The Husband Did It: Kay Hall

Kay was found dead at the side of the road. Her husband was charged with her murder and sentenced to 15 years. He claims he is innocent.

This writing is part of a continuing series on cold cases linked to domestic violence. Cases taken from Unsolved Mysteries.

The case of Kay Hall is on season 2, episode 3 of Unsolved Mysteries.

For legal purposes, the husband in this case was charged with his spouses death and was sentenced to 20 years. On appeal he was sentenced to 15 years probation in exchange for a guilty plea to second-degree murder.

However, while I have access to evidence of her murder, I have no physical evidence of domestic violence, only circumstantial evidence, the narrative given to us by those involved, and extensive knowledge on the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence. I have tried to make it clear when giving my opinion versus stating objective facts of the case.

The narrative according to Robert Stack:

On September 30, 1987, Kay Hall was found lying dead on the road by her still running vehicle. She had been backed over by the truck and was lying behind the driver front side wheel. Her friends, the Tolberts, came across the scene when driving home from a party and called the police. Her husband Robert "Bob" Hall became the main suspect.

Bob stood to receive part of $50k that Kay had inherited only earlier that day and the couple was experiencing financial troubles with their new business.

Kay and Bob were married in 1985, a few years after they fell in love while Bob was serving time for selling drugs. They both drank heavily throughout the marriage.

I’d say “how’s Bob?” And I could tell that wasn’t so good, either. —Esther Broderius, Kay’s friend

According to friends, Kay and Bob often fought over trivial things. Kay called a friend in 1986 and told her that Bob was abusing her physically.

He’s abusing me. He beats me up. — Kay

She told friends that she was trying to get into marriage counseling with Bob and if it didn’t work that she would consider divorce. Bob says they spoke about divorce just like any other couple and that they would fight most often about money.

We had lost an awful lot of money on the [oyster business]. — Bob

On the day she was murdered, Kay inherited $50k, went to the post office, and mailed papers that officially transferred $25k of it into her personal account. It is unclear where the other half went.

That evening Kay and Bob attended a dinner party with friends and both drank copious amounts of liquor. They fought and Kay left in their truck without Bob. He had to be driven the 15 miles home by friends.

The theory is that Bob then left home around 8:45 pm and drove back looking for Kay, where they fought and he murdered her. He then hurriedly drove back home to make a call at 9:47 pm and establish his alibi.

Police saw evidence of a “scuffle” inside of the truck and found her purse with cash and credits cards left untouched. There was no sign of a sexual crime. An autopsy showed she was intoxicated at the time of her death, which might explain why she took the route she did.

Three years after Kay was murdered, Bob was charged with her death and sentenced to 20 years. On appeal, his sentence was shortened to 15 years probation after pleading guilty. He was not in prison at the time the episode was taped.

Despite the guilty plea, Bob has adamantly denied any involvement in Kay’s death.

Since 1987, and the airing of the episode, more information has come to light. Here’s what I found:

[Kay] died shortly thereafter of injuries caused by the truck’s having run over and crushed her chest. When the Tolberts came on the scene... The front wheels were turned to the right, and extending in front of them were skid-marks which were determined to have been caused by application of the brakes while the vehicle was traveling backwards (Source: Court Listener, Hall v. Com.).

This ruled out any unintentional accident.

The prosecution used testimony from a friend of the couple, Carole Vandergrift, who testified on her own attempted murder perpetrated by her husband.

[O]n July 31, 1987, while she and [husband] Carter were living in Northern Virginia, he shot her in the head. He then drove more rapidly than normal to Saratoga Springs, New York, a trip which normally took 11 hours, and immediately upon arrival made telephone calls to establish an alibi (Source: Richmond Times Dispatch, “Witness Causes Sensation.” Thursday, July 19, 1990).

Carole’s testimony was used in Bob’s trial to prove that he got the same idea after his friend Carter told him about what he’d done. The Court of Appeals, however, agreed with Bob that the evidence was irrelevant, and was used only to inflame the jury, and reversed the conviction.

The prosecution claimed that Bob’s motive for murder was that he was in considerable debt, had declared bankruptcy, and hoped that Kay’s assets could pay off his bills.

