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Robert's Story: Rich Cowboy Victimized by Elder Abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), one in ten older adults in the US suffers from elder abuse, so since June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, we’re speaking with bestselling investigative journalist and true-crime biographer Stephen G. Michaud, who has written a riveting book about a tragic case involving a wealthy Texas rancher who was victimized by those who were charged with caring for him.

Stephen Michaud is the author of “Robert’s Story: A Texas Cowboy’s Troubled Life and Horrifying Death.” It’s the story of rancher Robert East, which until now was buried deep in old legal records that were discovered by Michaud.

The elderly owner of a vast Texas cattle ranch, Robert East was no match for the greedy lawyers, doctors, and household staff who took over his life and isolated him on his remote ranch – all to gain access to his wealth and the natural gas on his family’s land. In the end, he was an old, rich cowboy who was victimized by elder abuse.

On the podcast, Michaud reveals East's sad story and discusses some of the abuses he suffered before his death -- abuses that are often typical in cases involving elderly people.

According to the CDC, there are a number of factors that may increase or decrease the risk of perpetrating and/or experiencing elder abuse. To prevent elder abuse, the agency says, we must understand and address the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence. Here are recommendations provided by the agency:

  • Listen to older adults and their caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.

  • Report abuse or suspected abuse to local adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman, or the police. Use the National Center on Elder Abuse Listing of State Elder Abuse Hotlines external icon to find your state’s reporting numbers, government agencies, state laws, and other resources.

  • Educate oneself and others about how to recognize and report elder abuse.

  • Learn how the signs of elder abuse differ from the normal aging process.

  • Check-in on older adults who may have few friends and family members.

  • Provide over-burdened caregivers with support such as help from friends, family, or local relief care groups; adult day care programs; counseling; outlets intended to promote emotional well-being.

  • Encourage and assist persons (either caregivers or older adults) having problems with drug or alcohol abuse in getting help.

The older adult population is growing faster in the U.S. than are younger populations. Many older adults require care and are vulnerable to violence perpetrated by a caregiver or someone they trust. More research is needed to uncover the causes for, and solutions to, violence against older adults, CDC says.

On the Podcast

Michaud is an internationally recognized author, co-author, investigative reporter, and editor whose decades-long career includes 20 books and multiple contributions to periodicals including Newsweek, Businessweek, The New York Times, Maxim, Reader’s Digest, Salon, Boys’ Life, and Playboy.

His published works―in an impressive variety of genres ranging from World War II, the Cuban revolution, true crime, and mountain-climbing to Texas history and serial murder―have sold over 2 million copies, translated into 15 languages.

The New York Daily News named The Only Living Witness (a biography of serial killer Ted Bundy co-authored with Hugh Aynesworth) one of the 10 best true-crime books ever written.

Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, a compilation of Michaud and Aynesworth’s death-row interviews with Bundy, was a New York Times bestseller, and a Netflix four-part series.

Here are questions we discussed with Michaud:

Q. Before we get into your book, I’d like to discuss the issue of elder abuse overall. To what extent is this a problem in America?

Q. What are some of the forms that this abuse takes?

Q. What are some of the tactics used by abusers to take advantage of their victims?

Q. Were those tactics evident in the case of Robert East? In fact, why don’t you tell us the story about what happened with East and how he was victimized?

Q. In your experience, have you found that law enforcement and social services personnel are properly equipped and trained to support elder abuse victims and their loved ones?

Q. What about medical professionals and caretakers? In Robert’s case, they were perpetrators of the abuse, isn’t that true?

Q. Was anyone charged in the case of Robert East?

Q. What do you think should be done to better protect our elderly citizens from become victims of elder abuse?

Q. What should someone do if they suspect elder abuse is taking place?

Q. You’ve written about outlaws and criminals from Ted Bundy to a rogue Trappist monk named Brother Leo. How does Robert’s Story fit into your true crime book shelf?

Q. What attracted you to the story?

Q. What’s the major challenge in writing such a complex family saga?

Listen to the podcast:

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