Text messages tell of slain police officer’s last night

Ruth Ellis
Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: Some of the information in the following story could be considered graphic. Text messages are not in their entirety and quoted texts have not been altered except in a couple of cases to clarify texting lingo.

Transcripts of the text messages are from cell phone records registered to Joanna McElrath, Robin Glen James, Robert J. McElrath and Matt Wood

Text messages sent between the cell phones of Joanna McElrath (Beckett) and Robin Glen James the evening of Saturday, Jan. 1, tell how the two worked together to allegedly murder Susanville police officer Robert McElrath that night.

According to search and Ramey warrants, law enforcement officials obtained the messages from Verizon Wireless. A Ramey warrant is issued prior to the court filing of a criminal case against a specific defendant because law enforcement believes there is probably cause to enter a residence or enclosed area to arrest someone.

The body of Robert McElrath, 37, was found the morning of Sunday, Jan. 2, at Devil’s Corral. A passerby reported a body lying on the ground below the railroad trestle. James, 46, and Joanna, 36, were arrested Thursday, Jan. 6.

According to a complaint filed by Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns, Joanna allegedly drugged Robert with narcotic medication. Once he was incoherent, he was driven to Devil’s Corral and left for dead. Later, his body was dropped off the bridge onto the riverbank below. Text messages between Joanna and James seem to indicate only James was at Devil’s Corral.

In addition, text messages had been sent that night from Robert’s phone to the phone of Sergeant Matt Woods of the Susanville city police department.

A message was sent from Robert’s phone to Woods’ phone saying, “As you know I am a non-drunker. My wife is getting me drunk @ the Fifth Street house. If I call — need u.”

The second message sent said Joanna was trying to get him drunk.

According to the warrants, Joanna and Robert had separated in 2010 but reconciled several months before Robert’s death. Robert rented a place on Fifth Street while Joanna remained at their Spruce Street home.


Alleged text messages between Joanna and James

The following transcripts are from cell phone numbers issued to Joanna and James. This newspaper can’t verify the actual authors of the text messages.

A text message sent from Joanna’s phone to James’ phone at 7:17 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 1, read: “Still at Spruce, ground meds, gave him a mudslide with meds he downed it, then he had a kamakazi no meds and is in shower, im making another mudslide for him.”

At 7:20 p.m., a text from James’ phone told her to be careful and he loved her.

At 8:55 p.m., a message from Joanna’s phone asked about the medicine, “How long does this (expletive) take.”

The response from James’ phone asked her if Robert took all of them and, if so, maybe an hour.

“Listen to his breathing when it gets rough and shallow, do the fur thing, love you honey,” his text read.

At 9:01 p.m., a message from Joanna’s phone to James’ phone clarified how many pills Robert had been given: “Not all the last ones, he past out and was a baby. I got him to take three by telling him they were aspirin, he’s not responding and snoring but that’s all.”

The response from James’ phone read, “(Expletive) need to take all.”

At 9:03 p.m., another text from Joanna’s phone read, “I’m ready for you to use his gun on his rt temple, he was all crying about the Marine Corps and the men he lost etc. etc. could be suicide.”

In another text message from James’ phone: “Got to sneak out and wear clothes I can get rid of.

His phone text indicated he would burn his clothes.

At 9:54 p.m., a message from Joanna’s phone to James’ phone said Robert was “up and freaking out,” and then at 9:58 a text read, “Think he’s out.”

At 10:08 p.m., a text from Joanna’s phone to James’ phone indicated that she got Robert to take the last three pills.

At 10:21 p.m., Joanna’s phone message to James read in part, “Want me to get my crap outta here so you can do what you need to do. I will just lv. Door unlocked.”

A reply message from James’ phone said he wanted the gun so he could get the feel of it. At one point, a message from Joanna’s phone answered, “There’s a round in the chamber always and no safety.”

A text from James’ phone asked her to show him the gun and a text from Joanna’s phone said, “U have it, I’m terrified of it!”

Another text message from James’s phone asked her to come outside to meet him and the response from Joanna’s cell said she was “scared and panicky.”

A message from James’s phone told her to not be scared and asked, “what do you think I’m feeling?”

A text message from James’ phone asked if she was having second thoughts and a message from Joanna’s phone read, “No I wanted this to wrk with him to just go to sleep and nvr wake up! I don’t know what to do rt now I want a life with u I want future as ur wife forever!!!”

A text from James’ phone said, “I have a gun I’m willing to use for you not many men have GONE this far for you.”

Later that night, about 12:51 a.m., a message from James’ phone to Joanna’s phone indicated that he was on his way to Devil’s Corral. At 1:06 a.m., a message read, “here.”

The text messages resumed early the next morning. At 7:42 a.m., a text from James’ phone read, “I LOVE YOU HONEY.”

The response from Joanna’s phone read, “I love u too r u OK.”

The reply from James’ phone: “No just got (expletive) for being out all night got to get ready for work. TXT LATER. LOVE.”

A text from Joanna’s phone to James’ then read, “Should I send a text to (Robert’s) phone asking him where he is and if he’s OK?”

A message from James’ phone told her to send Robert’s phone a text. Then another message, regarding burning the clothes, said, “clothes real soon, got lots to loose YOU FOR ONE!

A text from Joanna’s phone to James’ read, “I’m shaking uncontrollably here!!! What kind of woman am i?”

A message from James’s phone answered, “You are an abused woman. You did NOT DO ANYTHING.”

At 10:34, a message from Joanna’s phone said that she heard sirens.

A message from James’ phone responded, “Where?” Scanner say anything?”

The reply from Joanna’s phone indicated that she didn’t know.

At 11:04 a.m., a text from Joanna’s phone said, “Putting the omg (oh my god) where could he have gone ball into motion. I will text you soon.”

At 11:07 a.m., a message from Joanna’s phone read, “Just came across scanner they’re going to devil’s bridge for unconscious male under bridge. Taking ambulance.”

The response from James’ phone read: “(Expletive) here we go by the way, me and you saw each other yest. Need to explain my fingerprints on car. Know what I MEAN?”

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