Worker convicted in Kraft murders

Yvonne Hiller’s “mental rollercoaster” reached a grinding halt on Monday as the Kraft killer learned she will likely have to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

A Common Pleas Court judge convicted the 45-year-old former Crescentville resident of two counts of first-degree murder for the Sept. 9, 2010, shooting deaths of two co-workers inside the Kraft Foods plant in Northeast Philadelphia.

Hiller will be sentenced on Sept. 24, but life in prison is merely a formality. The district attorney’s office agreed not to seek the death penalty after Hiller dropped an insanity defense and waived her right to a trial by jury. Instead, she left her fate in the hands of Judge Benjamin Lerner.

Hiller shot and killed Tanya Wilson, 47, of the 3800 block of N. Franklin St., and LaTonya Brown, 36, of the 1100 block of W. Poplar St., during an evening shift in the plant at Roosevelt Boulevard and Byberry Road.

She also wounded Bryant Dalton, 39, of the 5200 block of Kershaw St., in the neck and shoulder.

The attack stemmed from Hiller’s belief that her co-workers had been spraying her with harmful chemical substances or “deer urine,” according to prior testimony in the case.

First, Hiller confronted Dalton and Brown about the suspected contamination. Supervisors soon got involved in the verbal dispute. Eventually, the supervisors suspended Hiller from her job in the facility’s mixing department, where they make popular Nabisco-brand treats like Oreo and Lorna Doone cookies.

In-house security officers escorted Hiller from the premises, but she went to her car and retrieved her .357-caliber Magnum, which she was licensed to carry, according to prior testimony. Hiller forced her way past a guarded gate and into the building, where she cornered her rivals in an employee break room and opened fire.

One shot struck Wilson’s neck and spine, while another struck Brown’s right arm and torso. Both died at the scene.

Another bullet struck Dalton in the neck and lodged in his shoulder. It remains there today. He reportedly returned to work in February.

As Hiller went on a rampage through the building, she fired at her manager but missed as co-workers ducked for cover and tried to hide from her. One maintenance worker tracked her movements and called police. Hiller fired at him, but missed him, too.

During the episode, Hiller used a mobile phone to call a friend, her mother-in-law and 911. Patrol cops from the 7th and 8th districts were first to arrive, followed soon after by SWAT officers. One officer reported that one bullet passed just over his shoulder. Police did not return fire because of the danger to other employees.

Police eventually found Hiller lying in the fetal position on the floor of a darkened office and arrested her.

In her own statement to homicide detectives, Hiller said that co-workers in the 120-employee plant had been abusing her for years, particularly by spraying toxic substances on her. Hiller had previously complained to supervisors about the abuse, which was never substantiated.

Hiller told the detectives that she had been to counseling as a result of prior on-the-job conflicts and had been taking the anti-anxiety drug Xanax by prescription. She said she had been on a “mental rollercoaster.”

When asked how she got the gun and a license to carry it, Hiller explained that she simply bought the weapon “on Frankford Avenue” in early 2010. ••