DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — The son of a high-profile lawyer, murdered nearly four years ago, says a new piece of evidence is “100%” a confession. For the first time ever, the victim’s sons show a letter to the I-Team which they received in the mail one year after the crime. It’s a letter they describe as something out of a horror movie.
On May 13, 2016, fire crews rushed to the DEAT Preston Hollow home which was up in flames. They found Ira Tobolowsky dead inside his garage. Those who knew him described him as an incredibly loving father and loyal husband. For decades, he’d been a highly-respected Dallas attorney.
The family believes the killer sneaked up on Tobolowsky setting him on fire after spending weeks, maybe months, spying on him from a manmade hole they say they found in the backyard fence.
The once haunting images of the burning home which dominated the news for days following the murder have now become part of a daily grind for the family — particularly the oldest son, Jonathan, and, middle son, Michael Tobolowsky.
“It’s a job. It’s a job,” says Jonathan. “…and we are going to do this job until we get the justice we deserve.”
For the interview, they take us into a room in Ira Tobolowsky’s Law Office. Michael, an attorney, has taken over the business.
“This is the war room,” he says as we walk in. He points us to a board. A copy of a letter and an envelope are pinned to the board. They say it is a key piece of evidence.
Michael tells us he received the letter in the mail one year after his father’s murder.
“It was a horror-movie style letter that Michael received…just shy of letters cut out from a magazine and strategically placed to send a chill down your spine,” explained Jonathan.
When he received the letter, Michael was so suspicious of even the envelope which had a return address stamped “North Houston,” he took a video of himself opening it. He wore gloves and carefully placed the letter and envelope in a plastic bag.
The letter stated:
“I killed your dad, not the f-gs, ha ha!”
The hateful reference appeared to be about two men — Steven Aubrey and Brian Vodicka. Before Tobolowsky died, the two were in a heated court battle with Tobolowsky.
After his death, detectives searched their apartments seizing a propane tank, gas containers and a drill according to court documents. Vodicka says these were tools that were once used for a business.
Neither of the two men have ever been charged, but, for years, the Tobolowskys have openly pointed fingers at them.
When asked if the letter changed their minds, Michael said, “It reinforced it and what we’ve gotten since then reinforced it.”
WHO WROTE IT?
The Tobolowskys traced the letter to a man in Houston who was making headlines in the news there in the fall of 2019. Robin Chiswell is facing felony stalking charges for allegedly sending very similarly-written letters to several people including former Texas A&M University Coach Kevin Sumlin and well-known philanthropist Carolyn Farb who had lost her son.
Michael says, “He wrote to her, ‘How’s your son? Oh yeah. Dead. Ha ha!'” The Harris County District Attorney’s Office shared some of the letters with Houston news outlets. You can see those exact words.
WHY HE WROTE IT?
Last week, Chiswell’s attorney Val Zuniga told the I-Team Chiswell admits to sending the letter to Michael. “He used the letters as an outlet. He has been in counseling,” said Zuniga.
Zuniga says Chiswell did not murder Tobolowsky and evidence shows he was no where around at the time of the murder. He also says Chiswell has no idea who did it, but he says he wrote the letter to protect Steven Aubrey and Brian Vodicka.
“They were friends at the time… It’s a nonsense, tasteless, despicable comment he made because they were friends under investigation. He was sorry. He would say it was tasteless.”
In an email to the I-team, Vodicka says he and Aubrey “did” know Chiswell.
Vodicka reached out to us in December wanting to explain their side of the story. Much of the conversation was off record, but Vodicka wanted to make it clear that their main goal was to explain that they had nothing to do with the murder of Tobolowsky.
Vodicka told us he and Aubrey are now suing the Dallas Police Department, the city of Dallas and Dallas County for “falsified search warrant affidavits…stuff that was just made up.”
Vodicka says neither of them can provide a statement or do an on-camera interview at this time.
The Tobolowskys continue their own investigation. They say they recently obtained records showing Chiswell, Aubrey and Vodicka communicated just days after the murder.
They say a text between them references a song about a “disco inferno.”
And, they say they have an email exchange between the three of them with pictures attached asking if Steven Aubrey’s hands appear burned. The answer? “Yes! Lol.”
When asked if the Tobolowskys believe Chiswell murdered their father, Michael said, “He’s got more than relevant information to provide.”
