Pretty, smart, and pampered, Audrey Marie Hilley grew up in a small Alabama town believing she was entitled to the best of everything. But marriage to her high school sweetheart, a cushy secretarial job, and motherhood were not enough to satisfy Marie, and she soon began to act out in troubling ways. Only when her husband, Frank, became sick with a mysterious illness, did it seem that she was ready to put someone else’s needs ahead of her own. The truth was far more disturbing.
Four years after Frank died, Marie’s daughter, Carol, began to experience debilitating stomach pains. The young woman was near death when the horrifying reality finally emerged: Marie had poisoned her husband with arsenic and was attempting to do the same to her daughter. It was the first in a series of shocking twists that exposed Marie Hilley as a cold-blooded chameleon capable of the most sinister of crimes. From Alabama to Florida to New Hampshire, her trail of death and deceit included multiple identities, a second marriage, a false kidnapping, a fake death, several dramatic escapes, and a final act of desperation that brought the whole sordid saga to an astonishing end.
A mesmerizing portrait of an American murderess with “a genius for deception,” Poisoned Blood is “one of the most riveting true-crime stories in memory” (Publishers Weekly).
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About the Author
Ginsburg started writing before he was a teenager as a reporter for a short-lived summer camp newspaper. After college and a term in the Peace Corps, he worked as a newspaper reporter, a college professor teaching comparative and Chinese politics, and executive director of the New Hampshire Humanities Council. On a sabbatical from the Council, he turned what was intended to be a magazine article harking back to his journalism days into a book, Poisoned Blood, which became a New York Times bestseller. His subsequent career as a freelance writer produced histories, brochures and other materials—mostly for nonprofit organizations—and a second true crime work, The Shadow of Death. Since retiring as a writer, Ginsburg has worked as a volunteer advisor/mediator at the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Bureau and a court guardian for children in abuse and neglect cases. He also served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Read an Excerpt
A Mysterious Woman
Sally called Teri Martin at Book Press in the middle of the afternoon. The weather report was predicting snow, Sally said. Her faculty meeting had been canceled and she felt like going home an hour early. Could Teri get off between four and four-thirty? Teri checked with her boss and he didn't mind. She'd meet Sally in the parking lot.
Usually the lot was almost empty when Sally got there, but today they were leaving before the rest of the employees. It gave the place a different feeling as she drove between the long rows of cars, crowded and a little uncomfortable. As she turned left near the front of the lot, starting to pull in next to the curb, she noticed a car parked facing outward at the end of the row, a big, nondescript American sedan. There were people inside. It was a group of men, she saw, big ones, filling the car, looming large in the windows.
Strange, she thought, bringing the little white Honda to a stop where the walkway from the front door reached the curb. They seemed to be staring at her. They were directly behind her as she secured her hand brake. She left the motor running, watching them in the rearview mirror. What would four men be doing sitting in a parked car like that?
The front door of Book Press opened and Teri, on time as usual, headed down the walkway toward the passenger side of the car. She had barely taken her first steps when the doors of the big sedan started opening. Sally went rigid, watching in the mirror. She had an impression of trench coats and shiny shoes, an ominous look that she associated with the Mafia and TV thugs. It fitted with her uneasiness about Teri Martin.
They came from both sides of the sedan and they seemed to be walking forward in parallel formation, as if to surround her own tiny car and prevent her from leaving. What could they want with her? She locked the door next to her, imagining herself jamming the gas pedal to the floor as Teri leaped into the passenger seat, the Honda screeching away through the crowded parking lot. Her hands trembled on the steering wheel.
One of the men closer to the walkway spoke to Teri. She turned immediately from the walk and moved a few steps toward him and his partner. The one who had been heading for the driver's side of the Honda moved toward the curb and joined the little group. The man in the lead reached into his pocket. Sally was afraid to turn around or do anything that might draw attention to herself. She turned her eyes upward to the rearview mirror, trying to watch without moving her head. The man was pulling a wallet from his pocket. He held it in his hand and let it flop open. A moment passed before she realized it held a badge, and next to the shiny metal she thought she saw large letters, reversed in the mirror, IBF. What was going on?
The men talked with Teri for a moment, then she turned from them and came to the passenger side of the car. She opened the door and put her head in. There was no expression on her face.
"I've got a ride," she said. "I'll see you later."
Teri closed the door, walked back to the sedan, and got in with the men. Sally sat at the steering wheel for several minutes, her heart pounding. "I've got a ride"? "I'll see you later"? Just like that? That's it? What was going on?
