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.

Chief Brunacini said in his deposition, "In 1967, our [fire] people did cause and origin [of a fire] . . . then turned it over to the police department."

In other words, Bivin--the fire department's arson investigator at the Keidel fire--normally would have instructed detective Bill Moore on the cause of the Keidel fire, if apparent.

But no paperwork from 1967, nor the recollections of any other official who went to Citrus Way, indicates that Bivin had misgivings in 1967 about the "accidental" tag that Moore put on the fire.

"The fire investigator [Bivin] would tell you his conclusion, right?" an attorney asked Moore in a 1997 deposition.

"His conclusion, that's correct," the retired detective replied.
If Bivin was being straight in 1994, then why had Moore on January 10, 1967--the day after the fire started--officially called it "accidental"? And why, if Bivin and Moore (and other officials) had been so suspicious of Gene Keidel in 1966-67, did the potential cases against him just go away?

Romaneck's attorneys would allege that Moore came to his "accidental" conclusion without doing essential tasks:

An analysis of the level and intensity of the fire damage, the location of the victims' burn injuries, interviewing the firefighters and surviving children, and considering the unexplained floor-level burning in the kitchen dining area.

Whether that constituted an acceptable "standard of care" in 1967 was something for lawyers and expert witnesses to mull in Lori Romaneck's civil case.

On November 4, 1994, Wilson and Nunez sent a letter to the County Attorney's Office that revealed preliminary findings:

"The Phoenix Fire Department is preparing to reclassify the probable cause of this fire to incendiary. . . . The exact means by which this fire was ignited remains under investigation. However, fire damage which can be observed in existing photos is consistent with floor-level burning of a liquid accelerant fuel in both the kitchen and the adjacent family/dining room to the west. . . ."

The investigators continued, "Recent analysis of the burn locations on the bodies of the three girls revealed the injuries were likely caused by floor-level flames and that they were burned as they exited the south end of the bedroom hallway into the family room/dining room, which was engulfed in flames west of the kitchen.

"Lori Romaneck is burned only on anterior surfaces of her face, neck, left chest, both thighs and tops of both feet. She recalls suffering from these burns while attempting to crawl to the front door. Such a position exposed the front of her body to the floor and her bare back to the ceiling. However, she has no burn scars on her back, as would be expected to be caused by normal ceiling-level fire extension and heat radiating downward.

". . . Fire damage which can be observed in existing photos is consistent with floor-level burning of a liquid accelerant fuel in both the kitchen and the adjacent family/dining room to the east. The time frame of Gene Keidel stating he had left the house about ten minutes prior to discovery of this fire is not consistent with the typical ignition of an unattended stove fire."

The investigators didn't comment on whether prosecutors should consider new charges against Gene Keidel. By any measure, however, a conviction in Gene Keidel's then-pending trial for the murder of his wife seemed far more likely than in a companion case of arson/murder/attempted murder:

Though Keidel had had motive (two of his children had seen him beating DiAnne) and opportunity (he had time to set the fires, then rush to the Laundromat), "reasonable doubt" is a rigorous standard.

The original case investigators had concluded--right or wrong--that the fire had been an accident. That's a solid chunk of reasonable doubt right there.

And imagine if the same expert, Patrick Kennedy, hired by the City of Phoenix in the Romaneck civil case, had testified as he did at his deposition:

"There is no suspect until there is a crime. Suspect of what? A kitchen fire? . . . There couldn't have been a conviction in 1967 based on the facts. Couldn't have been. Shouldn't have been."

Ed Reynolds kept plugging away at the arson case. On December 12, 1994, he convinced county medical examiner Philip Keen to amend the death certificates of Susie and Kelly Keidel. The new certificates said the girls had been murdered, as a result of a house fire caused by arson.

Lori Romaneck says she wouldn't know that until May 1995. She also didn't know about the investigators' November 1994 letter to the county attorney. Romaneck did learn that the fire department supposedly was putting the finishing touches on its report.

"They told me I'd have to wait until the report was final," she says. "So, that December [1994], I called to see how things were going. I was told it was being typed."

Another odd turn was about to happen. Month after month passed and, Romaneck says, fire officials kept telling her the report was almost ready.

In April 1995--the same month Gene Keidel was convicted of first-degree murder--Romaneck spoke with Rick Romley's secretary.

"I called . . . to inquire whether his office had received a final report," she said in a sworn affidavit, "or knew what was going on in regard to the investigation. . . . [The secretary] told me that Alan Brunacini, the fire chief, would not turn the file over to Mr. Romley's office yet."

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