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She was a nanny from the same agency as tragic Louise Woodward...they said she burned her baby...she walked free!

The world waits with bated breath to hear the fate of British au pair Louise Woodward - and no one is keener to hear it than Olivia Riner.

Six years ago she was a Swiss nanny working for the same agency as Louise. And she too was at the centre of a murder trial after baby Kristie Fischer burned to death.

Riner, then aged 20, was charged with arson and second-degree murder. And, like Woodward - who was found guilty of murdering baby Matthew Eappen - the agency paid for her costly defence.

Louise may know her fate tomorrow, but she can hope only for a reduced sentence or retrial. Riner was cleared and returned to Switzerland a heroine.

But mystery still surrounds the death of three-month-old Kristie. Parents Denise and Bill claim their nanny should have been convicted. And they're fighting the EF Au Pair agency in a pounds 60 million law suit.

Like all doting parents, Denise and Bill wanted only the best for Kristie and spent thousands finding nanny Olivia.

Yet the Fischers ended up living their worst nightmare when their child died at their home in Thornwood, New York.

That night, Olivia was alone with the baby, doing housework just yards from the door of the child's nursery.

Yet when John Gallagher - boyfriend of one of Bill's children from a previous marriage - arrived, the house was ablaze.

Olivia was outside, clutching a fire extinguisher.

John kicked open the nursery door, but what he saw will haunt him.

He said: "I saw a charred, smouldering doll in the bedroom. But it was a baby, a human baby."

Fire crews fought the blaze, but they unwittingly destroyed evidence - for the house was a murder scene.

Police tried to piece together what had happened.

Olivia's story was that she'd spotted a fire on her own bed and, after trying to put it out, she'd seen smoke pouring from beneath the nursery door.

She said she tried to open the door to save the helpless baby - but the door was locked from the inside.

The Fischers were told the next day that someone had deliberately set their little daughter on fire.

There were three blazes in the home, all deliberately started.

But there was NO sign of forced entry, NO broken windows and the baby monitor worked.

Matches were also found. And a bottle of flammable liquid had melted into the carpet.

The theory of an arsonist creeping around unnoticed was blown away. Everything pointed to an inside job - yet only Olivia was there.

She even said herself: "If anyone else was there, I'd have seen them."

Then bungling by police botched the investigation. A nappy soaked in paint thinner and lighter fuel was found under Olivia's bed.

But it wasn't found by the police - it was her defence team who unearthed it.

It was incredible that, after just five weeks in America, this quiet young woman would kill.

Yet police thought her story defied logic. America screamed: "Why didn't she save the baby?"

Olivia told detectives that she called for help after finding the door of the nursery locked.

Later it was said she didn't try to save the baby because she was confused and in shock.

The coroner put Kristie's death to massive burns and smoke inhalation.

She had no broken bones, no signs of suffocation. Flammable liquid was poured on her while she was ALIVE.

After hours of questioning, Olivia was arrested.

Back in the wreckage of the Fischer home, it was discovered that matches found near Kristie's body were the same type as those from the living-room cabinet.

Bill, who kept turps, and paint-thinner in his work cupboard, told police a couple of gallons were missing.

A search of Olivia's room turned up an odd photo she had taken of the fire hydrant outside their home.

No-one saw it as significant.

Only after the trial was it discovered that her father, Kurt Riner, was a fireman in Switzerland.

Strangely, Olivia had tucked away a pile of Kristie's baby clothes in her wardrobe...

And parts of her diary showed her to be confused, torn between her growing affection for, and anger at, the baby.

Later, a detective learned of striking similarities between the case and a book set in the same county as the Fischers' home.

In it, a 20-year-old nanny sets fire to her employer's home, seeing herself the heroic rescuer of the children inside.

But no one could prove Olivia had read it.

Later a TV reporter, Linda Sawyer, fingered hero John Gallagher as a suspect.

Well-known in the town, he hadn't been properly investigated - another police blunder.

The defence accused the police of covering up, then tore more holes in the prosecution evidence.

The Fischers could only listen in disbelief as the not guilty verdict brought cheers.

Linda Sawyer felt sick. Appalled by her role in helping clear Olivia, she flew to Switzerland to find out more about the family.

She even stayed with the Riners.

She saw Kurt Riner dress in his fireman's uniform, saw his museum of fire-fighting equipment...

And wondered if Olivia had developed a strange fascination for fire.

Olivia went back to Switzerland where, in a macabre twist, she was driven home in a fire truck.

She smiled and said: "My American nightmare is over."

The same couldn't be said for the Fischers who, with many others, are convinced of her guilt.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Author:Wilson, Colin
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 9, 1997
Words:899
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