Joy Hibbs was murdered in 1991. Her neighbor, Robert Atkins, had been the lead suspect in the original investigation.
April 19, 1991, had been a typical day for the Hibbs family. Twelve-year-old David Hibbs was released early from school and was walking home. As he approached his house in Croyden, Pennsylvania, he immediately knew something was wrong. The windows were unusually dark, and as he got closer, he saw black smoke pouring from a kitchen vent.
He opened the back door and was met with a wall of flames. His mother, thirty-six-year-old Joy Hibbs, would have been in the home, and he frantically searched for help, but it was too late. However, when Joy’s body was found in the rubble of the house, her cause of death hadn’t been smoke-inhalation but rather multiple stab wounds, ligature marks around her neck, and fractured ribs. Joy Hibbs had been murdered.
Her body had been found in her son’s bedroom. The fire marshal noted that accelerant had been used in each of the bedrooms and likely had been set shortly before David’s discovery. The school didn’t usually end at noon, so the killer likely thought they had more time, and the fire would fully engulf the home before neighbors discovered it.
No one could understand why the suburban mother of two had been targeted in such a horrific attack. However, Joy’s daughter revealed that someone had slashed her tires days before her murder, and Joy’s coworkers stated that a man had called her at work several times, threatening her. Several people were interviewed, including Joy’s husband, but all were released.
Earlier that morning, Joy had gone to the bank and cashed her paycheque. She had gone grocery shopping, which was part of her routine on Friday, and she was seen later that morning walking the new family puppy “Major.” Her wallet was found wedged between the couch cushions, empty, and the contents of her purse had been found strewn around the kitchen.
For thirty-one years, the Hibbs family was left with questions unanswered.
In January 2022, the case was transferred to the Bucks County Sheriff’s Office to be reinvestigated. Previous suspects were reinterviewed, and in doing so, they received new testimony from a witness who had been withholding key information.
April Atkins was married to Robert Atkins in the 90s, but the couple had since divorced, and she felt she needed to do the right thing now. They lived two doors down from the Hibbs. She testified that on April 19, 1991, Robert had come home that afternoon covered in blood, and he had told her that he had stabbed someone and demanded that she gather up their children because they were going to the Poconos for the weekend.
She said at the time, Atkins had been a low-level drug dealer, and he was also working with law enforcement as an informant. He had several arrests related to drug possession, but he had never been charged. She said that their alibi had been checked by police investigating at the time, and though Robert had been a suspect, he was released.
She said she never came forward out of fear of her ex-husband, and then when they divorced, she couldn’t come forward because he had custody of their youngest child, and she feared for their safety. Now that all her children were adults, she felt it was safe to come forward.
Robert had a second woman provide him with an alibi for the time Joy had been murdered. He had made her sign a paper stating she had been on the phone with him, but when law enforcement spoke to her, she said it had been a lie.
Through April, they attempted to get a confession from Robert. They had April call him and tell him that detectives had come to her house and interviewed her about their alibis. Robert told her during that call that she needed to invoke her 5th amendment rights and not say anything to them. He even said, “The phone is probably being tapped right now.”
Law enforcement arrested Robert Atkins on May 25, 2022, and his first court date was on September 21, 2022, where he was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, arson, and robbery. Robert Atkins has pleaded not guilty.
This case appears to be going to trial. However, further court dates have not been set yet. Atkins, if convicted, faces life in prison or the death penalty.