Eugene Hicks, a colorful speedboat builder in the wild drug-smuggling days of early ’80s South Florida, was shot and stabbed to death inside his Hallandale Beach home in a case that remains unresolved more than three decades later.
Investigators do have one detailed account of what happened — given on videotape in 2004 by a man named George Williams, who claims to have helped the killer that day Hicks was slain in June 1983.
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But prosecutors have now concluded that no charges can be filed against either Williams or the man he implicated: a convict named Ken Bicking, who is doing life in prison for rape in Jacksonville.
That decision sparked harsh words on Monday from Hicks’ daughter, Jessica Lauren, who ripped police and prosecutors for never arresting Williams, who now lives in Tennessee.
“I don’t get any justice at this point, and maybe I never will,” said Lauren, a former Orlando television news reporter, during a meeting with reporters in the office of Miami attorney Tom Julin. “But I feel people living next to him, or working close to him, should know there is a murderer living in their community.”
Broward prosecutors, in a close-out memo, acknowledged that the men are the two “likely” suspects. But a Hallandale Beach police detective essentially promised Williams immunity and no other witnesses, DNA or fingerprints tie either man to the crime scene, prosecutor Tom Coleman wrote.
“There exists no competent evidence to present that would result in a reasonable likelihood of a conviction in this case,” Coleman wrote.
The investigation into Hicks’ murder was long complicated by his own connections to shady characters.
A New York native, Hicks and friend Thomas Fitzgerald Adams built speedboats and owned Signature Marine in Northeast Miami-Dade, a hub for go-fast boat manufacturing and marinas — as well as the illicit drug smuggling trade.
Their company was located next to the offices of Don Aronow, the wealthy powerboat racer and founder of Cigarette boats who was gunned down in 1987 in what police said was part of a business dispute. Hicks and Adams were pals with Aronow, according to Hicks’ daughter.
Both Adams and Hicks were killed years earlier, in separate cases in 1983. Adams was shot to death in April 1983 during a car chase on Interstate 95 in Broward County. At the time, he was suspected of financing a large-scale cocaine-and-marijuana smuggling operation.
As for Hicks, he was no stranger to law enforcement either. He was a witness against two men who were charged with fatally shooting a man at Hicks’ own home. The two men later blamed Hicks for ordering the killing; one man was convicted, another was acquitted.
Hicks had been arrested in 1978 aboard a 57-foot yacht loaded with eight tons of marijuana, a case for which he was awaiting sentencing at the time of his death.
His murder received much less publicity at the time. Hicks’ body was found inside his home at 600 Hibiscus Dr. in Hallandale Beach on June 25, 1983. He had been shot in the chest and stabbed five times in the chest.
The house was generally not ransacked, and there were no signs of forced entry. Investigators believed that whoever killed Hicks had been invited in and knew exactly what they looking for.
According to investigators, Hicks’ brother said he had been involved in drug dealing and robberies, and that $50,000 went missing from the home. He described Bicking as a “errand boy” for Hicks’ criminal activities.
Investigators probed claims that Bicking and Hicks were feuding over an unpaid debt. In 2004, acting on a tip, Hallandale Beach Detective Ron Buekers visited Williams in Tennessee. Williams eventually admitted that he took Bicking to Hicks’ home that day, and heard the gunshots. He found Bicking standing over the body, and helped him steal drugs from the home.
But neither men’s fingerprints or DNA were found in samples taken from the crime scene, including a knife believed used in the killing.
After Williams gave up Bicking, detectives went to a Jacksonville jail to interview the man. Bicking did not confess, instead claiming that Hicks was murdered over a stolen car and some unnamed “guys got mad and had Hicks killed.”
Prosecutors concluded that Williams’ word was not enough to charge Bicking, who is serving a life prison sentence on the unrelated rape charge. And because the Hallandale detective told Williams his statement “would not be used against him” that in essence granted him “a promise of immunity [that would be] inadmissible in court.”
The story of the 2004 interview was broken last week by WPLG-ABC reporter Bob Norman, who confronted Williams in Tennessee. The man refused to speak, even batting away Norman’s cellphone. “Don’t do that s--t to me,” Williams yelled.
Lauren, Hicks’ daughter, was only 3 at the time her father was murdered. She knew hardly anything about the case until 2011, when she saw a story in a Jacksonville newspaper about Bicking naming him as a possible suspect in her dad’s murder.
“That was the first time I found out that a suspect was named — and I was furious,” said Lauren, 35, now of Hollywood.
Lauren began calling and writing to police, whom she says “treated her terrible,” even implying that her family members might be suspects.
Eventually, she enlisted the help of Julin, a lawyer specializing in First Amendment cases, who worked to get the police records released because the case had grown cold.
“We had to threaten to sue,” Julin said.
Eventually, the police mailed her a copy of the videotaped statement by Williams, which has been made a decade earlier. “I was shocked because no one had ever told me there was a confession,” Lauren said.