'People Magazine Investigates' : Tracking Down the Man Who Allegedly Killed Mom of Two Joy Hibbs in 1991

Monday’s episode, "American Nightmare," details how police were able to finally arrest Robert Atkins, 56, and charge him with murder

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

Twelve-year-old David Hibbs was excited about getting home early from school on April 19, 1991.

"It was report card week so I got out of school around noon," David recalls.

But when he approached his Croydon, Penn., house, he saw plumes of black smoke pouring out of the kitchen vent and realized his mother, Joy Hibbs, 36, was inside.

Frantic, he yelled for help.

But his mother was already dead — not from the fire but from being beaten and likely asphyxiated, police allege.

The disturbing case is the subject of tonight's episode of People Magazine Investigates, "American Nightmare," which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery and also streams on discovery+. (An exclusive clip is shown below.)

Over the years, police investigated, but were never able to crack the case. But this May, thanks to good old-fashioned police work, and a key tip about a blue Monte Carlo being parked haphazardly in front of Joy's house before the murder, police finally made an arrest.

"Who was driving that Monte Carlo on the day that Joy Hibbs was murdered and at the time she was murdered was of paramount importance," Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub says in the episode.

But tracking down that Monte Carlo — a popular car at the time — proved to be difficult.

"It's hundreds of thousands of cars," says Bristol Township Police Sgt. Mike Slaughter in the episode. "It's not odd. It's not special. It's as common as a white t-shirt."

Authorities searched for the car and its driver.

On May 25 of this year, more than 30 years after Joy was killed, Weintraub announced that Robert Atkins, 56, of Fairless Hills, had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, arson and robbery in connection with Hibbs' death.

"After the fire was put out, Joy Hibbs was discovered dead in her son's bedroom," Weintraub said at the May 25 press conference. "She was stabbed repeatedly, she had fractured ribs, and was likely asphyxiated."

Joy Hibbs
Joy Hibbs. Hibbs Family Photo

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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.

He was allegedly more than that.

Before Atkins was charged, his ex-wife testified before a grand jury, alleging, "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 Joy and "intentionally set the family home on fire in an attempt to cover up the murder," Weintraub said in a statement.

Weintraub credited People Magazine Investigates with helping to spark renewed interest in the case, which led detectives to take a fresh look at the killing.

Hibbs' family never gave up on finding her killer, either, he said.

"It was always the Hibbs family's undying, unwavering hope in achieving justice," Weintraub told PEOPLE.

Sgt. Slaughter agrees. "Time, science and modern techniques resulted in the arrest," he told PEOPLE previously.

"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," he said.

Her family still misses her every day.

Joy, her family said in a statement, was "a sweet, charming southern girl from central Florida" who was a "devoted mom."

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

It adds: "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 without bail. He has not yet entered a plea. His attorney had no comment.

See more on Joy Hibbs' murder on People Magazine Investigates ("American Nightmare") airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery and also streaming on discovery+.

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