ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It looked like something out of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." And sure enough, it was.
State police said Wednesday that they solved a mysterious eastern New Mexico shooting death that was similar to a shooting depicted in a 2003 "CSI" episode. In both cases a revolver was found tied to balloons in an apparent effort to make the weapon float away.
Authorities determined that Thomas Hickman committed suicide after an investigation that included a detective renting a copy of the episode.
"We're not saying it's a copycat of the TV show," state police Lt. Rick Anglada said. "We have no way to know he actually saw the episode. However, the lead agent kept hearing from people that there was a similar case from 'CSI."'
At first, investigators suspected homicide when Hickman, 55, of North Richland Hills, Texas, was found dead March 15 along U.S. 84 southeast of Santa Rosa, his mouth covered by duct tape.
Evidence soon directed them elsewhere. The clue that linked the case to the TV series: six or seven white balloons found entangled in a cholla cactus, some 30 feet from the body.
So the detective rented the show and took notes.
"There were similarities in the episode, where a character did tie helium balloons to a gun and hoped it would float away," Anglada said.
Medical investigators ruled the death a suicide, Anglada said, and 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 sawed off, an apparent attempt to lighten the weapon. Anglada said investigators searched the garage of Hickman's home in Texas and found matching metal shavings.
Only a single spent shell casing remained in the chamber, Anglada said, and there was no evidence the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Hickman, a regional manager for Red Lobster restaurants, had resisted his death.
"There were no signs of a struggle, and he was a large man, not bound in any way," Anglada said.
Hickman was last seen two days before his body was found. Investigators believe he filled the balloons with helium, tied the balloon bouquet to the weapon, then duct-taped his own mouth and shot himself in the back of the head.
They also found he held a life insurance policy that would pay his wife $388,000 or double that amount if his death was accidental.
"Everything just pointed back to Thomas Hickman killing himself," Anglada said.