By MARY KAYE DAVIS
MT. VERNON — Ever since the fire that changed Aidah Mahmood’s life forever, she’s been trying to find peace.
But that peace never comes.
The scars remain from being burned over more than 80 percent of her body and having 300 skin-graft surgeries. But the scars go much deeper than that.
Because of the injuries caused by the house fire and jumping from a window to try to escape, she describes herself as having a “broken body.” In addition to the damage to her arms and hands, she also suffered a broken hip and back and must take pain killers.
The blood she was given during transfusions to save her life was tainted with hepatitis C, which attacked her pancreas; because of that, her eyesight has dwindled.
She was also left homeless, basically living on the streets after being released from the Shriner’s Cincinnati Burn Center months after the fire.
Her family also scattered.
Mahmood alleges that after the fire, her father had her brothers transported to Jerusalem, where they spent two years so they couldn’t be questioned abut what happened in Mt. Vernon. Her parents moved to Belleville, along with her sisters.
Mahmood tries to block the fire out of her mind, but that’s not easily done.
“My mind tries to shut it out, but it really can’t. I just don’t know how they got away with this,” Aidah said, speaking of her father, Ike Mahmood, and uncle, Mike Mahmood, whom she alleges tried to kill her by setting her on fire while she was sleeping.
Mt. Vernon Police Detective Ken McElroy, the department’s spokesman for the case, said he also can’t fathom that the two men weren’t arrested, because the evidence was there:
n It was determined that an accelerant — likely gasoline — was found on Aidah’s bed.
n When Aidah’s father and uncle were stopped by police right after the fire, their car was filled with suitcases and other belongings, according to McElroy.
n The door from which Aidah tried to escape was drenched with blood, and the sole of her foot was found near the door which she said was being held shut to confine her to the upstairs of the home.
n A shattered pitcher lay on the floor — the pitcher that Aidah says her uncle smashed over her head to try to knock her out so she’d die in the fire. When treated at the hospital, Aidah had blunt trauma wounds on her head, consistent with her account of what happened to her.
Although the fire happened early in the morning, when approached by police officers, Aidah’s father and uncle were fully dressed. And when police saw them driving around the neighborhood after the fire, her father denied he had a daughter living at the home or that he lived at the home where the fire took place.
“Throughout the years, Aidah’s story has never, ever changed,” McElroy said, “and we can back up everything she’s said with evidence.”
Aidah said having her uncle and father brought to justice would “bring her peace.”
“I want them to be held accountable for what they did to me. I should not have had to live like this,” she said.
MVPD tries to help
McElroy is no stranger to building cases. Over the years, he’s helped solve crimes, including another cold case, the 1984 Jana Reynolds murder, which yielded a 2002 arrest and a murder conviction earlier this year.
After he and fellow detectives delved into the Mahmood case, it didn’t take long to build the case, McElroy said, as they pored over the case file and re-interviewed witnesses and others involved. Although, the detective said, since the case is from the early 1970s, several of the people were no longer alive.
“We put together a very, very tight case,” McElroy said, explaining that the arrest warrants for attempted murder were ready to be delivered and the Belleville Police Department had even been contacted in case their help was needed when the warrants were to be served.
But in September, just days before they were to be served, McElroy was informed by the Jefferson County State’s Attorney’s office that in 1972, when the alleged crime occurred, there was a six-year statute of limitations on attempted murder.
“Today, there is not a statute of limitations for attempted murder, but since there was one when the crime was committed, that holds, as far as we’ve been able to find,” McElroy said.
What saddens and enrages the detective is that the men weren’t arrested at the time of the alleged crime.
“There just seemed to be a lack of willingness to go ahead and try to get a conviction,” McElroy said.
When McElroy interviewed Don Irvin, the state’s attorney at the time of the alleged crime, Irvin said Aidah Mahmood “was flighty and uncooperative.”
“The fact of the matter is that she was scared to death of the men and did not even want to be in the same room with them,” McElroy said. “And I think that is understandable why she didn’t want to be. Back then, there were not public advocates or victim advocates to help a young person through something like this.”
He said there was a lack of investigative techniques and manpower to dedicate to the case. He explained that before the MVPD’s detective division was formed, the chief of police handled all major cases, and at times, because of all the other duties the chief had to assume, some cases may have been glossed over.
When Chris Mendenall was hired as police chief, he organized the detective division, McElroy said, and stressed training in all facets of detective work.
“I will tell you, if something like this happened today, these two men would have been arrested quickly,” McElroy said.
He said he dreaded making the call to tell Aidah he couldn’t follow through with the arrests.
“It was heartbreaking, and it upsets me sitting here even talking about it,” McElroy said. “A detective really gets involved in cases like this and becomes friends with the victims. I take it really personal when I can’t follow through with something through no fault of my own.”
Now McElroy hopes an attorney will take up the case.
“Maybe there is an experienced attorney out there who can follow through on this case,” McElroy said. “There has to be something that can be done to pay the piper.
“This is an excellent case in terms of evidence. This is a good case as it stands right now. There has to be some kind of legal remedy. This may be new ground and there may be no precedence, but perhaps charges can still be brought against them.”
• Friday: The fire victim says life has to go on.
Detective working on 1972 fire case wants to find a way to bring suspects to justice
By MARY KAYE DAVIS
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