Book reveals new DNA evidence in South Side slaying
Although it’s been 40 years since the body of a young girl was found strangled in a cornfield off of Sylvan Dell Road, the murder has lingered as a serious debate.
But a local investigator’s recent book claims DNA evidence ends the decades-long struggle for truth.
“Unsolved No More: A Cold Case Detective’s Fight for Justice” by Kenneth L. Mains came out this year.
Mains has served the county’s District Attorney’s office as a detective and supervisor of the Narcotics Enforcement Unit.
The book explains the basics of how to investigate often stagnant cold cases and goes through six he’s investigated.
The South Williamsport slaying of Jennifer Hill is the most explosive locally.
Hill was 12 years old, out playing with a friend and other neighborhood kids on Oct. 19, 1973.
Her parents called the Hubbard home sometime in the afternoon, asking the girl to return home. She never got there.
Nearly an hour later, Hill’s father called again, speaking to her friend’s older brother, Kim Hubbard, who said she’d left about an hour earlier.
Panic slowly turned into fear when hours turned into days and “Jennie” still hadn’t been found. Nine days after Hill’s disappearance, a search party found her body in a cornfield near Sylvan Dell Road.
Hubbard became a suspect after he wasn’t able to provide an alibi and was arrested on Nov. 16, 1973.
After a jury convicted him of second-degree murder, Hubbard spent 10 years in state prison.
Murder in the second degree is criminal homicide that is either not premeditated or was caused by dangerous conduct and lack of concern for human life, according to Title 18 of the state’s General Assembly.
Put on the case
Decades after Hubbard completed his prison sentence, Mains was the only cold case detective in the Lycoming County District Attorney’s Office when the office received a letter from Hubbard outlining his claim of innocence. Mains was put on the case on Oct. 22, 2013.
On Nov. 1, 2013, he met Hubbard at a restaurant in South Williamsport for an interview.
“People were very mad that I was looking into this case again. Very mad,” Mains wrote. “Yet I felt I owed it to Hubbard if he was wrongly accused and convicted.” Mains also owed it to the family of Jennifer Hill to recover the truth, he said.
It was at that meeting while Hubbard was telling Mains he was set up that he “began to see through Hubbard’s charade,” Mains wrote.
But Mains continued to work all angles of the case.
The Commonwealth’s position in 1973 was that Hubbard picked up Hill at a home at 503 Howard St. around 4:30 p.m. after she left his house.
Hubbard drove her to Sylvan Dell, an area with which he was familiar, and strangled her before dragging her body into the cornfield.
He was home to take the call from Jennifer’s father between 4:45 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Hubbard has since started a family and a business, but has never stopped sharing the evidence he says proves his innocence.
His argument is thoroughly outlined on a website, but the key points are that:
• Hill’s body was discovered sometime between Oct. 19 and Oct. 21 and refrigerated somewhere until it was removed by state police and placed back in the cornfield where it was found on Oct. 28.
• Tire and boot prints matching his were planted by state police. He further explains that he had different tires put on his truck and that it was impossible because he didn’t have the same tires that the casts were taken from when they found the body.
• Based on the The Commonwealth’s timeline of events, he didn’t have enough time to commit the murder.
• Hill’s body showed no signs of decomposition for being in an exposed cornfield for nine days.
• Photographs were altered and there were two different body locations from where the search party found them to where the police had taken the photos.
• A rip in Hill’s pants from playing the day she went missing had been repaired by a sewing machine, showing that she had made it home.
In Mains’ book, he goes through each one and provides the evidence that led him to believe these could all be debunked.
The most compelling piece of evidence for Mains was a bootprint found under the girl’s body, he said.
“Hubbard didn’t deny that it was his bootprint, but he maintains that it was planted,” Mains said.
Mains also added that “most people who claim Kim Hubbard is innocent, do not know that Joe Hubbard (his father) told police on Nov. 3 that his son had been acting unusual ever since Jennie went missing and even more so after she was found in the cornfield.”
There’s a letter made public for the first time in Mains’ book that provides another story of Hill’s murder.
The letter was from a neighbor girl was 5 years old in 1973.
Her letter said that she lived next door to the Hills and that she saw her father kill Hill in their home on Hastings Street.
The father reacted violently to the 5-year-old confiding in Hill about being sexually abused by him, according to the letter.
“I, too, believed it had some merit after reading it,” Mains wrote.
But after researching family history, having psychologists review the letter and going as far as getting samples of family DNA, Mains veered back to Hubbard as the main suspect.
Key to ending it
The knowledge of DNA evidence and how pivotal it would become in criminal investigations wasn’t around in 1973.
But Mains said he knew it could prove to be the key to ending it.
Hill’s clothing, kept in evidence, was sent to a state police crime lab where samples from two people were found, but at too low of a level.
Mains turned to Cybergenetics, a company often used for analyzing low-level or mixed DNA by enhancing the sample to produce probabilities based on the likelihood of whose DNA it belongs to.
When Mains contacted Hubbard telling him DNA samples were found, he asked Hubbard for a sample. Hubbard refused, Mains said.
“I certainly could not understand why Hubbard wouldn’t be jumping up and down and celebrating that I found evidence in this case and obtained male DNA from Jennie’s clothing,” Mains wrote.
Mains got Hubbard’s samples from letters he wrote while in prison instead.
Samples from the other suspect, Hill’s neighbor, were also tested, but didn’t match.
Hubbard’s DNA was found to be on the waistband of Hill’s pants, Mains said.
With everything taken into consideration, Mains wrote: “I am of the opinion that beyond a reasonable doubt, Hubbard murdered Jennifer Hill.”
Despite Mains’ book, Hubbard continues to assert his innocence.
“Mr. Mains has portrayed me as someone who got out of jail and started blowing off a lot of steam,” Hubbard said in an emailed statement. “But I did not want anything to do with this case until maybe five years ago.”
The difficulty in proving his innocence to others is in explaining why the prosecutors and the police have gone to such elaborate lengths to convict him, specifically.
“We don’t know for sure,” Hubbard said. “except that it had something to do with the political ambitions of a district attorney who went on to become a congressman and then run for governor. He even brought up the Hubbard case while running.”
Hubbard encourages those, as well as Mains, to look deeply at the evidence to find the truth.
“I did not kill Jennifer Hill,” he said. “I did not have any contact with Jennifer Hill on the day of her disappearance or any time after. I’m not trying to get back at anyone or revisit a tragedy on the victim’s family. It would just be nice if, some day, the truth would come out.”
Although Mains didn’t provide a statement, explaining that the evidence presented in the book is all that’s needed, he did add a reminder to those caught up in the case: “The person we always seem to forget about is the one we should remember – Jennifer Hill.”