Women who kill series: Husband killer Marie Hilley (Killing by Arsenic poisoning)
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.
Improbably, Marie Hilley was not the only "black widow" of note from the tiny mill town of Blue Mountain, Alabama. Huey Frazier and Lucille Meads worked just as hard as everybody else, and they married in January, 1932. 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 discipline.
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.
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. 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. 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, 1952.
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 reasons why.
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. 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 health.
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.
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.
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 yet, though.
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. 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.
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.
Lieutenant Gary 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.
Subsequent 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 disappeared.
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 husband.
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 lived.
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 speculation began.
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 Teri Martin.
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 Alabama.
Marie on Trial
Authorities brought 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.
Freeda Adcock's 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 overruled them.
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 statements.
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.