Erika Hill, 15, was asphyxiated after being beaten, stabbed, and set on fire by her adoptive mother. Investigators confirmed her identity eight years after they discovered her body in a garage in Gary, Indiana. Her adoptive mother, Taylin Hill of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, was convicted of her death.
Erika Hill’s biological mother was struggling with substance use disorder and could not properly care for her daughter. Her grandmother cared for her until she died. With no one left to care for Erika, her mother’s first cousin, Taylin Hill, took over her care and later adopted her when she was around 10 years old. Taylin Hill was a mother of teenage children and known to be a religious woman. She had worked at the Madison Metropolitan School District as a special education department aide for over ten years.
The Discovery of a Young Jane Doe
On February 26, 2007, two men who had been driving in an alleyway near 2nd Avenue and Polk Street in Gary, Indiana, discovered the burned body of a girl. The two men discovered the remains in a black plastic garbage bag in a cinderblock building. They contacted investigators immediately.
The medical examiner determined the victim to be a 15-year-old female. The only identifiable clothing was a pair of pink panties. It was determined that she had been a victim of long-term child abuse. Her face and body reflected 170 different scars of varying age. Her mouth showed that several teeth had been forcibly removed or broken. She had been starved over a long period and her remains had been set on fire. Her body also showed several blunt force trauma injuries. She had also been repeatedly stabbed. The medical examiner determined her official cause of death was asphyxiation due to the cloth that had been packed into her mouth. They estimated she had died within a month of being discovered. Positive identity could not be determined, so investigators temporarily named her the Lake County Jane Doe.
The Investigation and Identification of Erika Hill
Investigators from several departments, including law and corners, began searching missing persons lists. A sketch artist created a sketch of what they thought the victim looked like and submitted it to The National Database of Missing and Exploited Children. Investigators followed every theory, hoping to garner more information. It would take eight-years before the victim was positively identified.
On August 7, 2015, Gary, Indiana Detective Lorenzo Davis, received a telephone call from Kiara Hill, a woman who claimed that the Lake County Jane Doe was her cousin. She stated she had seen the sketch on The National Database of Missing and Exploited Children’s website and she was certain it was Erika Hill, her 15-year-old cousin who had been adopted by the caller’s mother, Taylin Hill. Kiara Hill explained that she and her siblings had suffered severe abuse as children and that she had been surprised that her mother had adopted Erika. She described Erika’s abuse as being whipped with cords, hit with various objects, including a hammer, and starved. Kiara said that Erika was made to stand on one foot while her mother would beat the sole of the raised foot until it was bleeding. She stated that her childhood had been so traumatic that she had been working with a therapist who had encouraged her to reach out to investigators regarding a possible connection to Erika Hill’s identity.
Kiara Hill recounted how in February 2007, her mother, Taylin, had summoned her children to her apartment in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. When they arrived, Taylin took them into the bathroom where Erika’s body lay, deceased. Taylin made her children place Erika’s body in garbage bags and take her body to the garage. As Erika’s body decomposed, Taylin ordered her children back to her home, where they put Erika into their mother’s van. They drove to an underpass on the east side of Chicago, Illinois, where Taylin dumped Erika’s body, pulled her teeth to ward off possible identification, and set her body on fire. Taylin had second thoughts of leaving Erika there so they loaded Erika’s body back into the van and drove to Gary, Indiana, where they left her in the cinder block garage. On the drive back to her home in Fitchburg, WI, Taylin repeatedly threatened her children to never speak about Erika and what had happened. Due to her own abusive childhood, Kiara kept her silence for eight years before she found the courage to make the telephone call.
The Arrest and Trial of Taylin Hill
On September 15, 2015, Taylin Hill was arrested and charged with first-degree reckless homicide in addition to six other child abuse charges. She pleaded guilty in July 2016, which reduced her charges. A judge gave Taylin Hill a 20-year prison sentence on November 7, 2016. Her children, including Kiara, received no charges because of duress during the crime.
Taylin Hill and her legal team filed an appeal in 2018. A judge denied the appeal.