True Crime vol. XXVII: The Mad Sculptor

By: Courtney Henson

On August 5, 1907, Robert George Irwin was born in Pasadena, California. Robert George Irwin was born on August 5, 1907, in Pasadena, California. His father was Rev. Benjamin Hardin Irwin, who was a prominent figure in the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, and his mother was Mary Jee Jordan, who acted as a traditional mother figure in the family. Benjamin abandoned the family before Robert was three years old, which left the family in extreme struggle. Robert himself grew up to be a prominent artist and sculptor who often saw big success with his lifelike sculptures. 

For his whole life, Robert illustrated strange and at times violent behavior. He threatened to hurt himself with a razor which resulted in Robert being committed to a state mental hospital, where he stayed for a year. Upon being released, Robert moved to a New York City house owned by Mary Gedeon where he fell in love with her daughter, Ethel. After this love was not returned, Robert was committed to another state hospital where he remained until the summer of 1936. During this time, Ethel got married prompting Robert to make a number of sculptures of Ethel with a snake around her neck.

Shortly after his release from the hospital, Roberts enrolled in the Theological School of St. Lawrence University but he was expelled on March 18 for instability. This is the event many people feel led to Robert committing his crime. He shortly returned to New York City and rented a house just a few blocks from the Gedeon house. On March 27, 1937, after suicidal consideration, Robert decided instead to walk to the Gedeon home in hopes of stumbling upon Ethel. 

As relatives arrived at the Gedeon house on March 28, (Easter Sunday) for dinner, they discovered the bodies of Mary Gedeon who had been stabbed and strangled, Veronica Gedeon who had been strangled, and Frank Byrnes, a waiter, who had been stabbed.

Police initially suspected Mary’s ex-husband but after the discovery of a soap sculpture was discovered at the scene, Robert was declared the prime suspect. In June of 1937, Robert agreed to tell his story to the Chicago Herald-Examiner before promptly turning himself into New York Police. In his confession to the newspaper, Robert said he had intended to kill Ethel but after discovering she was not at the home, he instead turned on Mary, and later Veronica, before killing Frank to avoid witnesses. Very famous defense attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, quickly came to represent Robert in court when he was held for three counts of first-degree murder. 

As the trial began, lots of back and forth between the defense and the prosecution ultimately resulted in Robert being tried as if he was sane at the time of the crime. Robert pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder to avoid the death penalty.  Judge James Wallace sentenced Robert to 139-years-to-life in prison. After being sent to Sing Sing prison for a psychological evaluation, Robert was finally ruled insane. On December 10, 1938, he arrived at Dannemora State Hospital. 

In 1975, Robert died of cancer in the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Fishkill, New York. His burial site is unknown. Mary and Veronica both rest in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Westchester County, New York. Frank Byrnes rests in Saint John Cemetery in Queens County, New York.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *