Divorce Drama Nearly Turns Deadly

Conn. man accused of holding his ex-wife hostage before burning down their home.

July 8, 2009, 4:07 PM

July 9, 2009 — -- A disgruntled Connecticut man allegedly took drastic measures following his divorce, including taking his wife hostage, burning down the home they once shared and engaging in a 13-hour standoff -- all to avoid the breakup.

Richard Shenkman, 60, who is accused of abducting his ex-wife Nancy Tyler, 57, in Hartford, Conn., Tuesday and holding her hostage for several hours in the couple's South Windsor, Conn., home, was arraigned in his hospital room Wednesday on kidnapping charges.

Bond was set at $12.5 million on charges including kidnapping, arson, the unlawful discharge of a firearm and reckless endangerment. Shenkman is due in court July 14.

These criminal charges are just the latest in a long list Shenkman faces that began during his divorce proceedings. Other pending criminal charges against him include threatening, violating protective orders and forgery.

The couple's appellate court file includes a cassette tape of more than a dozen voice mail messages from Shenkman to Tyler that 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."

The newest accusations against Shenkman result from a tense standoff that served as a pique for three years of contentious divorce proceedings between Shenkman and Tyler.

Shenkman, an advertising executive, and Tyler married in 1993.

Tyler is a medical malpractice lawyer who worked for Shenkman's advertising firm in Bloomfield, Conn.

A judge granted the pair a divorce last year, though Shenkman had been appealing. The state appellate court, in a decision released Tuesday, rejected Shenkman's appeal.

The divorce drama began when Shenkman allegedly burned the couple's beach home in East Lyme, Conn., in 2007 just hours before he was to hand it over to Tyler. It reached a fevered pitch this week when Shenkman allegedly held Tyler hostage in their South Windsor home.

Though Shenkman turned over the South Windsor house to Tyler as part of their divorce, she accused him of disobeying the judge's orders to move out.

Police said Shenkman kept Tyler inside the home against her will and made several demands during the standoff.

With a SWAT team and bomb squad in place, Shenkman made a series of phone calls from inside the home to The Day reporter Karen Florin, an acquaintance of the couple.

"From the beginning he said, 'We're not getting divorced. We're going to die,'" Florin said.

"We would like to post something [on the Web]," Florin told Shenkman during one of their phone calls.

"Don't do it! I see something on your Web site, Nancy's dead!" he said. "I've lived in this house for 35 years and I'm leaving it in a body bag."

Florin said Shenkman made 12 demands, saying if they weren't met he would blow up the house.

"He kept saying, which was really chilling, that he wanted a priest to come over and give last rites to his wife," Florin said. "He said he wanted the judge who had divorced them to come over and remarry them."

"How about the priest?" Shenkman said on a recording. "They are really pissing me off about the priest. That was my first demand."

After hours of negotiating, the divorcee put his wife on the phone.

"Whatever you want to say, Nancy, I don't want this to be like I'm controlling you, telling you what to say," Shenkman told Tyler.

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

With a handcuff dangling from her wrist, Tyler was able to escape. Authorities believe Shenkman then went room to room setting the house ablaze.

"She had ... pulled a pole out of the wall that was attached to her handcuff and ran out the basement door when he went to investigate a noise," Florin said. "She thought she was going to die."

Tyler is now with relatives at an undisclosed location.

A bomb squad searched the smoldering site of the suburban Hartford home for signs of explosives Wednesday, but there were no explosive devices confirmed.

Shenkman's attorney said his client, who was in stable condition at Hartford Hospital after being treated for smoke inhalation, is now under the care of a psychiatrist.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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