Audrey Marie Hilley (June 4, 1933 - February
26, 1987) was an American murderer. Her life and spree are the
subjects of the 1991 telefilm Wife, Mother, Murderer. The movie
starred Judith Light in the title role, with Whip Hubley and David
Early Life and First Crimes
Born Audrey Marie Frazier on June 4, 1933 to Huey
and Lucille Frazier. She married Frank Hilley in May 1951.
In May 1975 Frank Hilley visited his doctor
complaining of nausea and tenderness in his abdomen. He was diagnosed
with a viral stomachache. The condition persisted and he was admitted
to a hospital for tests that indicated liver malfunction. Physicians
then diagnosed infectious hepatitis. He died early in the morning of
May 25, 1975.
An autopsy was performed with Audrey Hilley's
permission. It revealed hepatitis, swelling of the kidneys and lungs,
bilateral pneumonia, and inflammation of the stomach. Because the
symptoms closely resembled those of hepatitis, no tests for poison
were conducted. The cause of death was listed as infectious hepatitis.
Frank Hilley had maintained a moderate life
insurance policy that his widow redeemed for $31,140. Slightly over
three years later, she took out a $25,000 life insurance policy on her
daughter, Carol. A $25,000 accidental death rider took effect in
Within a few months, Carol began to experience
trouble with nausea and was admitted to the emergency room several
times. A year after insuring her daughter, Hilley gave her daughter an
injection that she said would alleviate the nausea. However, the
symptoms did not disappear, and eventually worsened. Carol began to
experience numbness in her extremities and was admitted to the
hospital for tests.
Unable to diagnose any disease, Carol's physician
brought in a psychiatrist because he feared the symptoms might be
psychosomatic. While she was undergoing psychiatric testing at
Birmingham's Carraway Methodist Hospital, Carol received two more
injections from her mother, who warned her that no one was to know
about the shots. Audrey explained that the shots were given to her by
a friend who was a registered nurse.
A month after Carol was admitted to the hospital,
her physician said she was suffering from malnutrition and vitamin
deficiencies. He added that he suspected heavy metal poisoning was to
blame for the symptoms.
That afternoon, Hilley had Carol discharged from
that hospital. The next day she was admitted to the University of
Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. Coincidentally, she was arrested for
passing bad checks — they were written to the insurance company that
insured Carol’s life, causing that policy to lapse.
The University hospital physicians concentrated
their investigation on the possibility of heavy metal poisoning,
noting that Carol’s hands and feet were numb, she had nerve palsy
causing foot drop, and she had lost most of her deep tendon reflexes.
Ultimately physicians discovered that Aldrich-Mees'
lines were present in Carol’s toenails and fingernails — an indicator
of arsenic poisoning.
Tests conducted on samples of Carol’s hair revealed
that it had about 50 times the normal arsenic level in human hair. Her
condition was then officially attributed to arsenic poisoning.
Forensic tests on Carol’s hair conducted October 3, 1979, by the
Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences revealed arsenic levels
ranging from over 100 times the normal level close to the scalp to
zero times the normal level at the end of the hair shaft. This
indicated that Carol had been given increasingly larger doses of
arsenic over a period of four to eight months.
That same day, Frank Hilley’s body was exhumed for
testing. The analysis revealed abnormally high levels of arsenic,
ranging from 10 times the normal level in hair samples to 100 times
the normal level in toenail samples. As a result of these tests, Dr.
Joseph Embry of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences concluded
that the cause of death was acute arsenic poisoning, and that Frank
Hilley suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning, meaning that he had
been given arsenic for months prior to his death.
Audrey Hilley was still incarcerated on her bad
check charges when she was arrested on October 9, 1979, for the
attempted murder of her daughter. The Anniston, Alabama police found
another vial in her purse that was in their possession and subsequent
testing revealed the presence of arsenic. Two weeks later, Frank
Hilley’s sister found a jar of Cowley’s New Improved Rat & Mouse
Poison, which contains between 1.4 and 1.5 percent arsenic.
On November 9, 1979, Audrey Hilley was released on
bond and registered at a local motel under the name Emily Stephens.
She disappeared between the 9th and the 18th of November. A note
indicating that she “might have been kidnapped” was left behind. A
missing persons report was filed, and Audrey was listed as a fugitive.
On November 19, there was a break-in at the home of
her aunt. A car, some women’s clothing and an overnight bag were
missing from the home. Investigators found a note in the house
reading, “Do not call police. We will burn you out if you do. We found
what we wanted and will not bother you again.”
On January 11, 1980, she was indicted in absentia
for her husband's murder. Subsequently, investigators found that both
her mother and her mother-in-law had significant, but not fatal,
traces of arsenic in their systems when they died.
Although police and the FBI launched a massive
manhunt, Hilley remained a fugitive for a little more than three
New names, new lives
She first travelled to Florida, where she met a man
named John Homan. She was using the name Robbi Hannon. They lived
together for more than a year before she married Homan in May 1981 and
took his last name. The couple moved to New Hampshire. She frequently
talked about her imaginary twin sister, "Teri", who supposedly lived
Late in the summer of 1982, she left New Hampshire,
telling her husband that she needed to attend to family business and
to see some doctors about an illness. During this time she travelled
to Texas and Florida, using the alias Teri Martin.
During the trip, using the alias Teri Martin, she
called John Homan and informed him that Robbi Homan had died in Texas
but there was no need for him to come to Texas because the body had
been donated to medical science.
On November 12 or 13, after changing her hair color
and losing weight, she returned to New Hampshire and met John Homan,
posing as Teri Martin, his “deceased” wife’s sister.
An obituary for Robbi Homan appeared in a New
Hampshire newspaper, but aroused suspicion when police were unable to
verify any of the information it contained. A New Hampshire state
police detective surmised that the woman living as Teri Martin was, in
fact, Robbi Homan and had staged her death. That hunch paid off and
shortly after police brought “Teri Martin” in for questioning, she
confessed to being Audrey Marie Hilley. She was returned to Alabama to
She was quickly convicted and sentenced to life in
prison for her husband’s murder and 20 years for attempting to kill
Incarceration and death
She began serving her sentence in 1983 and was a
quiet, model prisoner. This good behavior earned her several one-day
passes from the prison, and she always arrived back on time.
In February 1987, however, Hilley escaped after she
was given a three-day pass to visit her husband, John Homan, who had
moved to Anniston to be near his wife. They spent a day at an Anniston
motel and when Homan left for a few hours, she disappeared, leaving
behind a note for Homan asking his forgiveness. Her escape prompted an
inquiry into the prison system’s furlough policy.
