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Shenkman called Day reporter to list his demands, tell his story

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta

Publication: The Day

Published July 08. 2009 4:00AM   Updated July 08. 2009 2:13PM
'It's going to end my way,' he said while holding ex-wife hostage

Shortly before 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, a Hartford police detective discovered an e-mail to Day reporter Karen Florin from Nancy Tyler, who was being held hostage by her ex-husband in his South Windsor home.


Tyler told Florin in the e-mail that her life was in danger and that publishing a story might result in her death.


Florin never received the e-mail, which had been sent from Tyler's Hartford law office, but Detective Phillip Fushino called to talk to Florin about it.


Moments later Florin got another call, this time from Richard Shenkman, who was holding Tyler hostage.


It was the first of what would be four calls over the course of the afternoon. Shenkman would outline the demands that needed to be met before he would release Tyler, he would threaten to blow up his home and he would complain about the news coverage.


He said he was calling Florin because he trusted her as a reporter.


Florin had interviewed both Shenkman and Tyler multiple times when their media company represented the Eastern Pequot tribe, and again years later when Shenkman was charged with burning down the couple's Niantic summer home during a contentious divorce.


During three of those calls Tuesday, Shenkman put Tyler on the phone.


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


In his final call to Florin, shortly after 4 p.m., Shenkman said he would release his ex-wife if police met his 12 demands. He outlined only a few of those to the reporter.


Shenkman said his first demand was that police bring a priest to the house to give Tyler her last rites. A priest was at the scene by afternoon.


Shenkman said police had met some of his demands, including faxing him a copy of their wedding certificate.


"We're at a stalemate," he told Florin at one point. "I'm willing to end this right now, but it's going to end my way, and that's it."


He threatened to blow up the house and said there were 65 pounds of explosives inside. He said he had guns. But Shenkman said it would be the police, not he, who would hurt Tyler.


"I think they're going to get frustrated soon and they're going to push me," he said. "I believe this is going to end in violence, not that I want it to."


Shenkman said the judge in his divorce case had made mistakes and had been unfair to him.


"I'm not trying to make Nancy the evil person. She was so misguided or whatever. From the day she served me (divorce papers), I said, 'Let's make this a normal divorce.' She wouldn't budge on anything."


Shenkman said he was "driven" to take Tyler hostage. He said he was "in charge."


He also wanted to be put out of his "misery."


"This life I live now is unbearable," he said. "I can't do this anymore. The only one I want to die is the cops. I get my 12 demands and Nancy walks out of here. ... They enter the property, they're dead."


Shenkman told Florin he wanted Judge Jorge Simon, who presided over their divorce case, to remarry Shenkman and Tyler. He also requested a copy of the SWAT team procedure handbook, which police did provide. He also asked the police "to back off the property," which he said they did.


Shenkman said he equipped his home with 30 video cameras, motion detectors and explosives.


"I think they're going to call my bluff. I really do. I'm prepared ..." he told Florin. "If I wanted to do a murder-suicide, I could have done it three years ago. I've never hurt her in my life. I do want Nancy to walk out of here. I don't trust the cops. They have screwed up so much in the arson (case) and all that stuff."


Shenkman told Florin that he was scheduled to appear Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court for a compliance hearing in connection with his divorce.


Shenkman said he feared going back to jail. "If the police are patient, which I do not believe they are going to be patient ... they certainly have the resources ... I assure you police and Nancy will also be dead," he told Florin.


Shenkman told Florin he had been "thinking about this" for quite a while. During the first half-hour phone conversation, he sounded calm, almost matter-of-fact, when he said things like, "I want Nancy to walk out of here. I know I'm never leaving this alive. I'm going to leave in a body bag. I've lost everything in my life. This has to be this way. I'm 60 years old. I have nothing left in my life. I did not set the fire."


During the conversation with Florin, the police called Shenkman on another line, and he became agitated while talking to them, at one point screaming, "What's going on in the (expletive) backyard? Tell them to get the (expletive) out of the backyard. I want to know where the command center is. I want the manual in 10 minutes. Shut up, you listen to me, pal. I want the manual within 10 minutes."


In his first phone call to Florin, shortly before 1 p.m., Shenkman said he would kill Tyler if news about the incident were posted on The Day's Web site.


While the Day staff continued to report the story, Executive Editor Timothy Dwyer decided not to immediately post the story online. Dwyer said that "holding on to the story a little bit longer is worth trying to save her life." He noted that the story was not being withheld from the public since other news media, including the Web site of the Hartford Courant, were reporting the story.


In the third phone call, at about 2:43 p.m., Florin told Shenkman that Day editors were reconsidering the decision not to post the story on the Web site and asked if he wanted to tell his side of the story. In a rambling conversation, Shenkman then complained about being treated unfairly during the divorce.


The Day posted the story online about 2:45 p.m.

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