Houston, Texas has had its fair share of serial killers and notorious murderers. We have the I-45 murders, The Houston Mass Murders (also known as The Candy Man,) The Ice Box Murders, and Bonnie and Clyde eventually made their way through the city. The best way to describe Houston is that it’s full of great mystery, oil money, diversity, excitement, scandal, beauty, and humidity. It’s also home of the Astrodome and the astronauts’ headquarters and the fourth largest city in the United States with over 2 million civilians. Although, I’m not sure what the correct population was around the 1960s. If you live in the Southeast Texas area, you’re likely to come across several individuals who recall their parents driving them by the Hill mansion on Kirby Drive. My mother actually drove me past this home in the 90s because it was close to a dance pageant I was entered in as usual. I remember her details and fascination with the doctor’s music room. They were always adding on to the house and the music room was a new addition. My mother is a musician so she would talk about that music room a lot. It still fascinates her. Up until the 80s you could see Joan’s clothes and trophies untouched since her untimely death. A gay couple lived in the mansion in the 90s and early 00s but they both died of AIDS unfortunately. One died inside the house and the other moved in with his mother before AIDS took him in. Though another website reported that he died of cancer. Maybe they didn’t want to mention AIDS or maybe people assume it was AIDS because they were homosexuals. I am going to track down more information on this couple. A lovely family now resides in the mansion and there have been frequent changes to the home. You can still see the home from afar and drive past it but I heard there are some trees blocking the home so you may not be able to see much. Below is a picture of the house when occupied by the Hill’s and what it looks like now. Then there’s a photo of the music room the doctor held so close to his heart. The current owners do not refer to this room as the music room. They call it the ball room.
The Alleged Murder of Joan Robinson Hill:
Typically I like to get into the victims and assailants back ground but there is so much to include in this tragic story, I will skip right to the point. Joan Hill was married to one of the city’s leading plastic surgeons, Dr. John Hill and her father was a wealthy oilman by the name of Ash Robinson. This beautiful blond socialite won over 500 trophies along with her two horses Belinda and Precious Possession who also won several top awards. She loved her horses. Friends and neighbors recall Joan on her horses as a beautiful sight. You could see pictures of Joan on billboards all over town. On March 19, 1969 the doctor was charged with causing Joan’s death by withholding medical attention. Her health declined significantly three days before her death and her organs were shutting down. What no one seems to understand is why the doctor drove her all the way across town to get her to a hospital, passing up several perfectly good hospitals on the way. It seems as if he was doing everything in his power to let her die. There have been so many different speculations as to of how he carried this out but what I find the most interesting is the idea of him injecting all kinds of puss and bacteria into her pastries and God knows what else. It has also been reported that Joan displayed symptoms of TSS (Toxic shock syndrome) which is something many women suffer from and eventually die from. However, this has also been described as a convenient ‘out’ for the doctor and his supporters. TSS is generally brought on by tampons and there were no antibiotics on the market at the time so I could see why this argument would be brought to light but that doesn’t account for the reason why the doctor wasn’t giving her medical attention or getting her to the hospital.
Unfortunately, her body was drained of blood and embalmed so an official autopsy was never carried out. Ash Robinson desperately wanted them to exhume her body and have an autopsy done but the man’s wish was never granted. A lot has changed in the world of medicine since 1969. I wonder if they would ever consider digging up her bones so they could further examine her body but who knows if they could even find anything since it has been underground, rotting away for so many years. This is why it’s always important to go ahead with the autopsy. Plus, digging up those bones might bring great sadness to the son of Joan. Maybe it’s best just to let this case lie. If Dr. John Hill did murder Joan, he got what was coming to him three years later and Ash Robinson found peace. The cause of death has never been determined except that she died of a bacterial infection of some kind. Lets look at his motive. John filed for divorce and Ash Robinson was not pleased with his actions. Ash assured the doctor that if he went through with this divorce, he would no longer have a home, a reputation, or any money. Murdering Joan was the only way he could have it all including his beloved music room.
