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Hey, everyone.


It's Andrea Canning, and I am here with Blaine Alexander today, and we are talking Dateland. Blaine, this is our first time talking Dateland together.


I am so excited. I love it. Thanks for having me.


So this episode is called Justice for Joy. It's about the tragic murder of Joy Hibbs. In 1991, she was stabbed, strangled, and her home was set on fire to cover up the brutal crime. With the help of Joy's persistent son and a determined detective, decades later, police finally arrested a suspect in Joy's murder. Turns out it was someone who had been right under their noses all along. If you haven't listened to the show yet, it is the episode right below this one on the list of podcasts you can choose from. So go there, listen to it. Or if you want to watch it, you can stream it on Peacock and then come back here. When you come back, Blaine has an extra clip from her interview with the suspect's ex-wife, April Atkins, that she wants to play for us. Later, Blaine is going to answer some of your questions about the show from social media. All right, Blaine, let's do this. Let's talk Dateland. Let's do it. Let's talk Dateland.


Let's do it.


So right off the bat, I mean, one of the things that really struck me was this case is so old, and yet Joy's son and daughter, it was like it just happened. The way that they did those interviews with you, you could feel it.


I think that one of the things that really stood out to me about this, Andrea, is that I was talking to them, yes, as adults, but what they were sharing with me was their experiences as children. I mean, David was 12, Angie was 16. So while I was talking to them in present day, the memories, the emotions, the feelings, the pain, all of it was coming through as though they were basically children, right? So that really did make it for a raw interview.


Yeah, I can absolutely see that. I mean, just so sad that they had to lose their mother at just that critical age. Yes. And she's murdered in an unsolved murder. It just adds so much complexity to that situation for the kids.


I mean, they were stuck for a long time because it's not just like they lost their mom, right? That's tragedy number one. But then for more than three decades, it's nobody has been arrested, nobody has been held accountable. There are all these questions. And so it's the second... I mean, not the second. It is the second tragedy in all of this for them that it's difficult to really move on with your life or try and get any healing because of that unknown factor there. David was desperate for answers. That's what I took from him, that he just wanted some information. One other thing that I'll say, too, David is for him, it was very much a story of, why won't people believe me? He was the only one who heard that phone call between Robert Atkins and his mom. He was the one, the first one that said, oh, April drives a blue Monte Carlo. He was this kid who was super close to his mom from the very beginning who was driving this thing and saying, You need to look closer at him and look here. And for so long, he felt like his voice was going unheard.


David was really instrumental in driving that train to keep the spotlight on his mom's case.


Absolutely. I mean, talking to reporters, doing interviews, doing everything that he could, adding more to the reward money, something that Charlie started, but he added to. You could see that dedication to his mom coming through in this whole pursuit, I think.


And it was so sad. This was a day so full of what was to be fun and hope. And we're talking about this picture-perfect family. That's how this starts out.


I think the one thing we had that really illustrated that because we can always say, Oh, they were the best family, the most perfect family. We had these home videos, and that was so touching. Just starting the story with those videos and seeing how... Just even thinking about, Okay, this is a dad who always pulls out his camcorder for whatever reason and is always recording the family doing the most random things, like Joy coming home from work.


Like filming Joy's butt? Yeah, exactly.


I was like, okay, it's a slice of their lives. There you go. But I think that those videos really show like, okay, there is this love, there's this warmth, this very genuine connection between this family. And you saw that joy was at the center of that. So that really helped to underscore what it meant for her to be ripped away.


Yeah, absolutely. And videos always help because that is one of the things we struggle with at Dateline, sometimes is finding enough photos, really getting across who this person was. This is who this victim was. It's such a gift when you are able to get those videos. The husband husband, a big part of this, Charlie. Charlie. Of course, so many of our datelines end with the husband being the killer. And we started out this story, and I thought, Oh, no. Another husband killed his wife. And then you watch those home videos and him filming. And I'm thinking to myself, is this all an act? That he's being so sweet to his wife? Because we've seen that before. Or is this really genuine? So in the beginning of the program, I was really trying to piece together, did the husband do this like so many other episodes?


