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R.I. family arrested in bizarre arson, sex abuse case

CUMBERLAND, R.I. -- A Rhode Island family of four and an employee were arrested Wednesday in a case prosecutors said involves 'disturbing' allegations of arson, child sex abuse and possibly murder.

Rhode Island state police arrested Walter Burt, 51, of Cumberland, R. I., his 52-year-old wife, Frances, two of their children and Debbie Lindburg, 42, of Pawtucket on a variety of charges.

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The Burts, their children, Cynthia Burt Alaire, 24, and Raymond Burt, 31, and Linberg face arraignment on charges of arson and insurance fraud. Walter Burt was also charged with first-degree sexual assault on a child.

The Burts are accused of committing five separate incidents of arson in the past few years. State police said an informant had provided evidence of that the Burts had defrauded insurance companies.

Meanwhile, police were digging up the grounds around the Burt home, which is surrounded by a complex of apartments they rented to tenants. A police spokesman said they were looking for a gun that may have been used in a murder.

'We're led to believe that there's photographs of a murder victim and a murder weapon in the house or on the grounds, and we're trying to determine if that's true,' state police Capt. Theodore Kidd said.

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Kidd said that when police raided the Burt home Wednesday morning, they found a mildly retarted 50-year-old woman in the basement of the house. The woman, Pauline Charpentier, was taken to a nearby hospital for observation. She told police that she was being held in the house against her will.

'She was in a portion of a finished cellar that was locked from the upstairs. She was not allowed to leave the house,' Kidd said.

Kidd said the sexual assault charge against Walter Burt involves a child, but would not be more specific. The Burts were foster parents prior to 1990, when their license was revoked by the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families.

DCYF spokesperson Joanne Lehrer said six children were in the house when police entered Wednesday morning. Three of the children -- an 11- year-old daughter of Walter and Frances Burt and two of Alaire's children -- were placed in DYCF custody after their parents were arrested. Lehrer said the children appeared to be in good condition.

The other three children remained in the custody of their parents, who lived in the apartment complex run by the Burts.

Lehrer said she did not know if the sexual assault charge involved any of those children.

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'My understanding is that the sexual assault may not have been recent,' she said.

Stephen White, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jeffrey Pine, said the investigation against the Burts is continuing.

'We find the allegations to be extremely disturbing,' White said.

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