Rachael Hilyard had lived across the street from Brad Stebens for about eight years. He knew her well enough that in past years, she came to parties in his backyard.
So it was no big deal when she called out to Stebens from across the street on Sunday afternoon, asking whether he would call her cell number to help her find her misplaced phone.
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He called it at 12:16, and she quickly found it as Stebens walked into his house.
A little more than an hour later, Wichita police said, Hilyard was in her garage in the 1400 block of West Rita, near Seneca and Pawnee, attacking 63-year-old Micki Davis with a knife and decapitating her.
“Oh, my God,” Stebens said about 24 hours after the shocking crime, reflecting on how the casual conversation with Hilyard occurred so close to the crime.
“That (a decapitation) takes a level of rage,” Stebens said. “I’m still trying to piece it together myself, because it doesn’t make any sense.”
Hilyard, 35, had had plenty of problems in her life for years, court records show.
On Monday, police Lt. Todd Ojile said Davis’ son is Hilyard’s ex-boyfriend and that Davis and her 9-year-old grandson came to Hilyard’s house to retrieve property. Police were trying to learn the motive behind the killing, Ojile said.
As the attack occurred, the boy fled the house to get his grandmother’s phone from her vehicle to call 911, police said.
On Tuesday, Sgt. Nikki Woodrow explained it this way: “The reporting child was not a witness of the actual death; however, (he) did see a physical assault occur and left the house, calling 911.”
Officers found Hilyard hiding in the house, police said.
Hilyard has not been charged but was being held in jail Tuesday on suspicion of first-degree murder, with a $200,000 bond. Police were presenting evidence from their investigation to prosecutors on Tuesday.
The neighbors on Hilyard’s block already knew her life was troubled.
Stebens and another neighbor, Wesley McGuire, said they saw police cars outside Hilyard’s house multiple times in recent years.
She had convictions in Sedgwick County for drug possession in 2012 and 2013 and was discharged from community corrections supervision in May 2015, records show. While under supervision in 2014, she admitted to using methamphetamines, marijuana and opiates, a court document says.
In a January 2015 court document in a divorce case, Hilyard said she received “disability money.”
Before her 2012 and 2013 drug cases, she had a long list of traffic and drug-related convictions in Wichita Municipal Court dating back to 2001, records show.
Stebens said he could remember when Hilyard seemed relatively stable. She was going to nursing school, and she and a boyfriend came to pool parties in Stebens’ backyard.
But later, Hilyard looked noticeably unhealthy – “like she had been run through a wringer,” Stebens said.
In mid-March, McGuire said, she borrowed a flashlight. She was talking about wanting to see her son, who no longer lived with her, McGuire said.
He saw her ride off on a bicycle after it turned dark – using the flashlight like a headlight. He assumed she was on her way to try to see her son.
The next day or so, Hilyard told him she was sorry, that she had lost his flashlight.
“They took it as evidence,” she told him. She didn’t explain what she meant, “and I didn’t ask,” McGuire said. She also told him: “I got picked up.”
On March 19, Wichita police arrested her, citing her on suspicion of four misdemeanors: assault, willful criminal damage to property, criminal trespass and “interference with law enforcement, obstruct, resist,” municipal court records show. A police report said she went to the 13000 block of West Onewood at about 9:35 p.m. on March 19 and tried to force her way into a home while “looking for her biological son who lives there.” She allegedly broke a window and assaulted an officer; there was no injury, the report said.
This past Sunday, McGuire noticed Hilyard through her open garage door. She was sweeping, moving things around.
But when he stepped outside after lunch, “The cops were rolling up.” At least one had an assault rifle, another a shotgun.
A small white pickup – not Hilyard’s vehicle – was parked at her house. Whoever came to her house couldn’t have been there long, McGuire said. He saw no boy.
Before the police got there, Gail Emley said, she was working in her backyard when she heard “women’s loud voices … but it wasn’t anything that would have alarmed me to call 911.” That was perhaps a little before 1 p.m.
But after she moved to the front yard to do some watering, police cars without sirens zoomed up. Officers with guns drawn quickly surrounded Hilyard’s house. Emley dropped her water hose and retreated to her front porch.
She heard officers hollering “Open up! Open up!” and identifying themselves as police. She heard them banging on the door.
In some ways, Hilyard’s home on West Rita stands out from the others: In a block of mostly tidy homes and lawns, there’s a large pile of stuff – trash bags, a mostly complete bicycle and rolled-up carpet – heaped against the wall by her attached garage and other items piled beside the front door.
A bright, hand-painted and decorated sign posted by the driveway says, “Private Drive.”
Hand-painted letters on the front door say, “No Entry W/O Consent.”
But the front of the house also contains items you might see at any home: a freshly painted birdhouse hanging from a tree. Yard ornaments. A trellis. Artificial flowers.
On the way to the front door, a small plaque is planted in the ground. It bears this quotation: “A real friend is one who walks in when the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell