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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rich & Beautiful - a Texas Murder

In 1981 Farrah Fawcett did a made for TV movie called "Murder in Texas".  I remember watching it and loving every second of it!  Today's post will be about this murder mystery that still has folks talking in Houston over 40 years later.

This story has so many twists, turns and characters that it makes your head spin.  Forgive me - and feel free to correct me - should I overlook, skip or miss something.

Joan Robinson Hill was the only child of Ashton "Ash" Robinson, a very influential and rich Texas oil man and his socialite wife, Rhea Robinson.  Joan was beautiful, smart and quite the catch in the Houston social circuit.  She was an accomplished equestrian who often preferred the company of her horses to that of humans.  The fact that she was a very spoiled child is not in dispute.

At some point in the 1950's, Joan met John Robert Hill, a handsome plastic surgeon and they married in the late 1950's producing a son named Robert Ashton"Boot" Hill.

John Hill was certainly not born into Houston high society.  Or any other high society for that matter.  He had worked his way through college and then medical school.  He was, by all accounts, a very gifted and dedicated pianist.  Joan's father was never a fan of the man or the marriage and evidence would suggest that the feeling was mutual.

"On Tuesday, March 18, 1969, Joan Hill, a 38-year-old Houston, Texas, socialite, became violently ill for no readily apparent reason. Her husband, Dr. John Hill, at first indifferent, later drove her at a leisurely pace several miles to a hospital in which he had a financial interest, passing many other medical facilities on the way. When checked by admitting physicians, Joan's blood pressure was dangerously low, 60/40. Attempts to stabilize her failed and the next morning she died. The cause of death was uncertain. Some thought pancreatitis; others opted for hepatitis."

(Read more: John Hill Trial: 1971 - Motive: Failed Divorce, Outburst Leads To Mistrial, Retrial Unnecessary - Joan, Robinson, Kurth, and Death - JRank Articles

Ash Robinson would have his daughter's body exhumed twice in order to have private autopsies performed at his expense.  A total of 3 autopsies were performed.  All of them with varying results and conjectures.

It is now believed by many in the medical field, that Joan may well have died from Toxic Shock Syndrome.  However, in 1969 with the medical professionals unable to agree with a final diagnosis and TSS not even a known condition, the death looked mighty suspicious to a wealthy and powerful father grieving over the loss of his only child.  Especially since Ash Robinson hadn't wanted his daughter to marry John Hill to begin with. Another red flag was the fact that John Hill had a mistress and wanted to divorce Joan so he could marry his mistress.  However, Dr. Hill was bound by a pre-nup which clearly stated that should they divorce - he gets whatever he brought into the marriage, but nothing more.  

All the classic signs for murder were there.  Husband who came from nothing but had grown to love the "good life" and would do anything not to give it up.  Wife who thought they could "work it out" and refused to give her husband a divorce so he could marry his mistress, Ann Kurth.  Ann had issued an ultimatum.  "Marry me or leave me alone".  And the icing on the cake?  If he divorced Joan - he got nothing.  If she died - he got everything.

When John and Joan Hill bought the house at 1561 Kirby Drive in Houston, it had its own checkered past (and future).  The Hill's bought the house in 1966 for $80,000 and Robert Hill spent an additional $100,000 just on creating a music room for his piano. 

It was not, and reportedly had never, been a "happy house".  The previous owner died from cancer in the very room where Joan lay dying from her mysterious illness.  The owners before them, had all been embroiled in messy divorces and/or depression with some reporting they were on the brink of suicide when they sold the house.  As for the Hill's, according to Robert, they were a happy couple until about a year after they moved into the house on Kirby Drive.  Their troubles began when John started his affair and ended with both of their deaths.  Both deaths either began or ended in this house.

Connie Hill, John Hill's wife at the time of his death, and his son with Joan continued to live in the house after John's death until the middle 1980's.  At that time, Connie Hill remarried and Robert left for college so they sold the home to an attorney.  As near as I can tell, it has been sold at least twice since then.  All times to attorneys.

Within weeks after Joan's death, Robert Hill married Ann Kurth and moved her into the house at Kirby Drive.

Ann would later testify at John's trial that one night in a drunken rage, he admitted to her that he had regularly injected Joan with her own urine killing her.  She testified that he also admitted to her that he had also killed both his father and brother.

If he did indeed kill her by injecting her with her own urine, it would certainly explain why none of the autopsies were conclusive.  It would also explain why no known foreign toxins were found to suggest a poison.  I'm sure in 2011, doctors would be able to detect and possibly suspect this method of poisoning, but in 1969, they could not.  Our urine is nothing more than natural toxins that our body is disposing of in order to prevent our being poisoned.  If you take those concentrated toxins and reintroduce them into your body, you are in effect being poisoned to death quite naturally by toxins that are not foreign and thereby undetectable.  At least in 1969 medical standards.  

