I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
Jill Russell was born a free spirit. Even as a young girl, she never conformed to the standards of normality as defined by society. She wasn’t a rebel causing trouble either. No, Jill was just happy-go-lucky and always seeking an exciting adventure.
While Jill was living life to fullest, friends were settling down and raising families. Although she’d given marriage an unsuccessful try once before, she found she was finally ready to settle down, raise a few kids, and grow old with someone she loved.
When she met James “Jeff” Francis Cahill III, she really believed she’d met her prince charming. He was handsome and smart and, best of all, he loved many of the same activities she did.
It didn’t take Jill long to realize that Jeff’s mother was a religious zealot. Patty Cahill was adamant (to the point of overbearing) about the family’s Catholic practices, insisting that her children (even as grown men) attend Mass daily.
But that was of little consequence to Jill because she loved Jeff. Their relationship was about him and her, not him, her, and his family.
A few months into the relationship, Jill discovered she was pregnant. Jeff and Jill made plans to marry, ignoring his mother’s protestations and claims that she would never condone this union.
In 1988, Timothy Cahill was born and Jilly’s life took on even greater meaning. All that she had been searching for came in the form of a beautiful infant. Less than two years later, Tim was joined by a little sister, Mary Catherine Cahill.
Jill was so enamored with her babies she would have gladly had many more, but her pregnancies and births had been so hard on her body that she was advised against another pregnancy. Jill was heartbroken, but it was what it was and life would go on.
Jill dedicated her life to her young children, but as they grew she reacquainted herself with some of the hobbies she had loved before their arrival – including gardening and landscaping.
Jill had kept this skill fine tuned even when she didn’t have a lot of time. She used it as means to decorate the couples’ little home that was in major need of repairs – both small and large. Even though Jeff was self-employed as a handy man, he had little time for his own home. Not because he had too much work, he just wasn’t motivated to do so.
Everyone loved the homey, flea market motif created by Jill but mostly everyone loved the beautiful flower gardens which welcomed visitors to the Cahill home. So much so, others were seeking out her services for landscaping their own homes. Before long Jill found herself to be a landscaper in high demand, even having to turn away jobs for lack of time.
In the meantime, the relationship between Jeff and Jill began to grow stale. Before she realized it, physical violence had entered and Jill often found herself afraid of the man she believed she’d grow old with.
And it wasn’t just the abuse, Jill was exhausted from being the breadwinner while Jeff only played at a job and she still served as the full time and only caregiver for the children. Not to mention the issues with his overbearing mother had finally reached a breaking point.
Being a much sought after landscape artist had given Jill confidence and a means of income. So when she met a man who loved her and treated her with kindness, it wasn’t much of a leap for Jill to fall in love with him and decide it was time to gather her children and leave Jeff.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do and it took a while for Jill to finally summon the nerve to do so. Friends knew of her plans, even encouraged her, but Jill wanted to do it in a way that would affect her children the least. Knowing Jill was fearful of Jeff’s reaction, friends and the paramour were patient.
Finally, Jill took the leap. Even amid promises of change, Jill filed for divorce. She was almost free. But before she could make the physical separation from her abusive husband, Jeff would exhibit another act of violence.
One night in early April 1998, With the children sleeping in their rooms only feet away, Jeff began beating Jill with a baseball bat following a heated verbal exchange. Over and over and over, Jeff hit Jilly in the head, shoulders, neck, and back. Even as she lay bleeding and begging, Jeff hit her with the bat. Over. And over. And over. And over. When Tim and Mary came running at the sounds of the assault, Jilly begged them to call for help but Jeff ordered them back to bed.
When he was finally done and Jill lay unconscious, Jeff didn’t call 911. No, this mama’s boy went straight to the only woman he truly loved: his mother. Jill lay in the battered state for hours before the Cahills called their family physician, most likely in hopes he would help cover up Jeff’s criminal conduct. After he took one look at Jill, he demanded they call 911.
Jeff Cahill Makes Bail
As Jilly underwent numerous surgeries, Jeff Cahill underwent intense interrogations by local police. He insisted that Jill attacked him and he was just defending himself but the evidence and Jill’s current condition said otherwise. Jeff was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
As is too common, however, the batterer was able to make bond (with the help of his Mommy, of course) and was released until trial.
As the next six months passed, Jill struggled to recover. With loving parents, her children, a sister, and a brother-in-law at her side, Jilly was slowly returning to the living world. She would never be one hundred percent again, but she was alive. She would get to see her children, hear them, and touch them – Jeff would not take that away.
Doctors and nurses were all well aware of how Jill came to be a patient in their care and Jeff’s pictures were posted at hospital security and nurses stations to prevent him from finishing what he started.