Of course, especially when you bring in the children talking about the adult children, talking about his temper, right? Like, he was the one who kept us in line and mom stepped in and intervened. You had that juxtaposing of like, Oh, he's such a sweet guy, and he's taking all these videos, but, Oh, he's got a temper. So what exactly does that mean? I think, though, that when you really sat down and looked at him, one, his alibi was rock solid. So I mean, the man was at work. He had clocked in. He had multiple coworkers that could account for his whereabouts. And so that protected him relatively easily just because of that. But then when you saw the type of person he was, you could see that he was just really, really impacted by this. This was somebody that he married straight out of high school. This was his life partner. And even toward the end of our interview, which was really lengthy, I asked, What would your life look like today? He said, Oh, Joy and I would be out on our boat. I mean, he really just immediately conjured up what their lives would look like today, even 30 plus years later.


One of the things also that I noticed, and you could really feel the pain as well, was with those firefighters. I mean, it's hard. I've interviewed firefighters before who come upon these scenes and they find deceased people inside, and it really, really haunts them and sticks with them.


That was one of the more stunning pieces of this whole process to me, Andrea, was that when I sat down with these firefighters, especially Kevin Branigan, he was visibly crying crying, wiping tears. We're talking about something that happened 33 years ago. And so I was talking to him and he was walking me through what happened step by step, and when he got to the part where he said he turned around and he saw the body, you could almost feel that shock that he had 33 years ago.


That's so sad. When we come back, we've got more from Blaine's interview with April Atkins. When it came to Bob and April living down the street, I'm thinking to myself, this is a classic dateland, Red Herring. I was not thinking that Bob was actually... He's the actual guy. Yes, that he was actually the killer.


Exactly, exactly. But I mean, honestly, when I was first reading in on this story, I halfway thought that I was missing something. I said, Okay, I understand the altercation over the $20 marijuana deal. They were mad because it was bad weed. But wait a minute. The whole crime hinges upon this. And so then when you really start learning more about this guy, that he has this basically an identical crime that happened when he was a juvenile, and so it's not in his record or police couldn't see it, then it's like, Okay, this is a pattern. This is somebody who is very easily triggered. And then in talking with April, it was a really delicate interview because she has alleged that this man had abused her for decades, decades. And so you could see that even though they're divorced, even though they aren't near each other, have nothing to do with each other anymore, the man's behind bars, she's still very much impacted by him and by the fear of him. Now, it is important to point out that his lawyer says that he denies ever abusing her, but she was very adamant that that's what their pattern in their relationship was like.


She said she would look in his eyes and know, okay, yeah, my life could be in danger if I step out of line.


My gosh. Could you imagine living with that day in, day out with someone like that?


With three children, mind you. She has three children that she's also thinking about. As she told this story and talks about what she alleges he did to her, it was a terrifying time for her.


Yeah. And with regards to April, that was tricky because on one hand, I want to be like, why didn't you say anything? Why did you lie? But then you see what Bob has done to people, and then you get it.


Yeah. He really has her in a mind grasp. So this really was a delicate and difficult interview to do for a number of reasons.


I did a story recently with a woman who was involved in a case, and she knew what had happened, and she lied to the police as well. Very similar circumstances. I asked her, Why are you doing this interview? And she said, Because I wanted to give some closure to the family. I was just curious how that went down with April. What does she gain by doing a national TV interview?


And that was the first question I asked her, Why did you want to sit down with us today? And she was very eaten up by the fact that she had been that she had lied for as many years as she did. She very much wanted to do the right thing.


And we actually, you have an extra clip you want to play that was not in the episode with April?


Yeah. And so here's a clip where she tries to explain.


What I did was wrong. So lying. But I don't believe how I acted and protected was wrong. I think I did the best that I could with when I was given.


When you say what you did was wrong, you mean lying to the detective?


