When Yolonda Robinson-Vann looks back on the murder of mother Fathyma Vann at the hands of convicted serial killer Phillip Jablonski, she doesn't know if there can ever be healing. Advocating for better treatment of victims' families, in an interview with PopCulture.com, Yolonda asked that people honor her mother as they hear her story on Investigation Discovery's The Serial Killer Among Us: Phillip Jablonski, airing Thursday, Sept. 3 — one day before Fathyma's birthday.
"There’s nothing she wouldn’t do to help anyone. She would give the shirt off her back," Yolonda told PopCulture of her mother, a "woman of her word" who, at the time of her 1991 death at the age of 38 in Indio, California, was a recently widowed mother of two teenage girls. Having lost her father in 1987 was hard enough, but when Fathyma didn't come home one night in April, Yolanda knew her mother was in grave danger, and suspected Jablonski right off the bat.
She had previously met the man who would later kill her mother when Fathyma introduced her daughter to a classmate at the local community college she was attending. Right away, Yolonda got a bad feeling about the man, whom she didn't know at the time was attending classes as per the terms of his parole after serving 12 years for the murder of Linda Kimball. Yolonda remembered telling Jablonski, "If something happens to my mother, I'm gonna come looking for you," explaining to PopCulture of her initial impression of the serial killer, "There’s something about his appearance — his face, his demeanor — something was wrong."
All the more "traumatizing" for Yolonda was the dream she had just a few weeks later that someone was trying to kill her mother while attempting to take something from her. So when her mother didn't return home exactly at 10 p.m. as was her routine, Yolonda "automatically knew it was a problem." Hopping in her car to search the area for her mom, Yolonda missed the news report on television advising there was a woman found dead in the Indio desert.
When police contacted her the next morning to tell her Fathyma had been found, Yolonda said she told them right away to investigate Jablonski, despite admittedly wanting to find him first herself. Jablonski was eventually convicted of killing Fathyma, as well as Margie Rogers, Carol Spadoni and her mother, Eva Petersen, and died in December 2019 at the age of 73 in San Quentin State Prison.
Looking back on how her family was treated by the legal system and media, Yolonda thinks the system ultimately failed the victims of Jablonski. "They're more interested in him than in how we made out," she said. This year, she plans to sit down with her family and watch the ID special about her mother and Jablonski's other victims as they honor the women they lost. "I would like to see more emphasis put on the victims and their families," she said of how she would like to see the conversation around true crime shift. "There’s never closure. Once something is open, it’s never closed."
The Serial Killer Among Us: Phillip Jablonski airs Thursday, Sept. 3 at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. For more on Investigation Discovery's latest programming from PopCulture, click here.