Joan languished completely bedridden for nearly a week before she was finally brought to a hospital and died.  She had been exhibiting flu-like symptoms for a week prior to becoming bedridden.  During this time, she told her father and others who inquired about her health that her husband was taking excellent care of her.  He was taking daily urine samples for testing and was injecting her twice daily with a vitamin cocktail that should make her feel much better soon.  However, that was not the case.

Other sources state that Dr. Hill had taken feces samples from very sick patients and had put them into a petri dish creating a deadly bacteria which he then injected into pastries which he fed to his wife.  At the trial, Ann Kurth-Hill testified that one day when she was at the apartment which John kept for his "second life", she had seen 3 petri dishes  in the bathroom.  When she asked John about them, he brusquely informed her that it was "just an experiment that he was working on."

Ash Robinson dedicated his time and considerable resources and influences to the goal of proving Dr. Hill murdered Joan.  He made daily calls to the prosecutor's office, the attorney General's office, Congressman and noted physicians.  He had Joan's body exhumed on at least two occasions for private autopsies.  He had the house and occupants on Kirby Drive under surveillance and even had a private investigator digging into John's past and family.

He had a stroke of luck when Ann decided to come forward with John's alleged drunken confession.  After only 9 months of marriage, John Hill had unceremoniously dumped Ms. Kurth and she was not happy about it.  He was finally able to convince the prosecutors to charge John Hill with the murder of his daughter.

After months of badgering, intercessions from noted lawmakers and persistence on the part of Ash Robinson, the prosecutors dug around until they found a Texas law that allowed them to use the extremely rare charge of "murder by omission," in effect, killing someone by deliberate neglect.

The trial began in February, 1971 and lasted 11 days before a mistrial was declared.   Of course, Ann Kurth-Hill testified.  One of the Hill's neighbors, Vann Maxwell, also testified that shortly before Joan became ill, she had told Vann that she was intending to file for divorce. 

 John Hill had filed for divorce in December, 1968 but had withdrawn his petition when it came to light that he would not only risk losing everything in a contested divorce but also his reputation and personal medical practice might severely suffer if it became public knowledge that he had participated in an affair.  He instead elected to enact a "reconciliation" with his wife.

The Defense attorneys had thought it highly inappropriate that Ann Kurth-Hill was allowed to testify at the murder trial of her ex-husband.  However, the presiding Judge decided to allow it with the condition that he could stop her testimony at any time.  

The main thrust of Kurth's testimony was given over to a vivid account of an incident in which, she said, Hill had attempted to kill her. It came just one month into their marriage. They were out driving when, Kurth claimed, Hill deliberately smashed her side of the car into a bridge.

"What happened next?" asked Prosecutor McMaster.

"He pulled a syringe from his pocket and … tried to get it into me." Kurth said that she managed to knock the syringe from Hill's hand, but that he then produced another hypodermic needle.

"And what did he do with that one, if anything?" queried MeMaster.

Kurth, who several times had to be admonished by the judge for her overly theatrical presentation, crescendoed, "He tried to get that syringe into me!"

Here the prosecutor speculated. "Was he attempting to treat you? Or harm you? Do you know?"

"Yes, I knew." Kurth hesitated, as if unsure what to say next, then blurted out, "Because he told me how he had killed Joan with a needle."

Defense attorney Haynes leapt to his feet, demanding a mistrial on grounds that the defense had not been given an opportunity to prepare themselves against a direct accusation of murder. (This was the first that Haynes had heard of any syringes). Judge Hooey, plainly worried by this turn of events, at first denied the request but did order a recess. During the adjournment, however, Hooey had second thoughts. The tenuous legal precedent by which Kurth had been allowed to testify, and then her foolhardy outburst, convinced him that if he allowed the trial to continue there were clear and palpable grounds for appeal. Accordingly, 11 days into the hearing, he granted the mistrial.

Interestingly enough, the jurors, when polled afterward, indicated that they were inclined to believe John Hill innocent. Ann Kurth's story hadn't impressed them at all.

Read more: John Hill Trial: 1971 - Outburst Leads To Mistrial - Kurth, Judge, Hooey, and Haynes - JRank Articles

The retrial was set and reset 3 times.  However, before the trial could begin, John Hill, now married for a third time to Connie (I can find no information as to her maiden name) was gunned down in the foyer of his house in what has always been believed to be a contract killing.  Of course, Ash Robinson was always the name that came up whenever anyone mentioned this.  Although no one ever officially linked Ash to the murder of John Hill, it should be noted that following this latest death in his family, Boot Hill cut all ties to Ash Robinson.  Rumor is rampant that Boot believed his grandfather had hired someone to murder John Hill.  Proof that these rumors were valid is the fact that in 1977 both Connie and Boot Hill brought a civil suit against Ash Robinson for the wrongful death of John Hill.

