Crime & Courts

Who is this woman charged with decapitation?

Rachael Hilyard lived in this house at 1426 W. Rita. Hilyard is charged with murder in the decapitation of Micki Davis. (April 27, 2017)
Rachael Hilyard lived in this house at 1426 W. Rita. Hilyard is charged with murder in the decapitation of Micki Davis. (April 27, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

At 2:25 a.m. April 6 – three days before the decapitation – a post on Rachael Est’s Facebook page said something noteworthy now.

“Please dont let them cut my head off … anymore,” the posting said.

And an hour before that post, at 1:17 a.m. April 6, there was this: “Well my Psychopathic Serial Killers for beginners in training class is over for the day …. ‘whew’ now for homework time or what kids?”

Rachael Est is a name used by Rachael Hilyard, according to her acquaintances and friends. “Rachael Est” posts on Facebook and “rachaelest” posts on Instagram contain snapshots of Hilyard, Hilyard’s dog, Hilyard’s backyard shed, Hilyard’s resale shop.

Hilyard is the 35-year-old Wichitan charged with first-degree murder in the April 9 decapitation of 63-year-old Micki Davis. Davis was a mother and grandmother known for her generosity and devotion to children. Davis’ son is Hilyard’s ex-boyfriend, police said. On April 9, Davis and her 9-year-old grandson went to Hilyard’s house on West Rita near Seneca and Pawnee to retrieve property, and Hilyard attacked Davis in the garage with a knife and decapitated her, police said. The boy fled, eventually to the next street, and called 911. The child didn’t witness the actual death, police said.

‘To be insane’

On April 1 – eight days before the decapitation – a Facebook posting under Rachael Est said: “Well this is how it feels to be insane. & i must say that i don’t like it.”

When Hilyard made her first court appearance to hear the murder charge against her, she wore yellow jail garb. Inmates get color-coded clothing, and sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Lin Dehning said in an e-mail that yellow, “most of the time it designates a mental health issue.”

It’s too early to know whether Hilyard’s attorneys will cite mental health issues in her defense. They wouldn’t comment for this article.

The bizarre comments on Facebook might fit with one side of Hilyard that some acquaintances and neighbors saw: a woman who seemed to be beset by mental health problems, drug use and run-ins with police.

Hilyard jabbered incoherently about a “cloud” listening to people, one acquaintance said.

According to neighbors, she acted out in anti-social ways and would also ask for rides, borrow tools and bum cigarettes.

She had a 16-year string of misdemeanor crimes in Wichita, including assault, damage to property, theft, drug possession and traffic violations, court records show.

In 2013, Wichita police seized a 2009 Mazda 3 owned by Hilyard because they found drugs after they stopped her, court documents show. An affidavit written by a police detective and filed with the forfeiture case said that an officer saw “Rachael and recognizes her from narcotics investigations and knows she is a heroin and meth user.”

The affidavit said she refused to get out of her car after police stopped her, that an officer saw a marijuana cigarette behind her right ear, hidden by a flower hair tie, and that another officer removed a baggie from her bra, that the baggie held 3 grams of methamphetamine.

Once police had her outside the car, Hilyard went limp and fell to the ground and started screaming, the affidavit said. Hilyard picked up the bag of meth, “and she tried to eat it,” according to the detective.

She was convicted of possessing drugs in 2012 and 2013 and was discharged from Community Corrections in May 2015.

Last month – three weeks before the decapitation – police arrested her on suspicion of four misdemeanors: assault, willful criminal damage to property, criminal trespass and interference with law enforcement, municipal court records show. A police report said she went to a west-side home at about 9:35 p.m. March 19 and tried to force her way inside while “looking for her biological son who lives there.” She allegedly broke a window and assaulted an officer.

The next day, a woman who apparently lives at the home sought a protection-from-stalking order against Hilyard in Sedgwick County District Court. The woman wrote on the form that Hilyard calls and leaves “Unwanted messages. She is on Drugs!”

The woman wrote that the night before, “she came to the house with tools (hammer) and broke the window to come inside.”

“We are all scared of her!”

‘So heartbroken’

Hilyard grew up in Garden Plain and went to a military school for a while. She told people that a car accident injured her brain and put her in a coma. She said in a 2015 court document that she received “disability money.” She has a son who has spent much of his life away from her as her life descended into dysfunction.

Michelle Le Favor, 54, said she has known Hilyard since Hilyard was 13 or 14. “I was a grown-up she thought she could come and talk to about stuff,” she said. After the accident, Hilyard told Le Favor that she got money from a settlement and used it to buy the house on Rita and furnishings for it. Hilyard was excited about her home. She was going to community college. She had stayed healthy during her pregnancy, Le Favor said. “She was stable, and she wasn’t using anything.” She was focused on her son.

