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.

By mid-1994, Lori Romaneck had grown closer to Mullens--the firefighter who had rescued her so many years earlier.

"I was terrified that my father would find out I'd told and he'd kill me," Romaneck says. "I was alone and I needed to feel safe. I desperately wanted someone to be on my side. Ray was big and strong and safe. The guy had found me in a house when I was a little girl, picked me up when I was dead, and carried me to safety, for Pete's sakes. He fit the bill at that moment."

Mullens says he and Romaneck "seriously discussed marriage" after the relationship blossomed. Romaneck, however, says that "when the smoke cleared [in early 1995], I realized that I need a mate and a husband, not a father figure. I'm talking the emotional thing here, not the age thing."

Late in the summer of 1994, Romaneck says, she took steps to buy the Citrus Way home from its latest owner. "It was way past time to retrieve Mother," she says. "I told Mullens I'd take him up on his offer."

That offer, which Mullens confirms, was to smash through the concrete himself, recover DiAnne Keidel's remains, then tell the world. Romaneck says she told Detective Reynolds of her intentions:

"Ed was shocked. 'Oh, really? You're gonna do what?' I told him to tell his sergeant that I was going public after I did it. And then, duck!"

Reynolds, she says, responded in a jiffy.
"He said, very kindly, 'Can you please wait just a little bit longer?'" Romaneck recalls. "I said I would. They went for it real soon after that, and they found Mother."

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's press conference after Gene Keidel's September 1994 arrest on murder charges went beyond platitudes.

Romley said an unidentified fire official (his identity remains a mystery) had commented that the investigation into the fatal 1967 house fire had ended within a day, despite evidence that an accelerant fueled the blaze.

"The [fire] investigation wasn't thorough," Romley said. "The public has a right to demand a complete and thorough job."

That made the evening news, as the public wondered if the man accused of murdering his first wife also had burned up his own children.

The fire department couldn't ignore the old case anymore. Within days, it assigned veteran arson investigator Ray Wilson to reexamine the house fire. Wilson got permission to work the 1967 case with another experienced investigator, Captain Art Nunez.

Deputy chief Joe Bushong says candidly that Wilson's appointment was both a blessing and a curse:

"Ray is very deliberate in everything, and that's why I picked him for this. But you have to understand--Ray's reports are typically three or four times longer than anyone else's, and take that much longer to finish." (Bushong was less diplomatic about Wilson in his deposition: "He is good in some areas, but more trouble than he's worth in others. . . . He tends to be, in some cases, too thorough.")

The investigators' assignment was daunting: to determine if the official cause of the 1967 fire--"accidental"--held up, and if not, why not. They had to complete this task without the benefit of physical evidence, which had been discarded decades earlier.

Instead, Wilson and Nunez were forced to rely on black-and-white photographs taken after the fire, interviews of surviving firefighters and onlookers, and old police and fire reports.

Lori Romaneck says she was encouraged that the fire department seemed at last to be treating her sisters' deaths seriously. On October 4, 1994, Romaneck buried her mother at Greenwood Memory Lawn Mortuary, on West Van Buren Street.

That day, officials moved the caskets holding her sisters' remains from unmarked graves next to their mother in a different part of the cemetery.

Three days later, Wilson and Nunez interviewed retired fire captain Bob Bivin. Bivin said he long suspected that the fire had ignited in more than one place, including possibly the family room where Romaneck said she'd been burned.

He told them he'd disagreed with arson detective Bill Moore's rapid-fire conclusion in 1968 that the fire was an accident, and he disagreed with it now. (Bivin's memory was imperfect: He swore he'd seen the Keidel children inside the home after the fire, which he hadn't.)

Bivin recalled that, shortly after the fire, he and Moore had speculated that DiAnne Keidel was buried in the backyard: "He [Moore] says we can't get any approval at all. . . . Our [fire] department wouldn't touch it, and the police department did not get the swimming pool dug up. . . . We had a very deep suspicion, both of us, that her body was under there."

The investigators never asked Bivin--who died last November--if he'd written a report to confirm his recollections. Phoenix fire chief Alan Brunacini says Bivin should have filed something.

"It would surprise me if he didn't do a report," Brunacini said in deposition last December. "In fact, honestly, I wouldn't believe that. I think that there might be a difference between him not doing a report and us not being able to find a report."

The missing Bivin report--if there ever was such a report--raises one of the more nagging questions in the case.

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