Ultimately, 3 people were arrested for the murder of John Hill.  Bobby Vandiver and girlfriend Marcia McKittrick admitted complicity, but claimed that they had been hired by a notorious Houston brothel madam, Lilla Paulus. When Vandiver was shot by police in an unrelated incident, McKittrick, promised a 10-year sentence, agreed to testify against Paulus. Additional testimony was provided by Paulus' own daughter. She told the court of overhearing her mother say, "Ash Robinson is looking for somebody to kill John Hill." Eventually Paulus was convicted and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment in 1975.

When the wrongful death civil suit was finally brought to trial after a nearly 10 year battle, Lilla Paulus' daughter declined to testify, leaving Marcia McKittrick as the main witness against Robinson. A polygraph examination indicated that she was being truthful in saying that Robinson had caused the death of John Hill. A similar test suggested that Robinson was being truthful when he said he hadn't. Given this welter of confusion, the jury acquitted Robinson of collusion in the death of his son-in-law, and the suit was quashed.

The movie that I watched back in the 1980's left no doubt in anyone's mind that John Hill had murdered his wife.  It further showed Ann Kurth as a victim in this story.  However, after researching the matter, I am of the conclusion that while John Hill may indeed have poisoned his wife, Ann Kurth was certainly no victim.

Did John Hill murder his wife or did he just seize an opportunity when it presented itself to him?  Perhaps John didn't murder his wife.  Perhaps she became sick with something that would lead to her death if left untreated and John simply elected not to get her medical treatment but to allow whatever ailment she had to consume her.  Then he is left a widow with their minor son to care for.  For a man desperate to get out of a marriage, this must have seemed to be a win-win situation for him.

As for the other players in this story, no one seems certain of Connie Hill's whereabouts but one thing is fairly obvious.  She apparently was a good person who believed in her husband's innocence and took care of Boot until he was an adult.

Robert Ashton "Boot" Hill supposedly went on to graduate law school becoming a criminal prosecutor.  Later he became Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office.

So is this story an unsolved mystery where the murderer gets away scott free, then the grieving father hires someone to murder him?  Or is this a case of a greedy doctor who wanted to marry his mistress without losing any of "his" worldly possessions and seizes upon an opportunity to become a widower when his wife contracts toxic shock syndrome?

Either way, it doesn't bode well for the character of Dr. John Hill.


Susan Mueller said...

Being born and raised in Texas,I've been fascinated with this story since I was a kid.I've read Thompson's and Kurth's books, and Thompson's is definitely the accurate account of what took place during these people's lives.I believe John Hill murdered Joan, and he got away with it ONLY because Joan was embalmed before an autopsy could be performed.I also believe Ash had John killed, but only because he thought John would never be punished for murdering Joan.I love reading anything about this story and I love seeing pics of Joan in her "glory days" in the arena.

Sue Harviel said...

I'll bet living in Texas, you heard all the juicy stories! I first heard of this story when I watched the Andy Griffith/Farrah Fawcett movie on TV. I have no doubt in my mind that Ash had John killed and for the very reason you mentioned. While I honestly think Joan had TSS which led to her demise, I believe John prevented her from being treated knowing she would die without treatment. Whether he "pulled the trigger" or simply watched her die - he's still a murderer in my book. Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in this.

Recently acquired through a storage unit lien auction in Lakeway Texas!

Found buried in heaps of boxes and bags that due to time and weather crumbled in your hands. The amazing untold and unpublished bound drafts of the "continuation of events described in Prescription: Murder."

Ernie said...

WOW! Thank you so much for the link! I can't wait to dig through this. You are AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

This story has fascinated me since I read the book "Blood and Money." Long ago I drew my own conclusion as to what happened to Joan. I believe she had a bad stomach virus and became dehydrated. If not treated, dehydration can be fatal. John saw an opportunity to be rid of her and took it. He kept her at home as long as he could. Ash Robinson was out of town when Joan first fell ill but was due back. John knew Ash would insist on seeing Joan, so he took her to Sharpstown Hospital across town. He chose this place because he wanted to delay treatment as long as possible. It worked. Joan went into kidney failure, causing a cardiac arrest.

Ernie said...