But Hilyard’s problems took over. “Rachael has always struck me as someone who was kind of broken inside and kind of crying out for some sort of acceptance or help,” Le Favor said. “She’s just been a troubled soul for some time … up and down.”

Around 2011 or 2012, Le Favor said, “I started noticing a sort of deterioration. I could tell that she was using again” because of Hilyard’s erratic behavior and because she didn’t look healthy. At times, Hilyard had sores on her arms, which are often signs of drug use. “She kept picking at them,” Le Favor said.

Hilyard told Le Favor that she lost custody of her son. She was “so heartbroken” over that, Le Favor said.

Still, from what Le Favor knew, Hilyard “never responded in a violent matter at all. If anything, she would allow people to walk all over her.”

Le Favor saw the bizarre comments on Hilyard’s Facebook page three days before the decapitation, about not wanting to have her head cut off.

But Le Favor assumed it was just one of Hilyard’s “drug-induced spirals.”

‘Very eccentric’

Neither Hilyard nor her family could be reached. Hilyard remains in the Sedgwick County Jail under bonds totaling $226,000.

But Hilyard has expressed herself on social media platforms, with comments and snapshots of herself and her dog, Kobe, in various poses, with bits of her past, with blunt comments and obscene gestures.

On Instagram, she posted a picture of the resale shop she operated on West Maple near Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in 2014. The shop, in a small strip center, was called HotMess. According to pictures on social media, it sold everything: children’s toys, CDs, clothing, knickknacks, decorations, perfume.

Dana Elwell, 37, said she met Hilyard when Hilyard had the resale shop.

“I could tell that she’s very eccentric,” Elwell said.

Hilyard had a different style. She wore combat boots with tights, for example.

Elwell said she was jolted by the news that Hilyard is accused of decapitating someone.

“I never seen her as that type of person, to cause harm to anyone. And it kills me because she was so sweet,” Elwell said, as tears streamed down her cheeks. Elwell knew Hilyard by the name Rachael Est.

Another woman, Dawn Renee Chapman, said Hilyard also told her that she had been in a car accident and that it injured her brain and left her in a coma.

Chapman and Hilyard had been raised a couple of miles apart and attended Garden Plain schools together from about age 7. When they were teens, Hilyard told Chapman that she had been sent to a military school because drugs were found on her. A 2015 Facebook posting said Hilyard had attended Kemper Military School in 1997.

About 10 years ago, the two old friends were looking at Chapman’s photo album, which had pictures of their shared past, but Hilyard said she didn’t remember some of the images. Chapman’s understanding was that Hilyard couldn’t recall some things after she was injured in the car accident.

Elwell, who works in the same strip center on Maple where Hilyard had the resale shop, said Hilyard stopped by a few months ago. But Hilyard seemed different, not “very full of life” as before,” Elwell said.

“She was just not there” mentally.

The operator of another business at the strip center said he also got the impression that Hilyard had mental issues.

During a cold stretch in November or December, he found Hilyard holed up behind his business in a makeshift shelter, as if she had slept there overnight. The man, who asked that his name not be used for privacy reasons, invited her into his shop and gave her a peanut butter sandwich.

“She was talking about walking around all night,” he said. She babbled about “the cloud was listening to us, or something like that,” he recalled.

One of the rachaelest Instagram photos shows drawings of what appear to be ink bottles spilling out to form clouds with “THE CLOUD” written inside each shape.

Hilyard sometimes came to his business on a bicycle, and if it was cold outside, she would ask for a ride home. The two live in the same south-side neighborhood.

“She was usually happy-go-lucky or giggly all the time,” he said. She painted a sign for him and charged only $20. She said she found the board for the sign in a trash bin. “She just seemed like an artsy-type person.”

Life on display

Hilyard displayed parts of her life across social media. There’s a snapshot of Kobe, her white dog, with a long scarf fashionably wrapped around his neck, with “Merry Christmas” and the date, Dec. 24, 2016.

There’s a photo of a message that had been hand-painted or drawn: “This .. is .. W.W. III. Psychological WARFARE. [THEY’RE IN OUR HEADS]” and dated 12-13-16.

Another caption – beside a smoke-filled photo that appears to have been taken under a ceiling fan – says: “Look here its the grim reaper. In a cloud of smoke.”

In one photo of her recognizable to her acquaintances and neighbors, she posed with a steely stare, straight at the camera, and raised her middle finger with a highly decorated fingernail. It’s dated Nov. 2, 2016.

