Arson Fire Hid College Student's Slaying

ByABC News
May 3, 2005, 9:28 PM

May 4, 2005 — -- University of Delaware student Lindsey Bonistall was found dead after a weekend fire at her off-campus apartment. Now authorities know she was slain deliberately and the fire was the killer's effort to hide the crime.

Bonistall, a 20-year-old English major from White Plains, N.Y., was discovered by firefighters hidden underneath debris in her bathtub Sunday, nearly 10 hours after the blaze at the Towne Court Apartments in Newark, Del. Investigators immediately labeled the fire arson, and the state medical examiner announced Tuesday that Bonistall had been strangled.

"There was a significant amount of debris on top of the body, to the point where it was overfilling the bathtub," said Newark police Capt. William Nefosky. Police believe Bonistall's attacker was a stranger, and she may have been killed during a home invasion.

Police also are investigating if the murder is related to a home invasion that occurred nearby the day before in which a 27-year-old woman was attacked, according to ABC Philadelphia affiliate WPVI.

Meanwhile, university officials are advising students to take extra safety precautions, including not traveling alone at night, locking their windows and doors and being wary of strangers, according to the school's Web site. Newark police and campus police also have increased patrols.

People in Bonistall's hometown remembered her as a gifted individual who volunteered for two years at the White Plains Youth Center while she was in high school.

"She was a wonderful, wonderful young lady, and it's a shame," Catherine Backes, Youth Council coordinator, told ABC affiliate WABC in New York.

"She had a lot of energy, a lot of spirit, always came to the meetings, good mood, tried to get everybody else in that mood," Backes added.

Frank Williams, the center's director, echoed that sentiment, telling WABC: "There were many, many acts of kindness that she gave to this city and to our young people. She was a shining star."

He added, "Here's a young lady who had lived a life of service, trying to help others and a young lady who promoted a nonviolent life."

A steady stream of mourners paid their respects to Bonistall's family Tuesday, and Mayor Joseph Delfino said she touched many lives. "Lindsey was a tremendous young person who made great contributions to the youth of this community," he told WABC. "With her leadership abilities, she was destined for great things. We are deeply saddened."

ABC affiliates WABC in New York and WPVI in Philadelphia contributed to this report.