CSI suicide staged with help of balloons

Last updated 10:30 18/07/2008

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A mysterious death looked like something out of a television crime drama. And sure enough, it was.

New Mexico police have solved a shooting death that was similar to a shooting depicted in a 2003 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In both cases a revolver was found tied to balloons in an apparent effort to make the weapon float away.

Police found that Thomas Hickman, of Texas, committed suicide after an investigation that included a detective renting a copy of the television episode.

"We're not saying it's a copycat of the television show," Lieutenant Rick Anglada said. "We have no way to know he actually saw the episode. However, the lead investigator kept hearing from people that there was a similar case from CSI."

At first, police suspected homicide when Mr Hickman, 55, of North Richland Hills, was found dead, his mouth covered by duct tape, by the US 84 highway southeast of Santa Rosa in March.

Evidence soon directed them elsewhere. The clue that linked the case to the television series was a bunch of six or seven white balloons found entangled in a cholla cactus, nine metres from the body.

So the detective rented the show and took notes.

"There were similarities in the episode, where a character tied helium balloons to a gun and hoped it would float away," Mr Anglada said.

Medical investigators ruled Mr Hickman's death was a suicide, Mr Anglada said. Additional evidence led detectives to conclude the scene had been intended to look like a homicide.

The handgun's grips had been removed and the trigger guard was sawn off in an apparent attempt to lighten the weapon. Police searched the garage of Mr Hickman's home and found matching metal shavings.

Mr Anglada said there was no evidence Mr Hickman had resisted his death.

Police believe Mr Hickman filled the balloons with helium, tied the bunch of balloons to the weapon, and then shot himself.

They found he held a life insurance policy that would pay his wife US$388,000 (NZ$509,000) or double that amount if his death was accidental.

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