Back in the spotlight

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.

But when he filed for divorce, Bicking III did not reveal that his wife was hiding from him because of the abuse allegations. "He came in here and lied to us," says family-court Associate Judge Mary Brown.

Katherine Bicking did not show up in Judge Dee Miller's court for a February 16 hearing to decide who would have custody of the children while the divorce is pending. Katherine Bicking later told another judge that she did not receive a summons for the hearing.

Miller awarded the couple joint custody of the two children. Bicking III was to have actual physical custody of the children, the judge ordered, and Katherine Bicking was supposed to turn the children over to her estranged husband by May 1.

Before that deadline passed, the unnamed informant began providing University Park police with information about Bicking III's alleged involvement in the Ridgway killing.

According to authorities, Bicking III told the witness that he traveled from Florida to Dallas to kill Colin Ridgway for money, with the payment arranged by his father and Joan Ridgway.

The affidavit states that the Bicking men and Joan Ridgway "shared a financial interest" before Colin Ridgway was shot to death, but does not elaborate. A bank statement obtained by the Observer shows that Joan Ridgway and Bicking Jr. jointly held a certificate of deposit worth $100,000 in 1995.

Using a Florida probation report and U.S. Naval-leave records, investigators were able to confirm that Bicking III did indeed travel to Dallas from Florida the day before the murder, the affidavit says. Kay confirms that his client was in Dallas on the night of the murder.

Bicking III supposedly told the witness that he had been lying in wait in a bedroom and shot Ridgway when he walked through the door, a description consistent with the crime scene.

"Witness testimony of Bicking's confession revealed that he was glad that the man fell when he shot him, because he was a big man," the affidavit states. "Ridgway was 6'5" and weighed 230 pounds."

The informant also told investigators that Bicking III claimed his father cut the brake lines on Joan Ridgway's car about eight months after the murder in an effort to lead police away from her as a suspect. The witness told police that Bicking III recalled that Joan Ridgway had "almost broken down" as the investigation began to focus on her.

In January 1995, the affidavit reveals, Joan Ridgway drove up to two University Park police officers who were working on a routine traffic stop and told them her life was in danger.

"She stated she had previously been involved in an accident in her Mercedes in the city of Dallas and that she had her vehicle towed to a place of secrecy," the affidavit states. "A mechanic had informed her that her car had been tampered with."

But, Joan Ridgway would not tell the officers where her car had been taken. Eventually, the affidavit states, she drove away in a GMC Jimmy. Police say the Jimmy was registered to Kenneth Bicking Jr.

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Denise Mcvea

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