Investigation Discovery’s ‘Murder In The Big Apple: Hospital Horror’ features the heinous rape and murder of a promising 33-year-old pathologist named Dr. Kathy Hinnant in New York in January 1989. Around 50 investigators worked round the clock to solve the homicide within a couple of days. The episode features the lead investigators and Kathy’s family members as they remember her and describe how the case was solved. If you’re willing to learn more, here’s what we know.
How Did Dr. Kathy Hinnant Die?
Dr. Kathryn “Kathy” Louise Hinnant Johnson was born to the late Thad Exum Hinnant and Jane Cothran Hinnant in Lake City in Florence County, South Carolina, on February 9, 1955. The Hinnants were longtime residents of Lake City, having lived there for generations, and she was the youngest and the darling of the family. Kathy’s brother, Thad, described her as his best friend, while her mother, Jane, called her “a mama’s girl.” She had beautiful features, with one of her friends stating she looked like the British actress Audrey Hepburn.
According to her family, Kathy was a brilliant student and studied a genetics course at South Carolina University. Deciding to pursue a career in genetics research, the bright student completed her graduation and enrolled in medical school, narrowing her focus to pathology, where she could diagnose and possibly cure diseases. Journalist Diane Dimond stated, “She wanted to do genetic research — an important field — and perhaps find a cure for cancer.” Kathy accepted a job offer from a prestigious New York hospital in 1982 spring.
While her family was apprehensive, Kathy moved to New York — a city with an exceptionally high crime rate — to pursue her dreams. She worked at the prestigious Lenox Hill Hospital before accepting a job offer at Bellevue Hospital in the late 1980s. Hence, it came as a shock when the high-achieving 33-year-old was found dead by her husband and hospital staff on January 8, 1989. According to reports, she was viciously beaten — her nose broken — raped, and strangled to death with an electrical cord. On top of it, an autopsy confirmed that Kathy was five months pregnant at the time of her death.
Who Killed Dr. Kathy Hinnant?
Kathy was riding high on success when she came to New York City, fulfilling her dreams of becoming a pathologist and diagnosing diseases. When she first came to the city, it was infested with a strange illness many feared to be contagious. The disease was eventually discovered to be AIDS, and the fearless Kathy performed autopsies on diagnosed patients when her peers backed out. The episode showed how the young researcher lived on the edge, testing and trying to find a cure for the feared disease.
While her career was cruising smoothly, Kathy had a dry run regarding the romantic front due to her long and erratic work hours. However, she met Eric Johnson at a lavish New Year party on January 1, 1986, and was immediately drawn toward him. He was a jazz musician and lived a life vastly different from the pathologist, yet a whirlwind romance ensued between the two. As her love life sailed effortlessly, Kathy received more interesting news regarding her career.
The talented pathologist was offered a job at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the United States, in late 1987 or early 1988. Situated in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, accepting the job offer meant leaving the lucrative and prestigious clientele of Lenox Hill Hospital. Bellevue also houses mentally ill convicts and provides healthcare for individuals regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. The vast and extensive institution was a good place for Kathy to keep on pursuing her dreams, and she accepted.
According to the episode, Kathy worked at the New York University Medical School as a researcher in cytopathology and had an office on the fourth floor of the pathology wing at Bellevue. By late 1988, she was pregnant, and she and Eric married in a private ceremony in South Carolina amidst their friends and families. Everything was running smoothly for Kathy, and she had an important presentation and lecture in January 1989. On January 7, she and Eric were to attend a party, but she decided to drop by her office first.
Dressed for the party in expensive jewelry and an expensive mink coat, Kathy was in her office at Bellevue preparing a lecture on the afternoon of January 7. However, when she did not turn up for the party, Eric was not much concerned. He knew his workaholic wife often lost track of time, and he returned home after the party and went to sleep. But Eric was concerned when he woke up early on January 8 and found Kathy had still not returned. He decided to drop in at her office and check on her.
When Eric and the hospital staff went to Kathy’s office, they were shocked to find her lying dead in a pool of blood. They called 911, and around 50 detectives of NYPD were deployed to solve the crime. It reached a high-profile status when the erstwhile New York mayor got personally involved, asking law enforcement agencies to solve the homicide as soon as possible. The investigators initially suspected Eric, but he was ruled out as a suspect after he provided an alibi. The officers also learned about a disturbing aspect — Kathy was raped after she died.
The investigators noticed the pathologist had some of her belongings missing, including her jewelry and mink court. They had their breakthrough when an informant said an individual was trying to sell the coat in a homeless shelter. The officers identified the man as Steven Smith, who was brought for an interview. According to reports, he was a homeless man with a history of psychiatric problems and drug addiction. Besides, Steven had twice been admitted to Bellevue in late 1988 after ingesting rat poison but had been released.
Where is Steven Smith Now?
The detectives learned Steven had been squatting in the hospital since then, dressing as a doctor to blend in. He told the detectives he and another individual were involved in Kathy’s slaying, blaming the other person for the murder and rape. Nevertheless, the officers established the second man was Steven’s delusion, and he was the sole person who committed the heinous crime. Steven Smith was arrested on January 10, 1989, and charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and first-degree rape.
The court declined Steven’s insanity plea, and he was convicted and sentenced to 50 years to life in November 1989. On the other hand, Kathy’s family sued Bellevue for wrongful death but lost the civil suit in 1996. Steven, now 58, is incarcerated at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. According to official records, he won’t be eligible for parole before April 2039.