Woman's death 'highly suspicious' House fire doused, body is found

January 09, 1991|By Richard Irwin | Richard Irwin,Evening Sun Staff

City police today were investigating the "highly suspicious" death of a physically impaired Mount Washington woman whose charred body was found last night in her family room after a fire.

An autopsy was scheduled today to discover the cause of death.

The victim, Jean Ashburn, 64, of the 5700 block of Rockspring Road, was found in a fetal position on her sofa by firefighters after they beat back flames that nearly consumed the first floor and went through the roof of the house.

The fire was discovered at 9 p.m. by a Northern District officer patrolling the area.

Homicide Detective Richard Garvey said elements of the case led him to label the woman's death as "highly suspicious."

Garvey and fire investigator Capt. Ernest Johnson said the one-alarm fire started near a closet in Ashburn's family room.

Garvey said Ashburn was cared for by two round-the-clock professional visiting nurses, one of whom left Ashburn at 4:30 p.m. yesterday when her relief arrived.

The day nurse told investigators that she left Ashburn in the family room watching television. Ashburn used a walker.

Garvey said the 4:30 p.m.-to-8 a.m. nurse was not present when firefighters arrived. "We're interested in talking to her," he said.

Johnson said Ashburn had a stair elevator that allowed her to go to an upper level of the house. It was stopped at the top of the stairs leading to the family room.

"Once they saw the stair elevator up there," Johnson said, "they knew that someone was probably in one of the rooms."

Johnson said the day nurse, whom they declined to identify, said Ashburn had several emergency devices in the house that she could activate, including one in the family room.

"As far as we know, she never used the one in the family room to seek help," Johnson said.

He said the day nurse tried to persuade Ashburn to wear the device around her neck, but she refused.

Firefighters and police found the front basement-level door open and the day nurse assured them it always was kept shut.

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