Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adventure classics -- Murder most Texan

Blood and Money

by Thomas Thompson


Houston plastic surgeon John Hill’s beautiful equestrian-socialite wife Joan was as good for his rising practice as a full page newspaper ad, Texas journalist Thomas “Tommy” Thompson wrote in his 1976 true crime narrative, Blood and Money. Unfortunately for himself, Dr. Hill had a taste for adultery. And a wealthy oilman father-in-law, Ash Robinson, who had a history of not letting legalities stand in the way of what he wanted. When his doted-on only child Joan died, what Robinson wanted was John Hill, dead.

The Hill marriage, many who knew the couple would say, was doomed from the start. “Joan seemed a creature of daylight, open, unsuspicious, now shadow cluttering her world,” Thompson wrote. “John seemed a resident of the night, a man who relished the concealing cloak of darkness.”

When Hill returned to their home in Houston’s wealthy River Oaks neighborhood after still another all-night absence, Joan threatened him with divorce -- and the loss of daddy‘s money. The next day, she fell ill. After Joan’s death from a mysterious infection, Hill married -- and divorced -- his lover; married again; and was tried for the “murder by omission” of Joan. The murder case ended in a mistrial, but before another could take place, small-time criminal Bobby Vandiver shot Hill point blank in his home in the presence of his son and third wife.

Arrested for Hill’s murder, Vandiver implicated Joan’s father, Ash Robinson. But before his own trial, Vandiver also died in a bizarre shootout. Never tried, Robinson died in 1985, three years after author Thompson.

Thompson’s Blood and Money had special significance for me, because I was living in Houston at the time of many of case’s events. So when I saw the name Larry D. Thompson, the “good friend and a good lawyer” Tommy Thompson dedicated the book to, during last spring’s Houston Writers Guild conference, I had to hear him.

“It’s probably still one of the great crime stories about Houston,” Larry Thompson said of his brother’s book.

Texas criminal defense lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, he said, “told Tommy, ‘I didn’t think anyone could write that story and make it make sense.’”

The best selling book spawned three libel suits, all of which Thompson won, defended by his brother Larry. For more about Tommy Thompson and his work, see the Texas State Historical Association’s site,

Larry Thompson, after years of legal work, has recently started writing thrillers. For more about his writing, see my May 14, 2012, post, “Thrills and spills of thriller writing.”

More than forty years after her 1969 death, Joan Robinson Hill still commands such a wide following that I couldn’t find a copyright-free picture of her. Perhaps it’s fitting that the picture illustrating this post is of the late Texas actress Farrah Fawcett, in her portrayal of Joan for the made for TV movie based on the book, Murder in Texas.

(Next Wednesday -- Adventure classics begins a February of animal adventures with two of the oddest heroes in literature, in E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.)

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