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Family remembers their mother's murder 50 years ago
For 50 of his 67 years, Bob Rickrode has watched people frown and then "figure it out" when they hear his name.
A woman who recently met his brother, Wesleyville Mayor Ed Rickrode, heard the name and blurted, "You're one of them."
The Rickrodes' mother, Lucille, was shot to death 50 years ago Monday at the family's Greene Township home, leaving behind nine children ages 3 to 20. The killer also shot and maimed their father.
The shootings were so bizarre and the family's loss so horrific that people still remember the Rickrode name.
"You see by their faces that the name means something to them," Bob Rickrode said.
All nine Rickrode children live in and around Erie. Seven of them gathered recently at Ed Rickrode's Wesleyville barbershop to remember their mother and their father, Robert Rickrode, whose left arm was amputated at the elbow as a result of the shooting.
Robert Rickrode never remarried and raised his children on his own after his wife's death. He died in 1993 at age 68 after a series of strokes and heart attacks.
"Dad said he was a one-woman man. He loved mom. They were soul mates," said Diane Garren, 70, the couple's oldest child.
The murder was 'hard to imagine'
On July 24, 1967, Robert and Lucille Rickrode and their oldest son, Bob, then 17, were wakened by a commotion around 3 a.m. and saw a truck stuck in a ditch outside their rural Sampson Road home.
"Dad said, 'If he needs help, he'll come to the door,'" Bob Rickrode said.
The younger Rickrode was heading back to bed when he heard his father say something, and then heard gunshots. He saw a gun barrel sticking through the kitchen window.
Lucille Rickrode had been shot in the chest and dropped to the floor. Robert Rickrode had been shot in the arm. The gunman shot again, at Bob Rickrode, then took off.
The teenager wasn't hurt and held his mother as she died.
"I said to Dad, 'I think she's gone,'" Bob Rickrode said. "He said, Oh, no. Oh, don't say that.'"
Rickrode tied off his father's wound with a tourniquet and dialed the operator, who summoned help.
"Dad was a volunteer fireman," he said. "I used to go down to the fire hall with him and watch what he did, so I knew what to do."
"Thanks to him, we had our dad," Garren said of her brother. "He saved Dad's life."
Garren was 20 at the time of the murder, married and nine months pregnant with her first child and her parents' first grandchild. Her daughter was born the day after Lucille Rickrode's funeral.
Carol Rickrode, 19, was staying with her pregnant sister at her sister's home.
Six younger Rickrodes, ages 3 through 9, were asleep upstairs in the Rickrode home when their mother was killed. State police afterward took them to a neighbor's house, where Ed Rickrode, now 59, heard the neighbor explain what had happened to her daughters.
"She said, 'Mrs. Rickrode didn't make it,'" he said. "That's how I heard Mom had died."
Lucille Rickrode was 43.
State police traced the truck abandoned in the ditch to 27-year-old David Kostovick of Erie. Police said that Kostovick had been watching the races at a nearby speedway before the shootings and afterward went to his father's home, pounded on the door and said that he'd shot someone. Kostovick holed up in his Crestmont Avenue apartment in Erie for five hours with his wife, infant child and a high-powered rifle before surrendering to police.
"It is hard to imagine someone getting mad enough to shoot a person just because your truck gets stuck in a ditch," Richard Brabender, then Erie County district attorney, said during the standoff.
Kostovick was charged with homicide and assault with intent to kill and was brought to trial the following spring. Robert Rickrode during the trial identified Kostovick as the shooter.
Testifying on his own behalf, Kostovick denied shooting anyone and accused his father of being the gunman. He was acquitted by the jury.
"Thank God. Thank God," he said after the verdict.
No one else was ever charged in the shootings.
David Kostovick died in 1980. Erie County Coroner Merle Wood ruled his death a suicide due to carbon monoxide poisoning, likely prompted by severe depression and financial troubles.
Growing up 'surprisingly normal'
Robert Rickrode not only lost part of an arm after the shooting, he also lost his job. He had been an ice cream salesman for Sealtest and could no longer manage the deliveries.
He didn't sleep at night after the shooting, Bob Rickrode said.
"It was hard for me to sleep," he said. "I kept hearing the noise of the gun. Dad was the same way. He couldn't sleep at night in the dark because it happened at night in the dark."
Robert Rickrode took over an Erie Times-News delivery route from his son's future mother-in-law, and then got a second route. He delivered papers to more than 600 homes daily and more than 900 on Sundays.
"He'd steer with the steering wheel against his stomach and roll the papers with his right arm," Bob Rickrode said.
Garren once asked her father how he managed.
"I just do it," he said.
Robert Rickrode also managed to keep his family together. The Sisters of St. Joseph had offered to take the younger children in, but Rickrode refused, Garren said.
"He told them, 'God gave me these kids, and I will raise them,'" she said.
Rickrode moved his family to North East to be near his parents and siblings who could help him. Daughter Carol also helped, getting the younger children ready for school, making dinner and doing chores.
"I wanted to quit school; I figured the younger ones needed help," Carol Rickrode, now 69, said. "Dad said, 'You go to school and get your diploma. We'll manage somehow.'"
St. Gregory Parish enrolled the younger Rickrodes at St. Gregory School tuition free. A teacher there found a woman to help the family around the house.
"They say it takes a community to raise a child," Ed Rickrode said. "That was true."
The family did what they could to help the younger children, especially, cope. Bob Rickrode used money from his landscaping job to buy bicycles for his younger brothers and sisters: Ed; Annette (now Reslink), 8; Mary (Amatangelo), 7; Gerry (Rickrode-Osborn), 6; John, 5; and Bill, 3.
"I bought a bike a week, took it to my future mother-in-law's house and put it together," Bob Rickrode said. "Come Christmas, I had six bikes."
Garren and her husband, David, then 23, pitched in while raising their own family and took the younger children on outings, including a trip to Niagara Falls.
"We're all surprisingly normal, more or less," Garren said of herself and her siblings. "None of us ended up in jail."
Celebrating life and remembering another
Lucille Rickrode's children remember her as loving, feisty and religious. She cooked fish for her family every Friday through Lent and insisted that her family pray together and that her children attend Catholic school.
"She was only 4-foot-11. She was a little spitfire," Garren said.
Lucille and Robert Rickrode met in grade school, at Holy Rosary School. As young adults they married twice, in Ripley, New York, where they eloped in April 1946, and in a Catholic church in May 1946 to appease the bride's mother.
Lucille Rickrode hoped that her first grandchild would be a boy.
"She said, 'Don't get me wrong; if it's a girl, I'll love her. But I always wanted an older brother growing up,'" Garren said.
She also longed for red hair.
"Mom was a brunette but said that when her hair started to gray, she was going to dye it red," Garren said.
Each anniversary of her death, Robert Rickrode never spoke of it.
"But Dad always knew what day it was," Bob Rickrode said.
For this 50th anniversary of the murder, Lucille Rickrode's children planned to celebrate life instead, on the 50th birthday of her granddaughter, Beth Garren.
"The Sunday after July 24 we will have a party for my daughter," Diane Garren said.
The Rickrodes also will continue to cope with notoriety and the reaction to their name.
"You learn to live with it all," Bob Rickrode said.