That's an interesting theory and might be exactly what happened. I still hold to the theory that she suffered from toxic shock syndrome brought about from her use of tampons. At the time of her death, this syndrome was not even named yet so it would have slipped past many if not most of the physicians who eventually treated her. Either way, I believe you are 100% correct in that John simply took full advantage of the situation & allowed her to die with as little interference as possible. I have always loved the theory that he poisoned her using her own urine but I find that theory a bit far out there regardless of the fact that it is a very original idea. I doubt John would have had the patience to kill her in that fashion as that is not anyway near a quick death. Eventually, had she not gotten sick on her own, I feel he would have staged a horse riding accident or some such. Does the fact that he didn't actually kill her but rather just allowed her to die make him guilty of murder? In my book it certainly does. Thanks for the comment.

alan said...

relative.....all of your conjectures are fine and well. what most people don't know, is that john had tried to get joan to go to the hospital several times, and she wouldn't! also, he arrived at the hospital farther away, because she claimed she was ok, even to disregard the wheelchair, and walk up the hospital steps.

Ernie said...

Alan: I did not know that. I have never read anything - not even the legal documents that alluded to him trying to save her. I would wonder why he never vocalized this fact loudly and often. Do you have personal knowledge of the players in this case or is this information something you've read? If so, please send me a link so I can read it as well. I'd be very interested. I will admit that a lot of times people run their mouths and try to look like a "big man" to others when they really should keep their mouths shut. I think prisons are teaming with people who confessed to something they didn't do just to "impress" someone. His major downfall was the fact that he supposedly told his lover that he had murdered Joan and would do the same to her. Maybe he used Joan's death and the surrounding suspicions as a way to either intimidate his lover or perhaps make himself look like a "big man" in her eyes. Kinda like a "look what I did for you" kinda thing? We all say things from time to time that we later wish we hadn't. However, in his case, his words came back to bite him in the rear in a very MAJOR way. Thanks for the comment.

Leah Burns said...

I'm sorry Alan but you're incorrect. John did everything in his power to prevent taking Joan to the hospital. He even went so far as to tell the maid to not enter Joan's room and to not let her have any visitors. I know many of you think she died of TSS, I'm an RN and have seen many woman come into the hosp in late stages of TSS and if the description of poor Joan is correct as to her appearance of time of death, unrecognizable, is correct than she did not die of TSS. If she had told John she didnt want to go to the hospital which didnt happen, being a physician he would have at least started IV's to prevent dehydration, also if he had of injected her with her own urine it would not have hurt her, her own urine. I firmly believe he went to Sharpstoown where he was an investor and went into the lab which would have not been questioned and removed samples of belly fluids and injected it into the pastry he handled her. I don't believe a word of what that poor excuse of woman Ann said but I believe he poisoned her with fecal matter. He probably knew Ash would be out of town and there would be nobody that could keep him out of her bedroom of his sick daughter. Alan where did you read John tried to get her to go to the hosp several times? Out of every story Ive read you're the first person to say this and I would be curious as to the source. I agree with Ernie when some ppl want to appear to be a know it all "big man" ae if they have insider info.

Ernie said...

I agree 100% with you Leah Burns. Every word. Thanks for commenting!

angelsun said...

According the book Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson. Rhea Robinson could not conceive and Joan was adopted from the Edna Gladney Agency in Fort Worth (p. 20). Page 204 leaves an implication that John tried to get Joan to go to the hospital. The quotes are based on his testimony in response to a Juror's question. Of course; there's no way to establish the veracity of the statements but it was in direct opposition to the testimony of Effie Green, Ash Robinson and the two guests from Dallas.

Ernie said...

Angelsun, of course he's going to say he tried to get her to go to the hospital. Point remains if someone you profess to love is suffering and won't go to the hospital voluntarily, you call 911 and have them taken there by ambulance. I strongly believe that had he called his father in law, his wife would have been in the hospital. But he didn't. Maybe he didn't kill her. I'm open to that. Maybe it was toxic shock syndrome. But even if he didn't kill her, he certainly appears to have taken advantage of her sudden illness to let her die. Same thing as murdering her in my book. At the end of the day, if he didn't kill her, he sure had enough enemies that wanted him convicted of it. Nice people don't normally make that many enemies. All of this is exactly why I wrote about the story. There are just so many different versions to tell and any one of them might be the absolute truth. But we'll never really know. That's what makes it intriguing. Thanks for your comment!

Joanna said...

I read "Blood and Money" and "Prescription Murder" by Ann Kurth and I've seen the movie. I don't remember anything about Hill injecting Joan with her own urine. From what I remember, he collected all kinds of bacteria and grew cultures in petrie dishes and injected her with bacteria. Also, how would he have gotten enough of her urine to have injected her with it? She may have had TSS, but if she did, it was caused by whatever toxins her husband administered when he injected her. There's an excellent summarization of the Joan Robinson Hill case at the following link:

Ernie said...

