts was a patriot. Roberts believed in his hometown of York, and in the rule of law above all else. He fought for America in Korea and he fought for America in the courts for almost six decades afterward.
On Thursday afternoon – what would have been Roberts’ 84th birthday – the American Legion post in York, which the former mayor and longtime attorney helped save from extinction, honored his 56 years of service before he was murdered in 2010.
The award comes as police in York confirm that – even with one person already serving life in prison – detectives are getting new and important information in an attempt to catch the co-conspirators in the killing.
In recent weeks, the investigation has heated up again. An Investigation Discovery cable television special, which continues to run periodically, profiled the killing and the unsolved part of the crime. Ronnie and David Roberts have put up $10,000 as a reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of any uncaught accomplices in the killing of their father.
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As York Police investigators continue to work the case, Lt. Rich Caddell said, publicity surrounding the reward and the national TV coverage has been positive. A tip line has brought in new information that police are following. The department has two detectives assigned to the case. Caddell declined to talk about specific leads or people who have been interviewed or eliminated as suspects.
“We have received information that we didn’t have before and conducted field interviews that we hadn’t done before,” Caddell said.
Roberts and T.J. Martin, another Korean War veteran and Roberts’ lifelong friend, kept Post 66 in York from being closed by state and federal officials after membership dwindled in 2001. Roberts wrote new bylaws that changed the post’s mission from beer joint and card game hangout to a place devoted to civic causes, scholarships and other community projects. Membership now is over 40 people. Roberts was a central figure in establishing an annual Veterans Day parade in York.
“Melvin Roberts believed in integrity, the law and freedom under that law that we still have in America because of fighters like him,” Martin told Roberts’ sons on Thursday. “He stood for American individualism.”
Roberts rose from childhood poverty to become mayor and a lawyer who argued cases before the Supreme Court.
“Dad believed in the law and he believed in this post and its service to the young people of York,” David Roberts said.
Roberts was 79 when he was strangled outside his York home in February 2010. His longtime live-in girlfriend, Julia Phillips, 70, is serving life in prison after she was convicted of accessory to murder in September. Roberts had planned to cut off his decade-long relationship with Phillips, a prescription narcotics abuser and convicted thief, and had stopped paying all the bills at the Gaffney clothing store that Roberts owned and Phillips managed.
Phillips also was convicted of stealing $2,000 in rent money from Roberts’ realty company. At her murder trial, a Gaffney businessman testified that Phillips had sought to hire a hit man in a murder-for-hire plot to kill Roberts. Prosecutors acknowledged during the trial that police do not believe Phillips worked alone in killing the bigger, stronger Roberts. Roberts was hit over the head and knocked out before he was shot at and strangled.
“Today was my dad’s birthday, and even on days like today when he is honored, I never forget what happened to him,” Ronnie Roberts said. “I will never rest until all who had any role in his death are caught and put in a prison forever.
“He never quit fighting, and we won’t quit either.”