The doctor briefly married Ann Kurth, who would later testify against him recalling acts of violence against her. Some claim she was trying to get her 15 minutes of fame by writing that book “Precious Murder” and for testifying against him but others say she really did believe he had something to do with Joan’s death and only wanted justice for her. Ann Kurth was a raven haired bombshell and word has it that she isolated herself outside of Austin after this tragic occurrence. I think if she really wanted to get famous from all of this, she wouldn’t have secluded herself from the rest of the world but that’s just my opinion. People who want attention generally make themselves stand out. The jury didn’t believe her claims and thought of her as a drama queen and out of control. According to Kurth, he had a temper and tried to choke her on one occasion while he told her that he killed Joan. She failed to mention this outburst previously which is why the mistrial was granted. Kurth also testified that he tried injecting her with an unknown drug in a hypodermic needle. He tried to inject her twice. “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. Another interesting tidbit mentioned on trial are the petri dishes filled with unusual substances. The doctor shooed her away and said they were part of an experiment. Many wonder if the petri dishes were a part of Joan’s death. My mother says that he held all kinds of bacteria in these dishes and used that to inject Joan with all this poison.
The Murder of Dr. John Hill:
Ash Robinson was one of the most powerful men in Texas at the time. He suffered greatly after the loss of his daughter and wouldn’t sleep until John Hill got what was coming to him. The trial against the doctor ended in 1971 with a mistrial and before he could be tried again, he was shot down in the mansion with his wife Connie and son Robert tied up and witnessing the murder. The ex-convict responsible for the shooting was Bobby Wayne Vandiver, who was later shot down by police in Longview, Texas. Two women, Lillia Paulus (an acquaintance of Ash Robinson and notorious brothel madam) and Marcia McKittrick (a prostitute driving the getaway car) were eventually convicted for the doctor’s murder because they actually arranged his death on behalf of Ash Robinson. They could prove that Paulus hired Vandiver to shoot the doctor but they couldn’t prove Ash was involved. She paid Vandiver $5, 000 to carry out the deed. This case has so many twists and turns. This is why you must read the book Blood and Money. Paulus’ own daughter testified against the two women and it became known that her mother turned her into a prostitute. This girl told the court that she overheard her mother say, “Ash Robinson is looking for somebody to kill John Hill.” Paulus was convicted and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment in 1975. The young girl didn’t testify in the civil suit against Ash Robinson but Marcia McKittrick was the main witness. She passed a polygraph examination indicating that she was telling the truth about Ash being involved. Ash Robinson was acquitted of collusion in the death of Dr. John Hill and everyone moved on. Before Vandiver was shot down by police in Longview, he confessed to the murder and claimed that Paulus gave him the details over a period of two days and she told him the contract was on a doctor that killed his wife and that the wife’s father wanted him dead. He said that she did refer to the man as Dr. Hill. I think it’s pretty obvious that Ash had the doctor murdered but there wasn’t enough evidence against him even though the two women implicated him. After 40 years, new evidence came to light proving Ash Robinson may not have had anything to do with the murder of Dr. John Hill. There is a lot of scandal, prostitution, and organized crime involved. I need to research more before I go on about it.
On September 24, 1972, Myra Hill was babysitting Robert Hill while Connie and the doctor were attending a medical convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. Vandiver forced his way into the door at gunpoint forcing Myra and Robert into the dining room area where they were tied up and gagged. When Connie and the doctor came home, Vandiver announced that it was a robbery and a violent struggle ensued ending with the doctor getting shot by Vandiver. He liberated his wallet and briefcase then fled the scene in the getaway car.
Where Are They Now:
Just about everyone involved with this horrific ordeal is dead. Ann Kurth died in 1980. Joan and John’s son, Robert “Boot” Hill lived in the home with his step mother Connie until he was 18. They sold the home and moved on with their lives. Boot does not want any involvement with the media or interviews regarding the murder of his mother and father. He still believes his father is innocent and he attempted to sue his grandfather, Ash Robinson, for ordering the murder on his pop but ultimately lost. Lilla Paulus died in prison in 1987. Marcia McKittrick was paroled in 1978 and living in Dallas until charged with PI in Galveston in 1986. Ash Robinson died in 1987 in Florida. Rhea Robinson moved to New York after his death and Robert “Boots” took care of her until she died.
Media Coverage, Book, and Film:
Tommy Thompson wrote the book based on the murders, Blood and Money. He often had the exposure of the secret lives of the rich and powerful in Houston covered.Ann Kurth wrote a book which I mentioned above and a film was made for television starring Farrah Fawcett and titled “Murder in Texas.” Below are newspaper clippings involved with the case.
Thanks to the saga website and Houston Chronicle for information on the case and photos. Newspaper clippings are from friends and NewsPaperArchives.com