Forever an Empty Place at the Table

Her name was Ellen.

That’s her, smiling in the silver picture frame above.

She was a frequent volunteer at her daughter’s elementary school.

Ellen was planning to leave her husband and had planned to take her 12 year old daughter with her. She had hired a divorce attorney. She was literally hours away from beginning a new life.

On December 22, 2006, Ellen was killed while wrapping Christmas presents at their kitchen table.

The truth came out when her husband pleaded guilty. An intruder never broke into their home, located on the prestigious Main Line of Philadelphia. A botched burglary didn’t become a bludgeoning.

He killed her.

With the Christmas presents still on the table.


It looks like any other table, beautifully set for dinner. 

Until you get up close. 

And read the heartwrenching stories. 

And look at the photos. 

And you realize, this is not an ordinary table. 

Not even close. 

It is a table of ghosts.

Of laughter silenced except in dreams. 

Of spirits so real that you could swear a glass just clinked.

When I worked at the domestic violence shelter, we often brought a poignant display called “The Empty Place at the Table” to events.

We approached the families we had worked especially close with to be part of this, to honor their loved one with a customized place setting at this special table. It would be a way to educate others, to put a tangible face on the often faceless statistics of abuse. We wanted the people to be from right there in the community, representing a variety of races and ages (the youngest in the exhibit was a toddler; if you look closely at the photo, you can see a sippy cup in remembrance of her).

Ellen’s family courageously honored her in this way, even as domestic abuse has left their family – like so many others – with an empty place forever at their table.

This week Ellen’s family was victimized once again, when they learned that Ellen’s husband could possibly be released on parole.

On Monday.

After only serving five years of his 10 year sentence.

After committing a crime that the very judge who presided over the trial described as the most “brutal murder in the history of Montgomery County (PA) over the past 20 years.”

Ellen’s family – her brothers, her sister, and her beloved daughter – are left with an empty place at their tables every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every birthday, every day.

Her husband – her killer – should not be allowed to resume a place at his.

The foundation established in Ellen’s name, The Every Great Reason Foundation, has information about the case and how to contact the parole board to express thoughts and concern about her husband’s release from prison.  I will be sending the parole board a copy of this blog post. 

Updated 1/23/2013: I’m delighted to give this update this morning with the news that parole was, thankfully, denied. He will be reviewed again for parole in or after September 2014.

Updated 1/8/2017: Mr. Robb was released today and is planning to move to Pittsburgh

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