Just a little bit longer, Barry Hunter thought as they headed for the Brattleboro police station. The woman was ready to talk, you could see it as soon as LeClair spoke to her in the parking lot.
When they saw her come out of Book Press, Hunter had slipped out of the driver's seat and walked around the front of the car, a few steps behind LeClair and Steele, who were getting out of the passenger side. He had moved up behind them as Steele showed her his FBI identification, introduced himself, and identified the two state troopers. The blond woman looked at Steele impassively. There was a sharp, self-possessed quality to her gaze. She was smaller than they had thought, Hunter noticed, a good two or three inches shorter.
Hunter had been following her trail in New Hampshire for more than a week now, but Book Press was just across the border in Brattleboro, LeClair's jurisdiction. The Vermont trooper spoke for them all.
"We have reason to believe you're not who you claim to be," LeClair said.
Hunter stared into her face, looking for a sign, and poised to move. Even with an apparently harmless person like this small woman, the moment of confrontation was a tense one. No matter how many times you had done it, you never knew what was going to happen. Sometimes they just gave up, tired of running and hiding, but sometimes they bolted, and sometimes they fought. Cops got killed that way, and suspects, too.
As the meaning of LeClair's words sank in, the woman's face seemed to lose its shape, like a slow-motion mud slide. Hunter knew in that moment, there was no resistance in her. Her features relaxed, her shoulders slumped, she deflated before their eyes. There was a pause before she spoke.
"Yes," she said, softly, still looking at LeClair. It was an admission, not a question.
"We'd like to ask you some questions," the trooper said gently. "It's kind of cold out here. Could you accompany us to the Brattleboro Police Station?" He explained that it would be voluntary on her part; she was not being arrested.
She seemed to revive slightly. "I've got somebody waiting for me here." She nodded toward the white Honda. Steele assured her they would have her driven wherever she wanted to go when they had finished talking with her. She walked to the curb and opened the door of the Honda. Somebody wrote down the license plate number of the little white car, just in case they needed it later. LeClair stayed close behind her but made no move to interfere as she spoke briefly to the driver; then he escorted her to the unmarked car.
There were a few moments of tense silence as Steele drove off through the parking lot, heading for Route 5. LeClair sat in back with the woman. Hunter finally turned to face her.
"We understand that Teri Martin isn't your real name," Hunter said.
"That's right," she answered. She had recovered her composure. She seemed resigned but calm. Hunter was struck by her attractiveness. Even in these circumstances she seemed graceful and composed, as if she carried an inner poise that was not touched by the rough suspicions of a carful of cops.
"Did you have some problem with the police?" LeClair asked.
"Yes," she replied quietly, and looked out the window for a moment. She sensed that LeClair was going to follow up his question.
"Look," she said, "would you mind waiting until we get to the station?" There was no impatience in her tone; it was just a courteous request for a favor. She looked from LeClair to Hunter. "I'll answer all your questions when we get there." Nobody responded.
"I'd just rather not talk about it in the car," she added.
The two troopers exchanged looks. She seemed ready to talk. Why not let her do it her own way? They had nothing to lose.
"Sure, we'll wait," LeClair said. "We'll be there in a few minutes."
There was no sign out front to indicate the presence of the Brattleboro Police Department. Steele turned into a driveway next to a broad lawn that sloped upward at one end of the main shopping district. At the top of the lawn stood a brick building that looked like a nineteenth-century big-city high school, but the sign out front called it the "Municipal Center," and the police shared the building with the selectmen, town manager, and other Brattleboro officials.
The building was deeper than the proportions of the front suggested, and the police were at the back. LeClair led the way inside, the three men forming a convoy with the small blond woman loosely but firmly secured in their midst. They were directed past a low front desk into a small maze of rooms that looked like the result of a fifty-year-old renovation project. Inside one of the offices, LeClair guided her to the desk chair, a wall with a small window at her back. There were a few minutes of awkward shuffling while someone brought an extra chair from another office. Hunter sat facing her with LeClair at his left, his back to a large wooden locker. Steele leaned against the door behind them; there was no room for another chair.
Hunter was the most familiar with the case, but as a New Hampshire trooper he had no jurisdiction in Vermont. She would have to be questioned under Vermont or federal law, and LeClair knew more about the investigation than Steele. LeClair took the lead. He began by reciting the litany of her rights: She didn't have to talk to them, she could have a lawyer, a public defender if necessary. He came to the last steps.
"Now, do you understand what your rights are?" LeClair asked. She said she did.
"And having your rights in mind," he went on, "are you willing to talk with us now?" There was a gathering of stillness in the room as they watched for her response.
