Brattleboro Historical Society: FBI fugitive found in Brattleboro
BRATTLEBORO — On Jan. 12, 1983 an employee of Putney Road's Book Press was found to be a fugitive wanted by the FBI for murder. Teri Martin, a 49-year-old executive secretary, had been working at the Book Press for two months. She lived just north of Keene, N.H., and her Book Press supervisors thought she was a very good employee.
Teri had been placed at the Book Press by the Cheshire Employment Agency and was described by the placement agent as, "very beautiful, a southern drawl type person, very congenial, very impressive." An employee of the Book Press was quoted as saying she was "really nice, or she seemed to be. She was attractive; a small blonde with a southern accent."
It turns out Teri Martin was not her real name. Her real name was Audrey Hilley and she had been on the run from authorities for over three years. She was an escaped murder suspect from Alabama accused of killing her husband and attempting to kill her daughter.
Audrey Hilley's story is very unusual and eventually became the basis for a 1991 made-for-TV movie called "Wife, Mother, Murderer" starring Judith Light. Two books have been written about her as well. We'll go back to the beginning of the story to explain how Alabama's Audrey Hilley ends up getting interviewed in the Brattleboro Police Station by the FBI.
In Anniston, Alabama, in 1975, Audrey's husband died from what was diagnosed as infectious hepatitis. Audrey was awarded a little over $31,000 from her husband's life insurance policy. She worked as an executive secretary and her daughter continued to live with her.
Three years later, in 1978, Audrey's 19-year-old daughter, Carol, became very ill. For a year Carol was in and out of hospitals trying to get a diagnosis for her symptoms of nausea, numbness, malnutrition, and vitamin deficiencies.
In 1979 doctors finally tested Carol for arsenic poisoning and found she had 50 times the normal arsenic level in her body. Meanwhile, Carol's mom, Audrey, had been arrested for writing bad checks to an insurance company. Audrey had taken a $25,000 life insurance policy out on her daughter a year earlier.
While interviewing Carol, doctors found that Audrey had been giving her daughter injections that she said would help with Carol's symptoms. Doctors contacted the police, and Audrey's husband's body was exhumed and tested for arsenic poisoning. It turned out that Audrey's husband had 100 times the normal amount of arsenic in his body. Audrey was charged with the murder of her husband and the attempted murder of her daughter.
Audrey Hilley posted bail and was released from jail. She registered in a motel under an assumed name and disappeared. She left a note in the motel claiming she had been kidnapped and was headed to Canada. A week later she broke into her aunt's home, stole a car, women's clothing and a travel bag. The stolen car was later recovered in Georgia.
The FBI launched a massive hunt but Audrey was not found. Audrey Hilley changed her name to Robbi Hannon and traveled to Florida. She met a man named John Homan and they were married in 1981. The couple moved to New Hampshire. Robbi took a job at a screw manufacturing company in Keene. She was in customer service and was well liked.
A little over a year after they were married, Robbi told her husband she was suffering from a rare blood disease and needed to go to Texas to see family and receive treatment. Robbi told her husband that one of the relatives she wanted to visit was her twin sister, Teri Martin.
Robbi traveled to Texas; after a few months she called her husband and explained she was her twin sister, Teri. She said that Robbi had died from her illness and her body had been donated to the hospital for further study. Audrey had now taken on a new identity, the twin sister of her former identity who she had just killed off! It's getting complicated!
Audrey was now going by the name Teri Martin. For three months she remained in Texas. She lost 20 pounds and dyed her hair blonde. She called John Homan in New Hampshire and asked if she could visit as she wanted to see where her deceased sister had lived. Audrey, (now going as Teri Martin), flew to Boston and was met by John Homan.
One thing led to another, and Teri Martin moved in with her brother-in-law John Homan. She placed an obituary of her dead sister, Robbi, in the Keene Sentinel and even visited her old workplace, the screw-factory in Keene. She said she wanted to see where her twin sister had worked. Teri Martin got a secretarial job at the Book Press in Brattleboro and her third identity seemed to be working well.
However, people at the screw factory were suspicious. One of the managers at the factory didn't believe Teri's story. He thought Teri was really Robbi. The manager looked into the information provided in the Keene Sentinel obituary. He called places in Texas and couldn't get anyone to confirm the information about Robbi's life or death. She never seemed to exist in Texas. The manager went to the Keene police with his concerns.
The Keene police thought Teri might be someone who had been involved in a recent local bank robbery so they contacted the Brattleboro PD and officers traveled to the Book Press to interview Teri. One of the first questions the police asked Teri was what her name was. Teri, formerly Robbi, and really Audrey, must have thought the FBI had finally tracked her down. After three years of being on the run, she told the police her real name was Audrey Hilley. She was brought back to the Brattleboro Police Station for further questioning and her name was run through a records check. It was found that the FBI was interested in her and an FBI agent was contacted.
In 1983 Audrey Hilley was returned to Alabama where she was found guilty of murdering her husband and attempting to murder her daughter. In both cases she was going to be the recipient of money from life insurance policies. Further investigation found that Audrey's dead mother and mother-in-law both had elevated levels of arsenic in their bodies as well.
During the trial the prosecution gave her the nickname, "Black Widow," and painted her as someone who lived beyond her means. The prosecutor, Joe Hubbard, said Audrey Hilley killed for money. He said, "She wanted a high rolling lifestyle."
Audrey escaped from prison again in 1987. She was on the run for four days in the winter weather of Alabama and was eventually discovered on the porch of a house near her hometown. She was suffering from hypothermia and was rushed to a hospital, but died of heart failure while in the emergency room. Audrey Hilley died cold and hungry while trying to avoid capture.
Brattleboro Historical Society: 802-258-4957, brattleborohistoricalsociety.org
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