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Triple murder followed fight in Clarksville

Posted in Related Deaths
3-28-2010 Tennessee:

The smiling faces of Diamin Shanklin, 8, and Paul-Nellom Vullo, 3, greet their grandmother Linda Shelton every morning as she looks at her bedroom dresser scattered with their pictures, angel figurines and candles.

Every day Shelton, 62, lights a candle. Often she sobs, knowing that the pictures are all she has left of Diamin, Paul and her daughter Natalie.

Among the memorabilia is a blue urn filled with the ashes of her 30-year-old daughter, Natalie Ann Vullo, who, along with her children, was found murdered inside her Cal Court home on Feb. 20, 2009.

Gerrard E. Robinson, 31, a man with whom Vullo had had a sexual relationship, was charged with the murders. He later confessed to strangling Vullo and her children.

Two months after Robinson’s arrest, he hanged himself in his jail cell — a cell where he’d scribbled his victim’s names and his desire to die by lethal injection.

After Robinson’s death, the story went off the front page and the case was closed several months later. But Shelton was left with only questions and anger that involved every aspect of criminal justice — the Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Board of Probation and Parole and Montgomery County Jail.

While Shelton’s grief is driving her forward, the case does raise many questions about how the system dealt with Robinson’s 1998 rape case, 2008 probation, domestic violence, and finally, threats of suicide.

“People say, ‘Why are you doing this? It’s over, it’s done,’” Shelton said. “But it’s not, because I’m not the only person this will happen to.”

The investigation

Shelton takes issue with the Clarksville Police Department’s investigation of a domestic violence incident on Feb. 7, 2009, involving Robinson and Vullo a week before the slayings. Vullo was arrested when Robinson accused her of scratching him in the face.

The family said the little girl, Diamin, scratched Robinson as she tried to get her mother’s cell phone. She said neighbors told police Vullo never got out of the car during the incident.

“Natalie called me and said she was going to Memphis ... and meet some guy and Gerrard wasn’t going to let her go. I said, ‘I know.’ I remember being worried that whole day,” Shelton said.

“She called me and said Gerrard had blocked her in the driveway, and her and the kids were going away. Natalie said he took her cell phone and threw it on the ground. He picked up the phone after he slammed it on the ground. Diamin got out of the car and went to get her mom’s cell phone and scratched him accidentally when she did it,” Shelton said.

She said she watched as officers arrested her daughter. “I was yelling at them, ‘This is wrong, you’re wrong what are you doing’ — the kids are standing out there crying and screaming,” Shelton said. “They put her in handcuffs and put her in the police car. I called the officer later and said, ‘You did this all wrong.’ He said, ‘Take it up with the courts lady,’ and that was it.”

Shelton said she made a formal complaint with CPD and received the following letter from Deputy Chief Frankie Gray on March 4, 2009:

“Dear Mrs. Shelton,

“Your complaint of misconduct involving members of our department has been thoroughly investigated. The investigation revealed there were no violations of police department rules or regulations. It has been determined that the officers acted properly in handling the incidents. The department has made every effort to provide the best possible service and that our employees conduct themselves in a professional manner. We understand the nature that surrounds your complaint. If you have any further questions you may contact me.

“Sincerely, Frankie Gray.”

Jim Knoll, spokesman for the Clarksville Police Department, said officials did not wish to comment on Shelton’s allegations.

Lost protection

Shelton said because Vullo was the one arrested, she lost her right to be protected from Robinson. Instead, an order of protection was placed against Vullo, prohibiting her from contacting him.

Peggy Macias of the Domestic Violence Unit at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said the COR (or conditions of release) in domestic cases prohibits the accused from contacting the victim as well, but gives the accused little protection.

“If a victim is harassing the accused, it’s called facilitation,” Macias said. “In rare cases they could get in trouble.”

Shelton is still brought to tears at the thought of her daughter losing the only protection she may have had. Shelton also believes the lack of domestic violence detectives at the time, attributed to what she calls poor investigations of such cases.

CPD has increased family protection since the murders. In December 2009, the department received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that allowed the hiring of four domestic violence victim’s advocates and addressed the needs of the growing number of victims of domestic violence and child physical and sex abuse. They opened the Domestic Violence Division and Child Physical and Sexual Abuse Division at 106 Public Square.

History of problems

Vullo and Robinson met as ninth-graders at Northwest High School. They ran into each other at a Fort Campbell Boulevard gas station following Robinson’s release from prison in April 2008, after he finished serving 10 years on a rape charge.

Shelton said the family didn’t know he was a registered sex offender, and Vullo was told he’d gone to jail for a different crime.

Shelton doesn’t dispute that her daughter had problems. Natalie had ADHD, was bipolar and often chose men who weren’t good for her. She became obsessive and jealous, which made choosing good men difficult, Shelton said.

“I did it myself — a lot of women do,” Shelton said. “I’d tell her to not repeat my mistakes, but she just did. Natalie had history with men. It was a series of mess. From the day she learned about (Robinson), it was nonstop trouble.”

But there were signs that Vullo was working to improve her life.

Timothy W. Grant Sr., senior pastor at Deliverance Outreach Temple Church, said Vullo had joined his church the summer before she was killed.