Oh, I knew that was wrong. I was too busy being a shield and guarding. And you walk out of your house while your children are coloring crayons at the end of the table, this man's hidden his tip of his knife at the table while you're going off to work to keep you under control.


You were protecting your children.


I was trying to protect everybody. My sisters, even people I didn't know and came across. I mean, he was mean.


Oh, wow. That must have been so hard. She's having a bit of a mini breakdown right there.


She was. And honestly, I was concerned that she would have more of a breakdown. I mean, just accessing these memories, accessing these things that she had buried so deeply. But you heard her say she was sitting there watching her kids coloring, and she She said that she believed this man was capable of hurting not only her, but the kids, the kids that they shared. And so she thought that by her actions, she was doing what she could to protect them, right? Protect them, protect herself, but more so, protect her kids.


After April came forward, did David have a chance to talk to her? Did he say anything to her? Did he want to talk to her?


Not that I know of. He found out about the testimony during the grand jury, so he found out pretty late in the game. And then, of course, there was the trial, but I don't know if they had meaningful interaction.


Yeah, because you would think it would be really bitter sweet. On one hand, she's doing the right thing, but all those years ago, she did not. Why did she take so long?




So a big part of this case is when you look at the actions of the police officers from the beginning. It's really deeply disturbing if the police looked the other way because they were trying to protect an informant. And you see the new detective who comes on and he has to compose himself and leave the interview.


I think the interview with now Sergeant Mike Slaater, I've never had an interview like that with a law enforcement officer. Typically, they're pretty buttoned up, and sometimes you get cop speak, and you have to try and break through that and actually get some emotion. He was very forthcoming. He was very candid in just talking about why he wanted to take the case, how it was something that he very much personally wanted to solve. Then when we got to the issue of him looking back at that 1991 investigation, I could tell slowly that it was starting to affect him. He got up, he went to another side of the room, just faced the wall for a few minutes, composed himself, and came back. These are people who he had looked up to professionally, people who were his mentors in many ways, people he had worked under that he, through the course of this investigation, had discovered some pretty troubling allegations about. I think he walked into this knowing that it was going to be a difficult topic, and he didn't hold back.


What did the department say about those former officers officers involved in this case?


They gave us a statement, a written statement to Dateland, basically saying that this was a long time ago, that all of the people who were in charge then are no longer in charge now. It's under new leadership. Everybody's turned over, and so they can't speak to the actions of the officers in the past because of how long ago it was, but saying that now, basically under this leadership, they're very committed to integrity and making sure that all of the investigations are done thoroughly and as they should be.


Yeah. And so the... Oh, hold on. Yeah. One second. Here you go. My son is in here. He wants my phone or else. He's not going to stop. He understood.


He should join us.


He should join the cast. He should join the cast. I'm interrupting the podcast.


We'd love to have him.


And you're having a baby, right?


I am.


I am. So I've been there. I've had three babies since I've been at Dateland. And it's hard when you sit through those three-hour interviews.


If I can candidly say, I meant to reach out to you several times. I was like, I know Andrea has done this before. It was exponentially more difficult just being... And as we shot, I was becoming further along in my pregnancy. So I was getting larger and larger, more and more uncomfortable.


I don't get to have these conversations with Josh and Dennis and Keith. We don't talk about doing interviews pregnant. So this is fun. I am loving it. I'm loving it.


It's like I said, I was like, I've got to call Andrea because nobody else understands this moment except for her.


And also we have different ways that as women and as mothers, the way we tackle interviews, the questions that we ask, some of them are going to be different from the men.


I think that when I think about this story, there was a good part of it. Honestly, I didn't think about it until you just said it. Talking to David and having him experience the loss of his mother at 12 years old, that impacted me in a way that I don't think that I necessarily expected. Being a mother already about to be of two, that just hit me in a different way. I do think that that impacted how I approach the interview and even how I spoke with him and handled him during the interview, too.


Do Joy's kids, do they feel at peace now with everything or are they still upset about how everything went down and what did you gather from their state of mind?


