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May 26, 2022

Ex-police informant arrested for killing Bristol Township woman and lighting her house on fire in 1991

Robert Francis Atkins, 56, of Falls Township, allegedly stabbed Joy Hibbs to death and tried to cover it up

Investigations Homicide
Bristol Homicide Mother Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Robert Francis Atkins, 56, of Falls Township, was charged with murder and arson in connection to the 1991killing of Joy Hibbs in Bristol Township.

More than 30 years ago, a mother of two was robbed and stabbed to death in her Bristol Township home, which was then set on fire with her body still inside. On Wednesday, an arrest was made in the cold case.

Robert Francis Atkins, 56, of Falls Township, was charged in the 1991 death of Joy Hibbs, who was 35, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said.

Atkins was a confidential informant who was buying meth and marijuana for the Bristol Township Police Department at the time the crime was committed, the Bucks County Courier Times reported. He also was an early person of interest in the case who had been questioned at least twice by investigators.

The case has made national headlines over the years.

Hibbs' family described her as "a sweet, charming southern girl from central Florida" and "a loving and devoted mother, wife and medical assistant," in a statement provided by authorities.

"The immense grief and suffering our family has endured over the last three decades will never disappear," the family said.

Hibbs' son David, who was 12 when she died, found the family's house on fire after returning from elementary school shortly after 1 p.m. on Friday, April 19, 1991. He ran to neighbor's for help, because he knew his mother was inside. 

After the blaze was extinguished, authorities found Hibbs' charred body lying on David's bed.

Investigators initially believed the fire was an accident, but an autopsy revealed that Hibbs had been stabbed repeatedly, suffered broken ribs and was likely strangled. It also determined that she died before the fire began because there was no evidence of smoke in her lungs.

Additionally, the contents of Hibbs' purse were found strewn about the home, but no cash was recovered.

The Fire Marshal determined that the blaze was set intentionally, with four points of origin – two in the kitchen, one in the hall and another in David's bedroom. 

Police believed Hibbs was killed between 11:50 a.m. and 12:50 p.m., and during that window a Blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo was parked outside her home. Atkins owned one of those cars and used to live two doors down from the Hibbs family, investigators said.

He would also sell Hibbs and her husband marijuana on occasion, investigators said. Atkins allegedly told investigators that he had a fight with the couple because they claimed he sold them low-quality marijuana. 

In grand jury proceedings, Atkins' ex-wife, April, testified that he returned home covered in blood and admitted to stabbing a person and lighting a house on fire on April 19, 1991, according to charging documents

She testified that Atkins put his clothes in the washing machine and took a shower before the family went on a two-day trip to the Poconos. She found out Hibbs had been killed when they returned home, but said she was too scared for her own safety to report her husband at the time. 

Atkins is charged with first degree murder, second degree murder and seven counts of arson. He's being held at the Bucks County Correctional Facility without bail.