Like Aunt Elsie, Zane’s Aunt Mary was very receiving of Pat and me. She was as sharp as a tack and, on several occasions, opened up her home, which unlike her sister’s was quite normal. Selma had confided in Mary all those years ago, and now Mary passed along the tragic tale of Curtis’ cruelty to his family. Adding to this tale was Curtis’ old buddy Hoile. Hoile owned a dairy farm across the road from where the Hills’ raised their children. Though Elsie, Mary, and Hoile were all eager to help Zane, no one had ever asked for their help. As a result, Pat and I were able to gather crucial mitigating evidence that Zane’s jury never heard.
Zane was one of three children born to Curtis and Selma Hill, who were tenant farmers. They were extremely poor, owning very few personal possessions. Yet, poverty was not what ground Selma and her children down. It was the almost constant psychological and physical abuse heaped upon them by Curtis.
Monroe was the first born of Curtis and Selma, arriving on May 19, 1928. He lived less than two years, dying on March 25, 1930. Monroe died of Pellagra, which is a disease associated with malnutrition. It was the Great Depression, but Monroe suffered from more than just being hungry. Selma revealed to her sisters that Curtis could not stand Monroe’s crying, and would threaten to beat Monroe. One story stood out: once when the baby was crying, Curtis took his son by the heels and swung him in the air. Monroe’s short life was a secret kept from Zane until he was twelve years old.
Margaret was born not long after Monroe’s death, but she did not suffer the same fate. No one ever saw Curtis yell at Margaret or physically abuse her. Some said she was spoiled, while others wondered if she suffered a different kind of abuse. Margaret escaped her family by joining the military and never looked back. She settled in Hawaii.
Zane was born on May 9, 1936. He remembers first hearing his mother cry when he was five or six years old. Zane began to realize his father was hurting his mother. From then on, Zane would hear his mother cry most every night.
The young Zane and Margaret were described as opposites. Zane was viewed as easy going, friendly, and slow to lose his temper. Margaret, on the other hand, was viewed as spoiled and short tempered. Zane made friends easily and was generally liked by other kids. Such was not the case with Margaret.
Margaret and Zane were prone to fight. With Margaret being five years older, she tended to get the upper hand. However, Zane remembered Margaret always standing up for him whenever he fought with others. He also remembered that Margaret, even when present, never stood up to Curtis when he abused him or Selma. Zane didn’t blame Margaret though.
We tried to locate Margaret but made it only as far as one of her daughters, Susan. “Mom’s dead,” Susan told me on the phone. Zane and his aunts all believed she still lived in Hawaii. “Mom told us not to notify her family of her death.” No, this request did not seem odd to Susan who explained that whenever she would ask her mother about her childhood, Margaret would respond with “It’s none of your business.” No, Susan did not know about her uncle being on death row. Margaret told her long ago that Zane had been killed in an accident when his truck rolled over into a ditch.