We spoke with them almost, I mean, just within days of the verdict. It was still very fresh. They were still very much processing the fact that, oh, my God, after 33 years, this is finally over. I do think that there's a piece, certainly a weight that they feel is finally lifted, this piece. But I also think that there are a number of questions that they have that just will never be answered. Why did it take so long for the DA, for instance, at the time, to take up the case after Slaher got all of that stuff from April, after he submitted his investigation. All the questions about the 1991 investigations linger, but I think that they'll definitely take a back seat to the fact that, okay, this person has being convicted.


Well, Blaine, this has been a fascinating conversation. Great episode. Good luck with the baby.


This was so much fun, Andrea. Thank you for having me.


Sure. Till next time. After the break, Blaine will be back to answer some of your questions from social media.


All right, guys, we are back here on Talking Date Line. So glad to be here with you. Andrea, our host extraordinaire, is off on a shoot. She's working on a story, but we have a treat. We're joined by producer extraordinaire, Justin Balding. Justin has literally been my partner on this for the past however many months, Justin And so it's an honor to talk to you about this episode together.


And you too, Blaine. This has been a really fascinating one. And we've had some interesting comments in response to the story. There's one here on Twitter on X from Susan Lynn, 05, who says this would be solved right away. Ring cameras, cell phones, alarms all over nowadays. What do you think about that?


I mean, the wealth of technology that we have now would have made this a completely different story, even if you're dealing with the same logistics of the case.


I think so. If Bob Atkins had had a cell phone and had driven to the scene as prosecutors believe he did and away from the scene and out to the Pocunos, I think they've able to track him on his cell phone.


That was an interesting question. Should I read the next one, Justin, or you got it? Sure, go for it. Okay. This is from Xhandle@workrightcom, and they're asking, this detective's last name is Slawder. Detective Mike Slawder. Sounds like something out of a scripted police drama. Somebody else came in and chimed in on Slawder, just basically saying, amazing what a fresh set of eyes can do for a cold case. That's from at Mikeh1990. Let's talk about Slawder.


We had a few comments on Twitter about Sergeant Slaughter, the professional wrestler who was like a Vietnam-era Marine with a mustache and a Marine's uniform.


He is not the famous from back in the '90s. He is Sergeant Mike Slauter. Just a coincidence. Not our Sergeant Slaher. I should say this. Sergeant Slaher's interview was the longest one that we did. Wasn't it, Justin? I think that one cracked about three hours. There was a lot that didn't make it in. But what was interesting And what was interesting in talking to him was that you could see, one, he wanted to take this case. But then once he started uncovering what had happened and the corruption, that put some extra fuel in his fire to really get answers for this family, right?


Absolutely. At the same time, even though he was speaking to how the case was badly handled in the past, he also wanted to credit his police department today for allowing him to sit down with us. That was huge.


That was very huge for him to be allowed to speak openly, for us to be able to get B-roll at the police Department, for them to cooperate with us as they did.


Okay, who do we have next, Justin?


We have ex-handle Jane P. 2022, and her comment is, This was about more than marijuana. I don't know if Atkins was attracted to Joy, and she rejected him, or maybe Joy was trying to help April leave an abusive relationship, and that angered Atkins. What do we think about that?


You know what's so interesting? That was one of the questions That's the question that I asked to the prosecutors. I said, How could you make a judge believe that this whole thing exploded over a $20 marijuana deal?


In speaking to some of his family and some of his former neighbors, it seems clear that he does have an explosive temper. He had a tree that was overhanging this neighbor's property, and she had picked up some of the whatever had fallen off the tree and dumped it into Atkins' backyard. And he had explosively gone off at her and said, I'm going to kill you and blow up your house, according to her. So same words. It was the same threat. Exactly the same threat that he made to Joy Hibbs.