This time, she did not stay missing very long. Four
days after she vanished, Anniston police responding to a call about a
suspicious person, went to a home and found her. She apparently had
been crawling around in the woods, drenched by four days of frequent
rain and numb from temperatures dropping to the low 30s.
She was taken to a local hospital and underwent
emergency treatment for hypothermia. While at the hospital she
suffered a heart failure and died.
Because of the spider’s
reputation, many human females who kill a mate are referred to as
black widows (Even The Malefactor’s Register is guilty of this).
Perhaps this is because dubbing a murderous woman “The Praying Mantis”
just doesn’t carry the same punch.
Audrey Marie Hilley killed her
husband, Frank, in 1975, and attempted to kill her daughter, Carol,
three years later, and earned the nickname Black Widow from the press
and her prosecutors. She was a cold-blooded killer, but murdering a
single husband certainly doesn’t put her in the same league as fellow
poisoner Nannie Doss, who truly earned the title Black Widow because
she killed four of her five husbands over a 30-year span.
Despite her choice of victims,
which very likely included her mother and mother-in-law, Hilley’s
murderous career is fairly ordinary. What makes her case interesting
is how she managed to elude arrest for three years while on the run as
a fugitive, and then, while serving a 20-year-to-life sentence,
managed to obtain a prison furlough, disappear into the backwoods of
Alabama, and reappear only to die on the back porch a a house in her
hometown of Anniston.
Equally perplexing is the
question that will forever remain unanswered — what made Audrey Hilley
Her story begins in May 1975
when Frank Hilley visited his doctor complaining of nausea and
tenderness in his abdomen. His doctor diagnosed a viral stomach ache.
The condition persisted and Frank was admitted to a hospital for tests
that indicated liver malfunction. Physicians then diagnosed infectious
Frank died early in the morning
of May 25, 1975 and because of the suddenness of his death, an autopsy
was performed with the acquiesence of Audrey. The post-mortem revealed
hepatitis, swelling of the kidneys and lungs, bilateral pneumonia, and
inflammation of the stomach.
Because the symptoms closely
resembled those of hepatitis, no tests for poison were conducted. The
cause of death was listed as infectious hepatitis.
Frank maintained a moderate life
insurance policy that Audrey redeemed for $31,140 (about $110,000 in
Slightly over three years later,
Audrey took out a $25,000 life insurance policy on her daughter,
Carol. A $25,000 accidental death rider took effect in August 1978.
Within a few months, Carol began
to experience trouble with nausea and was admitted to the emergency
room several times. A year after insuring her daughter, Audrey gave
Carol an injection that she said would alleviate the nausea. However,
the symptoms did not disappear but instead got worse. Carol began to
experience numbness in her extremities and was admitted to the
hospital for tests.
Unable to diagnose any disease,
her physician brought in a psychiatrist because he feared the symptoms
might be psychosomatic. While she was undergoing psychiatric testing,
Carol received two more injections from her mother, who warned her
that no one was to know about the shots. Audrey explained that the
shots were given to her by a friend who was a registered nurse. The
nurse could lose her job if anyone learned she was prescribing
medications. Much later, the friend denied under oath that she ever
gave Audrey any medicine for Carol.
A month after Carol was admitted
to the hospital, Audrey asked her doctor why her daughter was sick.
The doctor said it was his belief that Carol was suffering from
malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. He added that he suspected
heavy metal poisoning was to blame for the symptoms.
That afternoon, Audrey had Carol
discharged from that hospital. Carol’s doctor later said it was his
opinioned that Carol was in worse shape than when she was admitted.
Carol did not remain outside a
hospital for long. The next day she was admitted to the University of
Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. Coincidentally, Audrey was arrested
for passing bad checks — they were written to the insurance company
that insured Carol’s life, causing that policy to lapse.
The University hospital
physicians concentrated their investigation on the possibility of
heavy metal poisoning, noting that Carol’s hands were numb, her feet
were numb, she had nerve palsy causing foot drop, and she had lost
most of her deep tendon reflexes. Ultimately he discovered that
Aldridge-Mee’s Lines were present in Carol’s toenails and fingernails
— an indicator of arsenic poisoning.
He conducted tests on samples of
Carol’s hair and discovered that it had about 50 times the normal
arsenic level in human hair. He then diagnosed her condition as due to
arsenic poisoning. Forensic tests on Carol’s hair conducted October 3,
1979, by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences revealed arsenic
levels ranging from over 100 times the normal level close to the scalp
to zero times the normal level at the end of the hair shaft. This
indicated to the criminalist that Carol had been given increasingly
larger doses of arsenic over a period of 4 to 8 months.
That same day, Frank Hilley’s
body was exhumed for testing. The analysis revealed abnormally high
levels of arsenic, ranging from 10 times the normal level in hair
samples to 100 times the normal level in toenail samples. As a result
of these tests, Dr. Joseph Embry of the Alabama Department of Forensic
Sciences concluded that the cause of Frank’s death was acute arsenic
poisoning. He noted that Frank suffered from chronic arsenic
poisoning, meaning that he had been given arsenic for months prior to
Three days after the exhumation
and the tests on Carol, Frank’s sister found a empty medicine vial in
a cosmetic case among Audrey’s belongings that were stored at her
mother-in-law’s home. The vial was turned over to police and revealed
traces of arsenic.
Audrey Hilley was still
incarcerated on her bad check charges when she was arrested on October
9, 1979, for the attempted murder of her daughter. The Anniston,
Alabama, police found another vial in her purse that was in their
possession and subsequent testing revealed the presence of arsenic.
Two weeks later, Frank’s sister found a jar of Cowley’s New Improved
Rat & Mouse Poison, which contains between 1.4 and 1.5 percent
On November 9, 1979, Audrey was
released on bond and registered at a local motel under the name Emily
Stephens. Sometime between the 9th and the 18th of November, Audrey
disappeared. A note indicating that she “might have been kidnapped”
was left behind. A missing persons report was filed, and Audrey was
listed as a fugitive.
On November 19, there was a
break in at the home of Audrey’s aunt. A car, some women’s clothing
and an overnight bag were missing from the home. Investigators found a
note in the house reading, “Do not call police. We will burn you out
if you do. We found what we wanted and will not bother you again.”
The scribbled message left
behind at the hotel led investigators to believe that Audrey intended
to start anew, where she “changes her personality to fit her
“She can be kind, laughing,
considerate and then brutal and hateful,” said one FBI agent. “We
believe she is living in a world with make-believe friends and
enemies. … When she reads this, if it’s the real (Audrey) Hilley, she
will probably change her personality when she realizes what she is
accused of doing.”
