The first word of what Henry Hickman had done to his estranged wife with a baseball bat came via the dead woman's cell phone, which Hickman used to call the man she was dating, Hennepin County authorities said in charges Tuesday.
"She's done and you're next. I'll find you," he allegedly said in a calm tone from outside the Hickmans' Brooklyn Park home, moments after killing Cynthia Hickman, 34.
Early Saturday, charges say, a fire set by her killer burned the woman's body in her bedroom, while his terrified sons, 5 and 8, followed orders to stay in the basement.
Hickman, 54, was charged with second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder for allegedly leaving the boys inside the burning home. Police arrived before the boys suffered physical harm.
Less than two weeks before the victim's death, a judge granted her an order for protection, barring her husband of 13 years from coming near. A week later, when he ran out of money, she let him return and live in the basement.
"This is another case of tragic, inexplicable terror," said County Attorney Mike Freeman.
Cynthia Hickman would be the fifth Minnesota woman killed this year by a domestic partner, according to a report by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.
Freeman said he plans to ask a grand jury to indict Hickman for first-degree murder.
Police came to the home after a call from the man Hickman allegedly phoned and after Hickman walked into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis and said he thought he killed his wife, according to charges.
Police rushed at 5:15 a.m. to 6208 70th Av. N., where the boys came from the basement and said they last saw their mother upstairs.
Police found her charred body beneath a flaming mattress. She was beaten to death with a baseball bat later found in the yard, charges said.
The boys told investigators they awakened to their mother screaming and saw their father come out of her bedroom with a bat, the complaint said.
Henry Hickman allegedly told the boys everything was OK and returned to the room. The children said they heard more thumps and screams, then saw their father light something and throw it into the bedroom before he rushed them downstairs.
When police arrived, one boy told police he thought his father still was in the house; the other said he was too scared to run out or call for help.
The man who said he had recently begun dating Cynthia Hickman said that around 4:30 a.m. he received several phone calls from her number and, when he finally awoke and answered, a man identifying himself as "Hank" said "she's done." The man called 911.
A short time later, Henry Hickman walked into the VA Hospital, charges say. Freeman said he is unsure why he turned himself in there.
District Judge William Koch granted Cynthia Hickman a protective order Feb. 15, based on testimony that she'd suffered physical harm, charges said. The order required Henry Hickman not contact his wife or go near her house or workplace.
One of her friends told authorities Henry Hickman had for a long time controlled and abused his wife and had recently raped her. The friend asked her whether her husband knew she was seeing another man. "No," the woman said she replied, according to charges. "He'd kill me."
A long pattern of abuse
When Cynthia Hickman sought the protective order, she testified he raped her Feb. 5 in the home. She testified he'd abused her for years and had been increasingly volatile emotionally since she talked of divorce. She wrote of waking up next to her photograph with a knife over it, and said he slapped, punched and pushed her. He emptied their joint bank account, she wrote.
The protective order was to remain in effect until 2013. They agreed for him to pick up the boys every other weekend. He gave up his house keys and garage door opener.
A week later, according to charges, she allowed him into the house. Freeman said that despite resources provided to domestic violence victims, it sometimes isn't enough.
"She had been in a very abusive relationship for a long period of time in which he was in control, and he was in control on this night." Freeman said.
$3 million bail
An autopsy revealed Cynthia Hickman died from the beating. She suffered broken bones, including a fractured skull and ribs, and had lacerations to multiple organs. The boys are in the custody of a grandmother, Freeman said.
Henry Hickman was held in the county jail in lieu of $3 million bail. He was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report. Abby Simons • 612-710-4054