Chiswell is out on bond in Houston with a GPS monitor awaiting more hearings for the stalking charges there.
Zuniga says investigators from neither Dallas nor Houston have contacted Chiswell about the letter he admits to writing.
BRIAN VODICKA & STEVE AUBREY ANSWER QUESTIONS IN EMAIL (1/30/20)
Why do you believe the Tobolowskys continue to point fingers at you?
Brian: It’s easy. It was to divert attention away from what would have been the obvious path, to “follow the money.” Michael now is absolutely obsessed with us and this case, and we cannot move forward.
Steve: We don’t know if he still does. If so, he has his own reasons. It’s an obsession that he’s had for some time. The Dallas Police Department knows we are innocent. A lieutenant in the homicide unit has stated in an affidavit that Tobolowsky’s efforts are interfering with the investigation into his father’s death
Chiswell admits to writing what appears to be a confession letter. What can you tell me about your relationship with him? Why do you think he wrote it? Do you think he murdered Mr. Tobolowsky?
The Tobolowskys say they obtained a text and an email between Chiswell and you. One references a song about a “disco inferno” and another questions whether Mr. Aburey’s hands appear burned. Are you familiar with these, and if so, can you explain?
Brian: I am not familiar with the text.
Why did he write the letter? No clue. He has been a friend since college at UT. However, the letters he sent out blindsided me. No matter how much I disagree with Michael’s behavior and bullying, I found that letter very mean spirited. To send letters to church members and AIDS charity fundraisers was very mean spirited. He had a nasty side. As for the comments about “Disco Inferno,” I don’t remember that text, but Robin sometimes made grotesque comments.
I don’t think he has anything to do with Ira’s death.
As for the email, I don’t have it, so I don’t know what it says. I did send pictures we took a few days after Ira died to prove there were no burns on Steve’s arms.
Steve: We don’t know why Robin sent those letters. He never told us anything about them. We only found out about them xxx.
Michael obtained the documents that you refer to in secret court hearings. Michael took a deposition of Robin Chiswell in secret. We were not there, so we could not question the witness while under oath, and we still don’t know what he said at the deposition. We have asked for a copy of the deposition and he has not supplied it.
The “burns” issues is a red herring. I was at the dermatologist’s office four hours after Ira died and took off my shirt to have sutures removed from my back. Everything was normal. The police doctors found nothing. Michael knows this. He is simply spreading falsehoods now, years after the fact.
You’ve filed a lot of court filings referencing misleading, false statements and search warrants. Why would the city and county make these claims?
Brian: We would like to know. Someone pointed the DPD toward us immediately, perhaps to deflect away from others. We are trying to discover the truth, through litigation. It was easier for them to chase us than follow the money trail.
Steve: There are various possibilities. He was well known attorney and the police would have felt pressure to solve it. Someone pointed the cops in our direction.
These are questions we want the answers to.
It’s been nearly four years filled with many lawsuits related to this case. Have you and Mr. Aubrey been able to move forward with your lives?
Steve: Our reputatations have been destroyed. We’ve lost friends and family. Brian has been unable to find work, because a simple google search brings the story up.
Brian: It’s been nothing but trauma and terror. We were forced from Dallas, and the worst thing is I can’t help take care of my 93-year-old mother
Brian: No. Michael has not let us move forward. Now we are taking steps to stop the bullying.
It really is an uphill fight. But there comes a point in time when you start to stand up to bullying and we have started to to stand up for ourselves.
Steve: This week we filed an injunction to stop Michael from gaining access to three years’ worth of our private emails. We lost. A person who is not law enforcement now has access to all our digital data, including our contact lists, for over three years. This is in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the right to privacy. He has already publicly posted our social security numbers. Someone who sounds exactly like his attorney Steven Schoettmer called my credit card company to gain access to my credit card information, and it was caught on tape by the fraud department. The fraud department says he tried three times. Now Michael and his attorney have all of our info and contact info for over three years. It is outrageous. We cannot afford legal counsel, so we are doing this all pro se. It takes up a lot of time.
DALLAS POLICE DEPARTMENT
The Dallas Police Department tells us the investigation is “still open and under litigation. There is nothing new to report.”
DALLAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
The Dallas District Attorney’s Office has repeatedly told The I-Team “no comment.”
HOUSTON DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
The Houston District Attorney’s Office said the Chiswell investigation is an “open case” in Harris County. An attorney said she could not answer any questions.