On January 11, 1980, Audrey was
indicted in absentia for Frank’s murder. Subsequently, investigators
found that both Audrey’s mother and her mother-in-law had significant,
but not fatal traces of arsenic in their systems when they died.
Although police and the FBI
launched a massive manhunt, Audrey remained on the lam for a little
more than three years.
She first travelled to Florida,
where she met a man named John Homan. Audrey was using the name Robbi
Hannon. They lived together for nearly more than a year before she
married Homan in May 1981 and became Robbi Homan. The couple moved to
New Hampshire. During her marriage to Homan, Audrey frequently talked
about her imaginary twin sister, Teri Hannon, who lived in Texas.
Sometime late in the summer of
1982, she left New Hampshire, telling her husband that she needed to
attend to family business and to see some doctors about an illness she
had. During this time she travelled to Texas and Florida, using the
alias Teri Martin.
Sometime during the trip, using
the alias Teri Martin, she called John Homan and informed him that
Robbi Homan had passed away in Texas but there was no need for him to
come to Texas because the body had been donated to medical science.
On November 12 or 13, after
changing her hair color and losing weight, she returned to New
Hampshire and met John Homan, posing as Teri Martin, his “deceased”
wife’s sister. Thereafter, she began living with him again.
An obituary for Robbi Homan
appeared in a New Hampshire newspaper, but aroused suspicion when
police were unable to verify any of the information it contained. A
New Hampshire state police detective surmised that the woman living as
Teri Martin was, in fact, Robbi Homan and had staged her death because
she was a fugitive.
That hunch paid off and shortly
after police brought “Teri Martin” in for questioning, she confessed
to being Audrey Marie Hilley. She was returned to Alabama to face
The revelation came as a shock to John Homan.
“If I were taken to court today,
I would swear they were two different people, if she hadn’t told me,”
Homan told the media. “This has not changed my feeling about her at
all. I don’t believe after living with that woman that there is a mean
bone in her body.”
Based on her strange
modus operandi, Audrey underwent
psychological testing that revealed long-term, deep-rooted problems.
Psychiatrists think the birth
may have touched off Mrs. Hilley’s behavior.
Audrey was married when she was
18 years old and was having marital troubles when Carol, her second
child, was born. Psychiatrists who examined her said she resented her
daughter’s birth, and she began acting out long before she moved to
The doctors provided examples of
a pair of arson fires at the Hilley house: one when Frank was still
alive, the second when Carol and her grandmother were in the house
However, she quickly moved on to
poisoning, possibly even attempting to poison the investigators who
were probing the mysterious fires.
“One time some investigators
went to that house and afterwards they became sick,” an FBI agent
said. “It’s possible they had been given some type of poison.
“There was a family that lived
next to her for years,” he added. “The children were sick all the
time, but doctors could never find out why.”
That family eventually relocated
and the children quickly recovered.
Audrey’s trial was a popular
news item, but the evidence was pretty cut-and-dried. She was quickly
convicted and given a life term for Frank’s murder and 20 years for
attempting to kill Carol.
She began serving her sentence
in 1983 and was a quiet, model prisoner. This good behavior earned her
several one-day passes from the prison and Audrey always returned on
time. She was, however, planning to drop out of sight and was waiting
for the proper time.
That time arrived in February
1987 when the 53-year-old chameleon was given a three-day pass to
visit her husband, John Holman, who had moved to Anniston to be near
his wife. They spent a day at an Anniston motel and when Holman left
for a few hours, Audrey disappeared. She left behind a note to Homan.
The farewell note told him that she hoped he would understand and
forgive her for leaving and she did not want to go back to prison.
“She wanted to be given a chance
to get her life started over,” a prison system spokesman said.
People connected to her case
were livid that a convicted murderer and accomplished escape artist
would be given a prison furlough.
“I think this is not just
insane, it’s gross negligence,” said Joe Hubbard, the assistant
district attorney who prosecuted Audrey.
Her escape prompted an inquiry
into the prison system’s furlough policy.
This time, Audrey did not stay
missing very long.
Four days after she vanished,
Anniston police responding to a call about a suspicious person, went
to a home and found Audrey. She apparently had been crawling around in
a wood, drenched by four days of frequent rain and numb from
temperatures dropping to the low 30s.
She was taken to a local
hospital and underwent emergency threatment for hypothermia. While at
the hospital she suffered a heart attack and died.
“It seems to be an anticlimactic
way for someone who was the great escape artist to die,” said Calhoun
County District Attorney Bob Field. “This goes against everything
she’s done in the past. The biggest escape artist in this area in 10
years, and what does she do? She ended up crawling around in
Marie Hilley: Inscrutable Black Widow
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin inscrutabilis, from
Latin in- + scrutari to search : not readily
investigated, interpreted, or understood
Marie Hilley is a
mystery. Her presence still hovers over her family and friends, and
with it the deeply painful questions with no answers. What made her do
such ghastly things? What motivated her complicated stories and
alibis? Was there anybody that she truly loved? And, finally, who was
the real Marie?
Those who should have
known her best knew her least. In the established tradition of “black
widows,’ Marie murdered her husband. It didn’t stop there. Her
murderous escapades undermined what should have been the most sacred
of family relationships. When it appeared she would finally be brought
to justice for her crimes, she disappeared and began life anew with an
assumed identity. One persona after another, discarded when it no
longer suited her needs. The story of Marie Hilley is a study in
deceit, pathological obsession and serial murder.
Hilley was not the only “black widow” of note from the tiny mill town
of Blue Mountain, Alabama. In the 1950s Americans were shocked at the
criminal exploits of Nannie Hazle Doss, a sweet-looking woman whose
jovial manner during her lurid confessions earned her the nickname
“The Giggling Grandma.” Nannie Doss, who was raised in Blue Mountain
and later moved to Oklahoma, killed eleven people, including five
husbands, two of her children, and her mother. Marie Hilley’s tally of
victims wasn’t nearly as prodigious as Nannie Doss’s, but her dark
shadow loomed larger over Blue Mountain than Doss’s ever had.
Marie Hilley’s Alabama
was not one of plantations and verandas and mint juleps. North
Alabama, where the Appalachian Mountains finally play themselves out,
is a rockier, less agriculturally hospitable place than the more
cotton-friendly areas further south. The cotton with which Marie would
have been familiar was processed in the textile mills of Blue Mountain
and Anniston, the bustling industrial town on the outskirts of which
Blue Mountain lay. Calhoun County, which encompassed both towns, was
full of hard working people who had never known the fabled leisurely
life for which the South was known.
