Why Kara Robinson's Escape From a Suspected Serial Killer in 2002 Is as Timely a Story as Ever

All the details on Kara Robinson's abduction and escape, plus she and fellow kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart talked to E! News about bringing Kara's story to Lifetime.

By Natalie Finn Feb 11, 2023 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Kara Robinson Recalls Details About Her Abduction 20 Years Ago

Kara Robinson Chamberlain doesn't remember every second of being held captive by a suspected serial killer almost 21 years ago.

"The way that my memory of the trauma functions, it's like snapshots in a flipbook—and there are some pages missing," the now 36-year-old mother of two exclusively told E! News' Francesca Amiker ahead of the Feb. 11 premiere of Lifetime's The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story. "The filming was filling in gaps in my first-person memory."

As an author and advocate for trauma survivors, she's spoken extensively about her experience. But watching her story unfold in its entirety—from being abducted from her friend's front yard by Richard Evonitz to being reunited with her family after she managed to escape 18 hours later—stirred up some feelings she wasn't expecting.

Particularly, she recalled, while watching the moment where her mom Debra (played by Cara Buono) bursts into the police station asking where her daughter is. Enter teenage Kara (Katie Douglas), who sees Debra and utters one word: "Mom?"

TV's Most Killer True Crime Transformations

"They both have this quavering," Kara described, "and it was so emotional, and I was so surprised. I think it impacts me to see it from a different perspective—my mom's perspective—and now as a mother, too. The things that I experienced are not what people would expect and that's why it's important to tell these stories."


Meaning, she continued, "I don't feel I have those typical trauma responses of having PTSD or feeling triggered or having flashbacks. So for me, going through the process [of this movie], my trauma was in a box over here, and I was existing, working on the movie, over here, and there wasn't a lot of overlap."

Kara previously teamed with Elizabeth Smart, whose own harrowing survival tale was dramatized in 2017's I Am Elizabeth Smart, to produce a documentary about her ordeal, and the pair joined forces once again to ensure that Kara's story was told by Lifetime as she saw fit.

Asked if watching her friend's story play out onscreen triggered her own memories, Elizabeth told E!, "I do know what it felt like to be there personally, but then to have it be about someone that I care very much about, it is quite emotional for me in that sense. "

"I don't feel like it's triggering in the way it would put me down a deep, dark hole and I wouldn't be able to climb out again," noted the 35-year-old, who was kidnapped from her Utah home 19 days before Kara was taken in South Carolina. "But I do feel like talking with Kara, you would never, ever, ever know that something massive and traumatic had ever happened to her."

What happened to Kara Robinson?

It was sunny in Columbia, S.C., on June 24, 2002, when Kara, clad in a T-shirt and shorts, walked over to her friend's house to water the flowers in the front yard.

According to her own account and details later shared by the Lexington County Sheriff's Department, the 15-year-old hadn't been there long when a green Pontiac Firebird pulled into the driveway. The driver, Richard Evonitz, 38, walked up to Kara and asked if she wanted to buy some magazines. As she looked at the titles he proffered, he put a gun to her neck.

Evonitz forced her into a plastic storage tub in the trunk of the car, which belonged to his mother, and drove off.

He returned to the apartment he shared with his wife, who was out of town, and carried the bin inside, where he proceeded to tie Kara to the bed and sexually assault her. Evonitz then made her watch the evening news to see if there was any mention of her abduction.


Kara was with Evonitz at the apartment for 18 hours until, finally, he fell asleep. She heard him snoring, managed to wriggle free of her bindings and took off running. At a nearby parking lot she approached a car and pleaded with the people inside to drive her to a police station.

"She was so, so alert," Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts told the Washington Post a week later. "She was able to give us information down to the exactness of what was in the apartment." (Including the serial number on the bin she was kept in.)

Once she had been reunited with her family, Kara (whose name wasn't disclosed publicly at the time because she was a rape victim, as well as a minor) was able to lead investigators back to the apartment, according to Metts, and picked Evonitz out of a photo array.

Meanwhile, the brave teen had no idea that the man she escaped was suspected of killing at least three other girls.

Who were Richard Evonitz's alleged murder victims?

