This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
It was February 13, 1981.
William Rex Hill, Jr. was helping watch the family-owned liquor store while his wife and high school sweetheart, Marianne Hill, ran errands. In under an hour, she would finish her errands and stop to buy her husband a Valentine’s Day card on the way back.
It was after her purchase that she and the entire small town of Hollandale, Mississippi would hear sirens.
When Mrs. Hill returned to the business, her husband of 20 years had been shot to death. But she wasn’t the only one who saw the heartbreaking scene. Her eldest son would find out with his own eyes what had happened. For him, his last memory of his father was seeing him dead on the floor.
This case has never been solved.
The youngest son, John Hill, describes the aftermath of the murder as a blur.
“All I remember is every time you had a thought, you were crying,” he said. “It was one of those things, kind of like what they call flashbulb memory. When you experience something traumatic it stays with you. You can’t remember what you had for breakfast, but that memory just plays out.”
The murder occurred just days before John’s 16th birthday. He remembers that morning being completely normal. His father was sitting at his usual chair sipping his coffee.
John never knew that scene would be his last memory of him.
Later that day, John got off the bus from school and saw a family friend waiting for him.
“I was really in shock, what do you mean something happened to my father?” John recalled. “And this was like three in the evening. I had this wave come over me, I got this indication that he was dead, and I didn’t want to believe it.”
After William’s death, the Hill family’s world transformed.
In less than a year, Mrs. Hill decided she could no longer work where her husband was murdered. The good memories in the shop were overshadowed by its darkest moment.
Even after the business was closed, the pain remained in the family. Every day they were haunted by memories of their absent father and the knowledge that his killer was out there.
“I didn’t know the ways about the world, the people. We didn’t deal with the darker side of life,” John stated. “It was pretty much very innocent, in a way, growing up. Then when that happened, it was like night and day, just changed the whole outlook of things. Changed life.”
William Rex Hill Jr., who often went by “Bud,” is remembered as a man with many different sides. He was a soldier who served during World War II and the Korean War, and a secret romantic who sent love letters to his wife while far from home. And, of course, he was the loving father of two boys.
“He would do anything for you if he could,” John said with a smile.
When reminiscing about his father, John recalled old, seemingly buried memories. He remembers reading his father’s old love letters to his mother after his death and admiring how every Christmas had gifts under the tree. He began to laugh when he remembered his father loving to catch fish, but never eating it.
William Hill didn’t get the chance to watch his sons grow up, but he did teach them a life lesson: to have self-respect and to be honest with people.
Forty years later, the Hill family continues to grow. The boys are now men and have their own children. Looking back, John said he worries that he never expressed his love for his father enough and now tells his wife and son every day how much he loves them.
“I never remember telling my father that I love him,” John said.
It’s something that has always stuck in his mind.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of William Hill, Jr., please contact the Hollandale Police Department at (662) 827-2212.
Research & Impact
Fighting for a loved one’s unsolved murder can carry multiple layers of challenges for survivors. At Project: Cold Case, we try to educate survivors on the many different scenarios that could play out over the course of their cold case. We often ask what their expectation of “justice” would actually look like.
So much can affect how a cold case proceeds should a suspect be identified. Does the state want to prosecute the case? Is the suspect already in prison? What if the suspect is dead? Should the case go to trial, is the death penalty warranted? Is anything less not sufficient? How do the laws from the time of the murder differ from what is on the books today? Is evidence still available?
Survivors often state that they “want justice,” but it’s important to understand what justice is in each specific case. Each family member can have a different outlook on this topic as well.
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