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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Equestrian champion Joan Robinson murdered, her father has her acquitted husband murdered by a hitman

Five-time world champion equestrian Joan Robinson dazzled the staid sport by riding her gray mare wearing a gray riding outfit exactly matching her steed's coat. "When Joan Robinson rides Beloved Belinda, it is one of the most achingly beautiful sights in the world," wrote one newspaperman in the 1950s.

The papers would have a field day only a few years later in 1969 when reporting on the mysterious death of the Houston socialite.

When multimillionaire Ash Robinson could not get the DA to convict the son-in-law he believed responsible for the death of his only child, Joan's husband Dr. John Hill was murdered by a hit man.

Shortly afterwards, Beloved Belinda was struck down by lightning. Of the four cases covered in Sizer's book, this is the most epic.

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One of the best true crime books ever written has just been re-released after many years of being out of print.

The story is that of Joan Robinson Hill, a gifted equestrienne. Her father, Ash Robinson, is one of the richest men in Houston, if not of all Texas.

Joan is beautiful, blonde socialite who falls in love with a handsome doctor and marries him, much to her father’s chagrin. Daddy feels that no man will ever love his baby as much as he does, and this kind of “smother love” tends to doom their marriage.

It also does not help that Dr. Hill’s family is “working class,” in contrast to his inlaws’ “life of the rich and famous.”

It does not take too long for Dr. John Hill to realize that no one can love his wife as much as his father-in-law, so he does the next best thing. He breaks his marital vows, and starts loving other women.

But in a sense, their marriage was doomed from the start. Joan loved horses, her husband John, classical music. There were arguments about money. Opposites may attract, but if the only thing holding a marriage together is sex appeal, it will start to crumble. Even the son they had together could not change this fact. It is almost as if Romeo and Juliet had met today, courted, married, and started to divorce.

During a messy divorce in 1969, Joan Robinson Hill, aged 38, died under rather mysterious and sudden circumstances. The body was embalmed and buried before cries that perhaps Dr. Hill poisoned his wife. No autopsy. Indeed the coroner shocked everyone by attending the funeral, fresh from his latest autopsy, looking at the body in the coffin and telling the funeral director to proceed with the funeral.

Several months later, and a few court trials later, the body was exhumed. Nothing indicating foul play was there, but Daddy was still convinced that Son-In-Law murdered his baby. Money is power in Texas (indeed everywhere), and when the case finally cleared court after several years, Daddy did not like the verdict.

So in 1972, someone hired a hit man and murdered Dr. Hill in cold blood in front of his mother, his son, and his new wife. And that was just the beginning.

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Houston socialite Joan Robinson Hill died of an unknown infection in 1969. Her husband, Dr. John Hill, was tried in her murder in 1971 based on the accusation he deliberately withheld medical care to bring on her death. The woman he was having an affair with at the time later claimed that Hill killed his wife by feeding her pastries injected with human fecal bacteria.

Hill's jury failed to reach a verdict in that trial, and Hill was murdered in September 1972 -- a contract killing allegedly arranged by his father-in-law -- before he could be re-tried.

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Power, passion, oil money, murder--all the ingredients of a fast-paced, gripping mystery novel drive this true-crime story that on its original publication leapt onto best-seller lists nationwide.

To that mix, add glamorous personalities, prominent Texas businessmen, gangland reprobates, and a whole parade of medical experts.

At once a documentary account of events and a novelistic reconstruction of encounters among the cast of colorful characters, this anatomy of murder first chronicles the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death in 1969 of Joan Robinson--the pampered daughter of a Texas oil millionaire and the wife of plastic surgeon Dr. John Hill--then examines the bizarre consequences that followed it.

For in 1972, having been charged by his father-in-law with Joan's death and having survived a mistrial, John Hill himself was killed, supposedly by a robber. So was the robber, by a cop, supposedly for resisting arrest.

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