HomeBristol TimesFalls Township man arrested for 1991 murder of Croydon’s Joy Hibbs

Falls Township man arrested for 1991 murder of Croydon’s Joy Hibbs

Robert Atkins, a person of interest for 31 years, was jailed after the cold case saw new light

Getting closure: The 1991 murder of Croydon’s Joy Hibbs, a wife and mother of two, has been solved after 31 years. Source: Bucks County District Attorney

For the past 31 years, the Hibbs family has refused to give up hope of having the cold-case murder of Joy, beloved wife and mother of two, solved. Now, after three long decades, they’re finally able to see justice served.

On April 19, 1991, 12-year-old David Hibbs enjoyed an early dismissal from elementary school. But upon arriving at his Croydon home, 1200 Spencer Drive, his world changed forever. The residence was engulfed in fire and smoke, with his mother Joy inside. David sought help from neighbors and first responders were called.

Joy was found dead in her son’s bedroom, with investigators assuming she lost her life in an accidental fire. However, an autopsy revealed that Joy had numerous stab wounds, fractured ribs and was possibly asphyxiated. There was no smoke in her lungs, which meant she died before the fire started.

David arrived home at around 1:05 p.m., with Joy’s death likely occurring between 11:50 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. Witnesses shared with law enforcement that they noticed a blue Chevy Monte Carlo parked haphazardly outside the home at around 12:30 p.m.

Robert Atkins, a neighbor two doors down, owned this very car. Atkins became an instant suspect, especially given the fact that he sometimes sold marijuana to Joy and her husband. Atkins and Joy even had a recent dispute over the quality of the product.

Though this seemed like a cut-and-dry case, Atkins has remained a person of interest since 1991 and was never charged.

That is, until last month.

Long-awaited justice: Robert Atkins, 56, of Falls Township, was recently arrested for the murder of Joy Hibbs. He has been a person of interest since 1991. Source: Bucks County District Attorney

Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub announced that Atkins, 56, of Falls Township, was arrested on May 25 and charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, arson (seven counts) and robbery (two counts). He’s currently being held without bail at the Bucks County Prison.

“Atkins, for the past 31 years, has been living free, but on borrowed time,” said Weintraub during a news conference. “Today, we start to collect on that time from him with interest.”

Weintraub credited Sgt. Michael Slaughter, of the Bristol Township Police Department, Bucks County Detective David Hanks and Bucks County First Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Schorn for breathing new life into the investigation, which was submitted to the Bucks County Investigating Grand Jury in January.

“These are ordinary citizens,” Weintraub said of the Grand Jury. “Men and women just like you and me that sacrificed on a weekly basis so that they could help us solve these horrible crimes.”

The jury heard from Atkins’ ex-wife April, who has kept silent all these years out of fear. She testified that, in the early afternoon of that fateful April day, Atkins came home covered in blood. He informed April that he stabbed someone and lit their house on fire in an effort to cover up his crime. April was told to call out of work, gather the kids and head to the Poconos with him after he showered and washed his bloody clothes. The Atkins family remained in the Poconos for two days before returning on Sunday, April 21, when April learned who the murder victim was.

Covering his tracks: Robert Atkins set the Hibbs family home on fire after killing Joy Hibbs in an attempt to hide his crime. Source: Bucks County District Attorney

Though he was interviewed by police at least twice, Atkins always denied any involvement in the murder of Joy. Still, her family never lost faith. They knew that one day, her attacker would pay for what he did to a woman they described as kind and gentle.

“Their pain and anguish is real and it has been compounded by years and years of no answers,” said Weintraub. “Today is a gratifying day. I’m glad that we’re able to have this day to celebrate, but we have much more work to do and we will not let you down.”

He added, “This case is not perfect, but we know we have enough to go forward to achieve a conviction against Robert Atkins. If not now, when? And if not us, who?”

On the heels of Atkins’ arrest, the Hibbs family made the following statement: “Joy Hibbs was a sweet, charming girl from central Florida. A loving and devoted mother, wife and medical assistant, she was highly regarded and loved by her friends, neighbors and coworkers alike.

“On April 19, 1991, she was brutally murdered in her own home in broad daylight. Stabbed five times in the chest and neck and strangled with an electrical cord. Her body and our family home were intentionally set on fire in an attempt to make this horrific crime disappear.

“The immense grief and suffering our family has endured over the last three decades will never disappear. For 31 years, our family has been haunted by this tragic loss, knowing without a doubt that Robert Atkins was the perpetrator. Our family has waited 31 years for justice to prevail.”

Weintraub urged Bucks County police departments to send his office other cold case murders.

“Every one matters,” he said. “No cold case should remain unsolved.”

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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