Once best known as an economics professor specializing in the field of game theory, Israeli-born Rafael Robb achieved notoriety in an entirely separate sphere in 2006, when his 49-year-old wife Ellen was found dead in their home in Upper Merion Township. On the morning of December 22, the day her body was discovered, Rafael Robb initially claimed that he had been in Philadelphia. During the initial investigation, Rafael Robb said he had last seen his wife at 9:30 am before driving their then 12-year-old daughter Olivia to school.
Rafael Robb told police that he believed his wife had been killed the course of a robbery. While some of the crime scene evidence seemed to corroborate his claim, such as a smashed window in a door in the house, investigators became suspicious when closer investigation led them to suspect the scene had been staged as a cover-up. Their suspicions deepened after interviewing Ellen's family members, who revealed she had told them that she was planning to move out of their house on January 1 and initiate divorce proceedings, expecting to receive some $4,000 a month in alimony payments.
Ellen's body was so bludgeoned and unrecognizable that investigators initially thought she had died of a shotgun blast to the face. However, later the murder weapon was found when a bloody chin-up bar was discovered in a dumpster. Subsequently, Rafael Robb reversed his earlier statements of innocence and said he had killed his wife in a momentary fit of uncontrollable anger upon learning Ellen was planning on taking their daughter on vacation for a few days, which would cause her to miss some school.
The district attorney arranged a plea bargain with Rafael Robb, agreeing to charge him with unpremeditated manslaughter rather than murder, the initial charge. To avoid a long trial, Rafael Robb agreed to accept their offer. However, the day before his sentencing hearing, Robb sent a letter to Olivia saying that she would receive no Christmas presents unless she mailed him a photograph of herself along with her most recent report card. Informed of this, the court imposed a sentence of five to ten years in prison, with eligibility for parole after five years had been served. The maximum possible sentence would have been 20 years.
In 2008, Rafael Robb and his attorney Frank DeSimone filed an appeal for lessening of the sentence. In their courtroom appearance before Court of Common Pleas judge Paul Tressler, they argued that the intent of Rafael Robb's letter to his daughter had been misunderstood and asked for reconsideration. Their appeal was rejected.
In 2012, Rafael Robb became eligible for parole but has yet to be released from prison custody as of October 2012. He is still the owner of the house at which the murder took place. His daughter Olivia is being raised by the uncles of his late wife Ellen.