Solved: The 1991 Murder Of Joy Hibbs

Joy Hibbs And Her Two Children
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News & Politics
Heather L Lawton

An autopsy sees what police and EMS cannot. It is the victim's best friend. The postmortem examination quietly and diligently investigates, revealing the time and cause of death. If the pathologist is uncertain at first glance, an autopsy will tell them where and when the victim had their last meal. It will expose the restaurant where the victim ate their final supper if no other diner in town prepares one similar to that found in the victim. It is as cunning as the killer.

The autopsy is the biggest snitch in a police investigation, and the killer should be apprehensive. The 1991 murder of Joy Hibbs was one police thought would never be solved. The house fire, which destroyed evidence, and a body burned beyond recognition, attempted to sabotage the investigation. Still, Robert Francis Atkins of Falls Township could not escape the judicial system and autopsy forever.

What The Autopsy Found

Crime Watch Pa. reported District Attorney Matt Weintraub stating, "This is a bittersweet day for the Hibbs family. Mr. Atkins' arrest decades after he murdered Joy Hibbs is proof that law enforcement's perseverance and sheer power of will can overcome many obstacles in proving a murder case. I am grateful to our Bucks County Grand Jury for shining a light on Joy Hibbs' killer, Robert Atkins, so that we can finally hold him accountable for her murder.

A grand jury was crucial in the case, but the autopsy was the catalyst. An initial look deceived officers on the scene investigating the deceased Hibbs. It appeared to be a death caused by fire, but the post-examination unfolded something sinister. Hibbs showed injuries of repeated stabs and possible asphyxiation before she died. There was no smoke in the lungs, signaling that the victim passed away due to other causes.

Murdered For Her Paycheck

A Black Wallet On A Table With Dollar Bills Sticking Out
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According to People Magazine, Atkins' ex-wife testified before a grand jury and said, "among other things, that in the early afternoon of April 19, 1991, the day of Joy Hibbs' murder, Robert Atkins came home covered in blood," Weintraub said during the press conference. Atkins, 56, of Pennslyvania, also allegedly stole money from the victim. Hibbs had just cashed her paycheck hours before her murder. The examination revealed the 36-year-old mother of two children was likely murdered between 11:50 a.m. and 12:50 p.m, according to reports.

How Autopsies Catch Killers

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Contrary to popular belief, not everybody receives an autopsy. Medicine Net states, "Most people do not get an autopsy when they die. In cases of suspicious deaths, the medical examiner or coroner can order an autopsy to be performed, even without the consent of the next of kin." There may not be a need to examine someone who has expired in their sleep.

In Hibbs' case, forensic pathology acquires an invite to the investigation. According to Science Direct, "The main purposes of a medicolegal autopsy is to reveal the cause of death for the legal system, and in criminal deaths to collect trace evidence and other evidence to provide information to reconstruct and to interpret a chain of events, and in some cases to illustrate these findings in a court of law."

Thirty Years In The Making

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For thirty years, the Hibbs murder was in-and-out of the media scope. People say the D.A. credits an extension of their news publication, People Magazine Investigates, for shedding new light on Hibbs' case, leading to Atkins' arrest.

Justice For Joy

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According to reports, Atkins had been on police radar for years. He had been selling marijuana to Hibbs' husband but was never arrested. Now, the day of reckoning has surfaced. The judicial system, savvy, investigation work, and investigative reporting complimented the Hibbs' 1991 murder, solving her case and giving closure to her family. But, the autopsy determined whether there would even be an investigation at all.

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