Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marie Hilley

The Grieving Widow

Marie Hilley (Anniston Star)
Marie Hilley
(Anniston Star)

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.

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