A judge in Island County Superior Court recently granted an extremely unique petition that posthumously changes a woman’s last name so she no longer shares it with the husband who savagely murdered her seven years ago.
Kathie A. Hill was an accomplished meteorologist who worked at the South Pole for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration for many years and was also a software engineer. An Antarctic weather station was named in her honor after she died.
On June 2, 2012, her husband, Robert A. Baker, murdered 54-year-old Hill as she was sleeping in the bedroom of their Greenbank house. He was convicted at trial and sent to prison for the rest of his life.
The couple was well known in Freeland for owning a pizza joint. Jami Hill, Kathie Hill’s niece, said the community on Whidbey Island was very supportive and helped her get through the nightmare.
Yet Hill’s surviving family members remained troubled that her name was legally “Kathie Baker” and set out to change that.
“He represented such a brief period in her life and everything he claimed to be was based on lies,” Jami Hill said in reference to Robert Baker.
At Baker’s trial, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock made a point of referring to her as “Kathie Hill,” which he said was for “obvious reasons.”
To rid her late aunt of the “Baker” name completely, Jami Hill worked with Coupeville attorney Charles Arndt to petition the court for a posthumous name change. After a court commissioner in Island County District Court found that the court did not have jurisdiction, the case was appealed to Superior Court.
“The family finds it extremely painful to have their beloved Kathie carry the last name of the man who murdered her,” the petition states.
Jami Hill, an Oregon resident, pointed out that her aunt could have easily changed her name if she had survived the brutal act of domestic violence.
Last month, Judge Vickie Churchill agreed.
“It is hereby ordered that the name of Kathie Ann Baker whose date of birth was July 24, 1958 is hereby changed to Kathie Ann Hill for all purposes,” the judge wrote.
Jami Hill was elated.
“We were reaching for the stars, and we got them,” she said.
Arndt said he could only find one other case in the nation in which a person’s name was changed posthumously. In the California case, a transgender person’s name was changed after death to match the person’s gender.
Arndt said it’s unclear if the Kathie Hill case could have an impact on later cases because of the rare circumstances.
Baker was convicted of murdering his wife by hitting her on the head with a hammer as she slept in their bed. He wrapped her body in a tarp and hid it in their backyard while his love interest visited from Alaska.
After the murder, investigators discovered Baker was a registered sex offender in California and wasn’t a scientist, as he had claimed. He met Kathie Hill as they were both working in the Antarctic, and he lied to her about his background.
In an unusual move, Jami Hill and Arndt invoked a “slayer statute” to prevent Baker from inheriting any money from his wife. As a result, he couldn’t afford to hire the attorney he wanted.
They also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baker and received a judgment of $1.76 million for Kathie Hill’s lost wages. Jami Hill said she knows the family won’t see the money, but the case was about holding Baker accountable in every way possible.
Changing her aunt’s name was the final step.
“We are done dealing with that monster,” she said. “Kathie can surely rest in peace.”