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Blaze, arrest end 13-hour hostage standoff

An advertising executive — who vowed he wouldn't be divorced until his ex-wife was dead — kidnapped her from a parking lot before setting their house on fire during a 13-hour standoff, police said.
Divorce Hostage
Firefighters hose down a blazing house after a 13-hour police standoff in South Windsor, Conn.George Ruhe / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An advertising executive — who vowed he wouldn't be divorced until his ex-wife was dead — kidnapped her from a parking lot and called for a priest to give her last rites before setting their house on fire during a 13-hour standoff, police said.

Richard Shenkman gave up about midnight Tuesday as flames destroyed the South Windsor house he once shared with Nancy Tyler. The fire ignited about an hour after Tyler escaped, a handcuff dangling from one wrist.

Police said they don't know how the fire began, but believe it was set by Shenkman. Police cut power to the suburban Hartford neighborhood and fired nonflammable tear gas canisters and flash grenades after Tyler emerged from the house, police Cmdr. Matthew Reed said.

A bomb squad had been on the scene since the standoff began Tuesday morning. There was no confirmation of explosives in the house even though there were indications, such as "some wires and some other odd items."

Reed said Shenkman had made several demands during the standoff, but he wouldn't elaborate. The Day newspaper, of New London, reported that Shenkman wanted a priest to come give Tyler her last rites and asked that Judge Jorge Simon, who presided over the couple's divorce case, remarry them. A priest came to the scene.

Contentious divorce
Shenkman likely faces charges including kidnapping and arson, Reed said.

Shenkman, 60, and Tyler, 57, had three years of contentious divorce proceedings, Keefe said. They married in 1993; a judge granted the divorce last year, but Shenkman has been appealing.

The state appellate court, in a decision released Tuesday, rejected Shenkman's appeal. Shenkman had sought to delay the divorce proceedings until an arson case against him was resolved.

He is accused of burning the couple's beach home in East Lyme in 2007 just hours before he was to hand it over to Tyler. The case is pending in New London Superior Court.

Shenkman also has other pending criminal charges, including threatening, violating a protective order and forgery, according to the state Judicial Branch.

Tyler's lawyer, Norm Pattis, said Shenkman's behavior during the divorce trial was "menacing, threatening, nothing short of bizarre."

"The reports that he abducted Ms. Tyler ... is consistent with the level of irrationality that he displayed throughout the proceedings," Pattis said.

The couple's appellate court file includes a cassette tape of more than a dozen voice mail messages from Shenkman to Tyler, which contain numerous threats.

"We are not getting divorced," he said in one message. "It is not going to happen. Listen to my words. We're not divorced. We're not getting divorced. We were married 'til death do us part. We made vows in front of God. He was our witness, and you can only get your divorce one way, and that's death. You can only be unmarried by death."

Shortly before the trial, the records how, Shenkman was hospitalized because his lawyer thought he might be a danger to himself.

A neighbor, John Cvejanovich, described Shenkman as "oddly secretive" and easy to anger. He said Shenkman installed security cameras on his roof, satellite dish and shed in the last year.

"The rumor going around the neighborhood," Cvejanovich said, "was to keep a respectful distance and do not engage."

Tyler is a medical malpractice lawyer who worked for Shenkman's advertising firm in Bloomfield, according to divorce records. The firm produced "The Gayle King Show," hosted by Oprah Winfrey's best friend and a longtime Hartford TV anchor, and did commercials for state government, the records say.