There was testimony that Mrs. Hall had substantial financial assets; she owned the marital home in Lancaster County and a home in the District of Columbia having an equity of approximately $46k. She and her brother were the beneficiaries of her father’s estate, which had an estimated value of $330,000.

In addition to the financial motive, the prosecution also claimed that Bob was physically abusive towards Kay. The court saw multiple witnesses testify to the violence they saw on Kay’s body.

On numerous occasions, Mrs. Hall had displayed bruises and black eyes. She had expressed fear of her husband and had spoken of divorce as recently as August 1987. A witness testified that on the day of her death Mrs. Hall had come to her shop looking “god awful,” crying, and telling how much she was afraid of her husband.

A neighbor of the Halls who once lived across the street from them on Merry Point, Susan Taylor, told the court about the signs of abuse she witnessed.

“She’d been severely beaten up,” [Susan] testified. “This particular beating was more severe than any other. [She had bruises on her face that] no amount of makeup and sunglasses would hide.” Ms. Taylor said she advised Mrs. Hall to read the book, The Woman Hater, which told how some men who abuse their wives grow more aggressive…

The last time Susan saw Kay was sometime after Labor Day.

“Kay was very upset, she stated that Bob had been reading a mystery book and she was scared for her life. She said he told her he would create the perfect murder” (Source: Court Listener, Hall v. Com.).

At trial, the prosecution offered evidence of incriminating statements Bob made to police after Kay was murdered:

  • He knew that a truck had rolled over Kay before officers ever told him;
  • He first told officers that he and Kay had argued in the Club parking lot before she left in their car, but then he changed his statement saying they had argued before the party;
  • He first told police that he never left home, but when confronted with evidence to the contrary he admitted that he drove to the end of the lane and back. Then he said he drove to Route 3 and back. And finally he admitted to driving to the Courthouse and back “out of concern that his wife might have been arrested for driving while intoxicated”;
  • On December 13, 1988, he called officer Riley to say that he wanted Kay’s case solved by Christmas because he was in love with another woman and needed it resolved in order to move forward in the new relationship;
  • On December 21, he attempted to persuade Riley that the Hall’s friend, John Tolbert, had been the one to accidentally run over Kay, but when Riley rejected that theory Bob admitted that it was unlikely;
  • At that same meeting he told Riley that the killer “might come forward if he were at no risk, if the paper reported the death had been accidental, and the killer were immunized from any civil or criminal risk.” They then discussed what he would require to come forward, if Bob were the hypothetical killer, and he suggested that a legal document would need to be drawn up declaring Kay’s death an accident and it must assert that the killer could not be charged. Riley asked, “If I went out and got such a document, put Bob Hall’s name on it, then would you like to see it?” Bob responded, “Before Christmas”; and finally
  • At some point in that conversation, he told Riley that Riley should make it so Bob could still collect the money from his wife’s insurance company even if he had accidentally killed his wife. Bob additionally suggested that he burn his house down to collect the insurance money and build another one for himself and his new lover. Bob stated: “I bet I could do it in such a way they’ll say it was an accident, just like we’re doing in this. No difference.”

The court found that Bob’s incriminating statements amounted to a confession of murder:

The foregoing evidence abundantly supports the finding that Mrs. Hall’s death resulted from criminal agency, that Mr. Hall had the opportunity and motive to kill her, and that he admitted to Det. Riley that he had killed her, sufficiently supporting the verdict (Source: Richmond Times Dispatch, “Witness Causes Sensation.” Thursday, July 19, 1990).

Bob Hall entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder, and was finally sentenced to 15 years probation for the murder of Kay Hall. He still denies any involvement in her death.

Domestic Violence

Women are killed by intimate partners — husbands, lovers, ex-husbands, or ex-lovers — more often than any other category of killer… Intimate partner homicides make up 40 to 50 percent of all murders of women in the United States (Source: National Institute of Justice, NIJ Journal).

“The husband did it” is a popular phrase for a reason.

We’ve known for decades that domestic violence is strongly linked to homicide, however we didn’t identify the concrete steps leading up to intimate partner homicide until 2019. In her study, Intimate Partner Femicide: Using Foucauldian Analysis to Track an Eight Stage Progression to Homicide, Dr. Jane Monckton Smith established the eight stage process that most male abusers take before murdering their female partners.