Huey Frazier and
Lucille Meads worked just as hard as everybody else. Each came from a
family whose life was centered on the local mills, and when they
married in January, 1932, each was already accustomed to the long
hours of labor required just to make a living in Depression-era
Alabama. When her daughter Audrey Marie was born on June 4, 1933,
Lucille Frazier held no illusions about staying home to care for the
child; she returned to her job at Linen Thread Company as soon as she
could, and relatives cared for Marie while her parents worked long
The Fraziers loved
Marie—there was never any doubt of that. But they were, like the folks
around them, realists. Times were hard and a single income didn’t
stretch far enough to meet the needs of a family of three. Huey and
Lucille loved and trusted their families and were grateful for the
help. And they tried to make up for the lost time with Marie by
spoiling her. Marie’s clothes weren’t the best money could buy, but
they were pretty and neat, and better than those of a lot of the kids
around her. And from an early age Marie got her way—the slightest
correction or denial was likely to provoke a loud tantrum. The
Fraziers, perhaps out of guilt, never saw fit to administer any real
The Fraziers saw a
brighter future for Marie than their own. Their daughter, they proudly
predicted, wouldn’t have to spend countless years breathing the linty,
stifling air of the mills. She would graduate high school and be a
secretary, a humble ambition that seemed, in the context of the
Fraziers’ times and surroundings, the loftiest of dreams. Blue
Mountain girls usually got no more than a grade school education
before they began working at Linen Thread. Marie would be
different—she was special, and her parents told her so.
In 1945 the Fraziers
moved from Blue Mountain to Anniston, and Marie began 7th grade at
Quintard Junior High School. Anniston, though geographically close to
Blue Mountain, was socially worlds away. Anniston had its own upper
class, comprised chiefly of the owners of the various mills and
factories where Marie’s relatives had always worked. At Quintard,
Marie found herself among children of privilege, and she cultivated
friendships with them. She joined the student council and was serious
about her studies, earning a reputation for maturity and intelligence.
She was pretty, too, and well-dressed, and by the end of her 7th grade
year she’d be chosen Prettiest Girl at Quintard by the Anniston High
School yearbook staff.
continued at Anniston High. Marie joined the Future Teachers of
America and the Commercial Club, an organization for girls who planned
secretarial careers. Her seriousness established her among her peers
as a girl with depth and dependability. Her looks and style made the
boys look twice, and while she enjoyed their attention, she was
already spoken for. Marie was Frank Hilley’s girl.
Frank and Marie
Frank Hilley was from
an Anniston family whose men worked in the area’s other big industry,
pipe making. Clarence and Carrie Hilley had a close, warm family, and
what Frank and his two sisters (Freeda and Jewel) may have lacked in
material things they more than made up for in love. Though Frank had a
bit of a temper, he was loyal and reliable, and while he wouldn’t turn
away from the occasional scrap, he actually preferred not to get
dirty. He met Marie when she was twelve and he was a junior in high
school, and by the time he graduated he was smitten with her.
Marie, against her
parents’ wishes, returned his affection. Though he wasn’t from one of
Anniston’s moneyed families, Frank treated her like royalty. He was
jealous of other boys’ attentions toward her and did his best to keep
his temperamental girl happy. Like most young couples they had
intense, dramatic arguments, but they always made up. When Frank went
into the Navy after high school, he pined for Marie and counted the
days until they could be together again. He had been assigned to Guam,
and the distance and time away were unbearable. Afraid of losing
Marie, he married her while he was on leave in May, 1951.
Marie stayed behind in
Anniston to finish high school while Frank went to Long Beach,
California to finish out his stint in the Navy. Marie joined him there
after her graduation and later accompanied him when he was reassigned
to Boston in 1952. At the end of his tour of duty they discovered
Marie was pregnant, and when he was discharged they moved back home to
Anniston, where they bought a small home. Frank got a job in the
shipping department of Standard Foundry while Marie worked as a
secretary. Their first child, Michael Hilley, was born on November 11,
Outwardly the Hilleys
seemed happy and settled, but the first stirrings of trouble had
already begun. Marie liked to spend money—when Frank had sent home his
paychecks from California Marie had spent them with astonishing speed,
and when the time came for her to join him out West, she had no money
with which to make the trip. Her in-laws had to pay her way. These
habits didn’t abate, and though Frank liked to make Marie happy, he
found it hard to keep pace with her constant acquisitions of newer and
nicer clothes and furnishings. There were arguments, but Frank didn’t
like to fight and found it easier to go along with Marie’s whims as
best he could rather than to bicker over every purchase. Besides, he
loved his wife.
By the time Carol
Hilley was born in 1960, Frank had been appointed foreman of the
shipping department at Standard Foundry, and Marie had a reputation as
an excellent executive secretary. Though the family’s collective
income had increased, it still barely kept pace with Marie’s spending.
And Marie was developing a disturbing work pattern—though her
employers always found her professional and effective at her duties,
her coworkers thought otherwise. Marie judged and put on airs and
played power games, but was always careful to remain respectful and
subservient to the boss. At each job, she eventually became unpopular
with those around her and left, telling friends and family that she’d
been ganged up on by her fellow employees. Her references were always
excellent, though, and she never had trouble getting another job.
Marie worked for some of the most powerful men in Anniston, all of who
spoke glowingly of her. Later, Frank Hilley would find out one of the
As the years passed,
Anniston’s citizens grew to know the Hilleys. Frank was a member of
the Elks Club and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and though he liked to
tie one on now and then he was well liked around town. Marie was
active in the First Christian Church and volunteered at her kids’
schools. Some found her peculiar, and some noted that she reacted
badly when she didn’t get her way, but mostly people dismissed her
quirks, attributing them to a high-strung nature.
Carol and Mike Hilley
wanted for nothing except, perhaps, their mother’s attention. Like her
own parents, Marie showered her children with material possessions but
remained emotionally remote. She administered little discipline,
leaving that task to Frank’s mother Carrie, who cared for the children
while Marie and Frank worked. Marie favored Mike and allowed him to
grow into a little hellion, brushing off his behavior with a casual
“boys will be boys” attitude. As for Carol, she seemed always to be
missing the mark. Carol was a tomboy, nothing like the demure, proper
daughter Marie wanted. They clashed continually. Frank Hilley,
noticing the effect Marie’s treatment was having, took a special
interest in Carol, taking her for ice cream and to football games.
Their close relationship galled Marie.
From time to time
Frank worried about his wife. Sometimes she would be awake all night,
and he would hold her while she shook in nameless fear. She was
restless and he was unable to soothe her. She taunted him with love
letters she said she received from local men. And then there was her
spending—Marie’s refined tastes kept the bills coming to the Hilley
home year after year. Sometimes Frank would reprimand her, but it did
no good. Marie wanted the best, and she wanted it now. She rented a
post office box and began having some bills routed there so Frank
wouldn’t know what she was spending. And she began taking out loans.