Joanna, my blog was taken from several sources including the movie and book, but also from court transcripts and published articles. As such, I cannot pinpoint exactly where I found that information but I can assure you, I didn't make it up. LOL You make an excellent point about the bacteria leading to her TSS but at the same time, she may simply have contracted TSS from her use of tampons. We will never know. That's what makes this story so intriguing. Thanks for the comment.

Joanna said...

First, I don't think you made up anything. I have read on other sites where people said Joan might have died of TSS.

Someone above said that John Hill tried to save Joan, but I've never read anything to that effect, except Hill's own claims. For example, Joan could barely walk and he said later that he had to practically carry her down the stairs. But Rhea Robinson was there and she said that even though Joan could barely stand, Hill insisted that she walk down the stairs on her own. It was his idea to take her to Sharpstown Hospital and later when he was asked why, he said that she had wanted to be treated by Dr. Bertinot. But Bertinot said that he had never treated Joan and barely knew her. John Hill was a coldhearted SOB who killed his wife and told so many lies that he couldn't keep them straight.

Also, in the link I provided above, there's something that I found particular chilling and that was Hill's advise to young men who were studying to become doctors that they marry a rich woman. Like the article says and Ash Robinson said, I believe John Hill had a "master plan" and when he'd gotten whatever he wanted from a person, he had no qualms whatsoever about getting rid of them, even if it meant killing them.

Ernie said...

I agree with you that he was a user to the 'enth degree. Like I've said repeatedly, even if he didn't actually murder her (meaning give her something to make her die), he certainly seized the opportunity when it arrived to allow her to die and even to possibly hasten the process along. Either way is murder in my book. Do I think he gave her something which eventually killed her? I believe the story circulated about him injecting her with her own urine. That would explain why after numerous autopsies by multiple doctors, no foreign body was ever found. It was testified that he gave her numerous injections daily toward the end of her life. He said they were vitamin shots for energy (such as B12). He also made her save her urine when she peed towards the end of her life. He said it was so he could personally analyze it to make sure the vitamin cocktail was absorbing as it should into her system. That would give him access to her urine. Joan actually bragged to some female friends at lunch shortly before she became too sick to get out of bed that her husband was doing this. Her maid also testified as to seeing the urine and him giving her injections. I wish he had just confessed at length at some point so we'd all know exactly what did and did not, happen. I know he allegedly confessed to his girlfriend and she testified against him in court, but I am always suspicious of testimony that comes from jilted lovers or jailhouse cellmates. We'll truly never really know. Thank you for the conversation.

criehavenmaven said...

Lots of interesting comments here. "Blood and Money" is the top drawer of all drawers of the true crime genre. Never heard of any reader who didn't think it was marvelously written.
I actually do not believe that Dr. Hill poisoned his wife with pastries(or anything else), the rumor which grew and grew after Ms. Senttegast whispered it into Ash's ear as her fantasy of what caused Joan's death. I also believe that John Hill was mesmerized by Joan's personality and very much in love when he married her. He may have thought his strict fundamentalist upbringing would allow him to enjoy her personality and lifestyle, which included a lot of salty language and tons of boozing. It didn't jell. I believe in his disinterest of Joan and her "flu" symptoms delayed his finally taking her to the hospital. He didn't care much about her by that time, and was nearly crazed with lust and ambivilence about Kurth. Certainly Ash gave the contract to kill Dr. Hill to Lilla Paulus, and certainly Marcia McKittrick and Bobby VanDiver would have had no idea who Dr. Hill WAS had Lilla not clued them into a killing for money. The only thing that mattered to Ash was his perception that Dr. Hill had killed Joan; altho I doubt he meant the murder to take place in his grandson's presence.Served him right to lose the kid's company. People talk a lot about Hill's manipulative nature, but in fact Ash Robinson's beats him in that regard, ten times over.

Ernie said...

Criehavenmaven: Great comments! You may be 100% correct in your assumptions that while John Hill didn't actually start the process of killing her, he allowed her to die to be rid of her. He seized the opportunity once it became apparent she was very ill. I also agree that poor Joan was surrounded by egotistical and ruthless men. Not only that but egotistical and ruthless men who hated one another. Never a recipe for happiness. Ash was power crazy. He was one of those people who truly believed that he was always right and his needs/wants should be met regardless of the outcome to others. I hate that Joan's son was ever put in a position to cut ties with his remaining family, but I agree that it was in his best interest to do so. I'm still thinking she died from toxic shock syndrome. Back in those days, very little was known about it or about preventing it. Thanks again for the comments!

criehavenmaven said...

