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Black Widows, Serial Killers, And More: Revisit Alabama's Murderous History
In the new series "Floribama Murders," investigators recount the most disturbing crimes in the Florida and Alabama area.
To some, Alabama is the home of many famous landmarks from the civil rights movement — but to true crime fans, it’s the birthplace of some of the most notorious killers in history.
The southern state, also known as the Heart of Dixie, has been the backdrop to many true crime podcasts, shows, and movies — including Oxygen’s series “Floribama Murders.” The upcoming season will highlight new cases that took place near the Florida-Alabama border through interviews with investigators and other individuals, shining a new light on these unique southern crimes.
The season is slated to premiere Saturday, Jan. 7 at 9/8c on Oxygen. Until then, take a look at these five cases of murders that took place in Alabama...
1. Viola Hyatt
In 1959, the severed torsos of two men, dubbed Mr. X and Mr. Y, were found alongside freeways in Alabama. The men had been shot in the face, while the arms and legs had been removed, according to AL.com.
By some miracle, police were able to create sketches of the men’s faces, after which they received a tip that the deceased resembled Lee Harper, 58, and Emmett Harper, 48, two brothers who had not been seen at their jobs in Anniston for about two weeks, according to the outlet. From there, police visited the brothers’ family and searched the pair's trailer, which was located on the Hyatt family farm in White Plains.
Not long after, police learned that Viola Hyatt had dated Lee. Following a six-hour interrogation, AL.com reported, Viola confessed to shooting and dismembering the brothers on June 28, 1959, before driving through Alabama and throwing their remains out the window.
She ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and received two life sentences in 1960. She served 10 years in Tutwiler Prison before being released on parole in April 1970 on account of her “exceptionally good” behavior, AL.com reported.
Viola died in June 2000 without ever revealing a motive for the killings.
2. Thomas Whisenhant
In Oct. 1976, Whisenhant kidnapped, raped, and shot Cheryl Payton, a 23-year-old mother of two, to death before dumping her body in an unincorporated area of Mobile County, according to AL.com. Whisenhant later returned to the scene to steal her wristwatch, which he then gave to his wife as a gift.
Following his apprehension, he also confessed to murdering Venora Hyatt and Patricia Hitt, according to AL.com.
Police officer Larry Tillman arrested Whisenhant and later wrote to the killer in prison, resulting in a years-long friendship, AL.com reported. Tillman’s own niece attended Whisenhant’s 2010 execution, telling the outlet that she and others sang “Amazing Grace” with Whisenhant before he died.
3. Audrey Marie Hilley
Audrey Hilley, a mother of two, was dubbed the “Black Widow Killer” after she poisoned her husband, Frank Hilley, with arsenic in May 1975.
Initially, it was believed that Frank had died of illness, but when Audrey's daughter, Carol, fell ill three years later — shortly after Audrey took out a $25,000 life insurance policy on her daughter — their family began to suspect something sinister was afoot. Carol’s older brother, Michael, reported his suspicions to police, who informed him that she was already under investigation for writing bad checks, as previously reported by Oxygen.com.
Once Audrey was arrested, Carol was transferred to a different hospital and doctors tested her blood, after which it was determined she, too, had been poisoned with arsenic. As former FBI special agent Wayne Manis told “Snapped,” “They found such significant levels in Carol’s blood that there was no question she had been poisoned.”
Audrey was convicted in Frank’s murder and Carol’s attempted murder and sentenced to life, plus 20 years, according to the Associated Press. However, she escaped from prison during a particularly cold week and died of hypothermia at the age of 53.
4. Eric Rudolph
In January 1998, the Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic was the target of a deadly bomb attack. According to a 1998 press release from the Justice Department, off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson was killed in the blast, while nurse Emily Lyon sustained severe injuries.
Eric Rudolph went on to plant bombs at the Centennial Park in Atlanta on July 27, 1996, injuring more than 100 attendees and killing Alice Hawthorne. This was followed by a third attack in January 1997, then his fourth and final bombing at the lesbian bar The Otherside Lounge in Atlanta in February 1997.
He was caught in North Carolina in 2003 by police officer Jeff Postell, who had spotted Rudolph digging in a trash can behind a grocery store, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He ultimately pleaded guilty to all four bombings and was sentenced to four life sentences without the possibility of parole.
He is currently incarcerated at the ADX Florence prison in Colorado.
5. Daniel Lee Siebert
Siebert, who went by the name Danny Ray Spence, made headlines when he was arrested in 1986 for the murders of deaf women Linda Jarman, 33, and Sherri Weathers, 24, as well as Weathers’ two sons.
Siebert became acquainted with Weathers and Jarman after volunteering at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, according to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. While the details of their murder are murky, the foundation reported that both women were found on Feb. 24, 1986, after a teacher noted that Weathers hadn’t been to class in a week. Police arrived on the scene and discovered Weathers and her two sons had been strangled to death.
The apartment manager then asked police to check on Jarman, whose nude remains were found on her bed, according to the foundation.
Though Siebert was only convicted of four murders, it’s believed that he may have killed at least eight more throughout his lifetime.
The foundation wrote that the same day police found the four bodies, they received a report that Linda Odum, 32, was missing. She had purportedly been dating Siebert, who had fled the state by then.
Police found Odum’s remains in Florida almost a month later.
Following a six-month manhunt, Siebert was located in Nashville, Tenn. and taken into custody. During an interrogation, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1987, he allegedly confessed to murdering the Weathers, Jarman, and Odum, adding that he killed “maybe a dozen” others across the country, including Los Angeles women Gidget Castro, 28, and Nesia Gail McElrath, 23.
Though Siebert was due to be executed in 2007, he was given a stay of execution after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to AL.com. He died of complications from the illness on Apr. 22, 2008.