tv Forensic Files CNN January 31, 2015 10:00pm-10:31pm PST
restaurant on the day she disappeared and her remains were discovered just a few miles from linda sobek's. to date, no one has been charged to date, no one has been charged with kim's murder. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com murder mystery dinner shows are often a fun way for amateur sleuths to test their crime-busting skills while enjoying a meal with friends. this is the story of a man killed just hours after leaving the theater. despite some good acting, the killer was no match for the skills of real-life forensic scientists. st. michaels, a small waterfront community on the maryland shore.
spectacular views of the miles river and chesapeake bay provide a relaxing escape from the hectic pace of daily life. on valentine's day in 1998, a local resort offered couples the opportunity for a romantic getaway weekend, a chance to unwind, relax, play some golf, tennis, and enjoy one another. the weekend also included an audience participation event, a murder mystery dinner theater production. >> the first hour is generally a cocktail hour, and the actors are emoting during this whole hour. and the audience can very readily see who's the bad guy, who hates who and why. >> in the audience that night were steve and kim hricko from laurel, maryland. steve was a golf course ground superintendent.
kim, a hospital surgical technician. ironically, the hrickos were seated next to a real-life prosecutor and his date, a probation officer. >> ken and her husband steve were sitting there. she jumped up and said, hi, i'm kim and this is steve. i thought, oh, this was going to be a good table to sit at. she's a friendly person. >> she was very active in terms of trying to figure out what was going on in the play, talking to various actors, trying to get insights into who might be about to commit the murder that was going to happen in the play and later on who did it. >> by all accounts, the evening was a success. afterwards, steve hricko went back to the hotel room, and kim left the resort briefly to run an errand. when she returned at 1:30 in the morning, she saw flames coming from their room. firefighters pulled 35-year-old steve hricko from the floor of
the hotel room. he was in his pajamas, burned to death. there were empty beer bottles and some cigars found in the hotel room. it appeared that steve was drinking, reading a "playboy" magazine, and smoking a cigar when he fell asleep with the cigar possibly starting the fire. >> i remember just coming back from a walk with my family and getting the phone call from my sister and physically collapsing to the ground. so it was very tough. when it was an accident still, it was just hard. there were too many questions unanswered. it really was a shock. >> this was viewed as a -- i don't want to say routine, but it was viewed as a routine smoker's accident. that the smoker fell asleep, a fire started, and the smoker died. and that's kind of how the police took it and understood it to be.
>> in addition to his wife, steve hricko left behind an 8-year-old daughter, anna. >> he was a great man, cared a lot about his family. the most important things in his life were his daughter, his wife, and his job. >> fire investigators noticed a melted plastic soda bottle on the table next to steve's bed. investigators call this a pointer because it usually points in the direction of the fire. but other clues in the room would point to an entirely different direction. meet the world's newest energy
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news of steve hricko's death shocked friends and coworkers who recalled how much steve was looking forward to the weekend getaway with his wife. >> sometimes it's hard to get past thinking of just his last moments, but i try to get past that. a lot of times, especially when my family gets together, we think of the good times, still. i remember just him, like i
said, he was my big brother. i remember dancing with him at my wedding and -- excuse me. him always telling me he'd be there for me. there's been a lot of times i needed him, so it's been tough. >> deputy fire marshal michael mulligan was assigned to investigate the fire. the physical fire damage to the hotel room was minimal. it was so well insulated that the fire didn't have enough oxygen to spread. one cigar was missing from a new pack near the bed. it appeared that the fire started on the bedroom floor where steve was lounging at the time of the fire. >> we eliminated possible electric source of ignition. the heating and air-conditioning units were eliminated. lightning. and there was nothing else at the point of origin. >> with the most common causes of the fire eliminated, it looked as if a lit cigar might have been the cause, but
investigators could find no evidence of the cigar butt or ashes. dr. david fowler, the deputy chief medical examiner for the state of maryland, immediately performed the autopsy. blood tests revealed that steve had a normal concentration of carbon monoxide in his system, extremely unusual for someone who died while breathing the carbon monoxide produced by the fire. the next step was to examine his airway passages for signs of smoke inhalation. >> you have this layer of mucus, which lines the inside of your airway to trap foreign part of which soot is one. and it gets stuck onto that. and it stays there, and we can find it very easily at the time of the autopsy. i found absolutely no soot. well, now i have two tests, which are both telling me exactly the same thing, that he