"Yes," she said simply. The resignation Hunter had seen before was in her voice. There was a moment of relaxed shifting before LeClair began again.
"You told us in the car that Teri Martin isn't your real name," he said. She nodded assent.
"Could you tell us your real name?" he asked politely, not wanting to jeopardize her cooperative mood.
"Audrey Marie Hilley," she said.
"What?" someone asked. Hunter realized he had still been expecting to hear something about Terry Lynn Clifton, the fugitive they had tentatively matched her up with earlier in the week. The three detectives exchanged a round-robin of looks. Nobody seemed to recognize the name. They asked her to spell it out. There were a few moments of questions and checking before they all got it written down correctly.
"And your date of birth?" LeClair asked.
"June fourth, 1933." Almost fifty years old, Hunter thought. That was at least ten years older than they had estimated after secretly observing her last week. And it was twelve years older than the age she was claiming as Teri Martin. She had gotten away with it; she wore her age well.
Now they had reached a critical moment. LeClair spoke carefully:
"Do you have any involvement with being wanted by the police?"
"Yes," she answered. She was waiting to be asked another question.
"Where was that?" Hunter picked up the questioning. His curiosity was getting the better of him.
"I'm wanted in Alabama for some check charges," she said. She was very matter-of-fact.
That's it, Hunter thought: a real person, with a real name, and outstanding charges for a real crime. Here were the last pieces for the puzzle, the ones that finish the picture and make sense of all the rest. And he felt relieved, too: Her admission put them on firmer ground. Their suspicions had been justified; now they had a legal pretext to hold and question her.
But nothing he had learned or heard so far prepared Hunter for the real mystery of Audrey Marie Hilley.
LeClair excused himself and turned toward the door. "I'll put this on the wire," he said to Hunter. Steele followed him out the door. They walked back out past the desk and across the hall to the dispatcher's office, where a teletype machine connected the Police Department to the National Crime Information Center's computer. They could get a fast check on the charges and the accuracy of the information she had given them.
Hunter felt the need to maintain some connection with the woman, but he didn't want to talk about Alabama; he didn't know anything about it. The subject was all new to him. He asked her instead about the false name, Teri Martin. She had used it about three months, she said. She was starting to tell him about her life in New Hampshire when she was interrupted by a sound at the door behind Hunter.
Hunter turned as LeClair and Steele returned to the room. LeClair's eyes sparkled with excitement. He handed a ragged piece of teletype paper to Hunter. LeClair's gaze fastened on the woman as Hunter looked down at the printed message.
"Audrey Marie Hilley," it said, and gave the date of birth. He looked for the bad-check charges. She was wanted on two counts of passing bad checks. But there was more. The words leaped off the paper. She was wanted in Anniston, Alabama, on charges of murder and attempted murder!
"You said there were some check charges," LeClair was saying to her.
Hunter looked up as LeClair spoke again.
"Is there anything else you might be wanted for?" he asked.
She looked annoyed, like someone remembering a dental appointment fifteen minutes after it was supposed to begin. She moved slightly in the chair.
"Well, the police down there accused me of poisoning my daughter." She looked from face to face, measuring the reaction. "That's so ridiculous," she said. "Why would I do that to my own daughter?"CHAPTER 2
A Country Girl
She was four years younger, not quite fourteen, but Frank Hilley knew immediately: He was going to marry this girl one day. She was just a skinny little thing, with a big cloud of brown hair down to her shoulders, but you could already see the woman in her, in the big, glistening eyes, so deep and so changeable, full of mirth one minute, far off and serious the next. "She always dresses so nice," someone said, and it was true, even when she was in seventh grade down at Quintard Junior High. Her parents worked in the mill up at Blue Mountain and they didn't have a lot of money, but she always looked so neat in her sweaters and slim, pleated skirts.
Frank wasn't the only one taken with Marie Hilley. She was picked as "Prettiest Girl" at Quintard that year. You could see it in that picture of her, sitting up on the high front fender of somebody's '41 Ford coupe in the parking lot, even with her legs hanging down, her feet well off the ground, and her skirt not quite reaching her knees. The legs were already shapely like a woman's, and you could see she already knew who she was, with the nice smile but not too much, not trying too hard for it, and her hands cupped together comfortably in her lap, and her ankles in the rolled-down bobby socks crossed neatly, everything in line, everything composed, such a contrast to Jimmy Marbut, voted "Most Handsome Boy," standing next to her, with his big ears and his eyes squinted in a sweet, kid's smile, gangly and pigeon-toed, all bones and angles leaning against the fender, looking like the seventh- grader he was.
