Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marie Hilley

Evidence Mounts

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.


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