I think about them each year around this time.
This year was no different.
Nov. 10 came and passed and to most people, it was just another day.
Not so for Lisa Fickel, who 15 years ago, on Nov. 10, 2005, held her husband in her arms as he lay dying on a dark country road, remnants of two shots from a .30-.30 rifle still lingering in the cold fall air.
Bill Fickel did nothing that night, except venture outside when a car stopped in front of his house on Burns Road in Oakfield.
Probably someone looking at a van his father had for sale across the street, he thought.
It was 8 p.m. and Lisa was inside puttering in the kitchen when she heard the shots, though, at the time, she did not think they were gunfire.
She told me once that something compelled her to go outside and check.
She found nothing but the van still parked across the street and her beloved husband bleeding to death in the road.
Bill Fickel was 46.
He would have turned 61 this year, on Oct. 2.
Lisa and Bill Fickel would have been married for 33 years on Aug. 29.
I still remember sitting down with Lisa in January 2006 at the same home she shared with Bill.
She told me of their life together, how they met and what he was like and how they loved to travel.
And how they were finally able to afford their dream house, a secluded, rustic house surrounded by woods, a place, she told me, were they could feel safe and secure.
She told me of how surprised she was when Bill told her in 2006 that he wanted to run for town justice. He just wasn’t the politician type, she said.
Still, he went at it with a passion, knocking on doors and meeting people. He was personable. Likeable. A good, decent guy.
He lost the election on Nov. 8, 2006 and, disappointed, vowed to make plans that weekend to talk about running for something again in four years.
He was murdered two nights later.
This is what happened the night of Nov. 10:
Both got home late from a typical day. Bill worked at Time Warner until 7 most nights and so did she, at her job at Triple A in Amherst.
Bill arrived home first the night of Nov. 10, about 7:15 p.m. His wife got home about 20 minutes later.
“He was in the kitchen just puttering around and I said, ‘Are you hungry?’ And he said ‘Yeah. I could eat. I wanna do a few things on the computer first.’
“So I said ‘OK. You go into the computer room and do your stuff and I’ll get supper ready.’ We talked a little, just ‘good day, bad day’ stuff. He told me his last call that day had been at my cousin’s house. So he was telling me about my cousin and the kids. She has a little boy who was crawling all over him when he was trying to do cable stuff. He just told me that they were doing good and for the most part he had an easy day. It was an absolute normal night.”
She figures her husband was researching wood stoves on the computer. He wanted to put one in their house. She was busy in the kitchen preparing food for the microwave and standing by the window when she saw a truck slow down and back into her driveway.
She thought nothing of it.
“One of our little pet peeves is that most of our friends got home, had dinner and everything done much earlier than us so it never fails that we’d get ready to sit down to eat and someone would pull in the driveway.
“So it was about five minutes to eight and he was in the other room and I said ‘Oh, Bill, I think you’ve got company’ because I didn’t recognize the truck. I waited a minute and said ‘Oh, never mind. It’s pulling out.’ Well, it pulled out and stopped across the street near the van. Bill must have peeked out from the computer room because he came out and said ‘I think they’re looking at the van. Let me go out and see.’ That weekend he was going to put the van in for the winter.”
It was Bill’s and his father, John’s, van, an old utility van they used for hauling wood and other things. There hadn’t been much interest in the van.
Bill Fickel walked through the dining room and into the kitchen, grabbing the van keys, and heading to his attached garage.
He snapped an invisible fence collar on his dog, Bo, a four-year-old black Lab, grabbed a flashlight and opened the electric garage door.
“I looked out the window and saw Bill’s typical saunter down the driveway and didn’t think anything of it,” Lisa said.
An hour later, Bill Fickel was pronounced dead at United Memorial Medical Center.
In the years that have passed since that night, Lisa Fickel has made sure everyone remembers what happened that night. A $100,000 reward still stands for information leading to the arrest of Bill’s killer.
The thing is, most people, investigators who have longed worked on the case, Lisa and those who love her, all know who did it.
Steven P. Rebert is serving two life prison terms with no chance of parole at a prison in Pennsylvania. He shot a couple to death in their home in Brockway, Pa. on Aril 12, 2010.
Rebert is from Oakfield and lived not far from the Fickels.
A cigarette found at the scene of Bill’s murder contained Rebert’s DNA.
He has never admitted to the murder and it’s likely he never will. He is a psychopath, a serial killer, some believe.
I think of him this time of year, too. I think of sitting across from him in a visiting room and looking into his eyes and asking him ...Why?
Maybe, just maybe, some day he will answer that question.
Scott DeSmit is a general assignment reporter for The Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.