NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Within hours of being charged with killing his wife in the basement of their home last month, Judson Keith Hoover walked into an Indiana courtroom Thursday and pleaded guilty to her murder.
Hoover, 50, of New Albany, admitted to killing Rebecca Ruth Hoover, 38, who had been reported missing by her mother last month. Rebecca Hoover had last been seen Aug. 2.
Judson Hoover filed for divorce the next day, court records show. New Albany police officials said, however, that Rebecca Hoover was already dead.
Her murder came to light this week when the couple’s 8-year-old son told a school counselor that he had seen his father kill his mother, authorities said.
The News and Tribune reported that Judson Hoover entered a guilty plea Thursday during his initial court appearance to save the boy from having to testify during a subsequent murder trial.
“I’m profoundly saddened for the family of Rebecca Hoover,” Floyd County Prosecutor Chris Lane said Thursday during a news conference. “The New Albany Police Department did a truly outstanding job on this case. Truly. And we’re very thankful for their hard work.”
Watch police and prosecutors talk about Judson Hoover’s arrest below, courtesy of WDRB in Louisville.
The case began on Aug. 4, when Rebecca Hoover’s mother reported her missing, according to New Albany police Chief Todd Bailey. Police officers went to the couple’s home on St. Joseph Road, but found no sign of the missing woman.
“Fast-forwarding to Aug. 27, our criminal investigators were alerted that Ms. Hoover’s disappearance may very well have been criminal in nature,” Bailey said. “Based on that information, our criminal investigators took everything into high gear and spent countless hours uncovering the facts of this case.”
Information gathered by the detectives indicated that Judson Hoover was likely responsible for her his wife’s death, the chief said.
Lane went into additional detail, saying it was a family member who, on Aug. 27, came forward with information that Judson Hoover had killed his wife. A forensic interview was conducted with the witness, who he declined to name, and search warrants were executed at the couple’s home.
Rebecca Hoover’s body was recovered Monday. Judson Hoover was taken into custody that same day on suspicion of murder.
Formal charges were filed Thursday, the same day he pleaded guilty.
The murder was not the first sign of trouble in the Hoover marriage. Judson Hoover was arrested in April and charged with domestic battery.
According to court records, Rebecca Hoover tried to get him to leave the house, at which point he took her cellphone, knocked her to the ground and began kicking her in the face and neck.
“Rebecca also advised Judson used his feet to apply pressure to Rebecca’s neck, and she could not breathe,” the arrest affidavit said.
He stomped her about 15 to 20 times, all in front of the couple’s three children.
The couple’s 8-year-old son was able to flee to a neighbor’s home, where he got the neighbor to call 911.
Rebecca Hoover was rescued that day by the same son who, four months later, would witness her killing. The April incident is eerily similar to what the boy said happened the day of the murder.
“The child disclosed seeing his father stomp his mother in the head 20 times, wearing black boots, while she was lying on the ground next to a black refrigerator in the basement,” the probable cause affidavit says. “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 Hoover’s head and left ear.”
Detectives spoke to Judson Hoover the afternoon of Aug. 27, when he went to pick his children up from school, the News and Tribune reported. He gave consent for authorities to search the family’s home and vehicles.
Investigators and crime scene technicians found blood spatter at the bottom of the basement stairs, court records show.
In court during his plea, Judson Hoover told the judge he’d strangled his wife to death before initially leaving her in the basement.
Her autopsy report painted a different picture, according to the newspaper. The medical examiner found that Rebecca Hoover died of blunt force trauma to the head and torso, injuries consistent with their son’s eyewitness account.
Authorities said at Thursday’s plea hearing that the victim’s body was also mutilated. Judson Hoover said he did not remember doing so, the News and Tribune reported.
According to WAVE in Louisville, surveillance footage at a storage facility a couple of miles from the family’s home shows Judson Hoover moving what appeared to be a body on Aug. 4, minutes after police officers made their initial visit regarding the missing person report.
The same security camera captured him returning to the storage unit Aug. 28 – the day after police questioned him – with a rented Dodge Caravan. He could be seen lugging a 55-gallon container into the van, the news station said.
Judson Hoover later admitted to taking the container holding his wife’s body to another storage unit on Strawberry Lane in Louisville. That is where Rebecca Hoover’s body was recovered Monday.
Rebecca Hoover’s family and friends told police and reporters that the couple’s relationship had been abusive. Her mother mentioned abuse in the missing person report, and a longtime friend told WLKY in Louisville that the slain woman had alluded to trouble in the marriage.
“Once she started painting the real picture of what was going on, it was quite disturbing,” Chris Karraker told the news station.
Karraker, who had known Rebecca Hoover for nearly 30 years, has begun a Facebook fundraiser to help bury his friend and support her children.
He unleased his anger on Judson Hoover in a lengthy Facebook post that begins, “Dear Judd.”
“I want you to know that she loved you more than anything else on earth ... in the beginning. I also want you to know the joy Rebecca expressed to me years ago when she found out she was pregnant with the twins, and again when she found out she was pregnant with Critter,” Karraker wrote. “Rebecca was one of the strongest women I knew and was so proud of all that she was able to accomplish for her family.
“Rebecca was known for her honesty and for fighting for what she believed was right. I know she believed you in the beginning. I know she would have fought for you and her family in the beginning. I know she fought for herself and her babies in the end.”
Karraker said he and Rebecca Hoover’s other friends and family would fight for her and not let her killer win. He refused to express hatred for Judson Hoover.
“What I feel for you is nothing. You are nothing. You will one day be nothing but a bad memory to me,” Karraker wrote. “What you have to live with is far worse than any words or feelings that I could have against you.
“You have to live with ruining the lives of Becca’s children. You have to live with the fact that you cut short the life of a beautiful woman who only wanted the best for her children.
“You have to live with the fact that you proved to your children that monsters are real, and the scariest part is that they can be people you love.”
Court records show that Judson Hoover is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 2.