Paperboy's killer defends parole pleas

Aaron Chambers

Read our special report on the Joey Didier murder case

Photos from the Joey Didier case

Robert Lower, the man who kidnapped, raped and murdered Rockford newspaper boy Joey Didier in 1975, proclaimed himself a changed man today, prepared for parole.

“I truly regret that I took his life,” Lower told Milton Maxwell, a member of the state Prisoner Review Board. “I was an individual who was messed up, screwed up, whatever you want to call it.”

Lower was calm and composed during his hearing at the Big Muddy Correctional Center, answering all of Maxwell’s questions with brief and deliberate responses.

A Register Star reporter joined Maxwell and Lower for the meeting, which occurred in a cinderblock room inside the prison. Lower attempted to block the reporter from attending the meeting, but Maxwell allowed the reporter to attend after the reporter asserted it was his right to be there.

Lower appeared confused about some of the points of his own life — saying, for instance, that he could not remember the name of the woman he was married to for three months.

Moreover, Lower did little to explore or support the psychological transformation he claimed to have completed, despite Maxwell’s repeated probing. Lower said he has been in sex-offender counseling for 14 years, but that he had not recently been psychologically evaluated.

“I’m not that same person anymore,” Lower said. “Back then, I was a cold-hearted, no-good person.”

He added, “I didn’t have any regard for anybody — anybody’s well-being.”

Lower abducted Didier on the morning of March 4, 1975. He later told police he couldn’t sleep, so he got dressed and went “driving around looking for a paperboy.”

He found Didier delivering newspapers on Fulton Avenue in Rockford. He coaxed the boy into his car, drove him to a remote cabin in Jo Daviess County and sexually assaulted him. He then put a noose around the boy’s neck, tossed the rope over a rafter, and as the boy pleaded for his life, hanged him.

“At the beginning, I didn’t plan on killing him,” Lower said today. “I planned on having sex with him.”

Maxwell asked Lower why he opted to kill the boy.

“If I got rid of him, there wouldn’t be nobody to testify,” Lower responded, adding that his thinking at the time was “screwed up.”

Maxwell asked Lower what would have happened if he had gotten away with his crime, and Lower responded: “It probably would have continued.”

This is Lower’s 17th shot at parole. On Jan. 31, Maxwell will recommend to the full Prisoner Review Board whether to parole Lower. The board then will vote on that recommendation.

For Lower to win freedom, eight of the board’s 14 members must vote for his parole.

No board member has voted in his favor, according to board records.

Didier’s family is circulating petitions around the region and hope community members will sign them to show their opposition to Lower’s parole. The Register Star also is collecting petitions online at

Maxwell walked Lower through the scope of his entire life, beginning with his birth in Freeport.

Lower, a repeat sex offender, described two deviant encounters he had before killing Didier.

In one case, Lower said, he was arrested for kidnapping a teenage boy while serving in the Air Force and stationed in Nevada. He said the military and local authorities agreed not to prosecute him as long as his parents retrieved him and returned him to Illinois. After the hearing, Maxwell said he was skeptical of this claim.

Once back in Stephenson County, Lower said he was arrested after an affair with another boy. However, he denied this encounter was sexual in nature. He said he was only “hugging” the boy to “comfort” him.

Nonetheless, the state at the time labeled Lower a “sexually dangerous person” and committed him to a state psychiatric ward for treatment.

Also after leaving the military, Lower said he was married to a woman for about three months. He said she left him after discovering through a co-worker that he was gay and involved with teenage boys.

Maxwell asked Lower, “Did you ever consummate the marriage with her?”

Lower appeared confused by the question so Maxwell rephrased it, “Did you function as husband and wife?”

To this, Lower responded: “She got me aroused so I thought maybe that would help, but it didn’t.”

Lower said if he won parole he would live with his brother, a retired police officer, in Savannah, Ga., and that his brother would supervise him.

He said his brother has money in escrow for him but that he doesn’t know how much. He said his brother had not forwarded account statements.

“He’s my brother,” Lower said. “I trust him.”

Lower said he also has “about $30” in a prison account.

Lower twice described his health as “very poor.” He said he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He said his kidneys are failing and that doctors are preparing him for dialysis. He said he had quadruple bypass surgery in 1999.

“I would definitely want parole,” he said. “I would like to spend the few years I have left out in the world.”

Maxwell asked him what he learned from 32 years in prison.

“I learned that I don’t have the right to violate another person’s body in anyway,” Lower said. “I learned, the best way I can explain it, to keep my urges under control.”

Staff writer Aaron Chambers may be reached at 217-782-2959 or