Marie Frazier had already come a long way by then, and that was her parents' doing, especially her mother's. Lucille Meads had been born in 1912, when the Civil War was still a living memory in Alabama and the changes it had set in motion were just beginning to work themselves out. She was one of five children, all of them determined to better themselves. One brother became the longtime, highly respected sheriff of a town near Anniston, and one sister was rumored to be involved with shady people and suspicious dealings. Lucille devoted her great energy to making a comfortable life for the next generation. She would live to see a time when leaders were proclaiming the achievements of a New South, and she would die on the very day her only child fled Alabama, accused of attempting the most horrible crime against her posterity.
On the other side of the family there were farmers back a few generations, but Marie's paternal grandfather, Ernest Frazier, had started the transition from the farm to the factory, following the slow trend of the South as a whole. At twenty-two he had come over from Georgia and married an eighteen-year- old Alabama girl. Ernest and Leila Frazier settled down to try farming in Chambers County, but within a few years they had given it up and moved to Anniston. That was just after the turn of the century. In the summer of 1909, Ernest was working as a carpenter in Blue Mountain, five miles out from Anniston, when his appendix burst. He was thirty-seven when he died, leaving Leila with six children.
Ernest Frazier was put in the ground at the Edgemont Cemetery. American Net and Twine had built a mill at Blue Mountain a dozen years before, buying up large tracts of surrounding property and building a community modeled on the northern idea of the self-contained mill town. The cemetery was laid out on a few acres of undulating ground just east of the great mill. It was land left over after the church and the school and the housing were finished, full of little knolls and not much good for anything else.
Leila found someone to care for her children — James was already twelve and William was ten, old enough to help out a good deal — and she went to work as a machine operator at Net and Twine. The middle children, Annie and Harmon, were eight and six; only the twins, Huey and Louie, weren't old enough to do anything for themselves. They were barely a year old when their father died.
Huey and Louie grew up in the intimacy typical of twins; even after they left home and went to work they stayed together, living on Leyden Hill near the Blue Mountain Mill. When Huey married Lucille Meads in 1931, the twins were separated for the first time. Louie decided soon after to leave Alabama and head west. Huey and Lucille moved into one of the dozens of identical small houses on the hill built and rented out by the company to its employees. The little front porch and the two rooms inside were all in a straight line; they were called shotgun houses — whether because the house was long and narrow like a gun barrel, or because you could fire a shotgun through the front door and hit the back wall, no one was sure.
Lucille had been working since she was thirteen, so the time she took off when they decided to have a baby was like a rare vacation. Their anticipation built with Lucille's pregnancy during late 1931, but it ended with the stillbirth of a child the next spring. They buried their first child down the hill in Edgemont Cemetery, which was slowly filling up with the cheap, small headstones of mill workers and their families. The permit cost them $7.50.
Huey and Lucille Frazier spent that summer, in the third year of the Great Depression, recovering from the shock of their loss. Slowly their determination to have a child reemerged from the gloom, and by fall it was confirmed: Lucille was pregnant again. They had reason to be prepared for twins: In addition to Huey's twinship, there was a history of double births on Lucille's side of the family as well. And there was another omen: Huey and his twin had been born under the sign of Gemini, the constellation named by the Greeks for the hero twins Castor and Pollux, and Lucille was due to give birth during the same period. The baby arrived on June 4, 1933, five days after Huey's birthday and a little more than twenty-four hours from the middle of Gemini's reign, but it was a solitary, and healthy, daughter. They named her Audrey Marie, but for all the use she ever got out of her first name, they might as well have done without it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Poisoned Blood"
Copyright © 1987 Philip E. Ginsburg.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Arrested,
1 A Mysterious Woman,
Part Two: Audrey Marie Hilley,
2 A Country Girl,
3 The All-American Family,
5 Money and Love,
6 A Lost Child,
9 The Search,
Part Three: John Greenleaf Whittier Homan III,
10 The Family,
11 Young John,
Part Four: Robbi Hannon Homan,
12 A New Life,
13 A Home in New Hampshire,
14 Time in Texas,
15 A Twin Sister,
16 Becoming Ten,
Part Five: Teri Martin,
17 Consoling John,
18 The Shadow of a Doubt,
19 The Hunt,
Part Six: Unmasking,
20 A Decision,
21 News of Murder,
Part Seven: The Trial,
22 A Decision,
23 A Victim Speaks,
24 Tightening a Noose,
25 Intimate Crimes,
26 The Black Widow,
About the Author,