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Parents at Center of Tale of Horrific Child Abuse

Crime: They are in Chicago jail, accused of molestation, injecting children with drugs and feeding them rats. Charges based on youths' accounts.

February 07, 1996|JUDY PASTERNAK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — Authorities here are telling the horrific tale of four years in the lives of a young boy and three girls who allegedly were molested, beaten, injected with cocaine and served a diet of fried rats and boiled cockroaches.

Gerald Hill--the father of two of the children and stepfather to the others--faces 1,200 counts of abuse. His apparently estranged wife, Barbara, was charged last week with four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault--with more expected soon from a Cook County grand jury.

The accusations are based on independent accounts by the children given last summer to therapists at Mt. Sinai Hospital who examined the youngsters after a relative--who was caring for them under state supervision--reported that they had been acting strangely. The children, now ranging from 5 to 12 years in age, were variously smearing feces, cutting up clothes and making sexual advances to an infant, according to sources familiar with the case.

"The kids never talked about it until they talked to the doctor," said Martha Allen, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Although the children had been removed from their mother's custody after complaints of inadequate supervision and food, Allen said, "there was no suspicion of [sexual] abuse" at the time.

The abuse, prosecutors contend, took place from December 1989 through January 1994 at a South Side transients' hotel that Gerald Hill managed and at the ground-floor, two-bedroom flat three blocks away that became the family's next home.

"These two parents abused their children again and again. There were many, many episodes of physical and sexual abuse," said Mark Cavins, chief of the Cook County state attorney's sexual crimes division.

"This is a terrible case," Cavins said. "A shocking case."

The attorney for Gerald Hill, 52, said that his client--who has been jailed since Dec. 4--denies all the charges in the indictment.

"If it happened, then who in God's name did do it?" asked lawyer Elliott Price. "Because it wasn't him."

Price said that Hill, who had moved to Albuquerque, was trying to regain custody of the children at the time the allegations were raised.

Barbara Hill, the 41-year-old mother of all four children, reportedly spent much of her welfare payments on drugs, authorities said. According to a state report, she had been hospitalized twice for treatment of schizophrenia.

"Gerald had just taken control of her, her money and her children," said their landlady, Nellie Kimble. "But how could this have been going on? I had another tenant and no one told me about any noises of agony?"

The state family services department first contacted the Hills in May 1993 after a report that they were not properly feeding the children. A case worker was assigned to help the family get food and counseling, and sign up for welfare, Allen said.

Kimble said that her cousin asked her in late 1992 to rent to the Hills, saying the family was desperate for a place to live.

Gerald Hill, the landlady said, did not appear to have a job. "He wore a white shirt and bow tie, looking semiprofessional, but he was just fronting," she said. "He was at home all the time."

Kimble did not live on the property and did not know the children well. Still, "they seemed very quiet and passive," she said. "One time he brought one of the girls with him to pay the rent and it was cold, way up in October, and she had on no socks and wore sandal shoes."

Barbara Hill, Kimble said, "has very erratic moods. She's a nervous, high-strung type of person."

After about nine months, Kimble said, the Hills stopped making their $300-a-month payments. After more than two more months of dodging, the landlady said, Gerald Hill offered her the rent in cash. But she had already started eviction proceedings.

Kimble said that she had inspected the place after the furniture was moved out. She recalls no evidence that rats or roaches had been cooked there. "She had tuna, pork and beans, canned food, quick-fix food," Kimble said.

Gerald Hill left for New Mexico soon after the forced departure from Kimble's building. The state contacted Barbara Hill again in early 1994, after a report that she was not supervising the children. A relative was given custody and later became a formal foster parent.

The disturbing behavior spurred the state to ask therapists to interview them. At the hospital, three of the four children recounted incidents of abuse by their parents, authorities said.

After the boy told his story, one official said, he threw crayons, swore and stabbed a teddy bear with a pencil. The fourth child denied being sexually abused, but later said she had been, Cavins said.

All four children showed apparent evidence of hypodermic needle tracks, authorities said.

Gerald Hill was arrested in New Mexico on an Illinois warrant, paid $250 bond and traveled to Chicago in December to turn himself in.

Barbara Hill was arrested at a scheduled court appearance on Friday. She'd been sought since November.

Each is being held on $100,000 bond.

Times researcher John Beckham contributed to this story.

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