In New Albany, Indiana, there was a missing mum, and police were desperately trying to reunite her with her three children.
Rebecca Hoover’s own mother hadn’t seen her in a few days and was growing ever more worried.
It was August 2020, and Rebecca, 38, was a devoted parent. It was extremely unlikely that she had left her children but life had been tough on her recently – perhaps she felt she had no choice but to flee from her volatile husband.
Rebecca’s marriage to Judson Hoover had reached a crisis point.
Four months earlier, on 17 April, Rebecca’s eight-year-old son had run to a neighbour for help after Hoover attacked his mum. Hoover was arrested for domestic abuse in the presence of a child, and strangulation.
According to the police report, Rebecca had been trying to get Hoover out of the house but he had turned aggressive. He’d snatched her mobile off her, knocked her to the ground and kicked her in the head, face and neck over 15 times.
Hoover had also pressed his foot against Rebecca’s neck.
The bravery of Rebecca’s young son in asking his neighbour to call 911 had stopped the fight escalating further. The arrest warrant stated that Rebecca had expressed fears for her safety.
It added, “Rebecca also advised Judson used his feet to apply pressure to Rebecca’s neck and she could not breathe.”
Hoover was released on bail the next day and the case was pending. It would have undoubtedly caused tension at home.
With such a violent outburst, was Rebecca thinking about leaving? After struggling to even get her husband to leave the house, it was going to take some planning.
Then, on 4 August, Rebecca’s mum went to the police to report her daughter as missing. She’d last been seen on 2 August and there had been no sign of her since.
Even if Rebecca had decided to leave her husband, her mum was certain she would never have left her children. Officers went to the Hoover home to file a missing person report.
Police discovered that the day before, Hoover had swiftly filed for divorce and had even asked a judge to grant him custody of the couple’s children. Was he trying to take advantage of Rebecca’s absence to cut her out of the family? There was no way she would have agreed to it.
Investigators were aware of his brutal attack on Rebecca earlier that year and started to grow concerned about her safety. They knew what Hoover was capable of.
On 27 August, the school attended by the couple’s eight-year-old son contacted the police. It was a massive breakthrough in the case. The young boy had spoken confidentially to the school counsellor and revealed that he’d witnessed a murder.
He said he’d watched his dad kill his mum. It was a staggering revelation.
Rebecca’s son said that he’d seen his father stomp violently on his mum in a pair of boots over 20 times in the basement of their home. He described graphically to the counsellor that Hoover had then gone on to punch her in the stomach many times while holding a set of keys in his hand.
When Hoover arrived to pick up his son, the police were waiting for him and asked to search the family home. Once there, officers found traces of blood splattered near the basement steps.
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But there was no sign of Rebecca. They continued their investigation and discovered that Hoover had rented a self-storage unit five minutes away from his home.
Surveillance footage at the unit showed Hoover in a rented car, moving what looked like a large barrel on 4 August. It was just hours after police visited his home to file the missing person report.
But when investigators went to the unit, there was no sign of a barrel – or Rebecca – although detectives noted that there was a strong smell of a decomposing body at the scene.
Surveillance footage showed Hoover in the same rented Dodge Caravan on 28 August, driving away with the barrel. It had been a day after his son’s shocking revelation to the counsellor. Had he panicked and moved the body? Hoover was brought in for questioning again, and realised he had run out of time.
He admitted that he had rented another storage unit in Louisville, Kentucky. Police searched the second unit on 31 August.
They found Rebecca’s decomposing remains hidden inside a 55-gallon drum. A tattoo on Rebecca’s back helped to identify her.
An autopsy corroborated the story told by Rebecca’s son. It showed that his mum had died from blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen.
Rebecca’s son described to police what happened, and it was an attack very similar to the one he’d saved his mum from just months earlier.
“The child disclosed seeing his father stomp his mother in the head 20 times, while she was lying on the ground next to a black refrigerator in the basement,” the affidavit said.
“The child also observed Judson Hoover punch Rebecca Hoover in the stomach with a set of keys in his hands, but she was unresponsive and did not move. The child observed blood coming from Rebecca’s head and left ear.”
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Police determined that Rebecca had been killed on 2 August and tragically, her eight-year-old son had witnessed the brutal death.
When confronted with the revelation that Rebecca had been found, Hoover said she’d attacked him first with a pipe.
“That’s when I grabbed her and threw her down and said ‘enough is enough’,” Hoover was recorded as saying. “[I] kicked her, stomped her, choked her, all of the above.”
But photos of Hoover at the time of his arrest showed no signs of injuries inflicted by a weapon such as a pipe.
In September 2020, just days after his arrest, Hoover, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of murder for the death of his wife. It was part of a plea deal to avoid his son from having to testify in court, after everything he’d already been through. It also meant the death penalty wasn’t an option, and neither was life without parole.
The court heard in detail about the vicious nature of Rebecca’s murder as witnessed by her son, and how she was left unconscious and bleeding.
When Hoover was asked by a prosecutor whether he had killed his wife by stomping on her head repeatedly, he said that he believed that his wife had died from strangulation, which he did afterwards.
Hoover also admitted that after realising what he had done, he’d placed Rebecca’s body in the garage as he “didn’t know what to do”.
He considered throwing her corpse into the Ohio River and had even thought about burning her remains while camping, but he said he couldn’t go through with either of those options.
He then came up with a plan and put her body in a 55-gallon container before driving it to the storage unit. As police moved in, Hoover had already moved the body.
During the plea hearing, it was revealed that Hoover had also mutilated Rebecca’s body, removing part of her legs to fit her in the barrel.
He said in court that he didn’t recall this, and those missing body parts were never found.
At the sentencing, Hoover confessed, “I just wish I could turn back time to before that day. It will forever haunt and hurt me for the rest of my days.”
Rebecca’s mum looked him straight in the eye as she spoke of her anger. “You took everything from my grandchildren,” she said. “Shame on you. Shame on you forever. Judge, please give my son-in-law everything you’ve got. He’s earned it.”
The judge gave Hoover the maximum sentence, 65 years in prison, and added that he must serve a minimum of 48 years, nine months.
She said, “Rebecca Hoover wasn’t just murdered. She was brutalised… Her body was mutilated and treated as refuse.”
Unusually for such a major crime, the case was resolved relatively quickly. Sadly, the consequences will be everlasting.
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