On the 26th of February, 2007, two brothers driving through an alley in Gary, Indiana, spotted what appeared to be two burned legs inside a cinder block garage. Upon further inspection, they discovered the partially clothed body of a teenage girl and alerted local police who arrived at the scene. It was evident that the young girl had lived a tragic and traumatic life. She had 170 scars of varying stages all over her body and face; her teeth had all been knocked out; she had been systematically starved and she had been set on fire. Her cause of death was suffocation but she had also sustained blunt force injuries and stab wounds.
Following the discovery, police trawled through local missing person reports and an artist created a composite sketch of her likeness in an attempt to identify the body but to no avail. She became known as the “Lake County Jane Doe.”
It wouldn’t be until 2015 that the body was finally identified after Kiara Hill went to Gary police to confess that she knew who “Lake County Jane Doe” was and who had killed her. She told police that the body belonged to her adoptive sister, 15-year-old Erika Hill, and that she had been killed in February of 2007 after suffering years of torture, abuse and starvation at the hands of her adoptive mother, Taylin Hill, who was a cousin of Erika’s birth mother. Erika had initially lived with her grandmother but when her grandmother died, Erika moved in with Taylin and her family and was subsequently adopted by Taylin. Erika was her grandmother’s favourite which may have explained why she was so horrendously abused by Taylin; all of her other children were abused but not to the extent that Erika was abused.1 All of the children had been removed from school at times to hide the signs of their abuse. According to Kiara, it appeared that Erika “could do no right.”2
Erika would be forced to stand on one foot while Taylin beat the other foot until it bled. Taylin often carried an extension cord around her neck which she would use to whip Erika whenever she felt like it. In addition, Erika was systematically starved and Kiara described her complexion as “gray.” On one occasion, Taylin took Erika to hospital after she struck her hand with a hammer but took her home after medical staff asked Erika to change into an examination gown out of fear they would see her injuries. Kiara told police that in early February of 2007, Taylin called her – and her other siblings – into the bathroom of their Fitchburg apartment where she showed them the lifeless body of Erika in the bathtub. She had been repeatedly beaten with a heavy object, asphyxiated with a cloth which still remained in her mouth and then stabbed.
Taylin ordered Kiara and her two other siblings – Joshua and Ciara – to stuff Erika’s body into plastic garbage bags. Afterwards, they dragged her into the garage where she remained until the smell of decomposition became too hard to ignore. Taylin then “gathered up her children” and forced them to carry Erika’s body from the garage to the family van. They then drove to Chicago and dumped her underneath an overpass. Taylin pulled out her teeth and set her on fire in an attempt to render identification. Having second thoughts, they then decided to move the body to Gary, Indiana, out of fear that an elderly person may have a heart attack upon finding the body. Kiara said that Taylin had threatened her and her siblings from telling anybody what had happened. Kiara told investigators that she did tell an ex-boyfriend about Erika at one point but said she didn’t think he believed her. After the murder, Taylin became somewhat less abusive towards Kiara and her siblings, using her hands to strike them as opposed to objects.
Years later, Kiara spotted a drawing created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of the burned body found in the garage in Gary, Indiana. Kiara said she knew immediately that the drawing was that of her adopted sister; the drawing took her right back to that tragic night. Until now, she didn’t know that Erika’s body had been found. She confessed what had happened to her therapist who urged her to go to police. Disturbingly, Taylin worked as an aid in the special education department at Madison School District. She worked in this position from 1998 until a leave of absence in October 2004. Her employment ended in 2006 when she didn’t return from leave but she subsequently went back to work in the same position in December 2013 and remained there until her arrest. When Taylin was arrested, investigators asked her about Erika, and she claimed that she had ran away in 2009. Investigators then informed her that her body had been found back in 2007 and had now been identified.
Taylin Hill pleaded guilty to child neglect causing death and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. During her trial, her two other children, Ciara and Joshua, remained staunchly loyal, stating that she had nurtured and supported them throughout their life. Joshua said that what happened to Erika’s body was “not okay” and that there needs to be some justice for it, but that his mother had already been in jail for a year.3
- Chicago Tribune, 20 September, 2015 – “Arrest in Cold Case Reveals Victims Sad, Violent Past”
- Wisconsin State Journal, 15 September, 2015 – “Fitchburg Girl is Indiana’s Jane Doe”
- Wisconsin State Journal, 8 November, 2016 – “Adoptive Mom Sentenced”