Officials investigate victim's last hours 20-year-old apparently was in fight before she died in set blaze

January 23, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

Hours before she and four others were killed in a raging house fire last week, Juanita Roy jumped out of a car to get away from two men, her clothes ripped and her face bruised.

When Roy was found on the front porch of her home in the 5200 block of Norwood Ave. at 2 a.m. Jan. 14, her upset aunt called a relative, saying the 20-year-old looked as if she had been assaulted or raped.

By 5: 20 a.m., the house was in flames.

Police investigating the fire as arson say they have looked into the events of the young woman's last night alive, interviewing one of the two men in the car.

Antoinette Manago, 23, daughter of fire victim Francine Roy, said she doesn't know if the men were involved in the fire.

"I think it took real wicked people to set a house on fire with people in it," said Manago, who is Juanita Roy's cousin.

Police said the fight Juanita Roy apparently got into is one of several leads they have focused on in the fire, which also killed Francine Roy's three young children.

"We've been looking into that," said homicide Detective Donald Kramer. "It hasn't brought us anything. It hasn't shined any light as to why or how."

But he added, "We haven't completely ruled it out yet."

Kramer said police interviewed one of the men in the car, but said detectives learned nothing helpful.

He declined to say whether the two men are considered possible suspects.

For the most part, detectives from the police homicide and arson units were circumspect, preferring to reveal little.

"I've talked to a lot of family members," said arson Detective Bob Brown. "Everybody is just trying to vent their frustration. But it's a slow process. You can't jump to conclusions."

Probe might take time

He added that it might take a while before police finish their investigation, which began when Fire Department officials concluded last week that the blaze was set.

"In something this big, we're probably looking for a complete wrap-up in a month, two months," he said. "Right now, it's day by day. Some of us are working 10 hours a day on this."

The five victims' relatives -- like police -- are trying to piece together what happened before the blaze. This is what Manago said transpired in the hours before, told to her by police and family members:

On a date

The night before she died, Juanita Roy -- known as "Ne-Ne" -- went out with a girlfriend and two men. Manago doesn't know what they planned to do.

During the double date, she said, the 20-year-old apparently got into a fight with someone in the car. First it was verbal, then physical. Roy eventually left the car.

Manago said it was a "mystery" how her cousin got back to her 1 1/2 -story Norwood Avenue home. The young woman's mother -- one of the family members who survived the fire -- found her sitting on the front porch.

"She asked [Juanita Roy] what had happened to her," said FTC Manago. "She replied, 'I'll tell you tomorrow.' But tomorrow never came."

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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