“They would attend the services, and she got involved with the sisterhood ministry. She was really trying to get connected to the spiritual part.” Grant said. “I think she was ready to start anew, and she wanted to make sure her children were in church. I think she was excited about a change and excited about changing her life.”

Things began to spiral out of control as Vullo was faced with choose between Robinson, her son’s father Paul Nelloms, and another man named Desmond who lives in Memphis.

Stephanie Nelson, Vullo’s best friend, said the last time she talked to her, Vullo didn’t seem scared, but Nelson believes she was.

“She called me at 10 a.m., she said, ‘Steph, man what do I do? I got these three men. I don’t want none of them, but Paul ain’t having it. Gerrard ain’t having it. ... What do I do?”

Nelson jokingly told her friend to get it together. “I said, ‘Girl you better leave them alone before one of them kills you,’” Nelson said. She said Vullo agreed and they laughed it off.

Shelton has no doubt in her mind that Robinson was the killer. With access to police records, Shelton was able to read the confession Robinson gave police on Feb. 20, 2009.

For Shelton, the detailed description brought pain along with some relief to know her daughter and grandchildren had not suffered long.

Robinson told police the homicides happened at the “spur of the moment,” according to the confession. He described a relationship with Natalie where they both suffered “jealously and insecurities.”

Paul Nelloms, the father of Vullo’s son, was to be released from jail, which created friction between Vullo and Robinson, he told investigators. On Feb. 18, Robinson said he went to Vullo’s home to spend the night, and to bring her a plate of steak and rice from the restaurant where he worked. They began to argue about Paul Nelloms.

“We started talking about the situation with Paul coming back. We must have gotten pretty loud because the kids woke up and came in there and Natalie told them to get back in bed,” Robinson told police. “I don’t know what happened next but I was angry and hurt more than anything, and I choked her.

“I put my hands around her neck and strangled her. It was for a few minutes and she struggled a little bit. It was like my mind was telling me to stop, but I physically could not.”

Robinson said he used a blanket to continue to strangle her, then put her on the floor, stripped her, turned off the lights and went into her daughter’s room. He said he took Diamin to the kitchen, sat at the kitchen table and talked. Diamin asked for her mom, and Robinson said he asked to see her hands. After tying them together, he walked her down the hall and strangled her, he said.

Police reports said he used a pair of tights to kill Diamin and stripped her. He later poured bleach on her and Natalie to cover up fingerprints. He denied sexually assaulting any of the victims, and investigators found no evidence that he did so. Robinson then went to “Paul-Paul’s” room and tied him up with a sheet. “I told him that everything was fine, and it would be OK. He didn’t really know what was going on. He didn’t say much.”

Robinson said he stood the child up, made him face the wall and strangled him, then laid his lifeless body face-down on the floor.

“I didn’t know what to do after that. I thought, ‘I just did this,’” Robinson told police. “I was trying to make it look like something else had happened.

“I don’t know why I killed the kids. I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want them to see their mom like that. After I killed Natalie, I was thinking that people had seen me over there and my car over there that day. I guess the kids were two more witnesses.”

He used Vullo’s cell phone to text his phone that someone was outside her window.
Robinson talked also about his cool demeanor during the confession.

“You know, they say I have no affect or emotion,” Robinson told police. “I just accept things though, you know? My thinking is that when you do something, you did it and it’s done. You can either deal with it or beat yourself up about it. I have never done anything like this before in my life. I have asked Allah to forgive me, and I believe that I have been forgiven.”

Shelton faced Robinson on March 3, 2009, during his preliminary hearing. It was also the last time she saw him. He turned and smiled at her as he left the courtroom, wearing orange Montgomery County Jail scrubs.


One man’s rape, murders and jail cell suicide spin off anguish and accusations.

Today: The murders of a woman and her children show the depths of domestic violence.

Monday: Taking a plea in a 1998 rape put Gerrard Robinson back on the streets 10 years later.

Tuesday: Robinson was on probation when the murders happened, and he failed a drug test.

Wednesday: A troubled life began with the loss of his father in the Gander crash.

Thursday: Robinson left messages of remorse and fear in his jailhouse suicide.


To answer the questions of family members, friends and others about the Gerrard Robinson case, The Leaf-Chronicle requested and reviewed about 550 pages of public documents.

This Special Report is based on the following records, requested from law enforcement and public service agencies through the Tennessee Public Records Law:

• Murder investigation records on Gerrard Robinson from the Clarksville Police Department, released by Detective Tim Finley.

• Records on the investigation into the death of Gerrard Robinson, released by Sheriff’s Investigator Billy Batson and Montgomery County Attorney Austin Peay.

• Autopsy reports for Natalie Vullo, Diamin Shanklin, Paul Vullo-Nellom and Gerrard Robinson, released by the Tennessee Medical Examiner’s Office and Clarksville Police Department.

State probation and parole records of Gerrard Robinson, released by Melissa McDonald, public information officer for the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole.

• Court records for Natalie Vullo and Gerrard Robinson, released by the Tennessee 19th Judicial District Court Records Department.

Rape case file of Gerrard Robinson for the 1998 rape of a woman in her home, released by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. ..Source.. by TAVIA D. GREEN • The Leaf-Chronicle

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