A young video store clerk with no previous record of violence was indicted Monday in the grisly murder of a 76-year-old North Tonawanda businessman.
Lee E. Bates, 21, of Grove Street in North Buffalo, was charged with abducting, killing and dismembering William Rickerson. Another suspect, Richard Matt, 31, was arrested last month.
In a series of statements to police, Bates said it was Matt who actually tortured, killed and dismembered Rickerson on Dec. 4.
Bates said he and Matt drove around Western New York with Rickerson in the trunk of Bates' car before they finally wound up at Tonawanda Island on the Niagara River.
It was there that Matt left Rickerson, apparently dead, and covered his body with some old railroad ties, Bates said, and it was several days later that Matt returned to the scene and chopped off the victim's head, arms and legs.
According to his statements, Bates and Matt had Rickerson in the car trunk for as long as 20 hours as they drove all the way to the Pennsylvania state line and to several other locations while trying to decide what to do with him.
Bates said he willingly went along with Matt at first but "got cold feet." He said Matt threatened to kill him if he didn't cooperate.
"If you ever open your mouth, they'll never find you again," Bates quoted Matt as telling him.
Even veteran detectives said they were sickened and disgusted by the details of the crime spelled out in Bates' lengthy statements.
Bates, who stood weeping during his arraignment before Niagara County Judge Amy J. Fricano, was described by investigators as a video store clerk who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke and has never been arrested before. According to court papers, he is studying criminal justice at Erie Community College and wants to be a police officer.
"The great mystery of this case is how a young kid like that hooks up with lifetime criminal like Richard Matt," said one law enforcement official.
Police said the two suspects are believed to have gone to Rickerson's house to rob him and were upset that he only gave them a small amount of cash and jewelry.
"We believe they only got $80 cash, some rings and possibly neck chains," said Timothy R. Lundquist, first deputy district attorney of Niagara County.
According to the statement given by Batts, Rickerson was in his paja
mas when he came to the door. Batts said Matt kept yelling, "Where is the money? You know, the $10,000 stacks."
Rickerson was forcibly taken from his home on Harvard Place. He was beaten, pushed down a flight of stairs and then tied up thrown into the trunk of the vehicle, police said. His headless torso was found in the Niagara River on Dec. 12.
"It appears these body parts were cut off in an attempt to make it impossible to identify him," said Detective Chief Gabriel DiBernardo of the North Tonawanda police.
"Sad to say, we are still looking for parts of Mr. Rickerson's body. I feel very badly for his family."
Bates' attorneys, Michael S. Taheri and Peter Todoro, said Bates and his family are upset about a recent series of threatening letters that have been sent to the family.
Taheri said there is suspicion that the letters came from somebody connected to Matt, who is in jail in Matamoros, Mexico.
Matt, who has a long record of violent convictions, was arrested in Mexico Feb. 20 after he allegedly stabbed a man to death outside a bar. Police said Matt hid in Mexico after the Rickerson murder.
Matt used to work for Rickerson, and Batts said that Matt told him he was unhappy with the way Rickerson had treated him. Batts told police that Matt had told him at least twice that he wanted to kill and torture Rickerson.
Bates is being held in the Niagara County jail without bail. Judge Fricano set trial for June 29.