12 Hours of Terror: Conn. Woman Held Hostage by Arsonist Ex

PHOTO: Single mother Nancy Tyler once thought that her new husband, Richard Shenkman, was the man of her dreams.

Nancy Tyler thought she had met the man of her dreams in Richard Shenkman, a prominent advertising executive. She met him on a blind date in 1992.

"I had had a heart attack actually three months before at the age of 40 so things were pretty chaotic," said Tyler. "Both my children were under 5 and life was a little crazy."

Tyler said she felt vulnerable after her health scare and the charismatic Shenkman seemed to come in to her life at just the right time.

"I wasn't really looking for someone," said Tyler. "We got along well and it was actually a help to have him make decisions. It was the first time in a while that I had leaned on somebody else."

They grew closer and eventually married in 1993. Shenkman adopted Tyler's two children from a previous marriage, a daughter, Victoria and a son, Peter.

Shenkman was a successful professional whose advertising firm, Primedia, produced the "The Gayle King Show," starring Oprah Winfrey's best friend. The couple lived in South Windsor, a comfortable suburb of Hartford, Conn., and owned a Victorian home on the shore. Tyler said life was good for the first couple of years.

"In the beginning of our relationship he was very charming, and loving, and affectionate," she said.

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It wasn't long, though, before Tyler detected a darker side of her husband's personality.

"To have someone come along who had some controlling tendencies was okay with me because so much of my life was very heavy responsibility," said Tyler, a trial lawyer. "As the relationship went on he became much more controlling and I saw the rages that I had not seen when we were just dating or newly married."

Tyler said Shenkman's temper was downright frightening.

"When he was angry, everybody knew it," Tyler said. "He yelled, threw things, and would slam his fist against the wall. He would say things that you just don't say to people you're supposed to care about."

Tyler was most concerned about his impact on the children. While Victoria tried to appease Shenkman and say only what he wanted to hear, Peter always found himself on the wrong side of his adoptive father.

"If he gave some command and that command was not obeyed to the letter, it became a firestorm," said Peter Tyler. "We used the term walking on eggshells because any misstep, even if we didn't know that it was a misstep, could set off the minefield."

To protect her children, Tyler often deflected Shenkman's anger at them onto her.

"It was difficult for me because I had to be the buffer," she said.

Tyler said she made excuses all the time thinking Shenkman's abusive rants were not something to be shared with others. Even her family and friends were kept in the dark about his raging temper.

"We were not aware that he was trying to put a wedge between her and the rest of her family," said Marilyn Comey, Tyler's sister.

Tyler said they did not visit family often and she lived a rather isolated existence. She worked all the time and Shenkman, she said, controlled her social life.

"We didn't really have friends," Tyler said. "If there were people I brought around invariably there was something wrong with them, and we had very little to do with people outside of the family, the four of us."

Still, Tyler said she thought she could handle it.

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