Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bertha Gossett Hill, Georgia Serial Killer Seductress - 1946



FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): Rome, Ga., April. 2. – Mrs. Bertha Gossett Hill, 28-year-old widow, was indicted for murder here today after two toxicologists testified they had found poison in the exhumed bodies of her parents and her husband.

Solicitor General Henderson L. Lanham said the Floyd county grand jury returned three indictments, charging Mrs. Hill with the murders of Mr. and Mrs. James Hardin, her parents, and Leroy Hill, her husband.

The indictments came soon after Alabama Toxicologist C. J. Rehling if Auburn notified Lanham that he had discovered sufficient poison to cause death in the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Hardin. The bodies were exhumed last week at Centre, Ala., on court order.

Lanham also said that an Emory university toxicologist had reported the finding of poison in the body if Leroy Hill. Hill died February 14. The woman’s father died April 1, 1945, and her mother died August 13, 1945.

The solicitor general said he expected the case to come to trial the week of April 15. Mrs. Hill was arrested on a felony warrant several days after her husband’s death, when a coroner’s jury agreed that Hill had died of poison.

[“Woman Held For Killing Parents And Her Husband,” The Gaffney Ledger (S. C.), Apr. 4, 1946, p. 4]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): Rome, Ga., May 3 – Bertha Gossett Hill, 29, under life sentence in the poison death of her husband, Leroy Hill, was married to Wiley Gravitt, 21-year-old construction worker, in the Floyd County Jail office today.

Gravitt is her third husband.

Judge Carl Griffin, ordinary of Floyd County, performed the ceremony.

After the marriage, the bride was led back to her cell, where she is awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the state supreme court.

Mrs. Gravitt was attired in a light blue dress she wore part of the time during the trial.

She was twice convicted of murder charges in her second husband’s death. She was also charged with the poison deaths of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. A Hardin, but was not tried. They were buried at Centre, Ala.

[“Woman Convicted Of Murder Weds in Prison,” The Spartanburg Herald (S. C.), May 3, 1947, p. D5]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): A demand for trial on two charges of murder was filed Saturday by attorneys for Bertha Gossett Hill, who was convicted for the arsenic poison death of her husband in 1946.

Two criminal indictments charging murder of her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Hardin, are yet pending in Floyd Superior Court, but have not been brought to trial after her conviction in the death of Leroy Hill in February, 1946.

Two criminal indictments chargeing murder of her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Hardin, are yet pending in Floyd superior court, but have not been brought to trial after her conviction in the death of Leroy Hill in February, 1946.

Attorney Mack G. Hicks, who represented the dime store floor manager in two spectacular trials that attracted nation-wide interest, filed demand for trial in the two pending cases before Superior Judge H. E. Nichols.

Hicks said in his petition that his defendant had “repeatedly” sought trial on the two other indictments, but had been refused. He charged that her constitutionalk rights had been violated, and that the courts had deprived her of the rights to parole.

The State Pardon and Parole Board will not act on an application for aparole if a felony indictment is pending in the courts. Hicks charges that his defendant is otherwise eligible for parole after having served more than four years in Reidsville Penitentiary.

Judge Nichols issued an order that Sol. Gen. John W. Davis show cause on May 18 why the pending cases should not be included in the July term docket in Floyd Superior Court.

Efforts have been underway for months to have the woman paroled after serving part of a life sentence imposed by a Floyd County jury which recommended mercy after a first degreee conviction.

Leroy Hill died at his home on Old Summerville Highway. Later, Dr. Herman Jones, state toxicologist, found a quantity of arsenic in the stomach and organs.

Witnesses reported to authorities that Bertha’s mother and father died under similar circumstances without benefit of a physician. Autopsies bodies in a remote cemetery in Alabama allegedly alsO showed death from arsenic.

Three indictments were drawn by a Floyd County grand jury, but only one case ever came to trial. A year later, a new trial was granted, with convictions and recommendations of mercy, in June, 1947. Bertha was committed to the state’s women’s prison. She had been in Floyd County jail since February, 1946.

[“Pending Cases Bar Parole – Bertha Hill Seeks Trials for Murder,” Rome News-Tribune (Ga.), May 6, 1951, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): After more than 11 years in prison, Mrs. Bertha Gossett Hill has woman an unprecedented third trial for the 1946 poison murder of her husband.

The 40-year-old former Rome dime store floor manager won the new trial Wenesday when Cherokee Superior Circuit Judge J. L. Davis granted her extraordinary motion for a new trial.

The jurist denied bail for Mrs. Hill after the state announced it will be ready to try her a third time when the January term of Floyd Superior court convenes. She will remain in the Floyd County jail where she has been since she filed the motion for a new trial last September.

Mrs. Hill said she believes a new trial will prove her innocent of the charge she fed her husband, Leroy, arsenic. She twice has been convicted in Floyd Superior Court on that count and was sentenced to life imprisonment both times.

