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"Shocking Secret" Revealed Decades After Pennsylvania Mom Was Murdered and Her Home Set On Fire

It initially seemed that Joy Hibbs died in a house fire, but an autopsy revealed she was killed before the home was set ablaze. Still, decades passed before an arrest came.

By Jill Sederstrom
Joy Hibbs featured on Dateline episode "Justice For Joy"

Decades after Pennsylvania mother Joy Hibbs was murdered and her home was set on fire, a “shocking secret” was discovered, according to the synopsis of a new Dateline episode that's airing Friday. 

How to Watch

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The “tremendously emotional” story, as NBC News correspondent Blayne Alexander put it, will be told in a two-hour Dateline episode titled “Justice for Joy” on Friday, April 12 at 9/8c p.m. 

Interviews with Joy's husband Charlie, as well as her now-adult children Angie and David, will be featured on the show.

“I think viewers will really be struck by the persistence of this family, especially Joy’s son David," Alexander shared with NBC Insider. “In chasing justice for their mother, they hit roadblocks at almost every turn — including from some very unexpected places — but still kept pushing. This story also speaks to the power of trusting your gut instincts.”

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The emotional case even left the investigators scarred. 

“I think most of the time, we expect our interviews with family members to be emotional. But it’s very rare to elicit emotion from the police officers investigating the case — and that’s what happened with this story,” Alexander told NBC Insider. “To have a police sergeant become so overwhelmed with emotion that he needed to take a break mid-interview was quite unexpected, and I think speaks to the many intense layers in this story.”

Angie Hibbs featured on Dateline episode "Justice For Joy"

What happened to Joy Hibbs?

The Hibbs family — which included Joy, her husband Charlie and children Angie and David — were struck by tragedy in 1991 when Joy, 35, was discovered dead in a house fire. 

“I opened the back door and I saw flames,” her son David recalled of the deadly day, as seen in a preview clip of the episode. 

David was desperate to save his mother, who was still trapped inside the home.

“He was frantic and said, ‘Mommy is still in there,’ and I just thought, no, there’s no way,” Joy's daughter Angie recalled. 

It initially seemed as though Joy perished in the fire, but an autopsy later revealed that she had been murdered before the house was ever set ablaze to cover the killer’s tracks.

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Who could have wanted the mom of two dead? 

“Even with multiple suspects, the investigation stalls, leaving the case cold for years,” the episode's synopsis explained. 

Joy Hibbs' family's lives were changed forever by her murder 

In the years that followed, Joy’s family was left shattered by the shocking murder. 

“It changed my entire life,” David says in the preview of the episode. “Nothing was ever the same after that.”

Decades later, according to the show's synopsis, “a shocking secret” would be revealed that would help authorities track down the killer.

David Hibbs featured on Dateline episode "Justice For Joy"

One of the biggest challenges to telling the heartbreaking tale was the number of years that had passed since Joy was killed in 1991.

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“Many people we’d like to interview have passed away or are too elderly to speak. Others want to leave the past in the past and denied our request,” Alexander shared. “But that passage of time is also a very powerful storytelling tool: from firefighters to investigators and others, we found people who were still tremendously emotional about this 33-year-old crime, as though they’d just experienced it yesterday. That speaks to the power and impact of Joy Hibbs — and the unbelievably brutal nature of this crime.” 

To find out who was responsible and how the case came together, tune in to Dateline Friday, April 12 at 9/8c p.m. on NBC or stream the episode the next day on Peacock.

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