While searching Evonitz's apartment, Metts said, officers found a Virginia newspaper in a lockbox from May 2, 1997—the day after sisters Kristin Lisk, 15, and Kati Lisk, 12, disappeared from their Spotsylvania, Va., front yard after school. Both girls were raped, strangled and dumped in the South Anna River. Their bodies turned up five days later about 40 miles away from their family's house.

In the lockbox, police also found written directions to a location near the Lisk house and notes that seemed to refer to the girls themselves: "11 or 12, the other 14 or 15," "brunettes," "very cute."

Metts told the Washington Post that Evonitz had been on a list of suspects Spotsylvania police had compiled in the Lisk homicides, but their evidence hadn't been strong enough to compel him to provide a DNA sample.

Craziest True Crime TV Moments

Forensics from that crime, however, linked the Lisk killings to the Sept. 9, 1996, kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Sofia Silva, who was also abducted from her front yard in Spotsylvania County. Her body was found in a swamp in King George County a month later. (A previous suspect was indicted and remained in custody for five months before authorities determined he was not Sofia's killer, according to the Post.)

Also in the lockbox: Directions to the area in Madison County, Va., where the body of Alicia Showalter Reynolds, a graduate student at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, was found dumped on May 7, 1996. She was on her way to meet her mom at a mall in Charlottesville, Va., when she disappeared on March 2, 1996.

Witnesses told police they'd seen Alicia's car stopped along U.S. Route 29 and a 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-tall white man in his late 30s or early 40s appearing to be offering roadside assistance. Several women also reported that a man of that description had tried getting them to pull over on that road, claiming there was something wrong with their car.

In any case, authorities never definitively linked Alicia's murder to Evonitz, and the case remains unsolved.

"It almost feels like when you look at that whole Route 29 story and the stalker idea, that he was sort of honing his skills on how to stop women and get them," her mother, Sadie Showalter, told WHSV in 2021 as the 25th anniversary of her daughter's death approached. "And Alicia happened to be the one that he took."

What happened to Richard Evonitz?

"From what we've been able to discern, there were no signals, no signs," Richland County, S.C., Sheriff Leon Lott told the Washington Post of Evonitz, a Navy veteran who'd twice been awarded the Good Conduct Medal. "He was someone who just blends in."

Minus Evonitz's 1988 conviction for indecent exposure in Florida, when he told investigators, per a police report, "he has a problem with masturbating in front of girls. When he feels the urge he drives around looking for a girl 18-19 years old short in height and has brunette hair."

By the time Kara led detectives back to his apartment, Evonitz had hit the road, passing through Georgia on his way to Florida, where his sister lived.

"He was somebody who felt everything closing in on him," Lott told the Post. "The secret was out, the monster exposed."


On the way to Florida, Lott said, Evonitz called his sister and told her he'd killed someone and committed "more crimes than he can remember." The sheriff said the details Evonitz mentioned led them to believe he wasn't talking about Sofia or the Lisk sisters.

Authorities tracked Evonitz to Sarasota, Fla., where he led police on a high-speed chase and then fatally shot himself as officers approached.

In August 2002, authorities announced at a news conference that forensic evidence led them to conclude that Evonitz had indeed murdered Sofia and the Lisk sisters. According to a multiagency task force that had been working the cases since 1997, his hair matched strands found on all three girls, blue acrylic fibers from a pair of furry handcuffs in his possession were on all three victims, and a palm print and fingerprints belonging to Kristin Lisk were discovered on the inside of Evonitz's trunk.

One forensic scientist called it a "miracle" to find prints like that five years later.

Law enforcement and the victims' families all offered their thanks to the still-unnamed 15-year-old South Carolina girl who literally brought police to Evanitz's door.

What happened to Kara Robinson after she escaped her kidnapper?

"It took a while for the relief to kick in," Kara told Fox News in 2021. "Because my captor did run...So it was a slow process. But I really just wanted my life to get back to normal. I didn't want anybody to treat me differently. The way I dealt with things was to just turn off all of my emotions. I didn't have an emotional connection to this thing that had happened to me. I just wanted everybody to kind of forget it, too."

In the 2021 Oxygen documentary Escaping Captivity: The Kara Robinson Story, she recalled being angry when she found out Evonitz had taken his own life.

"I wanted him to know that I outsmarted him," she said. "I wanted him to know that in choosing me, I was not going to be his intended victim. He was the kind of offender who would stalk people. I was not in my normal place in my normal time, so I wasn't an intended victim. So I wanted him to know that choosing me, his victim of opportunity, was the biggest mistake that he could have ever made."

