My Book Recommendation
On the early morning of March 6, 1993, an intense fire broke out in a tiny nursery. Sixteen minutes later, firefighters had extinguished the blaze, only to reveal a room burned so severely, everything was virtually unrecognizable. Then, they were told to look for a baby. What they discovered looked more like a monster from a horror film. The small skull had been incinerated, and the legs and arms were nothing more than charred stumps. The only identifiable human feature was the baby’s genitals, covered in what remained of his diaper.
Two people were home at the time the fire broke out: the newborn’s parents.
The arson squad declared the fire suspicious and the homeowner’s insurance company hired investigators, who determined the fire to indeed be arson. The prosecutor wanted to dismiss the case, but the arson unit had a newly appointed prosecutor who refused to do so.
Was it arson? What was the motive? Along with the tenacious and determined Detective Leslie Van Buskirk, Diane Marger Moore persisted for more than two years to find the truth and get justice for Baby Matthew Wise.
From The Book:
I learned for the first time that William Wise had no life insurance on his son (an obvious motive that didn’t exist) and he had little to gain from the loss of his house since he and Michelle had just purchased it a few months before the fire. The house was mortgaged and the insurance company, Allstate, had conducted a full investigation.
Unlike Lepper, the investigators for Allstate had ruled out all accidental causes for the fire immediately and therefore had called the fire arson. Allstate had been so thorough in their investigation—they had interviewed William and Michelle Wise, looked at the room and the debris, and had built a model of Baby Matthew’s room and done a test burn.
“No! Oh my God,” I blurted. I was astounded.
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A test burn is extremely costly and this house was insured for a small amount, less than sixty thousand dollars, most of which was owed to the bank and would have to be repaid whether the fire was arson or accidental. A test burn required building the room to scale; filling it with a similar “burn load,” meaning the same type of things as were in the actual room; having engineers or fire investigators determine whether it was similar; and then perhaps videotaping before, during, and after the fire. Most insurance companies would not spend the money, but apparently, Allstate did in this case. I had never seen a mock-up before. This was amazing.
“Well, what was the result?” I asked.
“Apparently, the whole thing was video tape-recorded, but I don’t have all the tapes. I have one, but I didn’t get the rest because the case was being dismissed. As far as I know, the room has been stored at Barker & Herbert Laboratories near Fort Wayne. They concluded that the fire was not an accident. Duh.”
I had never before heard of an insurance company spending tens of thousands of dollars to build a replica room and to conduct a video tape recorded test burn. The fact that Allstate had also paid to store the room for two years was even less believable. Fort Wayne was about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Indianapolis. I added a visit to Barker & Herbert to my to-do list.
Although I had never seen the test-burn room, I knew that after sixteen minutes of burning, even under the hottest of conditions, most of the furnishings would still be standing after the fire. It would look completely different than Baby Matthew’s nursery. A jury could use their own eyes to see how a fire would have actually burned in Baby Matthew’s nursery. They would be able to see what the firemen saw.