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The fiery death of Clarence Roberts -- now or then?

NASHVILLE, Ind. -- A hospital pathologist and relatives of Clarence Roberts disagreed Tuesday on whether Roberts died in a house fire last weekend or in a garage fire 10 years ago.

The bodies of a man and woman were found Sunday in a century-old house where Geneva Roberts had lived since her husband, Clarence, either was burned to death or disappeared in November, 1970.

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The question of Clarence's fate never had been settled, despite years of court battles over more than $1 million in life insurance.

Dr. John Pless, forensic pathologist at Bloomington Hospital, identified the woman's body from the weekend fire as Geneva Roberts and tentatively identified the man's body as Clarence Roberts.

Members of the Roberts family said the man was not Clarence and probably was a man who had lived in Mrs. Roberts' house off and on for the past six years.

'I can't believe that it was Clarence,' said Robert White, a nephew of Mrs. Roberts who lent her the house after the 1970 fire.

'I don't think it was Clarence,' said Clarence Roberts' brother, Carson Roberts. 'There was a fellow that came and went,' living in Mrs. Roberts' house the past six years, Carson Roberts said. He said none of the family knew the man's name.

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The badly burned body of a man wearing Clarence's jewelry was found in a burned-out garage next to Roberts' house in 1970, not long after he took out more than $1 million in life insurance. Geneva Roberts fought for years to have her husband declared legally dead and claim his insurance.

The previous coroner wouldn't sign the death certificate, and the Indiana Court of Appeals only last month ruled she had failed to prove her husband was dead.

A preliminary report from the state fire marshal's office Tuesday said burn patterns in the house indicated an accelerant had been used.

Brown County Sheriff Rex Kritzer said the house probably was more than 100 years old and would have burned like tinder. Charred materials which indicate burn patterns have been sent to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lab in Cincinnati for examination.

Insurance investigator William F. Mitchell said through the years he had reports of Roberts living in Mexico, New Mexico and West Germany.

Robert Junior Hillenburg, a former Nashville area resident now living in New Mexico, testified in a 1979 trial he had seen Roberts in Las Palmas, Mexico, in 1975.

'Everybody thought I was crazy. I feel like people won't say I'm crazy any more,' Hillenburg said Tuesday.

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'We felt all along the body found in 1970 was not Clarence Roberts,' said Robert Baker, a Bloomington attorney whose firm represented companies which had insured Roberts life when he was $250,000 in debt. 'We never did know where Roberts was, and I really felt the mystery never would be solved.'

Carson Roberts criticized authorities for saying the weekend victim was Clarence.

'If they didn't want to work too hard on this case, they could tie it up in a neat package and say it was Clarence,' he said.

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