No sign of explosives at fire scene

Fire investigators found no evidence of explosive devices and could make no determination on the cause of the fire that destroyed the house where Richard Shenkman held his ex-wife hostage for 13 hours and then allegedly set the house ablaze.

South Windsor Police Cmdr. Matthew Reed said investigators turned the property over to Nancy P. Tyler at 3 p.m. Friday after concluding the on-scene investigation, and that she is responsible for "anything at the scene."

Reed said the extent of the damage hampered the investigation and destroyed evidence that could have identified the cause and origin of the fire.

"It was such absolute destruction," Reed said.

Next, state and local fire marshals will interview police, firefighters and other emergency responders who were on the scene late Tuesday to learn what they witnessed - when and where the fire started, the color of the flames, Shenkman's movements inside the house and other testimonial evidence.

The written report of the fire investigation will be done by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said South Windsor Fire Marshal Walter Summers, who will contribute to that report. State Fire Detective John Sawyers, who is leading the investigation, could not be reached for comment on when the report would be completed.

A grim discovery

Tyler, recovering from this week's harrowing alleged kidnapping by her ex-husband, has learned that the South Windsor property that is now her responsibility may be uninsured.

"I am just ill," Tyler said Friday morning over the phone.

Tyler is now left to deal with insurance issues on two properties that her husband allegedly torched - the South Windsor site of Tuesday's standoff and the Crescent Beach, Niantic, property that burned to the ground two years ago.

Richard Shenkman is accused of setting the South Windsor house on fire after Tyler escaped from him following a daylong standoff with police. Shenkman was to relinquish the property on Tuesday, the day he allegedly abducted his ex-wife.

Tyler said she had been asking Shenkman to provide proof that the property was insured since a judge terminated a stay on the divorce decree that granted her ownership of the property.

"He brought what was supposedly a policy and I said it wasn't good enough," Tyler said. On Friday, Shenkman's attorney, Hugh Keefe, informed her that there is no insurance policy. Tyler thinks Shenkman canceled it as soon as the stay on the divorce was lifted.

"His attorney has advised us that he was advised (by Shenkman) that there was no insurance," said Tyler's attorney, John F. Harvey. "Given the history here, I'm not positive that would be true."

Harvey said there is a mortgage on the property, though it was in foreclosure, and that if the lender got notice that the insurance policy was canceled the lender would have put "forced placement insurance" on the property.

"But I think that covers only the debt," Harvey said. "Whatever value there is may well be long gone."

Shenkman said last week that he would be paying Tyler $100,000 in lieu of turning over the South Windsor home. He never made the payment, and Tuesday was the day they were supposed to attend a compliance hearing in family court.

Shenkman said in a phone call from the site that he faced incarceration for contempt of the court order. He is now being held on more than $13 million bond on a variety of charges, including attempted murder, arson and kidnapping.

Also Friday, Reed said police were trying to determine whose gun Shenkman had during the standoff. Throughout the ordeal, Tyler said, he threatened her with a handgun.

After Shenkman was arrested and the fire was extinguished, investigators found a Browning .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol near the back of the house, close to where Shenkman was seized.

The identification number was still visible on the weapon, Reed said. Local police will work with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to trace the ownership of the gun.

Because Tyler had an active restraining order against Shenkman, "Generally, for the duration of the order the person is supposed to transfer ownership of any firearms," Reed wrote in an e-mail responding to questions about the weapon.

Tyler, a 57-year-old Hartford attorney, has been living with relatives since her Niantic home and all of her possessions were destroyed in the first fire in March 2007. Her insurance company authorized a cleanup of the site last year, but further reimbursement has been held up as a result of lawsuits that Shenkman initiated. Tyler had dropped him from the insurance policy while the divorce was pending, but said he added himself to the policy, without her knowledge, two months before the Niantic fire.

In the divorce, Judge Jorge Simon granted Tyler the Niantic property and the proceeds from the insurance company. He ordered that Shenkman's South Windsor home be put in Tyler's name and sold to cover legal fees and other costs.

In the divorce, Tyler received no alimony, child support or payments for their two children's education. She was ordered to carry health insurance for Shenkman and the children. She received a 1994 Honda and the 1997 Oldsmobile that was destroyed in the fire. Shenkman was awarded a 2001 minivan, a 2000 Lexus, a Mercedes, all his business interests and any retirement he may have had.

Tyler has been responsible for paying the mortgage and taxes on the Niantic property.

She lost her car, cell phone and other items in Tuesday's blaze, and during Friday's phone call said she was waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to replace her driver's license.

k.florin@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

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