A Brooklyn Park man beat his wife with a baseball bat and set her on fire while their children listened -- just 11 days after the woman received an order for protection, according to charges filed by Hennepin County prosecutors Tuesday.
Cynthia Hickman was planning to file for divorce at the time of the attack. Her husband, Henry Hickman, had been physically and emotionally abusive ever since the relationship began 13 years ago, a friend of the woman told police.
Cynthia Hickman, 34, clearly understood the danger she faced. She had started dating someone else, and when a friend asked if she thought her husband would leave her if he learned of the relationship, the woman replied, "No, he'd kill me," according to the criminal complaint.
On Feb. 7, she applied for an order for protection. She reported that her husband had raped her and left threatening messages on her phone.
In an affidavit, Cynthia Hickman said, "I fear for my safety because since I asked for a divorce his behavior has escalated. I would at this time like the court to help me."
Judge William Koch granted the order for protection on Feb. 15 after finding Cynthia Hickman's testimony was credible, and indicated that she had "suffered physical harm, bodily injury or assault, and has a reasonable fear of the imminent infliction of physical harm or bodily injury."
The order forbade Henry Hickman, 54, from having any contact with his wife and from going within three blocks of her house or workplace. He moved into a motel, but returned to the home a few days before the attack and moved into the basement, Cynthia Hickman's mother later told police.
In the early morning of Feb. 26, one of the couple's children awoke to the sound of his mother screaming. The child came out of his room and saw his father coming out of his mother's room with a baseball bat in his hand, the criminal complaint said.
"The Defendant told Child A everything was okay," the complaint said. "Child A went back into his room, and again heard his mother screaming and a series of loud thumps."
The boy left his room and saw his father go into the kitchen, light something on fire using the stove, and throw that object into his mother's room, according to the complaint.
His father then told him to get his brother out of bed, go to the basement, and stay there, the complaint said. The boy later told police he was afraid to disobey, and so he followed his father's instructions, as the house filled with smoke.
Prosecutors allege that after killing his wife, Henry Hickman called the man she had begun dating. That man told police he received several phone calls at about 4:30 a.m. He picked up the phone and listened as a man who called himself Hank said, "She's done and you're next. I'll find you."
The man did a reverse directory check on the phone number and called 911 to report the call.
Henry Hickman then showed up at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minneapolis and said he thought he killed his wife, the complaint said. He gave hospital staff his wife's address, and the staff contacted police.
Police arrived at the house, where the front door was open and heavy smoke streamed from the second floor. The officers couldn't get upstairs, but searched the rest of the house. They found the two children in the basement. The children told police they last saw her mother upstairs in her bedroom.
Firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze. Officers then went upstairs and found Cynthia Hickman's bloodied, charred body on the floor. The fire crew told police she had been found under a burning mattress.
Police officers found a bloody aluminum bat outside the front of the house, the complaint said. An autopsy later found that the mother of two died as a result of blunt force trauma, and not as a result of the fire.
The State Fire Marshal investigated and determined that the fire was set intentionally to cover up the killing.
Henry Hickman has been charged with second-degree murder, along with two counts of attempted murder in the second degree for allegedly ordering the children to remain in the burning house.
He is being held at Hennepin County jail. A judge set bail at $3 million.