Outwardly the Hilleys seemed happy and settled, but the first stirrings of trouble had already begun. Marie liked to spend money—when Frank had sent home his paychecks from California Marie had spent them with astonishing speed, and when the time came for her to join him out West, she had no money with which to make the trip. Her in-laws had to pay her way. These habits didn't abate, and though Frank liked to make Marie happy, he found it hard to keep pace with her constant acquisitions of newer and nicer clothes and furnishings. There were arguments, but Frank didn't like to fight and found it easier to go along with Marie's whims as best he could rather than to bicker over every purchase. Besides, he loved his wife.
By the time Carol Hilley was born in 1960, Frank had been appointed foreman of the shipping department at Standard Foundry, and Marie had a reputation as an excellent executive secretary. Though the family's collective income had increased, it still barely kept pace with Marie's spending. And Marie was developing a disturbing work pattern—though her employers always found her professional and effective at her duties, her coworkers thought otherwise. Marie judged and put on airs and played power games, but was always careful to remain respectful and subservient to the boss. At each job, she eventually became unpopular with those around her and left, telling friends and family that she'd been ganged up on by her fellow employees. Her references were always excellent, though, and she never had trouble getting another job. Marie worked for some of the most powerful men in Anniston, all of who spoke glowingly of her. Later, Frank Hilley would find out one of the reasons why.
As the years passed, Anniston's citizens grew to know the Hilleys. Frank was a member of the Elks Club and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and though he liked to tie one on now and then he was well liked around town. Marie was active in the First Christian Church and volunteered at her kids' schools. Some found her peculiar, and some noted that she reacted badly when she didn't get her way, but mostly people dismissed her quirks, attributing them to a high-strung nature.
Carol and Mike Hilley wanted for nothing except, perhaps, their mother's attention. Like her own parents, Marie showered her children with material possessions but remained emotionally remote. She administered little discipline, leaving that task to Frank's mother Carrie, who cared for the children while Marie and Frank worked. Marie favored Mike and allowed him to grow into a little hellion, brushing off his behavior with a casual "boys will be boys" attitude. As for Carol, she seemed always to be missing the mark. Carol was a tomboy, nothing like the demure, proper daughter Marie wanted. They clashed continually. Frank Hilley, noticing the effect Marie's treatment was having, took a special interest in Carol, taking her for ice cream and to football games. Their close relationship galled Marie.
From time to time Frank worried about his wife. Sometimes she would be awake all night, and he would hold her while she shook in nameless fear. She was restless and he was unable to soothe her. She taunted him with love letters she said she received from local men. And then there was her spending—Marie's refined tastes kept the bills coming to the Hilley home year after year. Sometimes Frank would reprimand her, but it did no good. Marie wanted the best, and she wanted it now. She rented a post office box and began having some bills routed there so Frank wouldn't know what she was spending. And she began taking out loans. In Anniston, a town of less than 30,000 people, Frank Hilley was respected, and businesses extended credit to his wife out of courtesy. Frank had always paid every bill on time, so when his wife's accounts came past due creditors took notice. This wasn't like Frank.
By the fall of 1974 Frank couldn't ignore the troubles in his home any longer. Word of his wife's credit arrangements leaked back to him through the grapevine. Worse still, he came home sick from work on day to find Marie in bed with her employer, Walter Clinton. Frank told his son, who was married by now and attending Atlanta Christian College, of these latest developments. He didn't mention, though, his increasingly failing health.