An attorney representing the wife of Roman M. Leimer said yesterday there is new evidence that Leimer, who allegedly vanished after setting fire to his Exxon tanker truck, is dead.
But David Crump, the Warren County (Va.) commonwealth's attorney who secured an indictment charging Leimer with arson after the fire near Front Royal last Jan. 13, dismissed the claims and said the attorney is attempting to raise doubts about Leimer's disappearance so that his family could collect death benefits.
"I don't put any credence in it at all," Crump said. "Obviously the family would like to have a death certificate so Leimer's relatives can collect benefits. We have felt all along . . . that the motive for this whole business was to perpetrate an insurance fraud."
Virginia authorities have said that Leimer's wife has sought to collect on her husband's life insurance policy.
In addition to driving a truck, the Austrian-born Leimer, whose 8,900-gallon tanker was found ablaze off I-66, owned a fledgling wine-importing business and was in serious debt at the time of the fire.
Richard Paugh, an attorney for Antonia Leimer, said yesterday that Lawrence J. Angel, a Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist last month examined ashes kept in an urn at Leimer's home in Burtonsville and found fragments of human bone, glass, and twisted metal.
Paugh said Angel concluded that the human bone came from a middle-aged Caucasian with a swayed back, which fit Leimer's general description.
In January, Angel, examined four bags of remains allegedly found at site of the fire and concluded that the remains were those of a pig. The remains consisted of three pieces of charred flesh and bone, and were cut cleanly, like Virginia hams, Angel said at the time.
Angel said yesterday that the chief medical examiner of Maryland asked him to analyze ashes reportedly given to Leimer's family after the remains were cremated. Angel said the ash contained as many as 100 tiny fragments of human bone and about 30 fragments of animal bone. He said the fragments were too small to determine with certainty the type of animal bones in the ashes or whether the human bones were from a male or female. The bones probably came from a person between the ages of 35 and 55, his report said.
Leimer was 39 at the time of the truck fire.
But Angel cast doubts about a connection between the ash he examined last month, which had already been cremated, and the remains he first examined in January.
"Who knows where the ashes came from?" he said. "Anything could have happened."
He said the ashes might have been "odd ashes and odd fragments" left after a cremation. "I suspect, and this is only a guess, that that is what the Leimers received," he said.
Angel also said that more evidence, such as teeth or pieces of bones peculiar to Leimer, would be needed to prove with certainty that he is dead.
Paugh maintained that the human bone fragments in the ash examined by Angel could belong to Leimer.
He said the scene of the fire was disorganized and confusing, and that five volunteer fire departments were involved in sorting through the debris. He said it was conceivable that a mix-up by the local medical examiner or the funeral home could have accounted for sending a small sample of bones--only the ham bones--to Angel at the Smithsonian.
He said Leimer frequently bought hams on his road trips.
Larry Omps, director of Omps Funeral Home in Front Royal, said he received a bag of remains, presumed to be Leimer's, with instructions to cremate them several days after the accident. He said it was unlikely that leftover ashes from a prior cremation were mixed into the remains given to the Leimers because all ashes are removed between cremations.