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Long-Time Suspect In 1991 Case Of Murdered Pennsylvania Mom Arrested With Ex-Wife's Help

Joy Hibbs was found dead in her son's burning bedroom in 1991, and police say that someone beat, stabbed and likely asphyxiated the mother of two before torching the home. Authorities have now charged neighbor Robert Atkins with murder and arson in the case.

By Jax Miller
A police handout of Joy Hibbs

A Pennsylvania man is under arrest more than 30 years after authorities found his neighbor dead in her young son’s bedroom.

Robert Atkins, 56, was charged with a number of offenses related to the violent murder of Joy Hibbs, 35, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday. Authorities say Atkins — who lived two houses down from the Hibbs family — was one of several suspects questioned by Bristol Township police in the initial stages of the investigation.

“This is a bittersweet day for the Hibbs family,” Weintraub stated. “Mr. Atkins’ arrest decades after he murdered Joy Hibbs is proof that law enforcement perseverance and sheer power of will can overcome many obstacles in proving a murder case.”

The decision to charge Atkins came after a five-month grand jury investigation beginning in January, which included damning witness testimony and the presentation of intercepted phone calls between Atkins and his ex-wife late last year.

A police handout of Robert Atkins

As described in the charging documents and grand jury testimony reviewed by Oxygen.com, 12-year-old David Hibbs was dismissed from school early on April 19, 1991. But, when he arrived at his Croydon, Pennsylvania home — northwest of Philadelphia, along the New Jersey border — just after 1:00 p.m., he found his kitchen was engulfed in flames, preventing him from entering. The boy raced to a neighbor’s house for help.

When first responders extinguished the blaze, they found Joy Hibbs dead on her son’s bed. Investigators initially assumed she'd died in the fire, but a postmortem examination revealed the woman had been stabbed, sustained fractured ribs and was “likely asphyxiated” before the fire was set.   

It wasn’t long before the Fire Marshal also determined the blaze was an act of arson and that whomever set the fire did so from four separate locations in the home between the kitchen, hallway and David Hibbs' bedroom.

Investigators also found evidence that someone had emptied the victim's purse in the kitchen and stuffed her wallet in the living room couch. Joy Hibbs had cashed her paycheck just hours before the murder, and all that cash was missing.

At the time of the murder, which occurred sometime between 11:50 a.m. and 12:50 p.m., witnesses reported seeing a blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo “parked haphazardly” in front of the home — a description that matched the vehicle owned by the Hibbs' neighbor, Robert Atkins.

In 1991, Atkins was both a methamphetamine addict and a confidential informant for the Bristol Township Police Department, according to detectives. And, according to testimony from Joy Hibbs' husband Charles, he was also the couple's marijuana dealer.

A police handout of Joy Hibbs House after it was set on Fire

According to testimony before the grand jury,  Charles Hibbs — who was at work at the time of the murder — knew Atkins from working maintenance for a successful real estate development company. He believed that he and Joy Hibbs were close with Atkins and his wife, April Atkins.

Charles Hibbs testified that his wife and Atkins had been squabbling in the weeks before her murder because Joy Hibbs wanted her money back after Atkins allegedly sold her low-grade marijuana.

Daughter Angie Hibbs — who was 16 and in class when her mom was murdered — testified that, in the weeks leading up to the murder, someone had slashed her mother’s tires and kicked in their back door, but Joy Hibbs didn’t want her husband to find out. Coworkers also told authorities that a man had been calling Joy Hibbs at her place of work and threatening to kill her.

“Over the next three decades, Atkins remained a person of interest in the murder,” according to the district attorney’s office. “He was interviewed by police at least twice but always denied any involvement in her murder.”

One of the grand jury’s star witnesses was Atkins’ former wife, April, who denied having any information about the murder when questioned by police in 2014. She reportedly had a change of heart two years later after the deaths of three family members, prompting her to go to detectives because “she knew there was a lie ‘out there’ that she had to make right,” according to authorities.

April admitted that her husband came home “covered in blood” on the day of the murder, at which point they packed up their family and headed to the Poconos for an impromptu getaway. She claimed that she feared her ex-husband and didn’t want their adult children to find out about the investigation, which was why she allegedly withheld the information in 2014.

Joy Hibbs' loved ones, who described her as “a sweet, charming southern girl from central Florida,” said they'd believed Atkins was the killer all along, according to a family statement.

“The immense grief and suffering our family has endured over the last three decades will never disappear,” they wrote, in part. “For 31 years, our family has been haunted by this tragic loss, knowing, without a doubt, that Robert Atkins was the perpetrator.”

Atkins is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, seven counts of arson and two counts of robbery. He is currently being held at the Bucks County Correctional Facility and was denied bail on Wednesday.

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