Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marie Hilley

Coincidence

Improbably, Marie Hilley was not the only "black widow" of note from the tiny mill town of Blue Mountain, Alabama. In the 1950s Americans were shocked at the criminal exploits of Nannie Hazle Doss, a sweet-looking woman whose jovial manner during her lurid confessions earned her the nickname "The Giggling Grandma." Nannie Doss, who was raised in Blue Mountain and later moved to Oklahoma, killed eleven people, including five husbands, two of her children, and her mother. Marie Hilley's tally of victims wasn't nearly as prodigious as Nannie Doss's, but her dark shadow loomed larger over Blue Mountain than Doss's ever had.

Marie Hilley's Alabama was not one of plantations and verandas and mint juleps. North Alabama, where the Appalachian Mountains finally play themselves out, is a rockier, less agriculturally hospitable place than the more cotton-friendly areas further south. The cotton with which Marie would have been familiar was processed in the textile mills of Blue Mountain and Anniston, the bustling industrial town on the outskirts of which Blue Mountain lay. Calhoun County, which encompassed both towns, was full of hard working people who had never known the fabled leisurely life for which the South was known.

Huey Frazier and Lucille Meads worked just as hard as everybody else. Each came from a family whose life was centered on the local mills, and when they married in January, 1932, each was already accustomed to the long hours of labor required just to make a living in Depression-era Alabama. When her daughter Audrey Marie was born on June 4, 1933, Lucille Frazier held no illusions about staying home to care for the child; she returned to her job at Linen Thread Company as soon as she could, and relatives cared for Marie while her parents worked long shifts.

The Fraziers loved Marie—there was never any doubt of that. But they were, like the folks around them, realists. Times were hard and a single income didn't stretch far enough to meet the needs of a family of three. Huey and Lucille loved and trusted their families and were grateful for the help. And they tried to make up for the lost time with Marie by spoiling her. Marie's clothes weren't the best money could buy, but they were pretty and neat, and better than those of a lot of the kids around her. And from an early age Marie got her way—the slightest correction or denial was likely to provoke a loud tantrum. The Fraziers, perhaps out of guilt, never saw fit to administer any real discipline.

 

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