By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
At times, this story touches on the surreal.
In the criminal case, for example, prosecutors told jurors that Lori Romaneck had kept her secret because she'd justifiably feared her father's violent reprisals. In Romaneck's civil suit, however, the City of Phoenix's attorneys argued she hadn't been nearly as harmed after the fire as she'd alleged.
Another dichotomy emerged after fire-department investigators concluded in 1994 that the 1967 fatal house blaze--which had been deemed accidental--had been an arson. But after Romaneck sued the city in December 1995, it hired an out-of-town expert--at the cost of about $50,000--to refute its fire department's own ace investigators.
Unexpected realities have revealed themselves in this case after an examination by New Times of more than 4,000 pages of documents, and in more than 20 interviews.
One important truth, unfortunately, will probably never emerge: whether Gene Keidel torched his home with his four children in bed--killing two of them and maiming Lori Romaneck.
Nine days after Lori Romaneck walked into the police department, detective Ed Reynolds' supervisor asked him to check out her story.
Reynolds in 1993 recently had been assigned to the agency's "cold case" squad. It had been created to reinvestigate hundreds of unsolved murders that had been dormant for up to four decades.
At the time, it was a most unglamorous assignment.
"In 1993," Reynolds said in a January deposition, "when I tell somebody I'm investigating a homicide that occurred 23 years ago, people didn't take it seriously. When I asked someone to look for records that are 20 years old, they'd laugh about it."
Reynolds and cold-case work fit well. He's a workhorse, and he doesn't quit when he hits dead ends. Sometimes, however, he tends to try to draw unlikely investigative links between subjects. Years ago, his peers slapped the nickname "Jigsaw" on him for that tendency.
Before first meeting with Romaneck on June 23, 1993, he studied hundreds of pages of paperwork generated in the DiAnne Keidel case and subsequent fatal house fire.
When they met, Romaneck provided new specifics and leads.
"I'm a cop," Reynolds recalled in a January deposition. "I'm skeptical. As I got to know her, I believed her. When I dug up the body, I knew she was right."
That wouldn't happen for 16 months.
In late July 1993, Romaneck met with many of the surviving firefighters who had risked their lives during the January 1967 inferno. Romaneck was striking in a pretty white dress, her thick, dark hair covering some of the facial scars left by the fire.
She told the men she'd resolved to meet them after watching her horse, Katie, foal. During the birth, Romaneck said, she'd flashed on the 1967 fire that had cost her sisters their lives.
"That night [of the fire]," Romaneck wrote in a July 26, 1993, thank-you note, "I learned of unconditional love, of men that laid it on the line for life, who believed in something and took that belief to the limit. . . . Nothing takes the horrifying memories of that night in 1967 away. But please think of me now as a happy, successful adult enjoying life."
(City of Phoenix attorneys tried to use that statement against Romaneck during her civil case, suggesting it showed her father hadn't hurt her as badly as she'd alleged.)
One attendee at the reunion was Ray Mullens, then still a Phoenix fire captain. As a young firefighter in 1967, he had come upon the barely alive Romaneck in the smoke-drenched home. She was lying beneath her 12-year-old sister Susie, who already was dead or dying.
Mullens is now retired, but his career was distinguished by many heroic deeds. It was marred, however, by many squabbles with superiors.
"He generally felt that [fire chief Alan] Brunacini was a crook," Ed Reynolds said of Mullens, and explained that there had been stories about a supposed attempt made on Mullens' life, ". . . a shot fired near his home. It had lodged in the cabinet of his storage shed. He felt Brunacini was behind that."
Romaneck and Mullens kept in touch after the reunion. She told him---apparently without specifics--about renewed official interest in her mother's disappearance. She also questioned him about the 1967 fire. He said he'd do what he could for her.
Ed Reynolds was working both the missing-persons and the fire cases by late summer 1993. That September, he asked the fire department to revisit the January 1967 fire.
Reynolds couldn't have made his request at a worse time. The fire department then was reeling from cutbacks that had cost the arson unit a third of its staff.
"We were up to our butt in alligators [and] here comes a guy with a 27-year-old arson," says deputy chief Joe Bushong, who headed the unit at the time. "What he wanted us to say was it was an arson case, wanted us to go back and investigate this. I just kind of said, 'You have to be shitting me.'
"My take on it at that time was he wanted us to change the cause of the fire . . . so he could get permission from a supervisor to dig up the swimming pool in search for the body, and he didn't like his chances of being allowed to do that."