By Megan Dooley
As the details surrounding the first River Forest murder in more than five years continue to unravel, the most shocking bit of information came out at last week's bond hearing; that the price agreed upon to end a young woman's life was a mere $400.
"I think it is a horrible comment on how cheap life is for some people," said River Forest Deputy Chief Craig Rutz. "The whole thing seems ludicrous to me."
But Rutz said there simply is no standard in murder-for-hire cases, and this one will possibly get even more astonishing as more details emerge.
The twisted saga began with a married former suburban police officer, Devin A. Bickham Sr., 39, involved in an extramarital affair with the 29-year-old victim, Chervon Alexander, herself the mother of a young daughter. After Bickham Sr. and Alexander reportedly made plans to marry, Bickham Sr. allegedly decided the pressure of his affair was too great, and enlisted his own son and an accomplice in a scheme to get rid of his mistress.
Bickham Sr., his son, Devin Bickham Jr., 20, and Cardell Taylor, 35 have been charged with first degree murder in the July 11 shooting death of Alexander in a parking lot next to Priory Park on the 7200 block of Division St.
At the July 15 bond hearing, a prosecutor from the state attorney's office revealed that Bickham Sr. allegedly agreed to pay Taylor $400 to murder Alexander. An upfront payment of $200 was made with the rest of the pay out pledged after the murder had been committed.
Rutz said he was shocked to learn the low amount in a murder-for-hire scheme, but it's difficult for anyone to understand the motivations of the kind of people who would be involved in such a murder plan.
"The thought that somebody would kill someone for someone else is so foreign to most people that the amount becomes almost irrelevant," Rutz said.
Scott Frankel, an Oak Park defense attorney who is not involved in the Alexander murder case, said in his experience, the number isn't so shocking.
"There's no such thing as a going rate, of course," he said, adding that murder-for-hire cases are rare, and come with a number of different kinds of circumstances. "I would say that the facts of each case stand on their own," he said.
Frankel said he's seen a lot in his career as a defense attorney, and it's very difficult to shock him anymore. Each case is different, he said, which is why it's impossible to make any generalizations about a specific type of crime.
'That's probably just a side story," he said of the amount allegedly paid for the murder, adding that it won't likely be the most shocking piece of information that comes out in the course of the investigation. "There's so much going on in a murder case," he said.
But the details already play out like a dark soap opera. Bickham Sr. once worked as an officer for the North Chicago police department. According to a source close to the department, the fallen cop left the force after being accused of sexual misconduct, possibly with a minor. That source said that charges were never brought against Bickham Sr. in that case, but he left the force shortly after the accusations surfaced.
Bickham Sr., the father of five children, is also married, but was reportedly engaged to Alexander, with a wedding date set for August.
And according to court documents, he was in financial trouble, having filed for bankruptcy twice since early 2010.
The murder took place in the same parking lot where Bickham Sr. and the victim had parked on prior occasions. An electrical blackout following the storm that Monday left the area dark, and Bickham Sr. allegedly sat in the driver's seat, with Alexander in the passenger seat, while Bickham Jr. parked a car nearby, with Taylor in the passenger seat. Taylor allegedly exited that car, made his way to Bickham Sr.'s vehicle, and opened fire on the passenger side window with a .38-caliber semiautomatic weapon, hitting Alexander with at least four bullets.
Taylor then allegedly returned to the car driven by Bickham Jr. and the two fled the scene. Bickham Sr. called the police, and upon their arrival, gave them a description of both Bickham Jr. and Taylor, and the car the two were driving. The River Forest police quickly broadcast the information over police radios, and within minutes, Forest Park and Oak Park officers had pulled over Bickham Jr. and Taylor. The gun was found in plain site between the two men in the vehicle.
While Bickham Jr. made the initial claim that someone had thrown the gun into their open car window as he drove past, Taylor made the unprompted statement, "I want the rest of my money now."
It is unclear when the murder-for-hire plot was launched, but Bickham Sr. allegedly did his dealings with Taylor through his son, Bickham Jr., whose prior arrest record was completely clean. The gun used in the shooting and the vehicle used by Bickham Jr. and Taylor as a getaway car were both owned by Bickham Sr., though he claimed, at one point, never to have seen them before. He also said the shooter and his driver were unknown to him, though the latter was in fact his son.
Though they do have prior arrests on their records, neither Bickham Sr. nor Taylor have ever been convicted of a crime.
They now stand accused of premeditated murder. At the July 15 bond hearing, all three men were denied bond. The price tag for a young mother's death remains unsettling, but sadly, not terribly surprising.
"We know that human life is cheap to some people," Frankel said.