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Detectives search for leads in slaying of musician

Caroline Morton-Hicks, 59 (in black shirt), loved playing her trombone, rehearsing and performing with groups across Pinellas County, friends said. Pinellas Park police said she was shot and killed after leaving orchestra practice on Monday night. [Courtesy of Lee Lafleur]
Published Feb. 13, 2018

PINELLAS PARK — Caroline Morton-Hicks loved music in all its forms. She loved listening to it, she loved dancing to it and she loved playing it on her trombone, rehearsing and performing with groups across Pinellas County.

It was after one of those rehearsals Monday night that Pinellas Park police said an assailant chased the 59-year-old woman down and fatally shot her between the performing arts center and City Hall.

She was leaving a rehearsal of the Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra at about 9:55 p.m., police said, when she became involved in an altercation in the parking lot.

She tried to run away. The shooter ran after her and shot her in the 5100 block of 78th Avenue, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives are searching for the shooter but said they have little to work with. They're combing through Hicks' background in search of a motive, but have not ruled out that she was randomly targeted.

"We don't have a suspect ID," Sgt. Mike Lynch said, adding that investigators don't know the sex or race of the shooter or even if there were multiple assailants.

The news shocked friends who remembered Morton-Hicks as charming and fun. By day, the St. Petersburg resident managed her rental properties. At night, she played her trombone and, almost every week, swing danced to a jazz ensemble called the TomKats at the Blue Parrot on St. Pete Beach.

"She would dance with whoever would dance with her, which was everyone," said friend Lee Lafleur, 58. "She always lit up a room."

Morton-Hicks was originally from England and still has family there, including at least two children, said fellow trombonist Stewart Olson, 70.

She learned how to play as an adult and always strived to get better, Olsen said. She never missed a chance to play, especially with jazz bands.

"She was very keen to share live music with whoever wanted to listen," said Stephen P. Brown, conductor of the Dunedin Concert Band, which she used to perform with.

Morton-Hicks was also passionate about the outdoors, participating in excursions with a group called the Slackers, which stands for Simply Laidback Adventurers, Campers and Kayakers.

That's where she met Charlie Holley, 66. He said they dated for about 18 months after her husband died. They separated during the summer of 2016.

He described her as "popular" and "well-liked." As a British expatriate, she had very dry sense of humor.

"We'd be talking and she would say something and all of a sudden you'd realize it was funny," Holley said. "It was easy to miss. You'd have to pay attention."

When Morton-Hicks wasn't kayaking or playing music, he said, she was tending to her properties. State records show Morton-Hicks owned a business, Fribri, Inc, which owns 15 properties in St. Petersburg. She was a compassionate landlord, Holley said, renting to families with modest incomes. She'd often let tenants pay their rent when they could, he said.

"She was a very, very gracious landlord, very forgiving," he said.

Her fellow musicians had already left at the time of the altercation, police said. Two witnesses who were working on a vehicle nearby told police they heard an argument, then saw Morton-Hicks being chased, and then heard gunfire.

"What we don't have is that piece of the puzzle of when she left," Lynch said. "Was there anyone waiting for her, did she get into a vehicle, was there someone in her car?"

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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