Thank you for that, Jane P. 2022. And I should point out Jane with a Y. I'm Blaine with a Y, so I like Ys, interjected in names. Okay, this next one is @FloodyFan. Okay. A lot of times they exclude prior bad acts because the jury will assume this means they're guilty. But it's a bench trial. There is no jury. And who rules on what's admissible? Is it the judge presiding? So he'd know anyway, where are my dateland lawyers? That's an interesting one. You want to tackle that one, Justin?


Sure. I think this is a super interesting question because it's the judge who decides which evidence is admissible. And he ruled that Robert Atkins prior bad acts, because they had nothing to do with the Joy Hibbs murder, were deemed too prejudicial to be introduced as evidence at his trial.


One other thing that I wanted to pull in, we talk about the prior bad acts and aunt Charlene. We didn't get into this very much in the episode, but there were a couple of interesting layers there.


One was how stunning seemingly similar she looked to Joy.


It was interesting. After this story came into the prosecutor's office, she was telling us about a conversation she was having with the Hips family about this new evidence. At one point, had sent them a picture of Aunt Charlene. This is Robert Atkins, aunt Charlene from Tennessee. They were absolutely gobsmacked when it came to when they saw the picture because she looked identical to Joy Hips.


Angie thought it was her mom. For a second, she thought that that was a picture of her mother, which is just stunning when you talk about the same crime, same type of thing, same, almost identical type of victim. Shall I read the next one? Do you want to take it?


Sure. If you want, go for Okay.


Stacey Delilah. One thing that doesn't make sense to me is if he murdered Joy over the weed deal, they said her husband was involved in the deal also. Talking about Charlie Hibbs. Why not murder him also? That's an interesting one. Why Was he not targeted?


I think it was Joy who was calling Robert Atkins. Charlie really didn't like Bob Atkins because of earlier interactions they'd had. Part of our reporting is that once Joy had received this bad batch of marijuana from Bob Atkins, Charlie had said to Joy, You really should get your money back because that's all stems and seeds. I think Charlie feels responsible in some way that Joy asking for her money back provoked Robert Atkins into this rage.


Because he was the one who encouraged her to do so. Exactly. The other thing that comes to my mind is just that I think that in many ways, yes, he and everything, but it was also a crime of opportunity. She was there. She was by herself.


It was likely easy for him to overpower her, surprise her.


Absolutely. I think part of the crime that doesn't get as much attention is that this was a robbery, too, that prosecutors presented evidence at trial that Joy's wallet was found empty and that the money that she'd taken out of the bank that morning was gone. There was no evidence that Robert Atkinson took it, but there's strong suspicion.


It was gone. Yeah. Okay. This is @mmmadworld, and then two Ds afterwards.


All right. I love the creativity. Okay.


This comment, I'm sure this wasn't the only case the police at the time bundled. They need to reopen all of those investigations back then. Interesting. So the question of maybe, were there more informants that they were possibly protecting at the time?


That's a really good point. I think you have to ask whether other informants that the Bristol Township police had and how did they treat those cases in which those informants were involved? A important background question is that this was 1991, at the height of the drug war. The way that we look at drugs cases now is so different to the way we used to look at them. Maybe there was a lot more pressure on cops to get drug intelligence to convict people for drugs offenses.


Yeah, that's very... That is a really, really good point. I think those are all of our comments. I want to mention this, though. I do think that one of just the strongest pieces of our story was hearing from David and Angie and Charlie and just everything that they have poured into this over the past 33 years to try and get justice for their mother and wife has been really, really stunning. Being able to share their voices and talk to them at the end of this journey was just something that I'll never forget. I know, same for Justin.


Absolutely. Just really kind, dedicated, committed people. And it's just been a real honor telling their story.


Absolutely. Well, I think that's it. That's our talking dateland for this week. Thank you so much, Justin. Thanks to everyone out there who watched the episode, who chimed in on social media, who's listening to this podcast. Of course, remember, if you have any questions for us about any of our stories, we love questions about our stories or just about Dateland, please reach out to us on social media media @datelandnbc. We will see you on Fridays on Dateland on NBC..