Neighbors would report that the burned woman cried out after she fled the flaming house.
"My baby! Where's my baby?" Nancy Broadhead called, meaning her 11-year-old daughter, the very person police would later say tried to burn her alive.
Her words, recounted in one of the most shocking local news stories in recent memory, made me think of another case years back, that of Vicki and Valessa, the mother and the defiant teenage daughter she tried to save. It made me think of questions that never quite got answered, not in the courtroom, not in the years of prison that followed: Why?
Because daughters are not supposed to kill their mothers.
Yes, there are glaring differences between this week's horror in Clearwater — where police allege the 11-year-old and her 15-year-old boyfriend doused her mother's bed with gasoline and set it afire — and the 1998 murder of Vicki Robinson in her suburban Carrollwood home.
Unlike in the case police are untangling now, Vicki had no long history with the Department of Children and Families, no troubling arrests. Which made what happened all the more confounding.
In the Robinson case, I was always struck by the crime scene photos — not for their gruesomeness, since her killers scrubbed away the evidence, but by the pretty home on the cul-de-sac where she died: the perfect lawn, the big pool, a place where a kid would seem to want for nothing. Vicki was a 40-something divorced mom, a real estate agent who played golf and went to church. She had good friends and a nice boyfriend.
Valessa was 15. She talked back, ran away, shoplifted and worse. Quietly, Vicki was working to get her into a live-in facility for troubled girls.
Here is a flaming red flag common to both cases: an older boyfriend, one who already had been in trouble. For Valessa, it was 19-year-old Adam Davis. Adam, who sometimes called his girlfriend's mother "Mom," would be sentenced to death for her murder.
With a third teenager, they killed Vicki, dumped her body and ran away on some vague and stupid notion of freedom. Of course, they were caught. I listened to the tape of Valessa's confession over and over, her voice flat until she talked about the peach nightgown her mother was wearing when she was stabbed.
At her trial, she was the un-Valessa in good-girl skirts and sweater sets. The defense pointed to the bad boys and the drugs. But Valessa never testified, never answered the question always hanging there. The best I could come up with was that there are certain chemicals you are never supposed to mix because they are so exactly wrong for each other, so potentially explosive: a deeply angry daughter, a criminal boyfriend, plus a hanger-on friend willing to do anything so that the three could form some sad excuse for a family. Add drugs. It's not much of an answer.
Valessa, inmate T21270, is 26 and is expected to get out in 2015. She has been in some trouble over the years, for sex acts, contraband and disobeying regulations. Her prison photo shows hardness in her face. She has no contact with Adam, the boy once worth everything. For nothing, a tragic waste.
In Clearwater, should the allegations prove true, detectives, doctors and lawyers may soon ask those questions about an 11-year-old daughter. Maybe someone can come up with answers.