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Title: Corpse (a Real One) Found After Whodunit Play / Guest Dies at Murder Mystery

Source: Associated Press, 2/20 & 2/26, 1998

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THURSDAY, FEB. 26, 1998

Corpse (a real one) found after whodunit play

Wife killed her husband during Valentine's weekend getaway, Maryland police say

By TODD SPANGLER, Associated Press

ST. MICHAELS, Md. —Stephen and Kimberly Hricko went on a romantic Valentine's Day getaway at a resort where they took part in a murder-mystery weekend and watched a whodunit staged for the guests.

After the play ended, the plot thickened.

Within a few hours, Stephen Hricko was found dead in his room, his body badly burned from the waist up.

Late Tuesday, his wife was charged with murder and arson. Police said Kimberly Hricko, 32, had spoken to friends in the past about killing her 35-year-old husband by drugging him and setting a fire.

Although the state medical examiner has not determined the cause of death, Hricko was dead or at least not breathing before the fire started in the couple's suite Feb. 15 at the luxurious Harbourtowne Golf Resort.

The Hrickos had traveled from their home in Laurel to Maryland's Eastern Shore to watch "The Bride Who Cried," a murder mystery about a groom who is poisoned and dies at his wedding reception. Members of the audience participate in the drama and try to solve the crime.

Several local lawyers took part in the production, including Talbot County Assistant State's Attorney Henry Dove, who played himself and sat at the Hrickos' table. A colleague of Dove's is now prosecuting the Hricko case.

According to court papers, the Hrickos had been seeing marriage counselors, and Kimberly Hricko was having an affair and had asked for a divorce.

Kimberly Hricko told police her husband drank heavily the night of the mystery play, they argued and she left to see a friend, returning to find the fire. But the medical examiner said Hricko had no alcohol in his blood.

A friend of Kimberly Hricko told police she had discussed injecting her husband with a drug she could get at the hospital where she worked and then setting fire to the curtains with a candle or cigar. A pack of cigars was found in the couple's room at the resort, but friends told police Hricko didn't smoke, according to court papers.

Also, a co-worker said Kimberly Hricko asked him six weeks ago about hiring a hitman to kill her husband, who was course superintendent at a country club, according to court papers. The co-worker contacted state police after learning of Hricko's death.

Kimberly Hricko was held with out bail Wednesday and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. She was arrested at a medical facility where she was brought after taking an overdose of prescription drugs in what her lawyer, Harry Walsh, said was a suicide attempt.

"Her health is the main concern at this time. She is no condition and I am in no position to cornment further," Walsh said.

Bobbi Benitz, who wrote and directed the play and played the murderer in the version the Hrickos saw, said she didn't sleep the night after she heard about the fire.

"It sounded very suspicious to me," she said.


Guest dies at murder mystery

Associated Press

ST. MICHAELS, Md. — A murder-mystery party took a bizarre turn when, two hours after the mock whodunit was solved, the body of a guest at the golf resort was found badly burned.

Stephen Hricko, 35, watched "The Bride Who Cried," an audience participation mystery about the poisoning of a bridegroom at a wedding, with his wife on Valentine's Day. About 1:30 a.m. Sunday, his body was found in his room at the Harbourtowne Golf Resort and Conference Center, police said.

"It's very spooky and ironic that this happened," said Steve Kehoe, an Easton attorney who played the murder victim.in the show last Saturday.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Faron Taylor said Wednesday he can't rule out a connection between the mystery play and Mr. Hricko's death until his investigation is complete. Equally possible is mere coincidence, he said.

"We just don't know right now," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Hrleko, the golf course superintendent at Patuxent Greens Country Club, in Laurel, had come to St. Michaels to spend the weekend with his wife, Kimberly, after a friend of his who works at the Harbourtowne golf course apparently suggested the trip to him. The murder mystery show is so popular, the resort had performances running at once the night Mr. Hricko and his wife watched it.

During the play, actors greet the guests as if all had just left a happy wedding ceremony. Then, during a banquet, a commotion begins when the bride's mother spills wine. Poison is somehow slipped into the bridegroom's cup and he drops dead during a toast.

Two hours after the make-believe murder, the fire in cottage 506 was reported, according to Mr. Taylor. He would not say where Mr. Hricko's wife was at the time of the fire.

Mr. Taylor said Mr. Hricko had been burned from the torso up. He said Mr. Hricko's injuries were consistent with the fire, which was confined to the guest room in a limited area around the bed, where the blaze was believed to have begun.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.

Mr. Hricko's body was transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore to determine the cause of death. The examiner's office said a report was not expected to be released until Thursday at the earliest.

Mr. Hricko is scheduled to be buried in State College, Pa., on Friday.

The incident shocked Bobbi Benitz, of Easton, who wrote and produced the play and even acted as the murderer in one version staged last Saturday.

"I just hope and pray the man was not poisoned," Ms. Benitz said.

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