Ernie, I like your reasoning. Do you know, if during the (first) autopsy on Joan Hill's body,it was noted that she was........well, in a situation that might have produced TTS? I don't recall any mention of that in Thompson's book, which was obviously well researched. Or there might be other causes for some sweeping bacterial takeover, I really don't know. Isn't it interesting that Diane Sentegast spent time in Lilla Paulus' home from time to time...undoubtedly she must have been a rough, ole girl!
I am glad to find another reader who discounts that Dr. Hill grew things in petri dishes and injected them into his wife. In fact, if the opinion of Hill's last wife, Connie, is worth anything and her record seems spotless, he was not at all capable of harm...but of course, he did not find a girlfriend outside their marriage. If Thompson is correct, Ash broke up Joan's first two impulse marriages so it's no surprise that he resented John Hill as well. I also doubt seriously that Joan was Ash's biological child; altho Rhea's tale of how she picked Joan out at the home for unwed mothers is entirely fiction...not sure where she came up with that story, unless it was told to Joan when she was little as proof of her "special-ness" and indeed she was treated very, very well in the Robinson's world of throw money here and there. As you said, egotistical men around her, she was more of a possession of Ash's than a woman whose problems he could not solve by buying solutions. I am not convinced John Hill was so fixated upon the music room at all costs anyway. I think he reconciled with Joan after a talk with Ash heaped guilt on his fundamentalist head.

Ernie said...

Here's the thing about TSS. It was first "noticed" in 1975 but wasn't given an actual name and wasn't published until the November, 1978 issue of "The Lancet" which was a British medical journal. Since Joan Hill died in 1969, I highly doubt that even the best of doctors in Texas had ever even heard of TSS. The first recorded case was in Denver in 1975. However, the attending doctor diagnosed it initially as Scarlet Fever. The symptoms mimic those of heavy metal poisoning or Scarlet Fever with the exception that TSS is far quicker to advance. With early diagnosis and proper treatment the fatality rate is really quite low - in 2015 - I'm sure many died prior to 1978 but were misdiagnosed and thus mistreated. My point to all of that is to say that even though her body was exhumed numerous times, no one performing the autopsies would even know to look for TSS. Couple that with Ash whispering in their ears, along with the fact that John Hill was not at all a popular person, and they were more prone to believe something nefarious as being the culprit.
As for John Hill growing bacteria in petri dishes, that rumor was first circulated by their maid. It should be said that the maid was very fond of Ash and had practically raised Joan and abhorred John Hill. She admitted on record that she was furious with John Hill because he refused to allow her into the sick room shortly before Joan died. The reason behind her exile is the fact that Ash was telling her to give Joan certain foods and nutritional supplements in direct opposition to the "plan of treatment" that John Hill had ordered. Once John found out, he banished her from the room. Shortly after that, she came up with the "eye witness" account of seeing John Hill putting Joan's urine into a petri dish and then later discovering many petri dishes with moldy substances floating in them which gave rise to the rumor that John injected her with her own urine thus killing her but leaving no trace. I'll admit that when I first heard this rumor, I was intrigues and loved the thought that he could be so clever. Upon researching this technique I discovered that the amount of urine necessary to kill her would have to be a continuous drip system for many days. A simple injection once a day would not have done the trick because by the time the next injection was given, her body would already gotten rid of the previous injection thus causing her no great harm. But it was a great rumor.
BTW all those dozens of petri dishes that the maid swore under oath she found? They were never discovered. No evidence of them ever being there or of John Hill ever purchasing them.
Great conversation!! Thanks!

criehavenmaven said...

Ernie, you are definitely my soulmate in terms of intelligent discussion of this case! You know things I did not know before, such as the maid's connection to Ash. I remember her testimony, Effie Green, and that Racehorse had her tangled up terribly...and of course, intentionally. I don't recall her "petri" dish story but believe she claimed he was "rubbing out needle marks", which is impossible anyway. I checked on TSS, and altho we women think it can be contracted only with the infrequent change of tampons, and it usually is, but it's really just staph..gone wild. My thoughts were that perhaps Joan forgot and left one in place when she first felt unwell,in drinking/houseguests/mad at John Hill/on on the driveway shouting chaos. No staff or doctors examining her body would have thought of noting it; TSS was unknown to them. Her blood cultures began at the hospital showed neg. for bacteria initially; but since she died before the 72 hrs. it would have taken to "grow"; I presume they were tossed out before that time elapsed. Dr. Lanza was way out of his element as it was. Urine injection WAS a good rumor, presenting a diabolical John Hill, but thanks for tossing it on the bogus pile! Cultures showing rampant staph would not have cleared John Hill, but we'd like to know! Thanks for sharing, and being on your toes!

Ernie said...