But while Jeff was a wife-beating Mama’s boy, he was no idiot. Out on bail, he took to observing hospital routines, uniforms, and care procedures. Then in October 1998, Jeff doned clothing similar to that of the janitorial staff, a wig, and computer-created identification and slithered his way onto Jilly’s floor.
With a bottle of cyanide he’d fraudulently obtained in hand , Jeff leaned over Jilly’s bed and began pouring it into her mouth. Jill’s eyes flew open in fear and she fought with what little strength she had, but it wasn’t enough. Within minutes, she was dead.
As doctors and nurses rushed to her bedside, others noticed the strange man who was so obviously pretending to be janitor. Searching the hospital, they were unable to locate him but they knew who he was and they readily gave police his name: Jeff Cahill, Jilly’s soon to be ex husband.
Within hours police were at Jeff’s door. Despite his claims that he had been home all evening, the heat radiating from his car said otherwise. Jeff was arrested on charges of murder.
Following a trial, Jeff Cahill was convicted of murdering his wife and is currently in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until 2036, when he is 75 years old.
Jill Cahill‘s sister Debra Jaeger was outraged that Jeff had been able to make bail and released which allowed him to plot and have access to the poison he used to eventually kill Jilly.
Debra isn’t a person to go away quietly. For years, she’s been vocal about the injustices of a justice system that set a man, who clearly wanted his wife dead, free. While his rights were being exercised, her sister’s right to life was trampled on. That’s why Debra has been active in trying to enact Jilly’s Law. If passed, this law would require the Courts to consider the brutality behind a defendant’s charge and use such to deny bail. The current standards only consider the likelihood of appearance at Court hearings by the defendant.
Please like Jilly’s Law on Facebook and show your support. There is strength and safety in numbers.
© 2016 Kim Bryan
J McRae BA MA Psy from Desert Southwest U.S. on April 09, 2020:
Very well written informative article. Ty! Chilling story. Heartwrenching.
Turretgunner on April 01, 2020:
I cannot believe this monster has a chance of being paroled...EVER! I am not a proponent of the death penalty, but I am tempted to make an exception in this case. What a sorry excuse for a human being. If ever there was someone who deserves to rot in Hell, it's him.
Suzie from Carson City on August 13, 2017:
Kim...This nightmare played out no more than 3 to 4 hours from my home base.........Oh the hindsight that comes to light in this heart-wrenching story.
It's fine to accept that Jill was so "in love" with Jeff that she easily discounted his lunatic, overbearing mother. It's another thing altogether to understand why she did not realize the bold red flags of Jeff having grown up in a dysfunctional home (due to his fanatical religious zealot mother) and raised by this very same nut case. The serious psychological damage done to individuals under these scenarios is permanent & lethal.
In other words, the monster lurking inside Jeff merely waited for it's moment to pounce and do severe damage. It was only a matter of time and opportunity. Unbeknownst to Jill, she gave him these things.
Thank you for bringing attention to Jilly's law. I'm only sorry that I will be 88 when & if Jeff lives to be set free in 2036. How I'd love to be there to "welcome" him to the free world. What? Of course I'll have flowers for the dear. Another GOOD article about BAD people, Kim. Peace, Paula
gabriel rocco on July 10, 2017:
The protection of monsters like Cahill is a national disgrace.
It is as if a group of psychotic, sociopathic, homicidal maniacs got elected to congress and passed laws that encouraged their inhuman brothers and sisters to kill, maim, and torture their victims who have been not only stripped of their lives, but stripped of all their rights life, and forced by complicit governors to live in tortuous pain, and then killed.
We know why Cahill isn't dead or suffering, but coddled in a safe space, warm, with the best health care money can buy, and surrounded by family members and lawyers who will not condemn him to hell.
And all we impotent members of the society can do is shake our heads at the liberal system of crime and inordinately light punishment meted out to our most heinous and brutal killers.
American Law, you are a monumental failure to our most vulnerable people, and have made a disgraceful mockery of Hammurabi's attempt at creation of a system of justice for victims, acting as if they do not, and never have lived.
Michelle James2 on July 01, 2017:
How is this psycho still alive...and how does he not qualify for the death penalty...come on!!
Carol Chavis on June 17, 2017:
I hope this passes if it hasn't. I can't believe this monster only got 37 years. Like her sister said, we have a CRIMINAL justice system....which is no justice for the victim.
San CountsHester on June 16, 2017:
Domestic Violence is a vicious crime no man should be allowed to get away with. And Jeff Cahill is an evil monster with no regard for life and his children's precious mother.