In Anniston, a town of less than 30,000 people, Frank Hilley was
respected, and businesses extended credit to his wife out of courtesy.
Frank had always paid every bill on time, so when his wife’s accounts
came past due creditors took notice. This wasn’t like Frank.
By the fall of 1974
Frank couldn’t ignore the troubles in his home any longer. Word of his
wife’s credit arrangements leaked back to him through the grapevine.
Worse still, he came home sick from work on day to find Marie in bed
with her employer, Walter Clinton. Frank told his son, who was married
by now and attending Atlanta Christian College, of these latest
developments. He didn’t mention, though, his increasingly failing
Death of a Good Man
Frank was sick a lot
during 1974. At first he attributed his weariness and periodic bouts
of nausea and vomiting to something he’d eaten, or to exposure to
chemicals at the foundry. He took Alka-Seltzer and bore his symptoms
as best he could. But his illness persisted, and by May of 1975, he
was ready to consult a doctor. Dr. Jones, the family’s physician,
first prescribed fluids, then Kaopectate and Maalox, then an
antispasmodic medication. Nothing helped. When Frank’s sister Freeda
Adcock visited him on May 22, he told her he was sicker than he’d ever
been and that he feared he would die. He also told her that Marie had,
on Dr. Jones’s orders, given him an injection. At the time, Freeda
thought nothing of it.
At 3:30 the following
morning Marie found Frank wandering the yard in his underwear. She
took him to the hospital, where tests showed that his liver had
failed. Dr. Jones changed his diagnosis to one of infectious hepatitis
and prescribed new medications. Frank’s condition worsened; he was
jaundiced, hallucinating and very agitated. It was all Mike Hilley
could do to keep his father from jumping out the window. At around
4:00 am on May 25, Mike left the hospital to pick up his grandmothers
and bring them to see Frank. When he returned about an hour later he
found his mother asleep and his father dead. The official cause of
death was infectious hepatitis, and Frank Hilley was buried on May 27,
1975. Mike Hilley preached the sermon at his father’s funeral.
The Grieving Widow
Frank Hilley’s autopsy
report stated that he’d died of natural causes, so Marie had no
trouble collecting on the life insurance he’d bought through Standard
Foundry. The total of Frank’s policies was around $31,000, not enough
to make a woman wealthy, but still a nice windfall. Marie began
spending. For herself she bought a car, clothes and jewelry. Her
mother Lucille got a diamond ring. Mike and his wife Teri received
appliances and clothes, while Carol Hilley got a car, a stereo,
furniture and countless other gifts. But those closest to Marie
noticed that the constant acquisitions did nothing to quiet her
increasing restlessness. Marie was dissatisfied. She complained to
several people that no one in her family loved her, least of all
Carol, with whom she was constantly engaged in a battle of wills. She
complained about her boss and her job, and about a string of petty
thefts at her home she said began before Frank’s death.
Marie gathered her
family about her—Lucille had been diagnosed with cancer soon after
Frank died, and Marie brought her into her home to care for her. She
also extended an invitation to Mike and Teri for them to live with
her. Mike had a job as assistant pastor at Indian Oaks Church and
appreciated his mother’s offer, relishing the idea of having his
family close while he began his career in the ministry. He and Teri
accepted, but soon regretted their decision. Marie and Carol fought
constantly, and his mother’s demands for his time and attention wore
Mike down. On top of that, Teri was often ill with stomach trouble.
During the time she and Mike lived with Marie, Teri was in the
hospital four different times and had a miscarriage. Her health
problems only added to the tension in the Hilley home.
He and Teri found an
apartment. But the night before they were set to move out, Marie’s
house caught fire. Marie, Lucille and Carol moved into the new
apartment until repairs could be completed. When the time came for
them to move back home, the apartment next door to Mike and Teri’s
caught fire, forcing the couple to move back in with Marie until they
could find new housing. When they finally succeeded in moving away
from Marie, a strange new series of events began.
Lucille Frazier died
in January, 1977. In the following months, the Anniston Police
Department became increasingly familiar with Marie Hilley. The petty
thefts had continued, she told police. She reported gas leaks, and
claimed she found a small fire in her closet late one night. Neighbor
Doris Troy, to whose house Marie had a key, found a similar fire in
her own hall closet, but had no idea who could’ve set it. Both Marie
and Doris Ford reported harassing phone calls. Police responded to
dozens of complaints from both Marie Hilley and Doris Ford. Every
officer was familiar with Marie and at least one took that familiarity
a few steps further. Officer Billy Atherton fell for the beleaguered
but charming widow and the two began a sexual relationship.
Marie, with Carol in tow, moved in with Mike and Teri in their new
home in Pompano Beach, Florida. It was 1978 and Carol had just
graduated from high school. Marie got an office job and returned home
late most nights, but her nervous presence and well-established
spending habits made life difficult in the Hilley home. Upon her
arrival in Pompano Beach, she had run up $600 worth of charges on
Mike’s Visa Card, saying she would reimburse him later. She and Carol
still fought. Though Marie occasionally helped out with household
chores and with Mike and Teri’s new baby, they were relieved when she
and Carol moved back to Anniston after a few months.
Carol Falls Ill
Meanwhile, Marie had
been buying insurance. There were several policies, including fire
insurance, cancer coverage, and life insurance coverage on herself.
But Marie also insured the lives of her children—Mike was insured for
$25,000, while Carol, through two policies, was insured for $39,000.
Upon their return to
Anniston, Marie and Carol moved in first with Frank’s sister Freeda,
then with his mother Carrie Hilley. The strange occurrences began
again—small fires, cut phone lines, and, increasingly, a tendency in
Carrie Hilley toward nausea and vomiting. Marie got a job at Dresser
Industries and also worked nights for Harold Dillard, the owner of a
local construction company. She also began a manipulative, twisted
affair designed to bring Dillard under her spell and make him leave
his marriage. Almost simultaneously she began another affair with
Calvin Robertson, an old school friend who had long since relocated to
San Francisco. She told Robertson that she had cancer and couldn’t
afford the treatments she needed. He sent money, and she soon returned
news that she’d been cured. When he came to visit her in Anniston he
was like a schoolboy, and by the time he left he was convinced he
would die for Marie Hilley. He wasn’t ready to leave his wife quite
Carol Hilley first
became ill in April, 1979. Now nineteen and a freshman at a nearby
college, she returned to her high school for its annual Junior-Senior
Prom. The night’s festivities included the usual young adult
diversions—food, drink, a little marijuana—and as the party wore on
Carol became nauseated. It wasn’t serious enough to impinge upon her
gaiety, so she ignored it, concentrating on having a good time. The
following day, though, the nausea returned with a vengeance. Carol
left church services early and vomited in the parking lot. On
returning home she discovered that her grandmother, Carrie Hilley, was
in the hospital after fainting at church. Carol accompanied Marie to
the hospital, where she was sick all afternoon.