We are indeed true crime soulmates! I love to read these "stories" and take them at face value. Then I read them again but this time, I dig a bit deeper into the testimony and also into the intermingling of the players....who was in cahoots with whom? Who had the most to gain and who had the most to lose? Whose story was inconsistent. I honestly believe that a lot of cold case files could be closed if the police sent the files out to 3rd parties for review. When cops and prosecutors are actively working files, they tend to get very close to the fire and it sometimes can blind them to the tiny fragments of a case that once pulled will unravel the whole thing. They're only human and when they physically speak with these victims and witnesses, they form opinions and can be swayed one way or the other. However, a third party would only be reading what the person said - not listening to how they say it. A third party would be more objective. Do you agree?

criehavenmaven said...

It is certainly a concept I'd never considered but yes, I agree! I.D. McMaster first called Ash a nutcase but later he was led, bullied, coaxed, etc. by Ash's opinions and relentless pursuit of Hill. Ash was not an "ordinary" loved one left behind, he had clout and was single-minded in his efforts, so a very squeaky wheel, apparently willing to lose Robert as collateral damage. I imagine Ash knew quite a few shady folks, and may have offered a contract to several, but only greedy Lilla took him up on it.
Question>> If retried, would Dr. Hill have been found guilty of ....what? not providing aid in time...injecting her..serving a polluted pastry? John Hill behaved with Kurth like a 9th grader with an obsession, actions he regretted in short order, but way too late to appease the alpha male, Ash.

LadyV from the D said...

Ready all your entries, intriguing case. Just wanted to know if the son, "Boots" was still alive and ever commented on the case. Also, any info as to the post life and/or death of Anne Kurtz and Connie. A "whatever happened to " query.

Ernie said...

Honestly, I know very little about the "afterlives" of the players. My research has discovered that Robert Ashton "Boot" Hill graduated from law school. At one time there was a Robert Ashton Hill working in the Maryland County Attorney's office but I went there a few minutes ago and his name is no longer listed. I don't know if that's the same guy or not - however - I would think that to be an unusual name. There are a ton of Ann Kurtz in the Google results. As for Connie, I have no idea. If anyone reading this blog has better information (and it'd be hard to be worse)please chime in as I'd like to know how they all fared as well. I'd like to believe that Boot escaped the family drama/tragedy, found a great wife, good career and lived happily ever after.

Joanna said...

To LadyV from the D: I've posted this link before, but you may have missed it. This article, entitled "Money and Murder in Texas," tells what happened to Ann Kurth, Boot Hill, etc. I am posting a question asking the author of "Money and Murder" what happened to Connie Hill and for an update on Boot Hill and as soon as she responds, I will let everyone know.

Ernie said...

Thank you Joanna! What a great idea!! You rock!

Joanna said...

Here are the question I asked about Boot and Connie Hill, and another asked by another member about the cause of death:

Question: Lee, do you know if Boot Hill is still with the office of the state's attorney in Maryland? Also, do you know what happened to Connie Hill, John Hill's third wife?

Answer: Yes, Boot Hill is still with the office of the Montgomery County State's Attorney in Rockville, where he is currently deputy chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit. His wife's name is Denise and their daughter, Linden Joan Hill, rides in horse shows.

Connie Loesby Hill never believed John Hill killed Joan, or any of the other negative things said of him. In 1981, she married James C. Calaway, an eccentric, ultra-liberal millionaire and they moved from Texas to Colorado. They donated the James C. and Connie L. Calaway Academic Building at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, where Boot Hill earned his bachelor’s degree. The marriage has been plagued by numerous separations and divorce actions. Calaway is now around 85 and Connie around 75. Both currently live at 1023 Heritage Dr. in Carbondale, Colorado. Of interest, James Calaway is a member of the NAACP and less than 1% of the Carbondale population is black, leading one to conclude he’s something of a hypocrite.

Question: Does anyone know what the ME found in the samples?

Answer: Joseph A. Jachimczyk, M.D., performed the autopsy and obtained the samples from Sharpstown Hospital. Her liver revealed abnormalities consistent with infection and the cause of death recorded on the death certificate is “acute hepatitis - viral.” Later, Dr. Jachimczyk said she died as the “result of a fulminating infectious process, the specific nature of which is no longer determinable.” In 1980 when it was suggested Joan Robinson could have died from toxic shock syndrome, Dr. Jachimczyk said she had some of the symptoms of toxic shock, but not others, and the bacteria present in her body did not fit the pattern of toxic shock syndrome.

Ernie said...

