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CRIME AND THE ELDERLY OF L.A. : Violence in the Autumn of Life : OTTO HILL : 'I guess they thought he was too old to take care of himself. And I guess he was.'

October 24, 1994|JOHN HURST | Times Staff Writer

Otto Hill was an amateur boxer in his youth, and the tough little guy from Oklahoma could always handle himself. So he wasn't worried when neighbors in his Whittier apartment complex warned that they had heard that someone was planning to mug him. "I don't give a damn," he snapped. "I'll take 'em to the park."

But Hill was 72 and did not appreciate that even the toughest of life's customers can be slowed by age--a fact that his assailants apparently understood well.

"I guess they thought he was too old to take care of himself," said close friend and neighbor Mary Kline. "And I guess he was."

The robbers came pounding on his door at 2:40 a.m. in December.

They knew he had cash, neighbors say, because Hill, who did maintenance at the apartment building where he lived, would flash a wad of money and peel off bills for almost anyone who asked.

When Hill and his wife, Verna, were awakened by the pounding, he pulled on a bathrobe and went to the door. Apparently unafraid, he left a .38-caliber revolver in a bedside table drawer. When he opened the front door, two young men, one of them with a BB pistol, pushed their way inside and a struggle began.

Overmatched, Otto shouted to his wife: "Get the gun!"

Verna grabbed the revolver from the bedside table but, at 76 years old, she had fallen victim to arthritis and apparently was unable to handle the heavy weapon. "We play cards a lot," Kline said, "and she can't even shuffle the cards."

One of the intruders rushed into the bedroom, snatched the gun from Verna and threw her across the room. She fell to the floor, shattering an elbow. Before she could get up, Verna heard a shot.

Otto died on his living room floor from a single gunshot wound to his chest.

Anthony Garrison, 25, and Franklin J. Rardin, 20, were charged with murder, robbery and burglary in connection with Hill's death and are awaiting trial. Rardin, who testified that he had been duped into accompanying Garrison to Hill's apartment, was found innocent by a jury Sept. 7. Garrison is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 22.

As for Verna Hill, she has moved and lives behind security bars, guarded by a pit bull.

"She doesn't wake up every night like she used to," Kline said. "But it has destroyed her life. She planned to spend the rest of her life with him. He took care of her. He was good to her."

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