Joan Robinson Hill

Joan Robinson HIll was thirty-eight years old at the time of her death on March 19, 1969. Her husband, Dr. John Robert Hill, was accused of her death. He was murdered by a masked assailant in 1972.

Joan had been adopted in 1931 by Davis Ashton “Ash” Robinson (1898 – 1985) and his wife Rhea Ernestine Gardere Robinson (1899 – 1987) when Joan was a one month old baby. As a youngster, she showed an affinity for horses and became a successful equestrian. Throughout the remainder of her life, she continued to be an active amateur competitor.

After two unsuccessful earlier marriages, Joan married Dr. Hill in the fall of 1957. The couple had met at a party and immediately were attracted to one another. They married and lived for a while with Ash and Rhea Robinson before moving to their own residence in Houston. Dr. Hill had obtained a medical degree and set up a practice in his specialty, plastic surgery. Several years later, the couple had a son. [Image is believed to be in the public domain.]

Twelve years later when the couple was living in the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, Joan died in Sharpstown General Hospital after a short illness. Her death had occurred only fifteen hours after she had been admitted to the hospital, which had no emergency room at that time. An autopsy was required under Texas law but her body had already been embalmed by the time that the first of three autopsies was performed, hindering a full examination. One account of the first autopsy said that her death was initially declared to have no definitive cause but included an opinion that it could have been attributed to pancreatitis.

A second autopsy was performed in August, 1969 at the request of Ash Robinson. A team of twelve people led by Harris County Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk performed the procedure under the direction of Harris County District Attorney Carol A. Vance who stated that matters had been presented before the Harris County Grand Jury leading to her request. Poisoning was ruled out and an opinion was offered that death could have been attributed to hepatitis. Her death certificate is said to have included a cause of acute viral hepatitis.

Yet another autopsy was later ordered by the Harris County Grand Jury. The conclusions appear to include the following: due to the embalming of the remains, an exact cause of death could not be determined and the cause of death appeared to include an infection of an unknown origin. A further conclusion appeared to be that Dr. Hill’s delay in seeking treatment was a contributing factor to the death.

Dr. Hill was indicted and charged with “murder by omission,” then a term in the Texas Penal Code, but a mistrial was declared in 1971 following testimony from a subsequent wife of Hill indicating that Hill could have actively contributed to Joan’s death rather than passively done so. Hill had been defended by successful attorney Richard Michael “Racehorse” Haynes. Haynes had graduated from high school in Houston. After serving in World War II and being decorated for his actions, he earned his law degree from Bates College of Law, which later became University of Houston Law Center. In addition to the John Hill case, Haynes would go on to defend many other individuals including T. Cullen Davis, Vickie Daniel and many others. A second trial for Dr. Hill had been scheduled for November of 1972, but Hill was murdered by a gunman at his home on September 24, 1972.

Hill and his third wife were returning from a trip to Las Vegas when a masked gunman shot him. His wife was not injured. The assailant took his wallet and fled. The incident appeared on the surface to be a robbery, but other motives were investigated, including the suspicion that it was a murder for hire.

An individual by the name of Bobby Wayne Vandiver was arrested in 1973 for Hill’s murder. According to a 1973 article in the Lubbock Avalance-Journal, Vandiver was tied to the case by a gun allegedly used in the killing of Hill. The gun was found near the Hill residence and had been stolen from a Longview home five months prior to John Hill’s murder. Vandiver was arrested and released on bail but allegedly fled the Houston area for East Texas. He failed to appear for his scheduled trial in the spring of 1974.

The suspect Vandiver was killed in a confrontation with a Longview police officer on May 14, 1974. Vandiver had been playing pool in a local cafe when he was confronted by the officer who presented his weapon and told Vandiver that he was under arrest. Vandiver is said to have then drawn his .38 caliber revolver on the officer. A scuffle ensued and the suspect received a fatal wound from the weapon of the officer. A newspaper account said that a person accompanying Vandiver stated that he had been in prison three times before and would not be taken alive again.

After Vandiver’s death, two alleged associates received jail terms for their respective roles in the killing of Hill. Marcia McKittrick was convicted in 1974 of driving the getaway car. Lilla Paulus, said to be an acquaintance of Ash Robinson, was convicted in 1975 of arranging the murder. These are the only two individuals who were convicted of crimes relating to the various events relating to the deaths of Dr. John and Joan Robinson Hill. Ash Robinson was rumored by some as having been involved in some way in the John Hill murder plot, but he was not charged. Robinson also prevailed in a wrongful death suit brought by family members of Dr. Hill.

The Joan Robinson case was the subject of several books, the most notable of which was Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money, released in 1976. A made for television miniseries called Murder in Texas was released in 1981 based on a book by the second wife of Dr. Hill, Ann Kurth Hill. The part of Joan Robinson Hill was played by Farrah Fawcett. Andy Griffith played her father Ash Robinson, G. W. Bailey played Richard Haynes, Sam Elliott played Dr. John Hill and Katherine Ross played the part of Ann Kurth Hill. The project received a prime time Emmy Award for best film editing and was nominated for three other awards. Over the years it has received above average ratings.

Joan’s father Ash Robinson died of natural causes in 1985 after being hospitalized for about two weeks. At the time, he was living in Pensacola, Florida. Mr. Robinson is buried in Bayview Memorial Park in Pensacola, Florida. His daughter Joan is buried in Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery in Houston, Texas. Dr. Hill is buried in Memorial Oaks Cemetery in Houston. Bobby Wayne Vandiver, a former resident of Mesquite, is buried in Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.

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