Joanna that is WONDERFUL information!! Thank you so much for that! So the theory that she died from TSS is out the window? That was my best bet too. LOL I don't know about the acute hepatitis diagnosis. According to the CDC the majority of people don't actually die from hepatitis. Rather they die from ensuing conditions caused by the hepatitis virus such as liver failure, kidney failure and cancer (usually of the liver). I am not a doctor and don't even play one on TV but in my mind, I would need a doctor to explain to me how she can be healthy and then suddenly take to her bed with flu like symptoms and be dead within a month from the hepatitis virus yet no damage was discovered to her liver and/or kidneys during any of the autopsies. I understand her liver revealed "abnormalities" but that is a term used by the medical field to reveal "something" was amiss but not so amiss that it could be accurately identified. I would think had she died from the hepatitis virus that upon examination of her liver, there would be no question about it. If the hepatitis virus was so rampant in her system that it killed her, then I would think it would be far more prevalent during the examinations. This information honestly leads me back to her being injected not with vitamins as Hill claimed, but rather with a vial of some type of infected liquid. We will never know and that's super annoying. LOL Thank you again for this awesome amount of information!

Texaslueth said...

Wow, thought I was the only one interested in this fascinating story and everyone that has commented got me to thinking again. And one of my main thoughts has always been; weird coincidences, only one, two or three degrees of separation with all true crime stories. For instance, Dr. Hills attorney, "Racehorse" Haynes also represented Cullen Davis who was very enamored with Tommy Thompson the author of Blood and Money.

Ernie said...

Texaslueth....Really?! I had no idea of that connection! Cullen Davis was a real piece of work. Thanks for sharing this info!

Texaslueth said...

Thanks Ernie. I'm especially drawn to Texas true crime books, for me the quintessential book Blood and Money beautifully executed by Tommy Thompson. If there are people still alive from that time it would be interesting to see what they knew and thought about those days, for instance the doctors that either held to the Hill or the Robinson side, some of the attorneys, doctors etc. as of a few years ago still resided in Houston area.

Ernie said...

Wouldn't that be awesome? Especially if one or more of them decided to spill the beans and let us know exactly what happened. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Boot Hill is the only player left from this tragedy and he refuses to speak of it. Connie Hill may be alive, but I can find absolutely no evidence of her whereabouts or even if she's still alive.

Anonymous said...

I remember my mom reading the book in 85. Only took her 2 days. She couldn't put it down.
I work down the street from the home.

Anonymous said...

Do not know? I saw the made for TV special in the 80's. Kinda forgot about the case then learned how to "youtube" from my daughter...not sure if this is the best route for me as I google everything I have ever wondered or been interested in then go to youtube to see what they have on the subject. Just so hard to stop researching. My question is what happened to the mansion? Has someone else purchased it? Did Ash keep it? Thank you for sharing the information on this case it is sincerely appreciated.

Ernie said...

Thanks for the comment Anonymous. Ash kept the mansion for awhile and his stepmother lived there while he was in college and later in law school. It is now owned by someone else.

Debra Brod said...,-Houston,-TX-77019/32989880/photos

Here is a link to the home at 1561 Kirby Dr. in River Oaks, Houston TX. I had never actually seen many photos taken inside the house and these clearly show Dr. Hill's famous music room. I read Tommy's book when it first came out. My husband and I were living in Houston at the time while he attended pharmacy school and we drove by this home several times during our stay there. The story continues to fascinate me and I am currently re-reading Blood and Money.

Ernie said...

Debra Brod thank you for the comment and especially thank you for the link! I've never seen interior shots of the house before! That music room is crazy grand! I swooned over the ceiling treatment. I understand how the story could fascinate you - especially since you hold a connection to the key players. I didn't know any of them and I have been fascinated by it since the Farrah Fawcett movie came out all those many years ago.

Hydi56 said...

My name is Hydi and my mother was a prison guard in Gatesville Tx. during Marcia McKittrick incarceration. Marcia gave my mother a crochet Elephant for her birthday. Though my mother passed away 10 yrs ago, I still have the Elephant. Many knew my mother and they still live in Gatevsille. I would very much like to sell the Elephant but have no idea where to start. Suggestions would be great!. Thank you

Hydi56 said...

My name is Hydi and my mother was a prison guard in Gatesville Tx. during Marcia McKittrick incarceration. Marcia gave my mother a crochet Elephant for her birthday. Though my mother passed away 10 yrs ago, I still have the Elephant. Many knew my mother and they still live in Gatevsille. I would very much like to sell the Elephant but have no idea where to start. Suggestions would be great!. Thank you

Ernie said...

Hydi56: I truly would not want that elephant in my house or in my possession. I believe a person's energy can be attached to items and crazy idea or not....I wouldn't want to bet the farm on me being wrong. If you want to sell it, I might try EBay. There are some serious collectors out there who spend a lot of money buying items once belonging to people like Marcia McKittrick. Let them have the bad juju that is possibly attached to that elephant. LOL Thanks for the comment.