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Roxanne Fricke's murder occurred in front of scores of eyewitnesses in a public place. Still, it would take years for justice to be served in the twisty and baffling case.
On May 13, 1988, the Virginia Beach Police Department responded to a report that gunshots had been fired outside a supermarket in the coastal city in southeastern Virginia.
When they arrived on the scene, they found a woman who’d been shot twice, once in the throat and in the head, retired detective Robert Sager told “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
The victim, eyewitnesses told cops, had stashed her groceries in the backseat of her car and then climbed into the driver’s seat. As she put the vehicle into reverse, a shooter ran up to the car and blasted her twice. They told officials that the suspect ran off and escaped in a yellow car.
The grocery store parking lot was filled with people who saw the shooting go down, Sager told producers. Each one of them had a different description of the male suspect, claiming he was white, black, tall, short, young, old. Conflicting reports muddied the investigation.
The victim’s purse wasn’t in the car, leading investigators to consider that the slaying was connected to a robbery. Through the car’s license and registration, it was found to belong to a Navy officer and his wife, Michael and Roxanne Fricke.
The victim was determined to be 31-year-old Roxanne, whose husband confirmed the identity from a crime-scene photo. The couple had a 13-month-old son.
Investigators monitored Roxanne's credit cards. When there was no activity in the days following her murder, they realized that it was unlikely that the shooting had been a robbery gone wrong.
What was the real motive? Members of Roxanne’s family told investigators that she didn’t have enemies. However, in the days and weeks following her death, they observed Michael becoming increasingly remote and unwilling to focus on his wife and her murder. He didn’t want them talking to reporters about it, they told producers. He didn’t pursue the case with the police. He appeared to be moving on.
Although Michael’s behavior didn’t sit well with his late wife’s family, investigators didn’t have enough evidence to consider him a person of interest. The case stalled, and Michael requested a transfer to Ohio, where he moved with his son and remarried.
But in August, 1990, Roxanne’s murder was roused from its cold case status. Gilroy Lamar Brunson, who was under investigation then in a fraud case, told authorities he would share information on Roxanne’s case in exchange for leniency in his. When authorities interviewed Brunson he had information about her case that had not been made public, according to Dan Rice, who worked as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Brunson named the shooter as Angelo Rivera, an auto mechanic. Investigators discovered that during the time of Roxanne’s shooting, Rivera drove a yellow car. It seemed like a solid lead, so authorities enlisted Brunson to wear a wire in order to record Rivera copping to the killing.
When Roxanne’s murder came up during the men’s conversation, Rivera became suspicious and even patted down Brunson, according to “Mastermind of Murder.” Rivera didn’t find the wire. Although he never directly confessed to pulling the trigger he admitted involvement in the crime.
Police arrested Rivera in 1993 and accused him of shooting Roxanne Fricke for money, reported The Virginian-Pilot in 2010. But there were still missing pieces so detectives continued to question Brunson, who eventually revealed that he acted as the middleman between Rivera and the person who wanted Roxanne to be killed. In exchange for identifying the mastermind of the murder Brunson would get blanket immunity, provided he wasn’t the actual hitman.
When the deal was completed, Brunson named Michael Fricke as the man behind his own wife’s parking-lot execution.
Investigators learned that Brunson’s relationship with Lt. Cmdr. Michael Fricke began in 1988 at the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. Michael used his pull as an officer to help Brunson’s bid to get into the Navy’s elite SEAL team program. Michael then used that as leverage over Brunson, who considered Michael to be a friend.
Michael tested the waters of Brunson’s indebted loyalty by asking him if he knew someone who could rough up a man he claimed Roxanne was seeing, according to “Mastermind of Murder.” Michael then upped the ante and asked Brunson for help in killing Roxanne.
In 1988, five years after Roxanne’s murder, authorities tried to question Michael, who immediately lawyered up. That led authorities to believe his involvement. The Navy, however, wasn’t ready to allow them to move forward at this time to charge an officer with a capital crime.
Further digging revealed that Michael had taken out a $100,000 life insurance policy on his wife shortly before she was shot and that he had had multiple affairs. Some of the women he’d been seeing on the sly were the wives of enlisted men. The infidelities, if exposed, could threaten his career. Roxanne knew she was married to a cheater, her family members told producers.
Investigators had found a motive for the murder but they still lacked evidence directly linking Michael to Roxanne’s murder -- until they learned Michael had been in possession of his wife’s wedding rings that were in her purse that was stolen when she was killed, which provided that connection they needed, according to “Mastermind of Murder.”
Michael was arrested for murder. But as prosecutors prepared their case, they were dealt a devastating blow. Brunson was deemed an unreliable witness. As a result, both Rivera and Brunson walked free.
Michael, who faced a possible death sentence, pleaded guilty to premeditated murder, reported the Virginian-Pilot. He was sentenced to 30 years behind bars. After serving 16 years he successfully applied for release from the Department of Defense’s only maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
About a month before his release date, Michael, 54 was officiating a softball game on July 24, 2010 and got into a dispute with a player. Michael was bashed in the head and died from his injuries.
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