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Husband Surrenders After Taking Ex Hostage

A bomb squad searched the smoldering site of a suburban Hartford home for signs of explosives on Wednesday, a day after a 13-hour standoff involving an advertising executive who police say kidnapped his ex-wife and called for a priest to give her last rites before setting their house on fire.

Richard Shenkman came out a back door at about midnight Tuesday as flames destroyed the South Windsor house he once shared with Nancy Tyler. The fire ignited about an hour after Tyler escaped, a handcuff dangling from one wrist.

Police said they don't know how the fire began, but believe it was set by Shenkman shortly after police fired pepper spray bullets into the home, police Cmdr. Matthew Reed said. It appeared Shenkman went room to room setting the house ablaze, Reed said.

A bomb squad scoured the debris Wednesday. There was no confirmation of explosives in the house, but there were indications including "some wires and some other odd items," Reed said.

The remains of the house were still smoldering. All that was left standing were two chimneys, debris piles and what appeared to be one corner of the home. A burned out car remained where the garage was.

Shenkman was in stable condition at Hartford Hospital being treated for smoke inhalation, Reed and a hospital spokesman said.

He was expected to be arraigned at the hospital Wednesday afternoon on attempted murder, kidnapping, arson and other charges, police said.

Tyler, meanwhile, was with relatives at an undisclosed location Wednesday, her lawyer, John Harvey Jr. said.

"She's very stressed out and hopefully can just pull herself back together quickly," he said. "I don't know how she can bounce back quickly, but she's a very strong person."

Reed said Shenkman had made several demands during the standoff, but he wouldn't elaborate. The Day newspaper, of New London, reported that Shenkman wanted a priest to come give Tyler her last rites and asked that Judge Jorge Simon, who presided over the couple's divorce case, remarry them. A priest came to the scene.

Shenkman, 60, and Tyler, 57, had three years of contentious divorce proceedings. They married in 1993; a judge granted the divorce last year, but Shenkman has been appealing.

The state Appellate Court, in a decision released Tuesday, rejected Shenkman's appeal. Shenkman had sought to delay the divorce proceedings until an arson case against him was resolved.

He is accused of burning the couple's beach home in East Lyme in 2007 just hours before he was to hand it over to Tyler. The case is pending in New London Superior Court. Shenkman also turned over the South Windsor home to Tyler as part of the divorce case and Tyler accused him of disobeying a judge's orders to move out.

Shenkman also has other pending criminal charges, including threatening, violating protective orders and forgery, according to the state Judicial Branch.

Tyler's appellate lawyer, Norm Pattis, called Tuesday's events "another tragic stunt by Mr. Shenkman." He said Shenkman's behavior during the divorce trial was "menacing, threatening, nothing short of bizarre."

"It is a relief that it ended with Nancy well," he said.

Shenkman's attorney, Hugh Keefe, said Wednesday he had no comment on the expected charges.

The couple's Appellate Court file includes a cassette tape of more than a dozen voice mail messages from Shenkman to Tyler, which 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."

A neighbor, John Cvejanovich, described Shenkman as "oddly secretive" and easy to anger. He said Shenkman installed security cameras on his roof, a satellite dish and shed in the last year.

"The rumor going around the neighborhood," Cvejanovich said, "was to keep a respectful distance and do not engage."

Tyler is a medical malpractice lawyer who worked for Shenkman's advertising firm in Bloomfield, according to divorce records. The firm produced "The Gayle King Show," hosted by Oprah Winfrey's best friend and a longtime Hartford TV anchor, and did commercials for state government, the records say.

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