Arrest Made in Beloved Mother's Cold Case Murder — and Prosecutor Credits 'People Magazine Investigates'

Robert Atkins, 56, of Penn., was arrested in connection with Joy Hibbs' 1991 killing — and the prosecutor said it wouldn't have happened without People Magazine Investigates

Joy Hibbs, Robert Atkins
Joy Hibbs and Robert Atkins. Photo: Bucks County DA (2)

Correction: This story has been edited to correct an earlier version which misquoted Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub's remarks at a Wednesday, May 25, 2022, press conference. Weintraub confirmed police continued to investigate the case over the years and that Robert Atkins always remained a person of interest.

Pennsylvania authorities have made an arrest in a 1991 cold case murder, and prosecutors are crediting People Magazine Investigates for sparking renewed interest in the case, which led detectives to take a fresh look at the killing.

Joy Hibbs, a 36-year-old wife and mother, was found dead in her burning Croydon home 31 years ago, but no arrests have ever been made, until Wednesday's arrest of Robert Atkins, who had been a longtime person of interest in the case.

"I have to give credit to People Magazine Investigates on Investigation Discovery for shining a fresh light on this case after all these years, and causing us to really dive back into the case, reinvigorate the investigation and brainstorm some new ways we could solve it," Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub tells PEOPLE.

"Were it not for that forced focus, I don't think we would have been able to announce the arrest of Robert Atkins yesterday and for that I am grateful," he says.

People Magazine Investigates has been looking into the case for an episode in its upcoming season, which starts on June 6 on ID/Investigative Discovery,

At a Wednesday press conference, Weintraub announced that Atkins, 56, of Falls Township, had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, two counts of robbery and seven counts of arson.

For years, Atkins had been a person of interest in the case because he had sold small amounts of marijuana to Hibbs' husband. But he was never arrested.

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Joy Hibbs
Joy Hibbs and her children. Bucks County DA

Atkins had spoken with authorities twice over the years, telling them he was a "confidential" police informant who was working with the Bristol Township Police Department when Hibbs was killed, according to the criminal complaint, the Bucks County Courier Times reported.

During the investigation, Atkins ex-wife testified before a grand jury and said, "among other things, that in the early afternoon of April 19, 1991, the day of Joy Hibbs' murder, Robert Atkins came home covered in blood," Weintraub said during the press conference.

Atkins also allegedly "took money from her and intentionally set the family home on fire in an attempt to cover up the murder," Weintraub said in a statement.

On that horrific day, 12-year-old David Hibbs came home from school and found his house on fire with smoke pouring out of the windows, the Bucks County Courier Times and NBC Philadelphia reported.

He screamed for help, knowing his mother was likely inside.

"After the fire was put out, Joy Hibbs was discovered dead in her son's bedroom," Weintraub said at the press conference. "She was stabbed repeatedly, she had fractured ribs, and was likely asphyxiated."

She was strangled with an electrical cord, according to authorities.

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While People Magazine Investigates ignited renewed interest in the case, Weintraub also pointed out that from the beginning, Hibbs' family never gave up on finding her killer.

"It was always the Hibbs family's undying, unwavering hope in achieving justice," he says.

Sgt. Mike Slaughter, who worked on the case, agrees. "Time, science and modern techniques resulted in the arrest," he tells PEOPLE. "But it was the Hibbs family and PEOPLE Magazine Investigates that brought the necessary exposure and attention to Joy Hibbs to get this cold case active and cleared by arrest."

Now that an arrest has been made in the Hibbs' case, Weintraub says he will keep fighting for justice for other families of cold cases. "We take part pride in resolving those old, old cases because it restores people's hope that we care about every case and we never stop working on them."

Calling Hibbs "a sweet, charming southern girl from central Florida" who was a "devoted mom," the Hibbs family said in a statement that "The immense grief and suffering our family has endured over the last three decades will never disappear.

"For thirty-one years, our family has been haunted by this tragic loss, knowing, without a doubt, that Robert Atkins was the perpetrator. Our family has waited thirty-one years for justice to prevail."

Atkins remains held without bond in the Bucks County Correctional Facility. It is unclear whether he has retained an attorney who can speak on his behalf.

The new season of People Magazine Investigates — produced for Investigation Discovery by Radley Studiosbegins on June 6 on Investigation Discovery and streams on discovery+.

The episode about Joy Hibbs' murder, titled American Nightmare, airs on July 25 at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery, and streams on discovery+.

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