was not breathing at the time of the fire. >> to see if it was possible for a lit cigar to start a hotel fire, investigators conducted an experiment. >> we got a pillow and a pillowcase, and we did our own burn test. went out and got ahold of some backwoods cigars, lit the cigars and placed them on the pillow case and then directly on the pillow, made a crease in the pillow and we did this repeatedly. >> hotels usually use bed coverings treated with flame retardant chemicals in order to prevent this very scenario. >> at no point could we get the pillow, the pillowcase, or the bedspread to burn. >> another contradiction, steve was not known to be a smoker. >> he didn't smoke. he didn't smoke at all. in fact, at one time during a golf banquet sales meeting, he was offered some very fine cigars by one of the salesmen
who were selling equipment for lawn care, and he refused. he told his friend, i don't know why people would even smoke those things. >> but if steve hricko was dead when the fire started, what killed him? i hait's tough, but severi've managed.ease. but managing my symptoms was all i was doing. so when i finally told my doctor, he said humira is for adults like me who have tried other medications but still experience the symptoms of moderate to severe crohn's disease. and that in clinical studies, the majority of patients on humira saw significant symptom relief. and many achieved remission. humira can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened; as have blood, liver, and nervous system problems, serious allergic reactions, and new or worsening heart failure. before treatment, get tested for tb. tell your doctor if you've been to areas where certain fungal infections are common,
as investigators continued their look into the mysterious hotel fire that killed steve hricko, accelerant-sniffing dogs identified a flammable liquid on the bedroom floor at the foot of the bed. but chemical tests on the debris from the hotel room could not identify the accelerant. therefore, the findings of the accelerant-sniffing dogs would not be admissible in court. nonetheless, the fire marshal ruled the fire arson. there were empty beer bottles in the hotel room, and kim said steve was drinking heavily at dinner. but the autopsy found no alcohol in his system. a background check revealed steve had over $400,000 worth of life insurance with his wife, kim, as the beneficiary.
interestingly, kim purchased an additional $250,000 policy on steve's life shortly before he died. detectives also learned that kim hricko was having a sexual affair with a man ten years younger and discovered love letters in kim's personal papers to prove it. kim hricko denied she was involved in her husband's death, but admitted the couple was having marital problems. kim said they went to the resort to work on their marriage. but after the dinner theater performance, the two argued over sex. >> her story was that he wanted to have sex with her that night, and she had turned him down. they had an argument, and she left the scene because his frustration and his disappointment with her. >> and steve stayed behind. according to kim, he was drinking, reading a "playboy" magazine, and smoking a cigar.
but investigators discovered evidence that kim was seeking to end their eight-year-old marriage, not fix it. kim was an extrovert, steve, a homebody. and kim told friends and relatives the two were incompatible. >> she kind of played games with him at the end because she told him she was not happy. and i think she told us that she was considering divorce. and then she said that he's got to work on himself. he's got to make improvements. he's got to do a bunch of things. and he did start doing all those things because he did want to save the marriage. and he admitted, okay, i need to spend more time with my family. i need to -- you know, if that's what i -- i do love them. and he started working on all those things, and then she killed him. >> kimberly's coworker informed us that kimberly had come to him what he believed in a joking
manner, that kimberly wanted this co-worker to kill steven. >> i'm still not a doctor. >> i have a little job for you. >> oh, yeah. what's that? >> you can kill my husband for me. >> the co-worker thought that she was joking, thought that they had just been having normal marital problems, so the coworker told kimberly, just laughed and said, oh, why don't you just put him to sleep with succinylcholine and he'll go to sleep forever. >> it may have been an unfortunate joke. succinylcholine is a drug kimberly hricko would have had access to as a medical technician. it's used to relax the muscles before placing an intubation tube down a patient's throat. in large doses, it is lethal. succinylcholine is broken down by human enzymes almost immediately and is, therefore, untraceable.
>> kimberly, being a medical technician assisted in surgery, and we knew that and we learned that succinylcholine is on the cart there, but it is not accounted for as narcotic drugs are required to be accounted for. >> steve's autopsy found no traces of succinylcholine. police contacted laboratories throughout the united states to see if there was a test to find succinylcholine in human tissue and they found none. investigators tried to locate the store where steve purchased the cigars found in the hotel room. sergeant joe gamble visited 26 convenience stores in the vicinity of the hricko's home. in one he found the same brand of cigars. when the clerk was shown pictures of steve and kim hricko, she identified kim as the one who purchased the cigars and beer.
