Audrey "Marie" Hilley
Depending on your age, you may remember that from about the mid-1980s through the early to mid-1990s we lived through a time where television was all about true stories and mini-series'. It was from one of these, a 1991 movie called “Wife, Mother, Murderer” that I remember first hearing about Marie Hilley. Marie's story is one of those that would qualify with the tag “you cannot make this stuff up.” I would like to say that the television movie based on her story was over dramatized and that neither she, nor those around her were as idiotic as they seemed. I could say that, and while it is always true to a certain extent in every movie or television show based on a true story, but in this case it was far less dramatized.
Marie married her husband, Frank in 1951. By 1975 they had two children, a son, Michael and a daughter, Carol. In May of 1975 Frank went to the doctor complaining of nausea and tenderness in his stomach. Several tests were done as he was not getting better and they indicated some sort of liver “malfunction” and possible hepatitis. He die on May 25, 1975 in Anniston Alabama. An autopsy was performed and it was thought that his cause of death was infectious hepatitis.
In October of 1978 Marie's daughter Carol would become ill with many of the same symptoms her father had suffered and was in the hospital several times. A year later, while at the hospital Marie had given Carol at least a few shots, telling her that it would help her feel better but not to tell anyone. Instead of feeling better Carol not only felt worse but her symptoms got worse, including experiencing numbness in her extremities. Doctors could not determine what was wrong with Carol and at one time thought it was psychosomatic and was having her tested. Finally it seemed that they were getting somewhere when they determined that Carol was suffering from malnutrition, a vitamin deficiency and they began suspecting some sort of heavy metal poisoning. It was at this point that Marie had Carol removed from that hospital and put in another one but the suspicion was already out. The new hospital also suspected heavy metal poisoning and continued their testing.
It appears that the police were involved at some point during this time and had been looking into Marie's past. It seemed that Marie had an awful lot of deaths in her family over the past several years and had seemingly profited from them. She had gotten about $31,000 at the time of Frank's death. In 1977 Marie's mother, Lucille had died. Her cause of death was listed as cancer, but authorities were suspicious. Her mother in law, Carrie Hilley, who Marie had remained close to and cared for had died right around the time that Carol began getting sick. They had also determined that in mid-1978 Marie had gotten a life insurance policy on Carol. In August of that year an accidental death clause had taken effect and it was two months later when Carol's symptoms had taken hold. In the investigation they had learned that Marie had continued to write the insurance company checks for Carol's policy but that they had continually bounced, causing the policy to recently lapse. In an attempt to get to the bottom of things with Carol, and in their minds keep her mother away from her, Marie was arrested for passing the bad checks. It was while she was in jail that test results were official. Preliminary testing showed evidence of arsenic had been found in Carol's nails and hair. Further testing would show that her hair follicles contained more that 100 times the normal level of arsenic. It was thought that she had been given the arsenic at increasing levels over a period of four to eight months. While still in jail, Marie was charged on October 9, 1979 for the attempted murder of her daughter.
A month later Marie was released on bail and went to say at a hotel using the name Emily Stephens. Sometime between November 9th and the 18th she would disappear. A note would be found that said “might have been kidnapped.” A missing persons report was filed and Marie was listed as a fugitive. On the 19th Marie's aunt informed law enforcement that her home had been broken into. Her car had been stolen along with clothes and a suitcase. A note was left that said “Do not call police. We will burn you out if you do. We found what we wanted and will not bother you again.” It was highly suspected that it was Marie who had broken into the home and stole things but she was already back on the run.
By this time authorities had exhumed the bodies of Frank Gilley, as well as his mother, Carrie and Marie's mother, Lucille. Carrie and Lucille's bodies had significant levels of arsenic in their systems but not to the point that they had been fatal. However, it was determined that Frank Gilley had in fact had lethal levels of arsenic in his system and on January 11, 1980, although she was still on the run, Marie was indicted for his murder.
