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Woman Held For Most Of Day By Ex-Husband

He Leaves Burning House Early Today

By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY, MARK SPENCER and DAVID OWENS

The Hartford Courant

July 8, 2009

SOUTH WINDSOR

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A tense standoff with police ended early today when Richard Shenkman emerged from his burning house on Tumblebrook Drive, hours after his wife escaped from the home where she had been held hostage since Tuesday morning.

Nancy Tyler, who was taken hostage by her ex-husband about 9 a.m. Tuesday in Hartford, escaped from the house at 8:27 p.m.

Nearly an hour later, around 9:30 p.m., gunfire and flames erupted at 96 Tumblebrook Drive. Police said all the gunfire came from Shenkman, and that he set fire to the house.

As the house burned police called to Shenkman to leave. By 9:55 p.m., the house was engulfed in flames, and gunshots rang out again.

"He keeps yelling, 'Shoot me, shoot me,' as if he wanted someone to kill him," South Windsor police Cmdr. Matthew Reed said.

Police put Shenkman into an ambulance after he left the house.

Shenkman is expected to appear in court in Manchester this morning.

Police believe Shenkman, 60, took Tyler hostage around 9 a.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of her workplace at CityPlace in downtown Hartford. He allegedly brought her to the house at 96 Tumblebrook Drive, and by 11 a.m., police had cordoned off the house and evacuated the neighborhood as Shenkman threatened to harm his hostage and blow up the house.

Tyler made it out of the home safely around 8:27 p.m., into the arms of police officers who whisked her out of harm's way. It was initially unknown whether she escaped or was set free, but she was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Hartford after police debriefed her.

Shenkman and Tyler were scheduled to be in Superior Court in Hartford Tuesday morning for yet another round in their protracted divorce. He had repeatedly refused a judge's order to vacate 96 Tumblebrook Drive and turn it over to Tyler.

"Today was D-Day," said his attorney, Hugh Keefe, on Tuesday.

Instead, police said, he kidnapped her from the parking lot of CityPlace in downtown Hartford, where she works as an attorney at the law firm of O'Brien, Tanski and Young, and took her to 96 Tumblebrook Drive to make his stand.

He was armed and warned police the house was wired with explosives.

Up to 50 officers surrounded the house, which police said had six cameras that looked as if they had been hastily mounted on its exterior.

"It looks like it had been fortified, quite frankly, to keep people from seeing in, as if he was preparing for some sort of standoff," Reed said.

Shenkman allegedly set fire to a 115-year-old Victorian beach house in East Lyme in 2007 moments before he was supposed to give it to Tyler. In April, he was charged with forging Tyler's signature on life insurance documents, police said.

"I want Nancy to walk out of here," Shenkman said in a telephone call to a New London Day reporter during the standoff on Tuesday. "I know I'm never leaving this alive. I'm going to leave in a body bag. I've lost everything in my life."

Police said a woman, who sources later identified as Tyler, called a friend about 9 a.m. Tuesday and said she had seen her ex-husband in the CityPlace parking lot and asked her friend to call police. When police responded, Reed said, the woman's car was gone, but a blue van believed to be her ex-husband's was found on Haynes Street, outside CityPlace.

Police tracked the woman's cellphone signal to South Windsor, Reed said, and shortly before 11 a.m. Shenkman called police.

A SWAT team surrounded the home, neighbors were evacuated and streets cordoned off as hostage negotiators began talking with the man. A black armored vehicle and the Hartford bomb squad arrived at the scene shortly afterward.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Hartford police, as a precaution, briefly evacuated CityPlace - where the light blue Chrysler minivan remained - and the nearby Goodwin Square Office Tower.

Assistant Police Chief Neil Dryfe said there was no indication that Shenkman had left explosives in the minivan, but the state police bomb squad was called in as a precaution.

"These are not the actions of a rational person. We were not willing to take a chance," Dryfe said. No explosives were found.

Shenkman had run a Bloomfield-based advertising agency with Tyler while they were married, but the business has been inactive for several years, Keefe said.

In addition to speaking with police negotiators, Shenkman telephoned the New London Day four times during the standoff and spoke to reporter Karen Florin.

Although Shenkman said at one point he wanted "Nancy to walk out of here," he also said he was willing to kill her and die himself, particularly if police were aggressive.

"I think they're going to get frustrated soon and they're going to push me," he told Florin, The Day's court reporter. "I believe this is going to end in violence, not that I want it to."

Shenkman allowed Tyler to speak freely with Florin during three of the calls.

"I don't want either of us to be hurt," Tyler said. "I want both of us to come through this and move on. There's nothing here that can't be undone," she said, The Day reported.

Day Managing Editor Timothy J. Cotter said Florin had covered Shenkman's previous legal troubles, including the couple's divorce, and had interviewed him on several occasions. South Windsor police were aware Shenkman was calling The Day but offered no objections or direction on how to handle the calls, Cotter said.

Although police reported early in the standoff they had heard shots from within the house, Shenkman told The Day he had not fired any rounds. He said the house was rigged with 30 video cameras, motion detectors and explosives.

Shenkman made numerous demands of police, including that media organizations, among them The Courant, not cover the standoff as it developed.

News executives at The Courant declined to remove coverage from its website. At a 3 p.m. press conference, Reed said the continued coverage by The Courant was complicating negotiations.

Courant interim Editor Naedine Hazell said police called the paper and said Shenkman was demanding the coverage be stopped or he would blow up the house at 2:30 p.m. She said the paper got the call a few minutes before 2:30 p.m., the story had already been widely reported for more than three hours and it was not technically possible to remove stories from courant.com that quickly.

Editors then discussed the demand and decided complying could set a precedent for future hostage situations.

"It was difficult to assess Shenkman's demand given his history. Also, there was no context to the demand, including when it had been made, whether it was part of a lengthy list of demands - which turned out to be the case - and whether it was considered credible," Hazell said in a statement. "Within 90 minutes of the threat, we learned from sources that removing the reports from websites had ceased to be a critical concern."

News organizations around the state had different responses to Shenkman's demand.

In his first phone call to The Day shortly before 1 p.m., Shenkman said he would kill Tyler if the paper posted a story on its website. The paper initially held the story but told Shenkman in a conversation at about 2:45 p.m. it was reconsidering.

The paper posted a story a short time later, Cotter said, because it was being widely covered.

According to The Day, Shenkman also wanted a priest to give Tyler her last rights, a copy of their wedding certificate, a judge to remarry them and a copy of the SWAT team procedure manual.

The most recent development in Shenkman and Tyler's acrimonious relationship came in April, he was charged with forging Tyler's signature on life insurance documents, police said.

Shenkman took out a $9,000 loan against his wife's policy, police said. He turned himself in on an arrest warrant charging him with a single count of second-degree forgery.

Tyler told police in November she had received a letter from Nationwide Insurance claiming that she owed the company $9,000 on a loan against her policy. Tyler brought copies of documents she believed had been forged by her husband.

"She had copies of the documents and said it was obvious it was not her signature," police spokesman Sgt. Scott Custer said.

Investigators confirmed through Nationwide Insurance that the documents giving Shenkman control of Tyler's policy had a forged signature, police said. Shenkman told police there was an agreement between the couple's attorneys giving Shenkman control over the policy, but he did not provide proof, Custer said.

Staff writers Jesse Leavenworth and Hilda Munoz contributed to this story.