>> she remembered that she came in and bought a package of cigars and beer. i asked her, why did you remember that? and the lady told me that she had liked the color of kimberly's hair. kimberly has red hair. and she asked kimberly where she had her hair dyed. >> where do you get your hair dyed? don't dye my hair. it's natural, can't you tell? >> kimberly got very upset with her and told her, this is my natural color. by kimberly getting upset with the clerk, it embedded in her memory. when she saw the pictures, she knew and she thought it strange that this woman was buying a pack of cigars. she actually identified the same cigars. so at that point, i felt we had her. >> the cigars in steve's hotel room had a price sticker printed with ink that matched the printing ink used by this convenience store, confirming the cigars were purchased here. but the state's case was very weak without scientific proof that an accelerant was used or that steve had been injected
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to get out, to escape and now ok you are outside and you are safe but what do you do now and that's where the red cross came in... . we ran out of the house just wearing our pajamas. at that point just to even have a toothbrush that i could call my own was so important... . ...you know it just makes you feel like a person again.
the most cold-blooded murderers that i've been involved with. >> 32-year-old kimberly hricko was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and arson in the death of her husband. she pleaded not guilty. with no way to prove succinylcholine was in steve's body and no scientific evidence an accelerant was used to start the fire, prosecutors were forced to use a process of conclusion by exclusion. they had to rule out all other possibilities for how the fire started in an effort to convince the jury that steve hricko was murdered. >> this was a healthy young man, who was in his mid 30s, worked as an outdoor person, very fit, who had died suddenly, unexpectedly. there was absolutely no medical disease process or natural disease process that was identifiable in his death and
that he was, in fact, not intoxicated and in fact that he had died before the fire. from my point of view, i could come up with a large list of exclusions, which led me to believe that, in fact, he had been poisoned with succinylcholine or some similar type of agent which we could not trace. >> prosecutors believe kimberly hricko planned her husband's murder long in advance. the evidence -- the purchase of the additional $250,000 worth of life insurance, the purchase of the beer and cigars, and her sexual affair with another man. >> what we were able to hear in court was many of her friends testified, because she spoke to several of her friends and told them her plans to kill mr. hricko, some in detail. a couple of her friends she told in detail of her plans. >> prosecutors believe kim
confiscated a vial of succinylcholine from the hospital where she worked. after the murder mystery performance, kim waited for steve to go to sleep, then injected him with a lethal dose of succinylcholine. she then staged the scene to make it look like an accident. she placed empty beer bottles in a trash can and on the nightstand. she moved steven's body to the floor and placed a "playboy" magazine and the cigars nearby. she pulled her husband's t-shirt over his head, used an accelerant identified by the accelerant-sniffing dogs, and started the fire. there was no carbon monoxide in
steve's bloodstream or any sign of smoke inhalation, proof that steve was dead before the fire started. and there was no alcohol found in his system. tests would reveal that the cigar was not enough to ignite the flame retardant fibers of the pillowcase alone. kim left the resort to create an alibi and returned around 1:30 a.m. and reported the fire to hotel employees. the motive. kim wanted to get rid of her husband so she would be free to pursue the relationship with her lover. the defense argued that steven hricko's death could have been caused by the fire and that his lack of consciousness might have been caused by the accumulation of chemicals he inhaled through his work at the golf course. the jury found kim hricko guilty
of first-degree murder and first-degree arson. she was sentenced to life in prison. >> without the science, stephen hricko probably would have been buried, and we would have all thought this was just a horrible, tragic fire death. and his case probably would have been labeled accidental death and he would have been buried and nobody would have ever known. >> i just know that his life was valued and nobody deserves such a thing, and he was a very good man, and most of all, he was a good father. and he loved his family and we loved him very much and we're very proud of him, and i'd give anything to have him back. >> since this case went to trial, scientists at karolinska institute in sweden, and now in the united states, have developed protocols enabling the identification of succinylcholine, even in
embalmed tissue. one of the many scientific forensic advances that occur almost daily on a warm summer evening in 1980, a young married couple took their horses out for a leisurely ride through the woods. one of the horses bucked, and threw the rider. the autopsy confirmed it was an accident. but the family wasn't so sure. hillsdale county, michigan, population just over 40,000. this is farm country. soybeans and corn mostly. a hospitable place where friends drop in unexpectedly, and there's always room for one more at the dinner table.