After that, Carol
Hilley would not be completely well again for a long, long time. Over
the summer she grew sicker and weaker. But she was still feisty, and
although she was becoming increasingly dependent on Marie’s care, she
insisted on moving into her own apartment. Marie was a constant
presence there, expressing concern and acting as Carol’s caretaker.
She administered Carol’s various medicines and cooked for her. She
took her to several doctors, none of who was able to explain with any
certainty what Carol’s torturous symptoms meant. The nausea and
vomiting, now almost constant, were accompanied by tingling sensations
in her hands and feet and ever-worsening muscle weakness.
The Awful Truth
In August Carol was
admitted to Regional Medical Center in Anniston for the fourth time
since April. Dr. Warren Sarrell was baffled and concerned, and he
suggested to Marie that she should take Carol to Birmingham to see Dr.
John Elmore, a psychiatrist. Upon Carol’s release from RMC, Marie did
just that, telling the doctor that Carol was despondent and had said
several times that she wanted to die. On Dr. Elmore’s recommendation,
Carol was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Carraway Methodist
Hospital in Birmingham.
Carol, confined to the
hospital, could not know that her mother was rapidly becoming
entangled in her own web of lies and misdeeds. The checks Marie had
written for the furniture for Carol’s apartment had bounced, as had
many others, including some written for premiums on the policy on
Carol’s life. The bank filed charges, and Marie was arrested, and then
released on bail. In Florida, Mike Hilley was slowly coming to the
conclusion that his father had not died of natural causes. He placed a
call to the Calhoun County coroner asking about he possibility of an
exhumation, and was told that he would need lots of solid evidence for
one to take place.
But it was Eve Cole
who sounded the final alarm. Eve was Carol’s friend from church, and
she had been present at Carol’s apartment one night during the summer
when Marie had given Carol an injection. When she called Carol at
Carraway Methodist, Carol mentioned offhandedly that Marie had given
her more injections during her hospitalization. Concerned, Eve told
Carol’s Aunt Freeda, who called Mike Hilley, who in turn called his
sister to find out the truth. Yes, she told him, Marie had given her
shots. Mike then called Dr. John Elmore, who, although he didn’t
believe Marie was poisoning Carol, though she was part of the overall
problem. He asked Marie not to visit Carol for a while.
Marie became frantic.
The day after Dr. Elmore told her of his wishes, she removed Carol
from Carraway Methodist, saying she was taking her daughter to the
Mayo Clinic or to Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans. Carol had been at
Carraway Methodist for three weeks, she said, and hadn’t improved. She
was taking her where she could get better care. Mother and daughter
spent that night at a motel, and the next day Carol was admitted to
University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. Dr. Brian Thompson was
assigned to her case.
On September 20, 1979,
Marie was arrested again on more check charges and the rest of Carol’s
family took the opportunity to reveal their suspicions to Carol’s
doctor. Though the story was fantastic, Dr. Thompson took it
seriously. He checked Carol’s fingernails and toenails for
Aldridge-Mees lines, white deposits clearly visible in the nails of
those who’ve been dosed with arsenic. The lines appeared on every
nail. Dr. Thompson felt sure that further tests would reveal that
Carol Hilley was loaded with arsenic, and had been so for a long time.
Upon hearing his
sister’s diagnosis, Mike Hilley wrote a long letter to Ralph Phillips,
the Calhoun County Coroner. He recounted his father’s rapid decline
and death, Lucille Frazier’s death, Marie’s various checking and
banking troubles, and Carol’s illness. His mother was mentally ill, he
asserted, and he wanted to help her. Marie, still in jail on check
charges, was now officially under suspicion of murder and attempted
Carroll had grown familiar, even friendly, with Marie Hilley in 1977
when she’d been in almost constant contact with the Anniston Police
Department with reports of suspicious fires and phone calls. From his
dealings with her he had sized her up as a financially and emotionally
troubled but likeable widow. Now he was heading her investigation.
On September 26, he
conducted and taped a two-hour interview with Marie. Mostly, she
dodged accusations and tried to lay blame and suspicion elsewhere. But
with careful questioning, Carroll got her to admit that she’d given
Carol injections both at home and in the hospital, and that she’d also
given her mother injections. All of these, she claimed, were actually
medicine, and she’d obtained one of Carol’s injections from a woman at
Carraway Methodist named Mrs. Hill whose daughter was a nurse there.
developments were as stunningly rapid as Carol’s poisoning had been
agonizingly slow. Frank Hilley’s body was exhumed on October 3, 1979.
Three days later, Freeda Adcock searched the house where Marie and
Carol had lived with Carrie Hilley and found a pill bottle half full
of liquid. Tests proved the liquid was arsenic. Arsenic was also found
in a pill bottle Marie had in her purse when she was arrested.
Evidence mounted, and Marie was charged with the attempted murder of
her daughter. Meanwhile, the toxicology reports from Frank Hilley’s
exhumation came back—arsenic was present in his tissues at many times
the normal level, though it was too soon to tell conclusively if the
poison had been the cause of his death. The day after the toxicology
reports were released, Lucille Frazier’s body was exhumed—arsenic in
her tissues ranged from four to ten times the normal level, though it
was cancer that finally killed her.
Marie’s bail was
remarkably low, considering the seriousness of the main charge against
her. Five local residents, at the ambivalent request of Mike Hilley,
put up $10,000 bail for the attempted murder charge and $2000 for each
of the check charges, for a total of $14,000. Marie was released on
bond on November 11, 1979, and Wilford Lane, her attorney, took her to
Birmingham to stay at a motel. In the coming days she claimed she was
afraid of reprisals from Frank’s sisters and asked to be moved to
another motel, from which she made numerous phone calls to Mike and
other relatives asking for money.
On November 18, when
Wilford Lane and his wife came to the motel to visit Marie, they
discovered she was missing. Marie’s clothes were strewn about the
room, her suitcase lay on the floor, and her purse had been emptied
onto a bed. All that seemed missing were her wallet, credit cards and
checkbook. A note scrawled on motel stationery read, “Lane, you led me
straight to her. You will hear from me.”
