The Easy Crime

All it takes is for the caller to identify himself as a reporter from Dallas. Erinn Bryan immediately knows where the conversation is going. "You want to talk about Colin." Even over a phone line from Minneapolis, you can hear the breath leave her body. She exhales loudly, sadly, as if to say, not again.

Bryan knows what this call is about, because she receives one or two like it every year, when the calendar creeps toward May 13. She tries to avoid the date, tries to wrap herself inside an ordinary life with her two young daughters a thousand miles away from Dallas. It's all so mundane yet so perfect, the remedy to six years spent grieving and worrying. If she's not going to have a normal existence, well, at least she can pretend.

But here it is: May 13. The day on which Erinn Bryan's stepfather and the man she considered among her dearest friends, former Olympian and Dallas Cowboys punter Colin Ridgway, was murdered in his University Park duplex in 1993.

And still, no one has been punished for Ridgway's murder. Six years after the 54-year-old was gunned down in his Emerson Lane home--at 10:30 p.m., shot seven times by someone who was waiting for him--there has been only one indictment in the case, and that man was freed from custody days before he was supposed to stand trial in Dallas.

After sitting in Lew Sterrett Criminal Justice Center for five months--from September 1996 to February 1997, on $500,000 bail--Kenneth Bicking III of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was cut loose by a judge who smashed the D.A.'s case on a technicality. Bicking returned home, and there have been no arrests since.

Mike Brock, the University Park police captain who's been in charge of this case since the beginning, admits his office is no closer to solving the crime than it was in 1993. The Dallas County District Attorney's Office does not foresee a date when anyone will be brought to trial for Ridgway's murder.

"Murder's the easiest crime to get away with," says one source close to the investigation, "because your best witness is dead."

The police remain convinced that Kenneth Bicking killed Ridgway. They remain convinced that Ridgway's wife, Joan, paid Bicking $5,000 to commit the murder so she could collect more than half a million dollars in insurance money. And they remain convinced that Kenneth Bicking Jr., who lives in Denison, put Joan and his son together. All three deny any involvement in the crime.

But the cops claim they have the evidence...just not enough.
"I don't even think I can put it into words," Bryan says of the frustrating, infuriating past six years.

She and her sister Shannon, Joan Ridgway's daughters from an earlier marriage, haven't spoken to their mother since Colin was killed. In September 1994, Shannon and Erinn alleged in a federal lawsuit, eventually settled out of court, that Joan was partly responsible for the murder. A Dallas County grand jury would later fail to indict Joan on murder charges, and she passed a lie detector test. Joan Ridgway, now Joan Jackson, has always insisted she had nothing to do with her husband's murder.

But Bryan doesn't believe her--Joan, her biological mother, for God's sake. She never will.

Colin Ridgway's murder, in essence, killed a family.
"You're shocked and filled with disbelief and think, 'This can't be my life,'" Bryan says as she holds the phone in one hand and a crying toddler in the other. "It comes completely out of the blue, and then you come to terms with it and move on and make a life with what you have. You miss them and think about them and move on. I don't know how other people cope, but that's how we cope."

Colin's unsolved murder--and that's what it is, at least until someone is convicted for it--is like all crimes without resolution. It continues to destroy everyone it comes in contact with: the stepchildren, the sisters Colin left behind in Australia, the brother-in-law who helped raise Colin. It's a virus that infects and consumes anyone who gets in its path. There's no amount of soap in this world that can wash it off you once you've come in contact with it.

Maybe that's because this is a particularly grim, seedy, made-for-the-tabloids tale that comes complete with allegations of murder for hire, rape, a vicious custody battle, cops who let the man they believe to be the killer slip through their shaking hands, and Florida lawyers who use expletives the way other people say the.

The main piece of evidence against Kenneth Bicking III was a statement from his then-estranged, now-ex-wife Katherine, in which she told police Kenneth admitted to her that he committed the murder. According to Katherine, Kenneth said he shot Colin in exchange for money from Joan, and that the deal had been set up through Kenneth's father. But state District Judge Mark Nancarrow ruled that the evidence was inadmissible in court, since it was based on a privileged conversation between husband and wife. The case fell apart after that, and Kenneth--who claimed his wife was lying, accusing him of the crime so she could get custody of their children--was set free in February 1997.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky