By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
After two years of enduring suspicion that she helped murder her husband, Joan Ridgway finds herself once again a suspect in what authorities are now describing as a murder-for-hire scheme against former Dallas Cowboys punter Colin Ridgway.
Joan Ridgway, 53, has not been charged in the murder, but the arrest earlier this month of alleged triggerman Kenneth Bicking III has also implicated the widow, whom police say helped plan and pay for the killing.
Armed with a Texas warrant, Florida authorities arrested Bicking III at his brother's home in Tamarack June 7. Dallas County prosecutors now are seeking his extradition to Texas.
In a case known for its strange twists and turns, the state's evidence against Joan Ridgway seems to spring from a domestic-violence dispute between the accused triggerman and his estranged wife.
On May 13, 1993, police found Ridgway, 54, dead in the bedroom of his University Park home. He had been shot seven times with a small-caliber handgun.
Investigators have made it no secret that they suspect Joan Ridgway of being involved in the murder, but a grand jury declined to indict her in September 1994. Joan Ridgway declined to testify before the grand jury, citing her constitutional rights not to incriminate herself. She has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder, and the case has remained open. In a May 5, 1994, story, "Who killed Colin Ridgway," the Observer detailed the inability of police to solve the sensational murder.
But according to a University Park police affidavit dated June 5, investigators now have been told by an unnamed witness that Bicking III, 35, confessed to the murder, and implicated his father, Kenneth Bicking Jr., and Joan Ridgway.
When contacted by the Observer at his home in Denison last week, Bicking Jr. declined to comment and hung up the phone. Joan Ridgway, who went into seclusion after Bicking III's arrest, could not be reached for comment.
But one of her attorneys, Frank Wright, says the results of a polygraph Joan Ridgway underwent earlier this month clear her name.
"In essence, the polygraph says that Joan didn't know anything about the murder other than what she related to police," Wright says, "nor did she have anything to do with it, and certainly there was no conspiracy or any actions on her part [that contributed to the murder]." The attorneys say they will present the polygraph to prosecutors this week.
Polygraph notwithstanding, it is the relationship between the alleged triggerman and his estranged wife that is proving most troublesome for the widow.
In an interview with Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Edward Kay, Bicking III blamed his arrest on his estranged wife, Katherine Bicking. Kay says he took the case pro bono as a favor to the suspect's mother, Barbara Beach, Kay's maid.
"He says he is innocent," Kay says. "He is upset with (his wife). He describes this as her modus operandi, that if she doesn't get what she wants, then she starts accusing people of things."
In a sworn statement, University Park detective M.C. Brock recounts information provided to police by an unnamed informant, who says Bicking III admitted to the crime, and recounted little-known facts about the case.
Prosecutors have declined to identify the informant because they fear she may be in danger. "She is not particularly under any formal order at this time," says Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis. "But her name is being withheld right now for her own personal safety."
According to Dallas County family-court records, Bicking III filed for divorce against Katherine Bicking, his wife of 10 years, on February 2, 1996. Accusing her of adultery, Bicking III asked the court for custody of the couple's two children, ages 5 and 3.
Bicking III also requested a restraining order against his wife. But three days after filing the divorce, he told the court he was having trouble serving his wife with the papers because he did not know where she was.
The couple had separated the previous month, Bicking III told the court, and he had been forced to communicate with his wife through her mother--Delores Keiser--who would not tell Bicking III where Katherine Bicking and the children were living.
Katherine Bicking was forced to go into hiding in January 1996, court records show, when state Child Protective Services was considering taking the children from her because of past abusive behavior by Bicking III.
According to a letter from CPS intake screener Tracey Schlafer, the agency investigated and confirmed allegations that Bicking III had physically abused the couple's two children, and two older children of Katherine Bicking's. "The ability of the mother to protect the children from the perpetrator of the abuse was strongly questioned," Schlafer wrote.
Katherine Bicking, who lived in a Dallas woman's-crisis center after leaving her husband, told CPS she would leave the state if she could keep the children. "Mrs. Bicking assured investigators that she could protect the children by leaving the state and not informing her husband of their destination," the letter continued.
According to CPS records, the Bickings had a volatile, violent relationship. Katherine Bicking--who has left the state--told investigators that her husband frequently made death threats against her and had also put a contract out on her life.