Reginald Slay would like some answers.
On March 21, 2005, his stepdaughter died in a house fire near North Grand Ave. and Interstate 70.
More than three years later, Slay has no idea why she died. Was it murder? Was it an accident? He still doesn't know... and the people responsible for making that determination appear to be nowhere near coming up with any answers.
As we discovered, it's not for lack of evidence... it's because two teams of fire investigators see the evidence in two different ways.
Monique Penermon was found cowering under a bed on the second floor of a building in the 2000 block of East Gano Ave. Everyone else made it out alive.
That house -- and an abandoned building one house away -- both began buring around 11 that March morning. The St. Louis Fire Department responded with two alarms and dozens of firefighters. Despite their best efforts, both buildings were a total loss.
In the wreckage of those two burned-out buildings, fire department investigators managed to piece together a cause. In the house where Penermon died, they said the fire was intentionally set on a rear porch. In the abandoned house a building over, they found evidence of an "ignitable liquid" along a kitchen wall. The burn patterns, investigators wrote in a report, "were not consistent with damage expected from natural fire progression."
The Fire Department's conclusion... both fires were set intentionally. Monique Penermon died because someone set her house ablaze.
But no one is looking for Monique Penermon's killer because St. Louis Police have never ruled her death as a homicide.
In St. Louis, two different teams are responsible for investigating suspicious fires -- the Fire Department's Office of Fire Investigation and the Police Department's Bombing and Arson Squad. Both play important roles in collecting and examining evidence, but police have the most important job of all. Only a police investigation can rule a fire an arson. If police don't do that, the fire is not a criminal act and there is no criminal investigation.
That's exactly what happened with the case of Monique Penermon's death.
When Bombing and Arson Squad detectives did their investigation, they found evidence both fires could have been accidents.
Police point to two possible accidental causes for the fires. One is based on the theory embers drifted to the houses from a small trash can in the backyard used for burning paper. The man who did the burning that morning told police he set a fire to keep warm around 2 a.m. The buildings caught fire around 11 a.m. The second theory points to an illegally installed electrical box on the rear of the house where Penermon died. If that electrical box sparked, it could have set the back porch on fire and then spread to the house down the block.
Because those possibilities exist, police were unable to call the fires arson. The case is listed as unsolved and open, but it's growing colder by the day.
Reginald Slay acknowledges either series of events is possible. Which does he think is more likely to have happened?
Based on the neighborhood, the crowd his stepdaughter ran with and rumors he's heard on the street, Slay is convinced his daughter was murdered.
A conviction only strengthened by one more piece of evidence from the Fire Department's investigation. The building between the two that burned... was untouched by fire.