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John Hill Trial: 1971 - Motive: Failed Divorce

haynes mcmaster joan brown

Although not required to do so, prosecutors are generally happiest if they can demonstrate to the jury that the accused had a clear motive for committing the crime. McMaster did just this.

We expect to prove that problems arose in the course of this marriage which resulted in the filing of a divorce petition on December 3, 1968, by the defendant Dr. John Hill. An answer to said petition for divorce was filed by Joan Hill, making the divorce a contested matter which could have resulted in a court trial.… Realizing that he had insufficient grounds for divorce and in fear of the adverse publicity in regard to his extramarital activities which might result from a court trial, Dr. John Hill dismissed his divorce case and agreed to a so-called reconciliation with Joan Hill.… Having failed to terminate the marriage legally, the defendant began to formulate a plan to rid himself of an unwanted wife.

After detailing Joan Hill's sudden and violent illness, McMaster went on:

The state expects to show that the defendant, realizing his wife's … condition, intentionally and with malice aforethought failed to properly treat Joan Hill and failed to provide timely hospitalization for her in order that she would die.

Haynes listened to all of this, expressionless. He knew that the case, as presented by McMaster was wafer-thin and that, ultimately, everything would hinge on the word of Ann Kurth. But first came Vann Maxwell, a neighbor of the Hills. She testified that, on the weekend before her illness, Joan was planning to reinstitute divorce proceedings against her husband: "The final thing she said about it was … would I go with her?"

"How did she appear to you?" Haynes asked casually on cross-examination.

"She seemed in good health," answered Maxwell.

Haynes sat down, pleased. Now it would be up to the prosecution to explain how a healthy, physically fit woman had become a hopelessly sick patient in less than 48 hours.

Effie Brown had worked as a maid for the Hills only a matter of weeks but was well aware of their marital difficulties. "Did anyone tell you that Mrs. Hill was ill … that she was sick on Monday?" asked McMaster.

The 69-year-old woman nodded. "I can't recall now who told me … but someone did tell that she was ill and not to go into the room."

McMaster turned knowingly to the jury, letting the point sink in of a sick, helpless woman being left deliberately alone. Without actually mentioning John Hill, the inference was clear. But in this statement Haynes saw a chance. His encyclopedic memory recalled something from a deposition that Effie Brown had made, just weeks after Joan Hill's death.

Haynes was courteous as he began cross-examination of the witness. "You went up to her room, didn't you?" he asked. "And you saw Mrs. Hill sitting in the chair, didn't you, ma'am?"

"No," Brown stated positively. At which point Haynes produced the deposition, made two years earlier, and read out a question posed at that time, "On that Monday did you go up and see her? And your answer, 'I went up there one time … she's sitting in a big chair'."

Effie Brown shook her head. "Somebody must have put that there. I didn't say nothing."

Haynes paused. At a stroke he had managed to impugn the witness' memory, not implying perjury, just the hazy recollection of an elderly woman caught up in a situation far removed from any other in her experience. He also scored heavily with his last question to Brown. "I suppose you wouldn't hesitate in going back to work for Dr. Hill today?"

"I wouldn't mind going back if he needed me … I like him."

On balance this prosecution witness' testimony had been a marginal plus for the defense. Slowly they were managing to chip away at McMaster's depiction of John Hill as a cold and calculating schemer.

John Hill Trial: 1971 - Outburst Leads To Mistrial [next]

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almost 9 years ago

There is a new book that will be released sometime early summer or possibly before. It is supposed to have a lot of information not shared with the public before. Oh, there is a wesite as well www.joanhillmurdersaga.com it has the crime scene pictures and letters that Joan wrote herself. It also has her autopsy report as well along with Bobby Vandiver's photos.

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over 9 years ago

I'm a native Texan,so I'm very familiar with this case.I think Ann Kurth is lucky she survived her marriage to John Hill.Too bad Joan didn't.If he killed her the way the record says,he wasn't human.Only a very evil and deranged mind could come up with that.The possibility that he may have murdered other people before he killed Joan and after,gives me chills.But,everything about this story does.I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's a very real possibility that he faked his own death in 1972.I hope Joan Robinson Hill is resting in peace and I hope John Hill burns in hell!!!

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almost 10 years ago

John Hill was a snobbish bore of a man.A feew days before her death,Dr.Hill obtained a sick patient feces,dog droppings,and the phlegm of another patient at the Sharpe Hospital and mixed them in a petri dish until a crude bacteria formed.He fed this ,mixed in some pastries to his wife nd sat back to watch her eventually die when all of her organs began to fail.How do I know,I was the Janitor and observed this pig mixing it in the broom closet.After he put it in the dish and threw away the rest,I retrieve it.Too bad I left for Milwaukee and did'nt hear about what he did until much later.But Karma came to play and Dr.Hill got his.

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about 11 years ago

I knew Joan Hill and had met john. I think he was an evil man. When I met him(it was only for a minute)I shook hands with him and in the first 10 SECONDS I could see evil in his eyes. This was I think maybe 5 months before

Joans death. I never liked Dr. Hill