At some point Marie had decided to start using the name Robbi Hannon. She met John Homan III in Florida and they were married on May 29, 1981. Not long later the couple moved to New Hampshire. “Robbi” had told John about her “twin sister, Terri” who lived in Texas. In the late summer of 1982 “Robbi” left John in New Hampshire saying that she had “family business” to take care of and to see doctors about an illness she claimed to have. It is unclear just what kind of illness she proclaimed this to be but she insisted John not go with her. Now on her travels she used the name Teri Martin. Within a few weeks John received a phone call from “Terri” who would tell him that “Robbi” had died while in Texas. Terri insisted that John had no need to come to Texas and that Robbi's body had been donated to science.
In November of 1982 “Terri” showed up at John's door in New Hampshire. Marie had lost significant weight and changed her hair color before going back to her husband. This was her downfall and funny enough it was not because of John. It seems that John believed everything just as Marie wanted him to but it was his friends and family that were not buying her story. One way or another the police were informed and it appears that an officers began to look into Terri's background. They became more suspicious when they could not find a history for her. Presumably they began their investigation believing that Terri was the now supposedly dead Robbi and that she had faked her death but they were at a loss on Robbi's supposed background too. In January of 1983 they brought her in for questioning and it seems that she rather quickly gave up that she was Audrey Marie Hilley and was wanted in Alabama.
In April of 1983 Marie Hilley was convicted in the murder of her husband, Frank and the attempted murder of her daughter, Carol. She would receive a life sentence, plus twenty years. It was brought out in the trial that not long before Frank would become sick he had told their son Michael that he was thinking about filing for divorce because he had found Marie in bed with one of his workers. But, her story does not end there.
Over the next few years she had shown good behavior while in prison. And strangely enough John Homan moved to Alabama near the prison to continue to visit with her. By 1987 she had been given several day passes and had always returned back at the appointed time. On February 19, 1987 she was given a three day pass to spend time with John. She spent a few hours with him and then she left to run an errand supposedly but left a note for John, asking for his forgiveness.
Four days later 911 operators would receive a call from a man who found a woman lying on his porch, needing medical attention. It was Marie Hilley. She had spent those days crawling through woods. There had been a significant rain and being February the temps were very low. By the time she had ended up on the porch of a home she was suffering from hypothermia. She was taken to the hospital but suffered a heart attack. She would die on February 26th.
Although Frank was her only known victim to have died, as I stated earlier, she was suspected in the deaths of her mother and her mother in law although it could not be proven. Then there was her unsuccessful attempt against her daughter, Carol. But there were more that were suspected. Before his father died in 1975, and just before he went to college, Marie's son, Michael had been sick with many of the symptoms the others would later experience. Doctors passed it off as a stomach flu and when he went to college his symptoms went away. No one knew at the time that she had a life insurance policy on Michael.
A few years after Frank had died Michael was now married, ironically to a woman named Terri and they lived with Marie and Carol for a period of time. While they were living there Terri began having symptoms like the others but was able to recover at some point. It was also widely reported later that in the late 1970's Marie would often call the police complaining about prowlers and threatening calls. Officers would say that she always met them at the door with a fresh pot of coffee. At least two of them complained of stomach cramps after drinking the coffee.
While obviously we cannot doubt the possible attempts on her son, her mother, her mother in law or even her daughter in law because their deaths could have possibly given her something to gain whether it was monetary or emotional but the supposed attempts on the officers is puzzling. One has to wonder if their story were true or possibly not an attempt to interject themselves into her story. Then again, Marie seemed to have a very twisted mind and who knows what she was thinking or could have done.
In case anyone is wondering, after her escape from the day pass in 1987 Alabama began rethinking their policy on granting them and changed things. I found the fact that they gave them at all very interesting. I suppose at least in that era anything is possible but there is only one other case in which I had heard of day passes given to those in prison. It was an Indiana in which a man got a day pass and traveled to where his ex-wife lived and beat her to death on that day. Indiana changed quite a few laws after that case. It is possible that other states allowed them also but we know about these cases because something went horribly wrong.