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Ames Robey; psychiatrist argued DeSalvo was innocent

Dr. Ames Robey of Stoneham, a forensic psychiatrist known for arguing that the Boston Strangler was innocent, died Sept. 23 after emergency surgery to remove a blood clot.

Dr. Robey, 75, and his wife were on a cruise when he began to have symptoms similar to stroke. He died in a Helsinki hospital.

''Ames walked to a beat of a different drummer," said his wife, Virginia E. (Plews) of Stoneham. ''He always had his own idea; he didn't have an ordinary, humdrum mind. Sometimes it was a good thing, but other times it wasn't, and people hated him for it."

Dr. Robey, who was a dapper dresser, spent his nearly 50-year career in psychiatry counseling individual patients and serving as an expert witness in court trials.

Born in Boston, Dr. Robey graduated from Harvard University in 1952. In 1955, he met his wife while attending Boston University Medical School, and the couple married following a six-month courtship.

''He had once told me he always wanted to be an engineer," his wife said. ''But his math wasn't that good in school, so after his mother became a psychiatric social worker, he veered off in that direction."

Upon his graduation from BU in 1956, the couple moved to Allentown, Pa. They later moved to Wellesley, where he began a medical residency at Massachusetts Mental Health Center.

Dr. Robey's specialty was forensic psychiatry, helping the court evaluate defendants. He worked from 1960 to 1962 at the Court Clinic in Framingham and then for a year in the same role in Chelsea, advising courts on the accused's competency to stand trial.

After completing his residency, he transferred to Bridgewater State Hospital and served as medical director of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution there for three years.

Dr. Robey was noted not only for his strong and often controversial opinions, but also for his diagnostic prowess, friends said.

During the 1967 criminal trial of Albert H. DeSalvo, who allegedly committed the series of stranglings that terrorized Greater Boston in 1964, Dr. Robey served as a defense witness and a major rebuttal witness for the prosecution.

''He never believed DeSalvo was guilty," said his wife.

In a newspaper article at the time, Dr. Robey said that DeSalvo, a convicted thief who suffered from schizophrenia, was ''a very clever, very smooth, compulsive confessor who desperately needs to be recognized."

His wife said the case was a highlight of Dr. Robey's career. ''He definitely felt it was one of the more interesting cases he had worked on," she said. ''He enjoyed the excitement of it all, especially meeting all the people involved."

In 1967, Dr. Robey was hired to start up the Center for Forensic Psychiatry at the former Ypsilanti State Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. While working as the center's first director, he found himself entangled in controversy when a patient whom he had been supervising, Gary Addison Taylor, escaped and was later associated with four murders: in Texas, Michigan, and Washington.

In 1975, Dr. Robey was fired after several more patient escapes. He later sued the state, on the grounds that he was made a scapegoat for the center's lack of state support. The matter was settled out of court for $15,000 in back pay and the removal of records of his firing, according to a recent obituary in the Ann Arbor News.

Dr. Robey then switched to consulting, working first in Michigan prisons and later in Maine.

In 1982, he and his family moved to Stoneham, and he concentrated on his private psychiatric practice. A couple of years ago, he made an unsuccessful attempt to retire. He just couldn't do it; his patients were his life, and he never stopped caring about them, his wife said.

''Even while he was lying there in the hospital bed in Helsinki, he was worrying about his patients," she said. ''He was a real valuable person to many, many patients."

In addition to his wife, Dr. Robey leaves four daughters, Virginia Fegert of Vero Beach, Fla., Lee Gorman of Ann Arbor, Brooks Robey of Atlanta, and Catherine Lowe of Woodbridge, Va.; a sister, Harriet Myers of Madison, Conn.; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. in Annisquam Village Church in Gloucester.

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