The stages are not necessarily followed chronologically and sometimes couples loop back to earlier stages, for instance if an abuser is able to reestablish control. However, if the relationship culminated in homicide, all eight stages were likely involved.

For a full breakdown on the stages, read the article below.

The markers of domestic violence in Kay’s case are fairly obvious, especially considering Bob confessed to her murder. However, I still wanted to highlight her case because of the way Unsolved Mysteries framed it.

UM interviewed Bob before his retrial, after he had already confessed to police and had been sentenced after the first trial, and yet they didn’t include any of that information. They framed the case as a “mystery,” when it was anything but.

Using the framework provided by Dr. Smith, I believe that we can reasonably conclude that Bob did it after following the eight stage progression to domestic violence related homicide.

Stage 1: Pre-relationship

A pre-relationship history of stalking or abuse by the perpetrator. Dr. Smith explained that this stage is sometimes skipped by perpetrators if they have no history of prior serious relationships. Unfortunately we don’t have any information on Bob’s relationships prior to Kay.

Stage 2: Early Relationship

The romance developing quickly into a serious relationship. It is possible that abuse had permeated their relationship from the beginning, considering that the two met and fell in love while Bob was serving time for selling drugs. This might also suggest a quickly developing relationship, however we don’t have more details on what actually occurred.

Stage 3: Relationship

The relationship becoming dominated by coercive control. This is where most of the variation of abuse occurs among abusers.

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour… Experts like Evan Stark liken coercive control to being taken hostage.

In Kay’s case we have multiple reports of physical and psychological abuse throughout her relationship with Bob. Friends, family, and neighbors all claim to have witnessed evidence of this physical abuse in the form of bruises all over her face and body. In particular, one neighbor described how Bob psychologically tormented Kay by saying that he could murder her and get away with it because he was a fan of mystery novels. Additionally, the two drank often.

Alcohol plays an important part in [intimate partner violence]. The study found that 30 to 40 percent of the men and 27 to 34 percent of the women who perpetrated violence against their partners were drinking at the time of the event (Source: Raul Caetano, et al, Alcohol-Related Intimate Partner Violence Among White, Black, and Hispanic Couples in the United States).

Stage 4: Trigger/s

A trigger to threaten the perpetrator’s control — for example, the relationship ends or the perpetrator gets into financial difficulty. Based on police statements about Bob’s significant debts, it is possible to conclude that mounting financial issues were the trigger for Bob. Financial hardship is a risk factor for domestic violence, regardless if it culminates in homicide.

Intimate partner violence is more likely to occur when couples are under financial strain. Researchers in one study found a strong relationship between couples worried about financial strain (subjective feelings of financial strain) and the likelihood of intimate partner violence (Source: National Institute of Justice, Economic Distress and Intimate Partner Violence).

Stage 5: Escalation

An increase in the intensity or frequency of the partner’s control tactics, such as by stalking or threatening suicide.

Stage 6: A Change in Thinking/Decision

The perpetrator has a change in thinking — choosing to move on, either through revenge or by homicide. I think Bob made his decision after speaking with his friend Carter about the attempted murder of Carter’s wife. I think he realized that murder was a plausible answer to his problems.

Stage 7: Planning

The perpetrator might buy weapons or seek opportunities to get the victim alone. I think Bob began planning to murder Kay after speaking with Carter. The main aspect of his plans was to create a believable alibi by killing her and then rushing home as quickly as he could.

Stage 8: Homicide

The perpetrator kills his partner, and possibly hurts others such as the victim’s children. Based on evidence given by police, and testimony provided by Carole, the wife of Carter, I think we can safely assume that Bob murdered Kay that night around 8:45 pm and then sped home to establish an alibi by 9:47 pm. I think he pulled her out of her car somehow, got in, and then drove over her, crushing her chest and killing her.

Given these markers for domestic violence, as well as the fact that he confessed and has immense amounts of evidence against him, I think that Bob Hall murdered his wife, Kay Hall on the night of September 30, 1987, after following the eight stage progression to domestic violence related homicide.

In other words, the husband did it.

A discussion on how and why I use the term domestic violence.

For other information on DV, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start.

advocate for victim/survivors of violence || writing for They Matter & published in An Injustice!, COSY, The Collector, Equality Includes You, CrimeBeat, & more

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