This August, it is 49 years ago that Teresa “Tess” Sue Hilt (Jan 6, 1951 – Aug 4, 1973) was found murdered in her off-campus apartment in Maryville, Missouri. She was twenty-two years old.
As I am taking a break, this is the summer case for 2022.
Tess attended Northwest Missouri State College. She was a music major and pursued a post graduate psychology degree.
Tess had been stabbed and strangled to death. She was face down on her bed under a sheet. A panty hose was tied around her neck and her wrists were bound with shoelaces.
A paring knife taken from her own kitchen was in her hand. It came from her kitchen so the killer did not come prepared with a weapon. This was a confrontation that got out of hand.
When I read about her case more than a decade ago, I immediately thought that the person who killed Tess was a woman. I still think it was a woman.
Then-Sgt. Wright thought it was a woman too and explained this in the St. Joseph News Press from January 20, 1974. In the well-researched article, Tess’ apartment is described as cleaned up and that Tess’ dead body was covered with a sheet. Sgt. Wright saw it as something that a woman would do. I disagree.
There are male killers who clean up the crime scene and they do that very well. Placing a sheet over a dead body is just the killer protecting themselves. This way, they did not have to see Tess while they were cleaning up. So, covering Tess could have been done by a female and male killer.
Why do I think that the killer was a woman? The kind of trauma that Tess had to endure and in particular, the two locations of said trauma.
IF this had been a jilted male lover, I would have expected more trauma to Tess’ face to depersonalize her, dehumanize her, as she had caused him pain. But her face did not have extensive trauma. Her heart and vagina did.
It seems to indicate that as soon as the killer had overpowered Tess, a statement of pain had to be made in the areas were the killer herself was hurt the most.
The cause of death was multiple stab wounds to the heart. From the comment section on the autopsy report: “These wounds of the heart and lung were produced by a knife which was jabbed into the chest at least eight times, producing two penetrating wounds to the chest wall and five in the heart and three in the lung.”
The knife was pumped in Tess’ chest until she was dead. The multiple thrusts used the same original opening in the chest but with different angles in the interior.
The vagina/uterine area
From the comment section on the autopsy report: “The laceration of the vagina was produced before death and caused considerable retroperitoneal hemorrhage.”
The trauma around the vagina is noted as extensive with one of the lacerations extending into the right pelvis and damage to the left vaginal wall.
Tips and motive
Maybe the killer’s love for someone was unrequited or unknown to the desired man however, Tess was the (perceived) rival for that man’s attention. The killer’s heart was wounded, and she wanted Tess to hurt there too. Moreover, it seems as if the killer was trying to destruct a feared or perceived pregnancy.
There is so much overkill, personally directed rage in this case. One report described that Tess’ neck was broken post-mortem.
Lie detector tests, make of their credibility what you will, did not advance the case. Neither did all the publicity and the better visibility of her case online. Sadly, after all these years and a flooding at the department decades ago, we fear that most, if not all, evidence in this case is lost.
Tess has been reunited in heaven with her parents. Her father Stanley Hilt died in 1996. He was a sergeant in the US Army and served from 1945-1947 in Korea and Japan. Her mother Mildred Hilt died in 2016. Tess was their only child.
I spoke with Mildred in 2013. She told me about Tess as a baby and how as a toddler, she like to play with her kitten. She had many hobbies as a teen and was keen to help people. And she loved to dance.
Mildred said that Tess was very excited when she got her driver’s license. She had a small Buick and loved to drive around. She would drive you to the market, the dry cleaner, anywhere.
Mildred Hilt recalled seeing Tess the Friday before she was murdered. She saw her daughter’s thesis. She remembered it was more than an inch thick. She left the campus feeling incredibly proud of her daughter.
Then, on Sunday, her world caved in. Teresa was found dead. For a while, time stopped despite the frantic activities to find out what had happened.
After the case grew older and colder, the activities ceased, and Teresa’s parents fell into despair.
It was not just the not knowing. It was the cruel combination of missing your only beloved child combined with the fact that slowly Teresa Sue Hilt was disappearing from public view and memory.
When people stop talking about a victim or when the press stops publishing their stories, it creates a void. Not everyone is comfortable talking about a dead person, so the family mentions the case less. The void is there and the loved one disappears bit by bit from public memory. Soon, it feels as if only the family knows for sure that they existed.
We will not forget Tess. She lives on in our hearts whether the case gets solved or not.
Rest in peace, Teresa “Tess” Sue Hilt.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, more information can be found online and in newspaper archives.
We need to get these cases back in the mainstream media, to get people talking again, and if anything, to make sure that we do not forget the victims.
Just because their cases are unsolved does not mean that we can forget about them.
With the advances we made in modern forensic sciences, we may have a chance to find clues that previous remained hidden because we didn’t have the technology. Now that we do, let’s review all these old cases once more.
I encourage you to share this post on your own social media platforms. By sharing these posts, the cases reach new networks, new connections, and new online news feeds. Maybe one day these updates will pop up in the right person’s news feed. This may be someone who can actually help advance the case and that is my goal.