Thanks to the diligent work of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Cold Case Unit, a 28 -year-old cold case murder in Colton was solved.


On Sunday, November 29, 1992 officers from the Colton Police Department responded to the railroad tracks off Pepper Avenue and the 10 Freeway in Colton to investigate the report of a dead body. When the officers arrived on the scene, they found the body of Rita Brisbon-brutally murdered and discarded. At the time, however, there were no strong leads as to who committed this crime. 

For years, Rita’s family, and especially Rita’s younger sister, Rose Miller, were left to wonder who could have done this to their Rita. Years later, in 2020, the technological advancements of DNA testing finally provided answers to Rita’s family.

GROWING UP WITH RITA 

Rita experienced a tough childhood without the everyday presence of her mother, Margaret, and her father, Larry Brisbon, who was left crippled and in a wheelchair after a cliff diving accident and left as the primary care taker of Rita and her brother.

In acts of teenage rebellion, Rita would party and abuse drugs and alcohol. In and out of juvenile detention centers, jail, and prison, Rita grew to become a fiery, tough young woman who would never back down from a fight. 

Though she was tough, Rita was an incredibly loving and supportive older half-sister to Rose Miller. In fact, one of Rose’s first memories is when her sister Rita bought Rose her first tricycle as they played together on warm summer days. 

Rose Miller
Rose Miller holds a photo of her and her sister, Rita Brisbon.

Unfortunately, Rita continued to fall into trouble as she faced issues with her drug and alcohol abuse. “She wasn’t a bad person, she just made bad decisions,” said Rose as she recounted her sister’s life. Rita was released from yet another prison term on parole in 1992. At the time, Margaret helped Rita get back on her feet and away from the bad influences that were negatively impacting Rita’s life. Rose was thrilled to have her sister back and was hopeful for the change she believed Rita could make in her life. Despite this, one night Margaret and Rita got into a fight, and Rita was kicked out of the house leaving her as a transient just days after her 30th birthday at the beginning of October in 1992. Rose never saw her sister again. 

WHAT HAPPENED TO RITA?

On November 29, 1992, 17-year-old Rose was at school when she was called up to the principal’s office. Rose immediately knew something was wrong.

As Rose and her Aunt Rosie were walking to the car, Rose was informed that officials had found Rita. Her aunt then had to explain that Rita’s body was found and that she had been murdered.

Rita’s body was found in a state of decomposition, concealed by tumbleweeds and brush on the side of the I-10 freeway next to the train tracks near Pepper Avenue in Colton. Suffering from blunt force trauma to the back of the head and 17 stab wounds on her face, neck, upper torso, and stomach, it was confirmed by pathologists that Rita’s cause of death resulted from the stabbing. Rita was always known to be a tough fighter, yet it did not appear that she struggled at the time of her death. Further, according to the toxicology report, Rita did not have any drugs or alcohol in her system. The particular reason for Rita not fighting back in the way she was known to may be due to the head trauma Rita suffered.

Rita Brisbon
Rita Brisbon

This could explain the lack of defense wounds as Rita may have been unconscious at the time of her assault. Though not confirmed, it is believed that Rita’s body may have been moved to the location where she was discovered as there were no other blood drops found at the scene other than the one found on her pants. It is unknown how the blood drop got there, as it was not from an injury on Rita’s leg and was not believed to be caused by the stabbing. This blood drop seemed out of place to investigators and was submitted for testing. 

WONDERS OF DNA TESTING 

At the time of Rita’s death, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Cold Case Unit did not receive a hit on the blood sample. They re-submitted evidence in December 2019, and January 2020, but again there was no hit on the blood sample leaving the case to remain unsolved. Then, on June 15, 2020, the Cold Case Unit received an unexpected hit on the blood sample found on Rita’s pants. The hit in CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System) led the Cold Case Unit to discover that Rita’s killer was registered sex offender Andre Ricardo Robinson who had died from liver cancer August 15, 2014. 

Photos of registered sex offender, Andre Ricardo Robinson.

“It’s disappointing that the cancer got to him before we were able to,” said Cold Case DA Investigator Steve Shumway. “With that being said, I am glad we were able to provide the family with some closure.” 

DA Investigator Shumway explained how getting a chop hit – when CODIS is able to match DNA in the system – like this is rare, but incredibly exciting when it happens. 

Shortly after the Cold Case Unit received the DNA hit matching Rita’s killer to Mr. Robinson, DA Investigator Shumway and Captain Gerrit Tesselaar (retired), who was an investigator at the time of Rita’s death, were able to meet with Rose to give her the closure she had been looking for nearly 28 years after her sister’s death. During this meeting, DA Investigator Shumway and Captain Tesselaar were also able to provide new information on Rita’s death. 

After Rita was kicked out of Margaret’s house, Rita found herself living with a group of transients in an encampment in Colton near Pepper Avenue.  Apparently, no one at the encampment liked Mr. Robinson. Allegedly, he was an aggressive man who would do things the encampment did not like such as revealing himself to women. Rita made friends with three male transients, Jack Steele, Ronnie Wallace, and Charlie Henry Wilson. These three men saw that Mr. Robinson was talking to Rita when she was last seen on November 24, 1992. It is not known as to why Rita left with Mr. Robinson, but her three friends knew they needed to find and protect her from Mr. Robinson. 

When the three men found Rita’s body, one of them went to a nearby church in Colton and told the pastor that there was a dead body. According to Rose, the transients were initially afraid to go to the police to report this crime because they had prior run-ins with the law, but the guilt of knowing their friend was murdered and her body carelessly abandoned by the train tracks eventually became too heavy a burden to bear. 

PEACE AT LAST 

Rose always thought she would experience hate and anger when she found out who murdered her sister, but when she received the news, she felt only peace. Though they have since passed, Rose wishes she could thank the three transients who reported the murder because if they had not reported Rita’s body, her family may have never known what happened to their loved one. 

“It’s surreal. It’s awesome that the Cold Case Unit didn’t give up. That’s what people need to know. I was always told ‘They aren’t going to do anything. She was a drug addict, she was homeless…’ But the detectives didn’t care about that. They fought to give Rita justice, and I am so grateful.” 
Rose Miller

“We were very happy that Rose got some closure,” shared DA Investigator Shumway. “We are always going to work to solve these crimes. No matter the victim’s race or background, we are going to solve it because the victims and their families deserve justice and closure.” 

Thanks to the efforts of DA Lead Investigator Steve Shumway, Detective Arturo Alverado, Detective Walter Peraza, Captain Gerrit Tesselaar, and Deputy District Attorney Lloyd Masson, Rose and her family were able to receive closure on the horrific murder of Rita Brisbon. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT CODIS

Visit the FBI’s website to learn more about the Combined DNA Index System.