January 8, 2009

Body of 91-year-old woman found stuffed in garbage can; grandson's estranged relatives arrested

Sally Hill was like many of those elderly women you might know in your neighborhood: a long-time resident, silver-haired and always with a friendly smile on her face. Hill had lived in her two-story brown-and-white house in her west Dublin neighborhood for more than 40 years, according to what neighbors told the Contra Costa Times. She still liked to get out in the neighborhood, but at 91, she needed the help of a walker to get around.

In a case that is upsetting to many in the East Bay suburbs, Hill was found dead Wednesday evening, wrapped in a bed sheet and stuffed into a plastic trash can outside her house. Three people have been arrested in connection with Hill’s death: the estranged wife of Hill's 37-year-old grandson who, with his 2-year-old daughter, had been living with Hill; and the estranged wife’s parents.

The Times says the grandson, Eric Hill, and his estranged wife, Rosa Pui Hill, had been involved in a bitter divorce and custody dispute over their daughter since their separation in 2007. Hill was awarded sole custody of the girl in October 2008, apparently after an Alameda County child protective services worker told Hill that his daughter “may be ‘in danger’ due to her mother’s ‘erratic behavior,' ‘paranoid tendencies,’ and ‘hostilities.” In court filings, Rosa Hill had accused Eric Hill of being depressed, violent towards her, poisoning her food, and molesting their then-infant daughter.

The dispute turned deadly, and Sally Hill somehow got caught in the middle of it. The Times says:

About 5:55 p.m. police received calls reporting a loud argument and what they thought were gunshots, said Dublin Police Lt. Glenn Moon. When officers arrived they heard a woman screaming. They went inside and found Li, Eric Hill, Rosa Hill, of Oakland, and the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Moon said. Rosa Hill had just shocked Eric Hill with a stun gun.

Eric Hill told investigators that after he came home with his daughter, he went upstairs where he was attacked by his estranged wife and her mother. His soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law allegedly hit him over the head with a collapsible baton. His estranged wife then threatened him with a handgun and told him she was taking their toddler daughter, of whom Eric Hill had sole legal custody.

"They were lying in wait for him," Moon said. There was no sign of forced entry to the house.

Before he was taken to the hospital, Eric Hill asked officers to check on his grandmother. While searching for her, police found an elderly woman's body, inside an overstuffed plastic garbage can.

When the woman was killed and how she died remains under investigation.

Police arrested Rosa Pui Hill and Rosa Hill's parents, Mei Yuk Li, 55, and Ping Kit Li, 67, both of Antioch. All have been booked on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy.

The shocking nature of the case raises concerns about elderly abuse, reports of which are on the rise nationwide, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Interestingly, the Superior Court of Alameda County won an annual California Judicial Council Award in 2005 for the improvement of the administration of its courts, for its program to help prevent the reoccurrence of elder abuse by improving court access and the immediate access for protection orders.

Despite the increase in the reporting of elder abuse cases, U.S. Justice Department figures show that, for person 65 years or older, both the number of homicides and homicide victimization rates declined through 2000 and then stabilized. About 5 percent of all homicides nationwide were of men or women 65 or older. But statistics also show that older people are more likely than younger people to be killed in the commission of another felony.

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