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Tuesday, February 19 2019 @ 03:53 PM UTC

Charges filed in Carrick native's brutal killing in Panama

Crime & Punishment By Mike Bucsko and Jonathan D. Silver, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Panamanian authorities have charged a Butler County woman in the brutal killing of a Carrick native last week in Panama, but the suspect's family contends she is innocent and two men committed the murder. Debra A. Ridgley, 56, of Jackson Township, was formally charged yesterday in the death of Toni Grossi Abrams, 57, a wealthy Staten Island, N.Y., socialite who was knocked in the head before her body was chopped into pieces and taken from her apartment in a suitcase and plastic bags, according to the Staten Island Advance. The suspects, reportedly two men and a woman, took the body parts about three miles from the apartment in downtown Panama City and set them on fire. Ms. Ridgley's family contends she is herself a victim of a kidnapping and robbery and was not a participant in Ms. Abrams' death. (more)

Ms. Ridgley, who grew up and lived most of her life in southern Butler County, has been in Panama on vacation since early March. She rented an apartment for two months from Ms. Abrams a floor above Ms. Abrams' own apartment and was scheduled to return to Western Pennsylvania at the end of this month, said her son, Joe Ridgley of Ohio.

Franklin Amaya, a Panama City prosecutor, said yesterday during a news conference that Ms. Ridgley was charged in the death of Ms. Abrams and that she is the only suspect in custody. Authorities are looking for two Colombian men whom they believe were also involved in Ms. Abrams' death a week ago.

Witnesses have told police they saw a woman, identified as Ms. Ridgley, and two men hail a taxi last Tuesday outside the apartment building where Ms. Abrams and Ms. Ridgley lived.

The taxi driver told police, according to published reports, that he took the trio to a neighborhood, where they got out of the taxi with the suitcase and plastic bags. A short time later, the driver saw flames before the men and woman returned to the taxi.

The charred remains identified as Ms. Abrams were found hours later by neighborhood children.

Mr. Ridgley and his sister, Stacy Rader, yesterday provided a different version of events.

According to their version, which they say they gathered from U.S. Embassy officials who spoke with their mother and from a man who was a handyman for Ms. Ridgley, Ms. Abrams and Ms. Ridgley surprised two men burglarizing Ms. Abrams' apartment. One was the handyman, Mr. Ridgley said.

The two burglars decided to kill Ms. Abrams but to spare Ms. Ridgley because the handyman had worked for her and knew her, Mr. Ridgley said.

During an interview Sunday, he and Ms. Rader said their mother did not know Ms. Abrams, but yesterday Mr. Ridgley said the two women met each other after Ms. Ridgley rented the apartment and Ms. Abrams returned to Panama City last month.

Mr. Ridgley said he has not been able to determine whether his mother was in the apartment when the murder occurred.

Ms. Abrams graduated from Carrick High School in 1966 and was president of her senior class. A bright, forceful woman, she moved from Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, after she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. She lived in New York for more than 30 years and was married to wealthy mortgage broker Martin Abrams, who died in 1998.

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