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For the week of April 2 - 8, 2003


Ranch fire victim focus of investigation

Express Staff Writer

The investigation into the Bellevue ranch fire that took the life of a 36-year-old caretaker March 23 is now focusing on the possibility the fire and extensive vandalism were caused by the caretaker whose badly burned body was found in the main two-story house.

"Weíre not sure," replied Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling when asked whether the dead woman, Mary E. Hanson, was a suspect and whether she was the only one involved in the fire.

Femling said blood samples taken from the main house as well as the nearby guest house and caretaker home were sent to an Illinois laboratory to determine if it was Hansonís blood found in the buildings. The Illinois lab, he said, could provide faster results, since the Idaho State Police laboratory is overloaded with a backlog of crime investigation evidence.

"We donít know if she started the fire or if it was accidental," the sheriff said. That will be determined by an investigator from the Idaho Fire Marshalís Office.

Units of Wood River Fire and Rescue arrived at the fire just after 9 a.m. Sunday, March 23, but could not control the blaze until about 10:45. The remote location at 40 Fox Hollow Gulch Road is a ranch of more than 50 acres several miles west of Bellevue, owned by Richard Barker, of Belvedere, Calif., who uses it as a second home.

The sheriff said Barker told him by phone that he hadnít visited the property since December, and could provide no information as to why the home wouldíve been vandalized and possibly torched. Femling said he has not talked to Barker since the one conversation immediately after the fire.

Services for Hanson, who was identified from dental records, were held in her hometown of Anaconda, Mont.

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.