Writing on the Wall – The John Hill Murder Mystery

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After a brutal, prolonged attack, John Hill was found dead in his laundromat. He had been stabbed 21 times and shot. Other than the bloody corpse, the most disturbing clue was written across the wall. The ink was John’s blood.



On Monday, November 22, 1976, two men entered the Ottumwa laundromat just after 5 am. Inside they found the owner sprawled across the floor in a pool of blood. He’d been stabbed 21 times. Evidence told authorities that John Hill had put up a prolonged fight for his life.

Near his right hand lay a .25 caliber pistol. It had been fired five times, and five bullet holes were discovered near the front door. Only four bullets were found on the scene, and reports don’t mention what type of bullet or gun was used to shoot the victim.

Hill’s pockets were left inside out, and it appeared that he had been robbed of a few hundred dollars. Was money the motive for such a long and frenzied attack? I doubt it. Twenty-one stab wounds sound pretty personal to me. I have a feeling that the money was stolen to disguise the real motive behind the murder of Mr. Hill.

At some point, a message was written in blood. The clue contained two words. The first word was hard to read, but it either said “black” or “lack.” The second word was “older.” Who wrote these words? Did John write them with his dying breath, or did the killer leave this ominous message?

I would like to know the exact location of the message. I think this would clear up a lot of speculation in this case. Was the message close enough to the body that a dying man could have written it? If it were written on a wall, were measurements taken? How tall was John Hill? A few of these basic details would go a long way to determine who wrote these words. Most people write at eye level, so it would be easy to determine if the words were written above the man’s head. Also, were the words written low on the wall as if a man were slouched on the floor as he wrote? 

To make this case more perplexing, the public reports don’t explicitly state how or where the victim was shot. We know a .25 caliber handgun was near his right hand, but there is no information on what type of bullet entered Hill’s body. We know the gun was fired five times. We also know there were five holes in the wall near the front door.

Strangely only four bullets were found. I must point out that these reports state that four bullets were found on site. They do not say bullet casings. That makes me think that four bullets were most likely embedded in the wall near the door, but where’s number 5?

Some armchair sleuths say the fifth bullet was the one that killed the victim, but I must disagree. Here’s my reasoning. I doubt John stood himself up against the door jam and shot himself. It is conceivable that he was held against the wall and shot, but I don’t agree with that theory either. There would be only two options if John were shot while standing near the door.

  • #1: The bullet didn’t exit the body – This wouldn’t have left a hole in the wall
  • #2: The bullet exited the body leaving a hole in the wall – Where’s the bullet then?

I could write an entire story titled the mystery of the extra bullet hole, but I won’t. Hey, that sounds like one of those old Nancy Drew mysteries. I digress.

Within days of the murder, the local police had two suspects on their radar. Their identities were never publicly revealed however and without enough evidence no charges were ever made. Forty-three years have passed, and police are no closer to solving this heinous crime.

If you have any information in the death of John Robert Hill from Ottumwa, Iowa, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010.

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Synova Cantrell may be known for her fedora, but she wears many hats. Synova volunteers with the Missouri Missing organization by highlighting obscure cold cases on her true crime blog to help generate tips. She firmly believes together we can give grieving families answers, hope, and support. Synova works as the Production Editor of True Crime: Case Files Magazine. http://www.truecrimecasefiles.com As SWMO’s #1 True Crime Writer, Synova authored Unorganized Crime; a biography of the ex-gangster Sidney Heard of Chicago, IL. This thrilling tale of con games, bank robbery, and mayhem has recently been endorsed by a retired FBI agent. Her best-selling series, Seriously Stupid Criminals, is a fan favorite in both paperback and e-book formats. Her latest e-book, Grim Justice tells the story of a judge and his wife retired in Palm Beach, Florida in 1955. Her first case files book, Snatched was released on New Year's Day. Fans eagerly await her newest serial killer series set to launch late 2019. Synova has a passion for helping fellow authors and knows how overwhelming it can be to get started in this business, that is why she created Synova's Simply Biz. Synova breaks down the business of writing in a simple way. If you need help with your business check out her new page www.synovaink.com/simplybiz. To follow all her adventures and read her true crime blog, log onto www.synovaink.com Connect with Synova: Twitter: https://twitter.com/synovaink Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/synovacantrell Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/synovaink

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