The Inspiring Way Elizabeth Smart Is Teaching Her Own Children About Safety

Kara told Fox, "My feelings have gone back and forth over the years to feeling relief that he killed himself because I never had to go to trial. I never had to sit in a courtroom and talk about all the details of what happened to me. I never have to worry about him getting out or anything like that."

Eight years after her ordeal, Kara graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy and became a Richland County Sheriff's deputy. 

Asked how she kept her wits about her during those hellish 18 hours, she told Columbia's WIS 10 in 2010, "I kind of blocked it out at the time just because I had that survivor mentality and I knew that I was going to get out of there. So at the time, I wasn't really focusing on everything that was happening. I was focused on the end result, the finish line."

Kara didn't divulge her history during her time at the academy, first sharing who she was with an instructor after her case was brought up during a course.

"At the end of class I went up to her and I said, 'I just wanted to let you know, that lesson you just taught—that was me,'" Kara recalled. "And obviously, no one at the academy at that point knew. The director knew because he used to work at the sheriff's department. But no one else knew."

Tamron Hall Show

Sheriff Lott, who'd become a mentor to Kara, told Columbia's ABC 25 when she graduated, "Only a few of us as the sheriff's department knew what she went through, but we all adopted her and now very proud of what she's been able to accomplish."

As Kara put it to the station, "It was something that happened to me. It wasn't really good, but I was able to take the positive away from it...I never took it as a negative, never let it define me."

She has since become a public speaker, writer and, most recently, a podcast host, launching Survivor's Guide to True Crime with cohost (and fellow rape survivor and victims' advocate) Kimberly Corban on Feb. 8.

After Kara appeared on Elizabeth Smart's Smart Justice in 2019, they went on to co-executive-produce Escaping Captivity and, Elizabeth having had a positive experience with her Lifetime movie, Kara was inspired to give the true-crime-aholic network the chance to tell her story, too.



"I had done projects before where it didn't really matter what I said," Kara told E! News this week. "My opinion didn't matter in the way my story was told."

But in this case, she explained, when she had an issue with the first script she read, the team at Lifetime was open to her input. "I kind of geared myself up for this big fight, of 'No, that's not the way it was!'" she recalled. But they just said, "'OK, we'll change it.' That was the one pivotal moment for me when I was like, 'Oh, I get a decision here.'"

Watching Kara's movie get made was "a very inspiring process" for Elizabeth as well.

"Even if we can just see more survivors become empowered, not feeling guilt or shame associated to what happened to them," she said, explaining what still compels her bring stories likes these to the screen. "Feeling like, 'I am so strong, I lived through what many would not be able to and I survived this. I have a voice, and I can speak out and share my story.'"

And telling her story as she sees fit has always been paramount for Kara. She also has 431,500 TikTok followers who come for her missives on true crime, trauma and coping but stay for the decidedly non-dour vibe and humorous—yes, humorous—takes.

"Shout out to that reward money. ((You can laugh. I promise.))," she wrote alongside an Oct. 25 TikTok in which she concludes "a win is a win," with the caption, "You got kidnapped by a serial killer but you got a car, free college and a down payment on a house out of it."  

"When difficult things happen, you can find reason, if you have the right support system," Kara explained to E!. "For me I always felt there was a reason this happened…Social media have really shown me what that looks like. How much more intimate can you get with people than being right there on their phone? I'm kind of leading by example, showing myself on the not-so-good-days."

To Kara, finding community on TikTok and Instagram was a natural extension of the work she's been doing to support and educate all these years.

She said one of the most powerful messages she'd ever received was from a law enforcement officer who approached her at an event and said he'd used the language he'd learned from Kara while interviewing a childhood victim of sexual assault.

"He said, 'I used the words and the phrases that you taught us in this keynote, and I experienced something I've never experienced in my life—she smiled at me,'" Kara recalled. "And he said, 'I can never thank you enough for the words that you've given me.'"

"That's how we change the world," she added. "We change how we talk to people after they've been victims. We change how we talk about being a victim, because the more people are out and sharing their stories, the less alone people will feel. I get messages every single day, people saying I've helped them heal or I've helped them to heal or support their significant others. It's monumental."

For more true crime updates on your need-to-know cases, head to Oxygen.com.