|Audrey Marie Hilley|
|Sunday, 01 March 2009 18:03|
Audrey Marie Hilley
Born: June 4, 1933, Blue Mountain Calhoun County Alabama, USA
Died: February 26, 1987, Anniston, Calhoun County, Alabama, USA
Cause of death: Heart attack following hypothermia
Notable because: Murdered her first husband Frank,with poison, then attempted to kill her daughter, Carol, the same way, both for insurance money, in order to start a new life elsewhere.
Audrey Marie Hilley was an American murderer. Her life and spree are the subjects of the 1991 telefilm Wife, Mother, Murderer: the Marie Hilley Story. The movie starred Judith Light in the title role, with Whip Hubley and David Ogden Stiers.
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 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, 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, 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. Sometime between the 9th and the 18th of November, she 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 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 years.
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 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. 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.
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 face trial.
She was quickly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her husband’s murder and 20 years for attempting to kill her daughter.
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 attack and died.
John Homan, her husband, was murdered in 1989. While working as a caretaker at a motel in Anniston, an altercation occurred. When John stepped in to help, he was stabbed to death.
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.
Increasingly restive, 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.
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 murder.
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.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 01 March 2009 18:18|