Detectives, chasing what looked like murder along an isolated stretch of New Mexico highway, shifted gears when evidence pointed them in an unexpected direction and revealed death was not at all it seemed.
On the morning of March 15, 2008, a couple driving along US 84 spotted a body on the side of the road and called 911. New Mexico State Police arrived at the scene, where she found a lifeless middle-aged man lying on the ground. .
The man’s mouth was sealed with duct tape, suggesting he had been removed. He had been shot in the back of the neck. Initially, “it looked like an execution,” investigators said “Accident, suicide or murder” broadcast on Saturdays at 7 / 6c at Oxygen.
Handgun attached to several helium balloons, some of which were still inflated, was found tangled in a cactus about 10 meters from the body added to the mystery.
License plates from a car at the scene were used to identify the victim as 55 years old Thomas hickman, a director of operations for Red Lobster from Richland Hills, Texas. He was last seen at a business meeting in Abilene, Texas, and was reported missing although he never showed up at a subsequent rally.
After excluding 911 callers as murder suspects, investigators looked into the case. They learned that Hickman, a “gentle giant” who was six and a half feet tall, had an almost 30-year-old wife, Lisa, and an adult son, Matthew. Hickman was much admired at the restaurant chain and in his community. He apparently had no enemies.
The medical examiner’s report confirmed that the cause of death was the only shot. Evidence showed that he was shot at point blank range.
Hickman’s wallet and credit cards were found in his car, which told police it was not a theft. The only fingerprints found in the vehicle belonged to Hickman.
Investigators established a timeline. A ranch manager who worked near the crime scene told investigators he had not seen any cars in the area the night before Hickman’s body was found. Other witnesses said they saw a car at 4:30 a.m. on March 15.
They dug into Hickman’s banking and credit card business to trace his movements. A purchase at a Sweetwater, Texas gas station in the hours leading up to her disappearance led detectives to check security camera footage. The video showed Hickman in the store, along with another couple that detectives were trying to identify in order to question them.
While working on this possible lead, authorities were struck by Hickman’s financial records, which revealed he was in debt of around $ 60,000, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Detectives also learned that Hickman had scheduled a meeting with a Red Lobster official that he intended to shut down. Authorities viewed this as a possible motive for violence, but confirmed the person of interest was away from New Mexico at the time of the murder.
The fact that Hickman was shot and his mouth sealed with duct tape indicated homicide, but investigators questioned this theory in light of the Smith & Wesson gun attached to the balloons at the scene. Pistols the handle and trigger guard had been removed. Its serial number had been archived. A search of Hickman’s laptop revealed he had visited a store that sold helium balloons a month before his death.
Five days after Hickman’s body was found in a field along the road, officials questioned Lisa and Matthew Hickman. Detectives learned that Lisa was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003. The chronic disease had taken its toll on the family physically, emotionally and financially.
During a search of Hickman’s home, detectives found letters from the victim to his wife and son. Each came with instructions on what to do if they died, including how to manage their debts and use the money from their life insurance policies. Hickman’s letter to his son reassured him that he would look after him no matter what.
Investigators considered the possibility that Hickman considered committing suicide and prepared his family for the consequences of his death. A new search of the Hickman garage revealed filings on a workbench. The documents were found to match the shavings from the small weapon found at the crime scene almost perfectly.
Detectives were able to determine that Hickman purchased this gun in January 2008. Hickman was known to everyone as someone who avoided confrontation. Why would he need a gun? It shocked his personality.
Hickman’s death looked more like suicide, and evidence from Hickman’s laptop computer showing that he had researched lifting capacity with balloons supported this theory.
It turned out that the television series “CSI” had broadcast an episode in October 2003 featuring a case of a despondent man who attempted to impersonate a gunshot homicide. He would pull the trigger and the pistol, attached to helium balloons, would fly away. But the balloons were trapped after the suicide.
It seemed that life could imitate art. Captain Shayne Arthur, a retired New Mexico State Police crime scene investigator, experimented with helium balloons and a featherweight firearm and attempted to recreate what had been found at the scene of the crime. âEventually,â he said, âmy balloons hit a bush in my backyard. ”
He suspected that was what had happened on the land where Hickman had been found. Hickman may not have noticed the cactus near where he shot himself, investigators said. If it hadn’t been there, Hickman’s death would have been an unsolved homicide, they told “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Two months after the discovery of Hickman’s body, the New Mexico medical examiner’s office called his death suicide.
Investigators are uncertain whether Hickman watched the “CSI” episode or whether he independently came up with the idea of ââtrying to help his family. Because her death was ruled as suicide, the life insurance policy did not pay its full amount.
To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, suicide or murder” broadcast on Saturdays at 7 / 6c at Oxygen, or broadcast episodes here.