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


Held at Gunpoint

Shenkman's taunting of Tyler went on for the next couple of years. Tyler said she received at least 300 abusive e-mails from Shenkman during that period of time. There were also threatening voicemails, in which Shenkman warned that their marriage would only end if one of them died.

"It just got uglier and uglier," Tyler said. "All attempts to reach a pleasant, or at least a pain-free divorce were a waste of time because he was very angry and very determined that this was going to end on his terms."

Shenkman's terms nearly cost Tyler her life. On the morning of July 7, 2009 Shenkman abducted Tyler from the parking lot of her law firm's office right before they were due in court for a divorce-related hearing. He forced her at gunpoint to drive to their South Windsor home and held her hostage for more than 12 hours. Tyler escaped her harrowing ordeal after being handcuffed to an eyebolt in the basement wall but Shenkman continued his standoff with the police, insisting that the house was rigged with explosives and that he was going to blow it up.

In an attempt to flush him out, the police shot tear gas canisters into the house and it erupted into flames. Police never were able to determine what caused the fire.

"The fire department moves in but then they hear gunshots. So they say, 'We're not fighting a fire if somebody is going to be shooting at us,'" said Chief Matthew Reed of the South Windsor Police Department.

As the house burned down around him, it appeared Shenkman had followed through on his final threat, to destroy what was left of his life with Nancy Tyler.

"The house is burning. People are calling to him. We get no answer. About that time we figure he must be dead," said SWAT Team Sgt. Peter Alix, who was among more than 100 police officers surrounding the house and watching the blaze. "We kind of figured when it gets hot enough, he'll come out. I'd have to say 99 percent of the house had burned and he ended up crawling out."

Shockingly, Shenkman had survived and was immediately taken into custody. After a five-week trial Shenkman was convicted of all charges including kidnapping and was recently sentenced to 70 years in jail, which for the 63-year-old results in a life sentence. (He still has to stand trial for the beach house fire.)

In a move that surprised even his defense lawyer, Shenkman threatened Tyler's life in open court, claiming he has hired an assassin to kill her. Although Tyler is used to such antics from Shenkman, she is determined to live her life to the fullest.

These days, Tyler works with domestic violence survivor networks in Connecticut, hoping that her nightmare can be used as a teachable moment.

She urges others to "be smarter than I was."

"Controlling people have the potential to cause a lot of harm," she said. "I really thought I could handle it, I could pacify him, but what I was really doing was delaying the inevitable and maybe making it riskier for everybody."

Tyler also says that people should learn to recognize when a relationship has the potential to be explosive.

"It can become explosive at any time and it won't take much so you need to be ready," she said. "You need to have a safety net, you need to have an escape route, and be ready to use it."

Looking back, Tyler says she wishes she had reached out to family and friends and even the police.

"One of the mistakes I made was trying to handle it all myself and trying to keep it quiet and dignified and you just can't," she said. "You're dealing with raw emotions at that point and there's an incredible potential for danger there."

Learn more about resources for victims of domestic violence.

Watch the full story on "20/20" tonight at 10 p.m. ET and tweet #Taken to be part of the conversation!

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