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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: March 8, 2001
Date of birth: 1958
Victims profile: His wife, Sandra, 36; his stepdaughter, Caitlin Williams, 8; and his son, Michael Jr., 5
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Greer, South Carolina, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day

A man from Greer, South Carolina, suspected of killing his estranged wife, her daughter and their son and then trying to destroy the couple's antique shop killed himself after police spotted him and chased him through Virginia.

Michael Hilderbrand Sr., 43, apparently committed suicide when authorities caught up with him in Virginia. He had been the subject of a nationwide search after police found documents in the family's home indicating he might flee to Mexico. Police had signed arrest warrants charging Hilderbrand with three counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Sandra, 36; his stepdaughter, Caitlin Williams, 8; and his son, Michael Jr., 5.

The three were found dead in their beds. Sandra Hilderbrand had been shot several times in the face and head and each child was shot once in the head, Greenville County Coroner Parks Evans said.

Police believe the three were shot after a judge ordered Hilderbrand to stay away from the family's home and have no contact with family members. In court filings, Sandra Hilderbrand said she was afraid of her 6-foot-4, 300-pound husband, who she said had bipolar disorder.


3 murders and a suicide

Trail of antique dealers' domestic strife begins in Fayette shop, ends in D.C.

By John Munford -

April 11, 2001

A thorough search of Fayette law enforcement and court records showed no hint of trouble at the Hilderbrand household at 215 Lofty Eagle Lane in north Fayette County. But a triple murder and a suicide were in the family's future.

Authorities say ex-Fayetteville antique dealer Michael Hilderbrand, Sr., shot and killed his wife, her daughter and their son in their new South Carolina home last month and was stalking his ex-wife near the nation's capital when he was spotted by police and chased. He killed himself before police could capture him, authorities said.

The family left Fayette in August 1999 and moved to Greer, S.C., about three hours northeast of Atlanta, where problems began to crop up earlier this year. The deadly series of events began Monday, March 5.

Claiming her husband, Michael, was verbally abusive and threw her around, Sandra Hilderbrand obtained a protective order at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, March 5, to keep him away from her and her daughter, Caitlin, 8, and their son, Michael Jr., 5, according to court records and news reports.

At 7:45 p.m. that same day, police believe, Hilderbrand parked his black Jeep at the rear of the home, drowned the family dog in the pool, then let himself into the Dillard Road home and shot to death his wife and the children.

The next morning, Tuesday, March 6, Hilderbrand told officials at his stepdaughter's school and his son's daycare that the children were sick and wouldn't be back until Friday. Before noon that day, police said, Hilderbrand bought a 9mm handgun from a gun shop in Greer and drove to Herndon, Va., near his ex-wife's apartment in Reston, Va. Police believe he intended to make his ex-wife murder victim number four. After checking into a motel there, police said, Hilderbrand drove to a pistol target practice range.

The crime scene at the Hilderbrands' home was discovered when Sandra's attorney, Henry J. Mims, became concerned about the family's whereabouts. Sandra had been scheduled to meet with him Tuesday, but she never showed up.

Mims contacted the Sheriff's Department, and deputies went to the family's home Tuesday evening, but found nothing suspicious.

But during a second visit to the home in the early hours of Wednesday, March 7, deputies found the family dog drowned at the bottom of the swimming pool. That discovery triggered a search of the house, where the bodies of Sandra, Caitlin and Michael, Jr., were discovered.

Hilderbrand had been long gone by that time, and deputies went to search the antique store in downtown Greer. Upon entering, they discovered a heavy smell of gas, and the area was evacuated.

After the gas was cleared away, it was determined that Hilderbrand had gone to the store and turned on the gas, leaving several six-inch candles burning in the shop. Authorities said he wanted to blow up the store, and it was estimated that had the gas caught fire, it would have created an explosion "enough to destroy a whole city block."

Virginia police were later notified that Hilderbrand might be coming to the area to locate his ex-wife, and that's why he was spotted by authorities there. The ensuing high-speed chase, three days after the killings, ended when a police car bumped Hilderbrand's vehicle, causing him to crash into a wall near Dulles International Airport.

As officers approached, Hilderbrand shot himself with the 9mm pistol.

In court documents seeking the protective order, Sandra had described her husband as "very unstable and violent at times."

She also claimed that he failed to take his medicine that had been prescribed to treat his bipolar disorder, a mental illness involving episodes of serious mania and depression in severe mood swings.

The family had lived in Fayette County a short time, from 1997 to 1999, in a two-story home in the Foxhall Farms subdivision off Ga. Highway 92 north. They sold the home in August 1999 for $184,000, a $20,000 profit, according to courthouse deed records.

Other than the home, the only remaining local link to the Hilderbrands is artwork that Michael Hilderbrand painted on the exterior of the couple's abortive antique shop at 342 N. Glynn St. in Fayetteville. According to city records, Puppy's Antiques maintained a business license for just one year.

The 3,000-square-foot open shop area, adjacent to The Citizen's offices and just off busy Hwy. 85, was refurbished for the antiques trade, but domestic trouble between Hilderbrand and his wife ended the venture before it ever opened to the public.

But when the family moved to Greer, they opened up another antiques store under the same name.

Sandra Hilderbrand confided in a customer at the Greer store one day that her husband was causing problems. Shirley Phillips told The Greenville News that Sandra knew her husband was going to kill her.

"She told me that if she filed papers, he would kill her," Phillips said. "It was almost like she was resigned to it. That's what's so sad. It was almost like 'I know what he's going to do.'"

Phillips said she told Sandra to be careful, but Sandra said she already had secured the services of an attorney. She had begun divorce proceedings in the fall.

In fact, family members told The Greenville News that she had planned to escape the area and take the children to Oklahoma to live near friends and family. Sandra had made arrangements to move to Guthrie, Okla., before a friend lost contact with her after the Hilderbrands' phone number changed. That was a regular occurrence with the family, said Anneliese Herren of Guthrie, Sandra's best friend.

"Every time I would leave a message [on the answering machine], he would erase it," Herren said. "She was not allowed to keep in contact with anybody."

Hilderbrand would also confiscate mail sent to his wife, Herren added.

"He intercepted everything," she said.

Sandra even called her brother several days before the murders and told him something was wrong, "but she wouldn't leave," Joanna Cosetti, her sister-in-law told the newspaper.

Mims told The Greenville News that he had become afraid of Hilderbrand while representing Sandra, so much so that he purchased a gun to carry and protect himself should he ever be attacked.



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