Someone also took a photo of her smiling, sitting in a chair and wrapped in chains, wearing a T-shirt that says: “THERE’S NO WAY YOU WOKE UP LIKE THAT.”

There’s a hazy picture of her and Kobe at the Keeper of the Plains along the river.

There’s an abstract drawing or painting of lines and shapes and this caption: “My memories,” dated Oct. 19, 2016.

One image shows a neatly written note that says in part: “There is some demon saying they are me & they’re stranded & asking for money!!” Dated Oct. 14, 2016.

Another posting shows an abstract painting of a sun and rays, with a caption saying it was created in 2012 and sold to a man for $175.

A GoFundMe account – dated Sept. 29, 2016, and using “Rachael Est” as the name and the same Hilyard selfie used on the Facebook page – outlines an art project with a goal of raising $50,000. The proposal says: “I’d like to paint bright, upbeat murals on run-down walls & fences in high traffic areas of Wichita, KS. This should definitely involve the community, city, various artists, children, & interested individuals on 2 locations I have already cleared with the owners on the south side of Wichita. This is a great opportunity for our section of Wichita to come together & spruce up a “bad part” of town!”

A couple of months ago, another GoFundMe proposal, this time under the name Rachael Hilyard, said that the “original campaign plan remains.” It requested new donations – to help in “my eternal dreams of bookwriting.” Any money would go “toward the completion of a compilation that just may be “THE BOOK OF THE CENTURY!” it said. “God Bless you.”

‘I’m a pagan’

Those upbeat messages seem at odds with what Hilyard’s neighbors saw.

Nikole Fraley, who lives next to Hilyard, said her neighbor always acted distraught. Fraley avoided her.

Neighbors say police cars were always pulling up to Hilyard’s house. This past September or October, Fraley said, she heard Hilyard in a “yelling match” with an officer outside while her dog kept barking at the officer.

Other times, Hilyard acted oddly, Fraley said. Hilyard moved yard ornaments around her yard but put them back in the same spot. “She was busy doing nothing.”

Hilyard wouldn’t mow for so long that a neighbor would cut her grass. When Hilyard did mow, Fraley said, she wore long dresses, not typical yard-work clothing.

The few times that Fraley was in Hilyard’s house, it looked “like a hoarder’s house … there’s clutter everywhere,” Fraley said.

Across the street, Gennifer McGuire found Hilyard to be anything but friendly. A few years ago, McGuire said, Hilyard told her to stop putting religious pamphlets at her house. McGuire said no one in her family put religious pamphlets there.

“I’m a pagan,” Hilyard told McGuire.

The ‘tweaker house’

There’s a sign posted in the other yard next to Hilyard’s – turned to completely face Hilyard’s yard.

“Read the Bible,” it says. “It will scare the hell out of you.”

On the day of the decapitation, just an hour or so before police rushed in with guns drawn after the boy called 911, Hilyard’s dog, Kobe, had strayed into the yard next door where the Bible sign sits.

Brad Stebens, who has lived across the street from Hilyard for about eight years, saw Kobe running loose that day and Hilyard trying to retrieve him.

Years back, Hilyard had a job and was going to nursing school, Stebens said. His understanding was that her family helped her get the house. Property records say Hilyard owns the 888-square-foot house, appraised at $59,400.

Stebens said her “descent” began several years ago.

He used to see her out in her yard playing with her son but saw him less and less, and it has been a couple of years since Stebens has seen the boy at her house.

He noticed “people started coming around, looking shadier … unkempt” at Hilyard’s house. She had visitors at all times, arriving on bicycles, scooters, different cars, he said.

Stebens and other neighbors suspected it had become a drug house, he said. “We called it ‘the tweaker house,’ everybody on the block.”

Her appearance changed over time, he said. She looked “real sickly,” with dark bags under her eyes and too-pale skin.

Still, he said, “She would have periods where you could obviously tell … that she was off of drugs.”

She would say “Hello,” and neighbors would say that she must be getting better.

There were times when she sounded downright joyful to her social media world. On Jan. 28, 2015, under the modified Facebook name of Christina Rachaelest, a posting with her smiling picture said: “Loving Life Today! New situation New reaction opportunities await!” The posting added that “Christina Rachelaest was feeling determined.”

Someone replied: “That’s wuts up girl. Go grab life and ride it all the way.”

‘Are you busy?’

The night before the decapitation, she walked over to Stebens’ house as he was working with a power tool on a chair.

“Are you busy?” she said, and asked for ride to the Dollar Tree store. She had him stop at another store so she could get a pack of cigarettes.

During the ride, he asked her, “Rachael, what the hell has happened to you?”

An uncomfortable silence followed, he said.

“She did not answer the question.”

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