Police search for suspects in fatal Millsboro-area home invasion

A 41-year-old Millsboro man was killed in a home-invasion robbery on July 25, Delaware State Police reported this week.

According to police, the DSP was called to the 25000 block of North Berry Bramble Falls, off Bethesda Road, north of Millsboro, after having received a call around 1:19 a.m. from a 39-year-old woman who reported that her boyfriend, 41-year-old James L. Rickards had been shot in the residence.

The DSP said the woman told police that two men wearing dark-colored clothing, with bandanas across the lower portion of their faces and baseball caps on their heads, had entered the home with an unknown type of handgun and demanded money. No further description of the suspects was available.

“Yes, it is vague,” acknowledged DSP Public Information Officer Master Cpl. Gary E. Fournier.

“Unfortunately, our witness — the female that was in the house — is the only person that could give us any sort of description, and that’s all she could provide to us.”

According to the female victim, after allegedly shooting Rickards, the suspects fled the residence in an unknown direction without any cash or valuables. The woman was not injured in the incident.

“The investigation is still ongoing,” added Fournier. “As far as we know, there was no struggle between the suspects and the victim.”

Rickards was pronounced dead on the scene. His body was removed from the scene by the Office of the State Medical Examiner and an autopsy was conducted, which determined the cause and manner of his death to be a homicide by gunshot. The Delaware State Police Homicide Unit this week was continuing their investigation into the incident.

Fournier said that detectives determined through preliminary interviews and investigation that the incident was not a random act and that the victims may have been targeted in the home invasion. That was also the case in a home invasion in Selbyville on July 24, police confirmed. A report of an assault during a home invasion in Long Neck on July 18 was later determined by police to have been a false claim by the alleged victim and involved people she knew.

Fournier said the idea that the victims in these cases were targeted or knew the alleged suspects came to the DSP “through investigative measures … through interviews and evidence found at the scene.”

“Particularly, what they’re looking for — and I’m not saying that this is the case in these cases — but in the majority of the cases that we investigate, the No. 1 reason why they are targeted are either because of (a) drugs or (b) money that’s owed to them. A lot of times, that’s why these people are specifically targeted. Again, that’s not to say this is the case for these.”

Drugs and money were allegedly a factor in the false report from Long Neck, reported by 25-year-old Lauren Wingate.

Police said Wingate had originally called them to report that, while she was home alone with her 17-month-old child, she was confronted by the two suspects as they entered the home and demanded cash. Wingate initially reported that she was unable to comply with the suspects’ demands and was struck in the face by a light-skinned black male. She also reported that the two suspects removed a handgun located in a bedroom before fleeing the residence.

Following the initial interview, Wingate was re-interviewed, and she subsequently confessed to allowing two male acquaintances into her residence as she removed her father’s pain medication and gave it to them for repayment of a drug debt.

Police said that, after she gave them her father’s pills, the two males left the residence, while Wingate removed the handgun and placed it into a bush next to her residence, to make it look like a home-invasion robbery, so her father would not find out she was responsible for the drugs going missing.

Wingate has since been charged with Providing a False Statement to a Law Enforcement Officer, a felony, and was committed to Sussex Correctional Institute for lack of $2,000 secured bond. Fournier said that Wingate faces up to two years in prison for her false report.

Addressing concerns about home-invasion robberies, Fournier said that police can’t recommend much outside of calling 911 immediately.

“That’s tough to say, because anybody could be the victim of a home invasion. Obviously, these are not random acts, where the victims are sometimes known by the intruder. But your best defense is to dial 911 and try to report it.

“There are so many other safety measures that you could put into place that people don’t have or aren’t afforded the opportunity — like getting a home alarm system or something of that nature. It’s hard for us to say, ‘Go out and purchase that,’ because of the expense,” he said.

“Calling 911 immediately upon hearing noises in your house, to get police on their way, is the best defense we can offer to people. We don’t want you to take matters into your own hands, although people will do that.”

Investigations of the Millsboro and Selbyville home invasions were still ongoing mid-week. If anyone has any information in reference to the incidents, they are being asked to contact Detective Fred Chambers at (302) 388-0196 or by utilizing the Delaware State Police Mobile Crime Tip Application available to download at: http://www.delaware.gov/apps/.

Information may also be provided by calling Delaware Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333, via the Internet at www.tipsubmit.com, or by sending an anonymous tip by text to 274637 (CRIMES) using the keyword “DSP.”