The Eternal Flame Part 2

Three decades ago, an unsolved murder case and arson fire scarred Lori Romaneck for life. Since 1993, she's been fighting a bureaucratic backdraft to set the record straight.

Bushong asked fire captain Donald Koepp (who had been working at the department's fitness center) to speak informally with a few people about the fire.

Koepp spoke by phone to one of the 1967 firefighters--"He [told me] there was an awful lot of interior fire for a kitchen fire that supposedly started from food on the stove, or something of that nature." He also interviewed Ray Mullens and Lori Romaneck, and reported his results verbally to Bushong.

That ended his involvement.
Romaneck says she started phoning Bushong late in the summer of 1993 to check on the "investigation's" status.

"After that September," she recalls, "I couldn't get anyone from the fire department to return my calls for months. I was just this old pain in the butt to them. I was getting very down."

Lori Romaneck's ennui built as 1993 ended. Six months had passed since she'd approached police, and her mother's remains still were under the concrete on West Citrus Way.

"I'd go back there with Ed Reynolds when no one was home," she says, "and say, 'Look, this is where Mom hit the arcadia door during the fight with my father. Here's where she's buried. Please dig her up for me.'"

By now, Ed Reynolds says he was convinced that Lori Romaneck was for real. But nine more months would pass until Reynolds' bosses gave him the go-ahead to dig for DiAnne Keidel's body.

If Ray Mullens' recollections are accurate, Reynolds may have been lucky he got permission to dig at all.

"Ed said in April '94 that his people had told him not to spend another minute or dollar on them--exact language," Mullens says. "They won't admit that because now they're geniuses for solving all these old cases. Then was different."

With the DiAnne Keidel case at a standstill in mid-1994, the fatal fire took on increased significance to Ed Reynolds.

Reynolds, Mullens and Romaneck were pretty much going it alone, and each was feeling the burden of their singular pursuits:

Romaneck simply wanted some justice for her late loved ones.
Mullens wanted to help Romaneck, and he longed for the fire department to be held accountable for any and all alleged wrongdoing.

Reynolds needed an arrest and, he hoped, a conviction, to put his cold-case squad on the map.

The fire department still had no intention of accommodating his investigative needs. So, in April 1994, the detective turned to Mullens for help. On April 25, 1994, according to an affidavit filed by Reynolds in Romaneck's civil suit:

"I interviewed Captain Ray Mullens of the Phoenix Fire Department and received considerable information indicating that the January 9, 1967, fire was arson. During this interview with Captain Mullens, I became convinced that the 1967 fire had been intentionally set based primarily on Mullens' description of the intensity of the burn patterns throughout the flooring of the residence as well as the feet and leg burns on the victims.

Mullens had given Reynolds a song and dance, he practically admitted in a deposition earlier this year:

"Everything I had told Detective Reynolds was conjectural in [that] . . . I didn't do an in-depth investigation. . . . I worked from scanty information to try to help him determine what the truth might be, so that I could tell him what I thought. He was unable to find out anything from the fire department. . . . I have a vivid imagination, but I couldn't imagine mitigating circumstances that would be found in that fire that would cause it not to be arson. And if it were arson, then the children were murdered."

Both Reynolds and Mullens were gunning for Gene Keidel. But Mullens says the detective's report about the interview was grossly inaccurate.

For instance, Reynolds wrote that Mullens had told him he "had Lori in her arms, protecting her from the fire and flame." (Mullens: "There were no flames to protect her from, and at the time she was in my hands, the room was relatively clear of smoke and cool. . . .")

Another Reynolds notation: "Ray Mullens discussed this fire with several well-known and renowned experts who primarily agree with him that the fire was not consistent with a normal kitchen fire, but is more consistent with an accelerated fire." ("Did you tell Ed Reynolds that?" a lawyer would ask Mullens. "Absolutely not," the captain replied.)

Reynolds showed Mullens photos of the dead Keidel girls taken in January 1968 at the county morgue. His report says the pictures revealed to Mullens "that the fire was closer to [Susie's] legs than head, which is consistent with a floor-up fire. If the fire was from the kitchen only, the flames would have been above them and their heads and hair would be burnt. Ray also noted that the most extensive burns were below the children's knees."

A "floor-up" fire with "low burn patterns" may mean someone committed arson with an accelerant. But reasonable minds in the fire industry differ on its significance.

(From a recent National Fire Protection Association manual: "Low burn patterns were always considered a sure sign that flammable liquid was used. Now the only thing a low burn pattern means is that an intense fire was burning in that area. Could it be a liquid accelerant? Yes. However, it could be a host of other things that have nothing to do with flammable liquids.")

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