On that same day
Carrie Hilley died of cancer in Anniston. Tests done on strands of her
hair in the previous weeks had indicated elevated arsenic levels.
Marie Hilley was now suspected of poisoning at least four people.
Marie’s trail went
cold almost immediately. On November 19 Margaret Key, Marie’s Aunt,
found that her house had been burglarized. Her car was missing, as
were some clothes and a suitcase. A note at the scene said the car
could be found in nearby Gadsden, and that the burglars would not
bother Margaret Key any more. The car was found a few days later in
Marietta, Georgia. The FBI then joined the pursuit, tracking Marie
from Marietta through Georgia to Savannah, where she was reported to
have left a motel with a man. After that, there was nothing. Most
fugitives are eventually apprehended because of their old
habits—something or someone in their past draws them to someplace
familiar, where police, having studied the fugitive’s past history,
are waiting. Marie had no sentimental ties to bind her. She just
Back in Anniston, the
final toxicology reports from Frank Hilley’s exhumation had come
in—Marie was indicted on January 11, 1980 for the murder of her
It is frustratingly
unclear whether Marie Hilley knew John Homan before she claimed to
have met him in Fort Lauderdale in 1980. She had taunted both Harold
Dillard and Calvin Robertson with tales of a John Romans, whom she
claimed she would marry, though she didn’t love him. Carol remembered
that her mother had mentioned a John Ronin who taught at Emory
University in Decatur, Georgia. But according to both Marie and John,
they met in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in February of 1980. Marie was
now going by an alias—she called herself Lindsay Robbi Hannon, and she
hinted to John, the 33-year-old owner of a boat building business,
that her past was tragic. She was 35 and from Texas, she told him, and
she’d lost both her children in a car accident. John Homan’s own life
was no picnic—his alcoholic mother died when he was young, and he was
an awkward, shy man. He was recently divorced, and Marie’s solicitous
attentions soothed him. By March they had moved in together. Using a
fictitious resume, Marie got a job as a secretary at an accounting
firm in West Palm Beach. She didn’t stay long, though—in October she
and John left Florida for New Hampshire, where John’s brother Peter
Marie and John rented
a tiny house in Marlow, New Hampshire. John found work at Findings,
Inc., which made small parts for jewelry. Marie got a customer service
job at Central Screw Corporation in nearby Keene, New Hampshire, where
her efficiency and Southern charm enabled her to excel. Her co-workers
found her fascinating. As Robbi, she told them of her children’s’
tragic death, of life in a wealthy Texas family, and of an inheritance
which she would eventually claim. And she seemed rather frail—she
complained of severe headaches and said she’d been to many doctors to
try and find relief, but to no avail. Though some of her coworkers
found her abrasive and pushy, most considered her a sympathetic
figure. The men, especially, found the woman they knew as Robbi Homan
to be earthy and fun to be with.
As her tenure at
Central Screw lengthened, Marie’s stories grew more involved. She was
dying, she told those around her, of a rare blood disease that caused
her body to make too many red blood cells. Though she and John were
now married, she left her husband alone from time to time, telling her
coworkers she was seeking treatment out of town from various
specialists. She began to speak in detail of a sister, her twin whom
she called Teri Martin. Occasionally she would shut herself into an
office at work, saying she was phoning Teri, who was having marriage
problems and needed her. It was Teri, she said, who would take care of
her during her upcoming trip to Texas. She was making one last attempt
to find a treatment for the illness that appeared to be making her
increasingly more ill. Her husband would remain in New Hampshire and
work. Teri would see to her needs.
Marie left Marlow in
September, 1982 and only stayed in Texas a few days. On September 23
she arrived in Pompano Beach, Florida. That day she had her hair
bleached, then went to an employment agency seeking work under the
name Teri Martin. By the end of the day she had secured a secretarial
position at Solar Testing Service. She worked there for six weeks,
telling her new boss Jack McKenzie about her twin sister Robbi, who
was gravely ill. Her sister had recently suffered a stroke and
developed cancer, she claimed, and Teri felt responsible for her. When
McKenzie received a call in mid-November from his secretary claiming
that she was in New Hampshire and her sister had died, he wasn’t
surprised. She told him she’d be remaining in New Hampshire and
thanked him for his kindness. On November 10, Marie (now assuming the
role of Teri) called John Homan to break the news that his wife Robbi
had died. The next day she flew to New Hampshire.
John Homan claims to
have believed Marie Hilley’s new ruse until the moment she was
apprehended. Her hair was still bleached, and during her stay in
Florida she had lost quite a lot of weight. As Teri, she carried
herself differently, so it is at least somewhat believable that John,
insecure and highly suggestible, was fooled. The day after her arrival
she and John went to the office of the Keene Sentinel to place
Robbi Homan’s obituary. The short piece contained several fabricated
details which would finally be Marie’s undoing. They later went to
Central Screw where Marie introduced herself to Robbi’s former
coworkers as Teri, the twin sister they’d heard so much about. Some
there believed her; others weren’t fooled for a second. The
Teri Martin moved in
with John Homan, claiming they needed to be together to get over
Robbi’s death. She got a job just across the state line in
Brattleboro, Vermont at Book Press, a book printing company. Like her
sister Robbi, Teri was a competent secretary. She settled into her new
job comfortably, and for a while things seemed quiet. Back at Central
Screw, though, the controversy raged—was she or wasn’t she? A group of
doubters decided to focus on the obituary. They first discovered that
the hospital to which Robbi’s body had supposedly been left—Medical
Research Institute of Texas—did not exist. Then they found that the
church to which the obituary stated Robbi had belonged in Texas was
fictitious as well. A check of obituaries and coroner’s records in the
Dallas area around the date of November 10, 1982 yielded nothing. The
doubting Central Screw employees took their findings to manager Ron
Oja, who began some checking of his own. His efforts also produced no
corroborating evidence for the assertions in the obituary. The gossip
about this amateur investigation spread through Central Screw and into
the Keene community, and it wasn’t long before local police were
informed that something wasn’t right about the woman who claimed to be
Detective Bob Hardy of
the Keene Police Department started by interviewing the workers from
Central Screw, then made some phone calls of his own. Again, nothing
in the obituary added up. Hardy began making inquiries with other law
enforcement agencies. The New Hampshire State Police told him
something interesting—a woman named Carol Manning who fit Teri
Martin’s description was wanted for bank robbery. Authorities began
watching Teri. They soon decided she was not Carol Manning, but
thought she must be Terry Lynn Clifton, another fugitive.
