Burning Bed: Roller-Coaster Romance Ends in Flames

PHOTO: Seen here is Jennifer Schipsi, a beautiful, ambitious real estate agent and Paul Zumot, a fun-loving owner of a local hookah lounge.

They were a young couple living the good life in Palo Alto, Calif.: Jennifer Schipsi, a beautiful, ambitious real estate agent and Paul Zumot, the fun-loving owner of a local hookah lounge.

Over the course of two years, Schipsi and Zumot had broken up and gotten back together several times, but by October 2009, Zumot was ready to get serious. Right around his 36th birthday, he was preparing to pop the question.

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Schipsi, 29, seemed optimistic about their relationship too. The couple had just moved into a cottage in Palo Alto and Schipsi told a friend that she had a good feeling about this, next phase of their life.

CLICK HERE to see photos of Schipsi and Zumot.

Little did Schipsi know how short that phase would be. The couple had been living in their cottage less than a month when a fire broke out in the house. Just before sunset on an October day, a passerby saw the flames and called 911. (Click here to listen to the 911 call.)

When firefighters arrived at the scene they found much smoke and limited visibility.

"We knew we had to get there and get in there and make a fast attack," said Palo Alto Fire Captain Carter French.

Once inside the home, firefighters crawled on the floor and made their way to the only room in the house that was actually on fire -- the bedroom. The center of the fire, French said, was a burning bed. On that bed, he was shocked to find a body.

At first, French believed that the person on the bed might have still been alive. Soon, he changed his mind.

"It was by far the worst-burnt body I had ever seen," he said later.

As he lifted the body, he smelled a strong gasoline odor. That, coupled with what he saw around him, suggested to French that the fire was no accident.

"The fact that the fire burned hot and fast told me that this could've been an accelerant fire," French said.

But accident or not, authorities at the time had a more pressing question: Whose body was it? Did it belong to Jennifer Schipsi, Paul Zumot or someone else entirely? The corpse was burned beyond recognition.

Racing Toward the Good Life

Soon, firefighters could eliminate at least one possibility -- after talking to the cottage's landlord, Paul Zumot arrived at the scene. Police video taken at the time shows Zumot standing at the yellow tape cordoning off the home, appearing distressed. Jennifer Schipsi was still nowhere to be found.

That evening, police delivered crushing news to Schipsi's mother, Jaime.

Jaime Schipsi said she knew her daughter was the victim even before police could make the official determination.

"I immediately dropped to the ground, started crying," she said. "Nobody had to tell me ... Every fiber in my body felt it. I knew it was my child. I already knew the answer. A mother knows."

Jennifer Schipsi wasn't always on the fast track. A high school dropout, she was once engaged to her first serious boyfriend, Jake Allen, who worked at an auto-body shop.

But not long after their engagement, Allen said he could see Schipsi racing out of his life.

Allen said the couple didn't have a lot of money. When Schipsi saw " all these people with really nice things," Allen said, "I think in her head that's what she really wanted."

"And then she would look at me, you know, covered in grease in the garage, going, 'Hey, you know, this guy doesn't really fit that persona,'" he said.

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