Imagine a world where you want for nothing. You are well connected, invested in your own hobbies and passions and are able to summon the most obscure requests without a second thought. Family oil money in mid 20th century Houston affords you a life that even today many only dream of. Such was the case for the late Joan Robinson Hill. The socialite was the adopted daughter of a Texas oilman turned tycoon who eventually wed esteemed plastic surgeon Dr. John Hill. An accomplished equestrian, Joan was known for winning as many as 500 trophies on her saddlebred horses through her professional career in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The success professionally in the equine industry, however, did not always translate to a happy personal life. Joan and John experienced marital troubles in 1968 as John pursued an extramarital affair. Later that year, John served Joan with divorce papers as they were living apart and Joan contested the divorce in favor of trying to make the marriage last. The couple had made a home in the affluent River Oaks neighborhood, though John was known to have a rented Post Oak apartment. Joan’s father, Ash Robinson, drafted a letter of reconcilliation for household and professional expenses that the surgeon would be responsible for if he were to pursue leaving his wife. In 1969, Joan passed away from what multiple autopsies considered “a massive infection from an undetermined source”, which only led to the indictment of Dr. John Hill. Three grand jury trials ended up indicting Hill on the basis of murder by omission due to Hill’s lack of sufficient medical care as Joan fell mysteriously ill very suddenly after eating what is now alleged was an infection laced pastry.
Yet, while one might think that is where our story ends, as Thomas Thompson captured in much greater detail in his 1976 book “Blood and Money”, the twists are only beginning.
Dr. Hill remarried later in 1969 to the one time mistress he was cheating on Joan with. The marriage didn’t last more than a year, yet the experience allowed this woman to testify against Hill at the trial, claiming that he had tried to kill her on multiple occasions in various ways. It was this testimony that allowed Hill’s attorney to pursue a mistrial and schedule a second trial for September of 1972. Just weeks before the second trial was about to start, Hill was shot by a masked gunman in what at first glance was a botched robbery. Bobby Wayne Vandiver was arrested for Hill’s murder and confessed to the crime. Vandiver cited financial gain as the cause of the murder, implicating 2 other individuals and claiming that the act was a contract kill worth $5,000.00. Vandiver moved to Longview, Texas and assumed an alias. When confronted in a cafe by a Longview Police Officer, Vandiver pulled a gun and the officer killed Vandiver.
The two accessories to Dr. Hill’s murder corroborated Vandiver’s story and were sentenced.
So, all of that is the backstory to this week’s location; the former Hill mansion, also known as the “Blood and Money” mansion located on Kirby at the corner of Brentwood. Since the book, the mansion has exchanged ownership and is still a private residence. As such, we weren’t really looking to disturb the new owners.
However, in looking for a track this week, I wanted to find something that spoke to the generational wealth that follows many socialites in the River Oaks zip code. Enter “High Society” by Norma Jean Wright, performing as Norma Jean. This is a disco tune that exudes a bit of elegance, the way that I think that is fitting to honor the memory of the late Joan Robinson Hill.
That wraps up our update this week. Until next week, take care of one another, y’all.