MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Brooklyn Park man has been charged with second-degree murder, after police say he beat his wife to death with a baseball bat and attempted to set her on fire to hide the crime.
Henry Hickman, 54, is in custody after the alleged incident on Feb. 26. Police say Hickman showed up at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Minneapolis, saying that he thought he killed his wife, Cynthia.
“This is another case of just tragic and inexplicable terror,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
Police were dispatched to Hickman’s home where they saw heavy smoke coming from upstairs. Two young children were found in the basement area and told officers that their mother’s room was upstairs and that was the last place they saw her.
Fire crews arrived and put out the fire. A woman’s body was found in the upstairs bedroom, charred from the fire and with blood on her head. The fire crew said she was found underneath a mattress that was on fire.
“She had been in a very abusive relationship for a long time, in which he was in control,” said Freeman, “and he was in control on this night.”
The two children were interviewed and told officers they woke to the sounds of their mother screaming. One of the children said they saw his father coming out of his mother’s room, with a baseball bat in his hand. The father told the child that everything was OK.
The child said he again heard screaming and a series of loud thumps. When he went back out of his room the second time, he said he saw his father go into the kitchen, light something on fire using the stove and throw it into his mother’s bedroom.
He said his father told him to get his other sibling and go into the basement and stay there. The child said they could smell smoke filling the house but he was too afraid to run out of the house or call for help.
“Who leaves your offspring in a house that’s burning, and you set on fire?” said Freeman. “It’s preposterous.”
Friends and family of the victim said she was scared for her safety and wanted a divorce from Hickman, but feared he would kill her. She applied for an order for protection on Feb. 7, after reporting that Hickman had raped her.
In that request, she wrote, “I fear for my safety because since I asked for divorce his behavior has escalated. I would at this time like the court to help me.”
On Feb. 15, she was granted an order for protection, which stated that Hickman was to have no contact with the victim, either direct or indirect and that he was not to go within three blocks of her residence or place of employment.
An autopsy for the woman on Feb. 27 revealed her cause of death as blunt force trauma, a homicide, and not as the result of the fire. She was said to have suffered broken ribs, lacerations to her spleen, liver, lung, a right eye fracture, fracture to the front of her skull and at least seven large lacerations on her scalp.
The State Fire Marshal conducted an investigation and found that the fire was intentionally set. Officers also recovered an aluminum bat with blood on it from the outside of the home.
The Hickmans were living in the house together, Henry in the basement, and Cynthia upstairs. The children are 5 and 8 years old. They are now with their grandmother.