Judge David read his decision from a three-page opinion in which he pointed out that, when the case was before the Supreme Court of Georgia on appeal in 1948, the court dfivided four to three on whether or not the guilty verdict should stand. Four justiuces were for the verdict and three dissented. He said the fact that the Supreme Court had been divided so near evenly was enough to “generate some doubt in the mind of the trial court.”

Judge Davis also said the case had rested entirely upon circumstantial evidence and “there is not to be found in the record any evidence that Mrs. Hill ever had in her possession at any time any arsenic as alleged in the charges against her.”

Also, he noted Mrs. Hill had served approximately one year in jail and another 11 years in the state penitentiary under the verdict of 1947.

“However doubtful the cxourt may be as a result of the evidence adjured on trial of the case, the divided opinion of the Supreme Court on the issue involved in the  case, and the fact that the defendant has been incarcerated for approximately 12 years, any one set of these circumstances or all of them combined would not justify this court in granting an extraordinary motion for a new trial in this case as none of the facts are raised in this motion nor could be legally raised at this time before the court,” the judge said.

~ Record Versus Jurors ~

Judge Davis said the official transcript of the second trial record is inconsistent with the affidavits of the three jurors who say they at no time vored Mrs. Hill guilty. He said the record shows that two of the three jurors unqualifiedly stated to the court on the poll of the jury that the verdict as rendered was their verdict. He added that the record is also inconsistent with the sworn affidavit of juror J. L. Lumpkin but said “it does reflect the reluctance on the part of Lumpkin to agress to the verdict and strongly indicates that the verdict of guilty was not freely and voluntarily agreed to by thids juror.”

“The law of this state requires the unanimous verdict of all 12 jurors should be freely and voluntarily acknowlkedged, without hesitation, reluctance or evasive answers to the court,” Judge Davis said.

“In view of the doubt which is generated in this case by ba careful search of the evidence on the trial, by the dissent of the three justices of the Supreme Court of this state on the appeal of this case and the obvious reluctance of the juror Lumpkin as disclosed by the official record in the case to freely and voluntarily agree to the verdict, this court is constrained to feel that more substantial justice may be had in this case by granting of a new trial,” Judge Davis opinion concluded.

Mrs. Hill said sfter the short session that she was thankful to Judge Davis and felt that her innocence would be proven.

“I only hope that each of the jurors serving during the coming trial will be guided by his own beliefs rather than the beliefs of others,” the 40-year-old former dime-store floor manager said.

Mrs. Hill was first tried for killing her husband in 1946. Convicted after only 30 minutes of deliberation, she won a new trial on appeal and was again convicted again in April, 1947. The second jury deliberated over 65 hours before returning a guilty verdict and recommending mercy.

Two indictments charging her with two poison deaths of her parents were dropped in 1952.

An order signed by Judge Davis returned her to Rome on August 25, and the new-trial motion was filed on September 30 bt R. A. Addleton, Griffin attorney and former assistant state attorney general.

Basis for the motion was the sworn affidavits of three of the second trial jurors that they at no time voted the woman guilty. The three were J. J. Lumpkin. S. W. McKinney and the Rev. V. G. Smith.

Judge Davis signed the motion and scheduled the hearing for November 25, after Floyd Judge Mack G. Hicks, disqualified himself because he was the defense attorney during the second trial.

At the hearing Judge David said he wanted to study the case further before making a decision he decision came three weeks after the hearing. [error in this sentence is in the original]

[“Wins Unprecedented Motion … Bertha Hill Confident Will Show Innocence,” Rome News-Tribune (Ga.), Dec. 18, 1958, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): Bertha Gossett Hill, who has served 13 years in prison for poisoning her husband, was freed this afternoon under $5,000 bond after the state announced it would not be ready to try her a third time next Monday as scheduled.

Mrs. Hill, twice convicted for the arsenic poisoning of her husband, Leroy, in 1946, had won the third trial in the legal battle which was removed almost a year ago.

The state, through Sol. Gen. Chastine Parker, announced shortly before noon today it would not be ready to proceed with the trial stated to open next Monday morning in Floyd Superior Court.

~ Bond Not Opposed ~

Because of the delay, the state did not oppose bond which was set by Bud [illegible] (Bud) Foster, of Tallapoosa Circuit, due to preside at the trial. The bond was signed by Davis Bonding Co. of Rome and Mrs. Hill, and accompanied by her attorney John A. Frazier Jr. of Rome, walked to freedom shortly after noon.

“I’m so happy, but it’s so hard to believe I’m really free after all these years,” Mrs. Hill said after her bond had been signed. “It had me worried quite a bit, but I have always felt it would all work out.”

Mrs. Hill said said she would stay in Rome for a few days and clear up some business, but that she had no definite plans at poresent.

“I am proud that the solicitor consented and Judge Foster set bond for Mrs. Hill,” Frazier commented. “It will give us a better opportunity to prepare our defense.

