Pansy Carpenter heads to her tenant Mary Reeser’s apartment with a telegram – but what she thinks will be a quick delivery doesn’t go that way. The landlady knocks and receives no answer, so she reaches for the doorknob, which is hot to the touch. She runs for help, and the painters who heed her call enter the property with her – only to find a burned chair and a pile of ash beside it.
Reeser had just moved into the apartment, which sat at 1200 Cherry Street NE in St. Petersburg, Florida. Nothing of note had happened during her tenancy there – not even on the morning when her apartment became a crime scene. Carpenter thought she might have smelled smoke, and she could have sworn she heard a mirror breaking. But none of that explained what had happened to the widow living at the rental property.