On January 12, 1983,
they apprehended her at Book Press. When they asked her name, her
answer puzzled them. She was Audrey Marie Hilley, she claimed, and she
was wanted in Alabama on bad check charges. When police put her name
out on the wire the word came back quickly—she was indeed Audrey Marie
Hilley, but she had more than just check charges to face back in
Marie on Trial
Marie back to Anniston on January 19, 1983. By now another charge had
been added -- the murder of Frank Hilley -- and Marie’s bond was set
at $320,000. This time no one stepped forward to pay it. Carol Hilley,
now physically recovered from her ordeal, had conflicting emotions but
was anxious to see her mother. When Carol visited the jail, Marie
cried and hugged her and professed to love her. She missed her
terribly during her flight, she claimed. However, she offered no
explanation for the poisoning. After that first visit, Marie and Carol
saw each other often and spoke on the phone frequently. Carol wanted
badly to believe that her mother had never meant to hurt her, which
worried prosecutors. They needed Carol’s testimony.
Judge Sam Monk
presided over the trial. Assistant District Attorney Joe Hubbard was
the prosecutor, and Wilford Lane and Thomas Harmon defended Marie.
From the beginning it was obvious that the defense was going to sully
Carol’s reputation, to make her seem unstable enough to poison
herself. “We expect,” Harmon said, “the evidence to show that Carol
Hilley has used drugs extensively,” and that “Carol Hilley is, in
fact, either a homosexual or has engaged in homosexuality. In
addition, we expect the evidence to show that Carol Hilley has, on at
least three occasions, attempted suicide.” Carol’s performance under
cross-examination, though, was admirable. Yes, she had smoked pot, but
no, she wasn’t a drug addict. Yes, she had engaged in homosexual acts,
but no, she wasn’t mentally unbalanced because of it. Yes, she had
tried to kill herself, but the attempt before her mother was arrested
was almost laughable—she’d taken a total of five Tylenol. The other
attempts occurred as she was trying to deal with the physical and
emotional torment caused by the poisoning. Prosecutors needn’t have
worried—Carol’s testimony that her mother had given her mysterious
injections during her illness rang lucid and true.
testimony served to establish that arsenic had been found among
Marie’s possessions. In addition to the pill bottle she had found at
Carrie Hilley’s home, Freeda later found a bag containing jars of baby
food, a spoon, and a bottle of rat poison that contained arsenic.
Defense attorneys objected that these items, as well as the bottle
Gary Carroll had found in Marie’s purse after her arrest, had been
seized illegally and should not be allowed into evidence. Judge Monk
Freeda also testified
that Frank Hilley told her that Marie had given him an injection. And
Eve Cole corroborated Carol’s claim that her mother had given her
injections. Still, Marie’s attorneys claimed that Carol had poisoned
herself, and that Freeda Adcock’s testimony was false. Freeda had
always hated Marie, the defense claimed, and she would say anything to
see her put away for good. But Wilford Lane and Thomas Harmon were in
for a shock.
Marie had told her
attorneys that Gary Carroll had interviewed her after her 1979 arrest,
but she hadn’t told them that the interview had been taped. In that
recording Marie admitted to giving Carol two injections, saying they
were anti-nausea medicine, and claiming to have obtained one from a
woman she had met at the hospital. She also admitted that she might be
mentally ill, that she might need some help. Marie could not claim
she’d never said such things—they were all there on the tape. From
that point her defense crumbled. Even Mike Hilley’s testimony, which
seemed to contradict some of the prosecution’s key points, was of no
help. On cross-examination Joe Hubbard got Mike to admit Marie’s
rampant financial difficulties and to his own sudden violent illnesses
which appeared to be connected with Marie. His letter to the Calhoun
County Coroner, which he had assumed would remain confidential, was
brought into evidence. “It is my belief,” he had written, “that she
probably injected my Dad with arsenic as she has apparently done to my
sister.” Like his mother, Mike Hilley could not deny his own prior
It took the jury just
three hours to come to its verdict—Marie Hilley was guilty of the
murder of Frank Hilley and of the attempted murder of Carol Hilley.
The following day she received a life sentence for the murder and
twenty years for the poisoning. At the sentencing hearing, she again
professed her innocence.
On June 9, 1983, Marie
entered Tutwiler State Women’s Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama. She was
assigned a job as a data processor and was classified as a medium
security prisoner. Despite reports that she talked constantly of
escape and had reportedly made plans for a break out, she was
reclassified in 1985 as a minimum security prisoner, which made her
eligible for passes and leaves from the prison. In late 1986 her first
eight-hour pass was approved. That pass and three others came and went
with no trouble; Marie returned to Tutwiler promptly each time, and by
February, 1987 she had qualified for a three-day furlough. On February
19, she left Tutwiler Prison for the last time.
John Homan had
relocated to Anniston, and he and Marie spent the weekend in a hotel
room there. On Sunday morning she told John that she wanted to visit
her parents’ graves and would meet him at 10:00 a.m. at a local
restaurant. She wasn’t there. Returning to the hotel room, John found
a note. “I hope you will be able to forgive me,” it read. “I’m getting
ready to leave. It will be best for everybody. We’ll be together
again. Please give me an hour to get out of town.” Marie wrote that a
man named Walter was taking her out of town and that she would fly to
Canada and contact John later. John called the sheriff. Given Marie’s
history, authorities assumed she had a well-crafted plan of escape and
had left the state quickly. No one expected what happened next.
It was rainy and cold
on February 26 when police were called to a house near Blue Mountain.
A strange, delirious woman was on Sue Craft’s porch and she needed
help. She said her name was Sellers and that her car had broken down.
She was suffering from hypothermia. Sue Craft did not recognize the
woman as Marie Hilley, though she had known Marie years before. Within
a few minutes Marie lost consciousness and began convulsing, and her
heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. No one knew
how long she’d been wandering, but her body temperature had fallen to
81 degrees. Marie Hilley, who had always aspired to wealth and
position, died an ugly, lonely death very near her childhood home. On
February 28, 1987 Marie Hilley’s children buried her beside Frank
Hilley, the husband she’d murdered.
In Anniston, the
speculation continues to this day—was there indeed someone who had
agreed to help Marie escape, only to back out at the last minute? If
so, who was it, and why did he suddenly back out of the plan? Where
was Marie for the four days she was missing? Mostly, though, they
wonder what drove Marie Hilley to do the things she did. Who was Marie
Hilley? No one knows for sure.
E., Poisoned Blood. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1987
Gregg, Wilfred and
Lane, Brian. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Berkley
Books, New York NY, 1995
and C.L., Murder Most Rare: The Female Serial Killer.
McDonald, R. Robin, Black
Widow. St. Martin's Paperbacks. 1987