Frazier stated, however, that the defense expects to be ready whatever the case is called for trial.

Parker said due to the length of time since Mrs. Hill’s last trial in 1947 and the difficulty in assembling witnesses, the state was unable to complete preparation of the case by next Monday. He said a new trial date will be announced shortly.

Jurors called for the week of court beginning Monday will not have to report, the solicitor added.

Mrs. Hill, now 40 and once a dime store manager in Rome, was first convicted of murdering her husband in 1946, and sentenced to life imprisonment. She won a new trial from the Georgia Supreme Court because policy holders in the company which insured her husband’s life served on the jury.

A second jury, deliberating more than 65 hours, found her guilty at a second trial in 1947 and she was moved to Reidsville State Prison to begin serving the life term.

~ New Trial Motion ~

Last August, Judge J. L. Davis of Cherokee Superior Court, issued an order returning her to Rome and on September 30 she filed an extraordinary motion for a new trial. Judge Davis had entered the case after Floyd Superior Judge Mack G. Hicks disqualified himself because he served as Mrs. Hill’s defense counsel in her earlier trials.

Basis for the motion for a third trial were affidavits from three jurors who swore they had not voted Mrs. Jill guilty in 1947. Judge Davis, ruling on the motion, granted the third trial last December 17.

In January, the state filerd a bill of exceptions asking the Georgia Court to set aside the new trial order. But, last April 10 the high court ruled the state cannot appeal from a judgement in favor of the defendant in a criminal case, in effect upholding the trial order.

The state then announced it would begin the new trial May 18, and Judge Foster was named as the judhge to preside.

Mrs. Hill had remained in Floyd County jail since her return here last August to renew her battle for freedom.

[“Bond Frees Bertha Hill As Third Trial Delayed – State Announces Not Ready Monday; Date for Third Hearing to Be Set,” Rome News-Tribune (Ga.), May 12, 1959, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): Rome, Ga. – After sopending a third of her life in jail, Bertha Gossett Hill, was ordered acquitted Monday of charges that she murdered her hudband, a mechanic, with poison.

Mrs. Hill was first convicted again and given a life sentence the following year.

Mrs. Hill was confined at state prison until August 1958 when he was returned to Rome and ordered to file an extraordinary motion for a new trial.

Basis for the motion were affidavits of three members of the last trial jury that they had not voted for conviction. A third trial was granted.The Georgia Supreme Court denied an attempt by the state to block the trial.

The prosecutor said the state was unable to prosecute a third time because it could not locate needed witnesses.

[“Woman Cleared of Killing Mate; 3rd Effort Wins,” The Free-Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.), Jan. 19, 1960, p. 2]

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Excerpt from appeal court ruling (Gossett v State, May 17, 1948, Supreme Court Of Georgia):

It also appeared from the evidence that the defendant's father and mother died on April 3 and July 13, respectively, in 1945, and that after the death of the defendant's husband the bodies of the parents were exhumed and vital organs of each were examined. The evidence further authorized a finding that each of them died of arsenic poison intentionally administered by the defendant, as in the case of her husband, and that her acts with respect to them were prompted by the same motive, to wit, collection of life insurance.

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See the article by Mike Ragland, author of Bertha Gossett Hill’s biography for more details of Bertha’s outrageous career.

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Chronology:
Apr. 3?, 1945 – James Hardin, father, died.
Aug. 13, 1945 – Mrs. Hardin, mother, died.
February 14, 1946 – Leroy Hill, husband, died.
Apr. 2, 1946 – Bertha indicted; charged for parents deaths, but not tried.
1946 – first trial, convicted
Apr. 1947 – retrial granted; convicted.
May 3, 1947 – while still in Floyd County jail, Bertha (26) marries Wylie Gavitt, 20.
June 1947 – committed to Women’s State Prison.
1952 – indictments for murder of parents dropped.
1958 – granted 3rd trial; freed on bond.
Jan. 18, 1960 – prosecution not able to locate witnesses; ordered acquitted.

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ADD

[“Woman Held For Killing Parents And Her Husband,” The Gaffney Ledger (S. C.), Apr. 4, 1946, p. 4]
[“Pending Cases Bar Parole – Bertha Hill Seeks Trials for Murder,” Rome News-Tribune (Ga.), May 6, 1951, p. 1]
[“Wins Unprecedented Motion … Bertha Hill Confident Will Show Innocence,” Rome News-Tribune (Ga.), Dec. 18, 1958, p. 1]
[“Bond Frees Bertha Hill As Third Trial Delayed – State Announces Not Ready Monday; Date for Third Hearing to Be Set,” Rome News-Tribune (Ga.), May 12, 1959, p. 1]
[“Woman Cleared of Killing Mate; 3rd Effort Wins,” The Free-Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.), Jan. 19, 1960, p. 2]

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