Clarence Roberts: The Man Who Died In A Mysterious Fire Twice

Nashville, Indiana is a small town in America's heartland where everyone knows everyone. Clarence and Geneva Roberts were two of the town's most prominent citizens in the 1950s and 1960s. According to Only In Your State, Clarence was a well-respected member of the community who owned and operated a prosperous hardware store along with his brother Carson. He had easily won the 1950 election for sheriff and earned 33rd degree status at the Masonic Lodge, its highest honor (via Only In Your State). Everything pointed to Clarence and Geneva living a generally happy life together.

That all changed, however, on November 18, 1970, when a fire erupted at the Roberts' home, consuming the garage barn of the residence. After the flames finally subsided, a body was found among the ashes. The body, which was found next to a melted shotgun, was so badly burnt that it was unrecognizable (via Unsolved Mysteries Wiki). Although the body was originally identified as that of Clarence Roberts, as authorities continued their investigation a few irregularities arose that put that claim into question. Multiple theories spread across Nashville as to what had really happened at the Roberts' house that night.

A diminishing fortune

Leading up to the night of the fire, the good fortune that the Roberts had experienced began to change. Although his hardware store was successful, Clarence spent beyond his means. He bought three luxury cars and an expensive home. In an attempt to fund his lavish lifestyle Clarence sold his hardware store and invested in an apartment building and several grain elevators; neither of those investments paid off, and instead pushed the Roberts further into debt (via Unsolved Mysteries Wiki).

According to the 2007 book "Notorious 92: Indiana's Most Heinous Murders in All 92 Counties," Clarence also bought nearly $1 million in life insurance against himself just prior to the fire. All of this, combined with the fact that the body was found next to a shotgun, led authorities to believe that Clarence had committed suicide. However, the autopsy on the body revealed no evidence of a gunshot wound; rather, the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning prior to the fire (via Unsolved Mysteries Wiki).

An unidentified body

The lack of a gunshot wound was just one of many strange findings to come from the investigation into the fire. Also according to "Notorious 92: Indiana's Most Heinous Murders in All 92 Counties," the body found in the rubble of the fire had only one tooth remaining, and while Clarence did wear a partial denture, he still had many of his own teeth. A further autopsy revealed the body only had one kidney remaining, and Geneva informed authorities that her husband had never had surgery to remove a kidney (via "Notorious 92").

While sifting through the wreckage of the fire, State Police Detective Donal Kuster found Clarence's 33rd degree Masonic ring nearly undamaged next to the body (via Unsolved Mysteries Wiki). It was suspicious that in a fire that had burned the body completely beyond recognition that the ring, one of Clarence's prized possessions, would survive unscathed. All of this was leading to the clue that cast the most doubt on whether or not the body was in fact Clarence's. According to Unsolved Mysteries, a test concluded that the body found at the fire had type AB blood, but based on records from his time serving in the military, Clarence had type B blood. If the body wasn't that of Clarence, then who had died in the fire?

Murder for money

The answer to that question has eluded authorities for over 50 years. Despite the evidence to the contrary, Geneva Roberts and her sons maintained that the body was truly Clarence. "I am so certain it was him," said Geneva. "They found his ring in the fire. He thought more of that ring than most anything. By that ring being there, I am satisfied it was him" (via "Notorious 92"). Many others were skeptical of this, however, and a new theory emerged.

Just two days before the fire, Clarence had been seen at a bar in the nearby town of Morgantown with a vagrant (via Unsolved Mysteries Wiki). Clarence had been overheard telling the man that he needed some odd jobs done around his house and the man agreed to leave with him, but when leaving the bar the man collapsed for an unknown reason. Though Clarence claimed he would take the man to a hospital after he collapsed, Detective Kuster investigated this and found no evidence that the man was brought to any hospital within a 300-mile radius. This encounter led to a belief that Clarence had murdered a homeless man and then staged the fire in an attempt to claim the insurance money.

Mysterious man

Whether you were on the side of Geneva Roberts, who believed Clarence died in the 1970 fire, or on the side of those who believed Clarence had gotten away with murder, either way, Geneva was alone now. Over the course of the next decade rumors involving Geneva ran rampant through Nashville. There were reports that she was buying large quantities of beer, despite being diabetic and rarely drinking beer, and that a mysterious man had been seen in and around her house and that neighbors had overheard him talking to her (via Unsolved Mysteries Wiki). Further investigation was unable to identify the man.

There were also multiple reported sightings of Clarence, some from as far away as Mexico, and others from nearby towns like Mentone, Indiana, where Clarence once had businesses (via "Notorious 92"). Despite numerous attempts and appeal,s Geneva was unsuccessful in claiming the life insurance payout due to the suspicious circumstances surrounding Clarence's supposed death. In late November 1980, just one month after losing another appeal for the insurance money, there was another fire at Geneva Roberts' house (via UPI).

Caught in a second fire

This time, as authorities dug through the rubble of the fire, they found the bodies of both a man and a woman (via "Notorious 92"). The woman's body was quickly identified as that of Geneva, and the man's was thought to be Clarence's, apparently dying in a fire for the second time (via "Notorious 92"). Comparing x-rays of the man's body found in the fire compared to x-rays of Clarence taken previously, and matching dental records, criminal pathologist Dr. John Pless told reporters that there was "no margin for error" in identifying the body as Clarence (via "Notorious 92").

According to Unsolved Mysteries Wiki, based on the evidence at the scene of the fire, it was clear that Geneva had been murdered, but whether the fire was started by Clarence or a third party was unclear. The Roberts' family did not claim Clarence's body, insisting that he had in fact died in the first fire, despite the evidence to contrary (via "Notorious 92"). Two fires with three victims and a full decade in between has left more questions than answers. Now, over 40 years after the second fire, new evidence has yet to emerge, leaving the truth of what really happened in the two fires at the Roberts homes a mystery.