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You Cast Your X: Did paranoid loner murder his wife?

ALARM bells rang when mountain man Alvin Ridley tried to make arrangements for his wife's funeral. For no one had seen Virginia Ridley for 30 years.

Alvin, 56, had been an eccentric fixture in the Appalachian town of Ringgold, in Georgia, all his life. His father owned a TV repair shop and was known as the best fix-it man in town.

Alvin, though, was something of an oddity. Said to be somewhat slow at school, he would drive around in his red sports car with a plastic dummy in the passenger seat, pretending it was a girlfriend.

But all that stopped when he wed pretty Virginia Hickey. The two had been pen pals while he was in the army and were married when he was discharged in 1966.

After that, she was seen in public only once... four years later, when her worried family forced Ridley to bring her to court, where she told them she was safe and well.

From then on, Alvin told anyone who asked that Virginia had left him to go up north.

The reality, his lawyer argued later, was that he and his wife had become increasingly paranoid. Virginia lost her taste for organised religion - although she still read the Bible.

She also lost her faith in doctors, even though she needed medication for an epileptic condition.

Her husband also became more and more litigious. It started soon after they were married, when they were evicted from public housing.

He claimed they were being picked on and took the matter to court, the first in a long line of such cases. He lost.

He even took the local police chief before a judge, claiming the man had falsified a report after Ridley's father was injured in an accident with a cement truck. The police chief won and Ridley's van was seized as settlement.

Although he later won it back, Ridley claimed this put him out of business, forcing him to beg for a living. He convinced himself he was a pauper, despite the fact that he owned his house, the boarded-up TV repair shop and some valuable land in nearby Tennessee.

Later, he ran for the office of police chief himself, on an anti-corruption ticket. Not surprisingly, he gathered only 210 votes out of 50,000.

He thought local authorities were out to get him and turned his house into a fortress - fenced off, barred and with signs posted, warning people to keep away.

No one saw Virginia. Her family tried to visit but claimed they were threatened by Ridley. Then he made that fateful phone call to a funeral home and found himself facing the most important court case of his life.

For the authorities believed he had held his wife prisoner for almost 30 years - before finally snapping and smothering her.

Police found the rundown house in the hills caked with filth and infested by cockroaches.

Virginia, 49, lay on the bed on her side, her long white hair streaming around her.

Ridley said he had woken up to find her lying on her front, her face buried in her pillow. She had a huge seizure in the night, he claimed, smothering herself.

But investigators were not convinced. They found tiny blood spots on her skin, called petechiae, which can be caused when someone has been forcibly smothered.

A medical expert ruled out a seizure by the body's position and because she had not bitten her tongue. Other marks suggested she had been kept captive.

Ridley denied murdering her. His lawyer admitted he was pitiful, reclusive, paranoid - but no murderer.

He did not even trust his own attorney, insisting on carrying his defence evidence in garbage bags to and from court.

The defence produced experts who contradicted the state witnesses. Petechiae could be caused during a seizure, they argued, using the death the year before of Olympic runner Florence Griffith-Joyner as an example.

The bruises on Virginia Ridley's body could, they said, have resulted from falls during other seizures.

One bruise on her lower lip could have been caused during the final, fatal one. And Virginia's own diary proved she was not being held against her will.

Did Ridley hold his wife hostage throughout their married life and finally murder her?

Or was she merely a victim of their paranoia?

You decide...


Not guilty

Turn to Funday (pg??) for the jury's verdict
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 21, 1999
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