May 23, 2013 at 10:37 am

'As long as I'm alive, I'm going to keep going,' brother says of 30 year search for sibling

Robert Hill has spent more than 30 years searching for his brother Joe, and refuses to stop.

"As long as I'm alive, I'm going to keep going," he said. "Whatever it takes."

Joe Hill was last seen Aug. 31, 1981, when he left his mother's home on Detroit's west side.

The 29-year-old was headed for a 6 p.m. appointment downtown with the attorney for his brother, who was incarcerated. But he never showed up.

Earlier that evening at his mother's home, Joe Hill interrupted a card game with his sister to argue with an unknown caller on the phone.

Darlene Carter overheard her brother saying he wanted "all of my … money" from the caller, then hurried out soon after. When Hill failed to meet the attorney, relatives paged him, but the pages went unanswered, which was odd for the father of five and partner in a car wash and record store.

Then, around 2 a.m., the phone at his mother's house began ringing. The caller would pause as if listening, then hang up, Carter said. "They did that for about an hour."

Within a week, the family filed a missing person report with Detroit police.

Also around that time, Hill's silver Pontiac Trans Am was found abandoned in a stall at a Clinton Township car wash, Carter said.

Elsewhere in Metro Detroit, a torso was discovered. Height and weight estimates described in a newspaper account eventually led relatives to believe it might belong to Hill, his brother said. Years later, homicide investigators were unable to obtain a tissue sample or positively identify the remains.

Relatives allege authorities never interviewed them, questioned Hill's girlfriend or conducted a search.

Robert Hill said years passed before his DNA information was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Meanwhile, Crime Stoppers put up a billboard. Still, no fruitful leads have emerged.

Despite the decades and lack of tips, Robert Hill holds out hope for closure.

"Sometimes people's conscience kicks in as time goes on," he said. "I believe one day somebody is going to come forth and tell what happened, who did it, whatever went down."

Since he disappeared, Joe Hill has missed the deaths of a sister and his father as well as many milestones in his children's lives.

But his mother and six remaining siblings have not forgotten him.

"We never let him die," Carter said, adding their mother still cries over him. "I don't think it's a day that goes past his name doesn't come up some kind of way."

mhicks@detroitnews.com

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