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Quiet Community, Quiet Nanny, Horrible Crime

December 6, 1991

THORNWOOD, N.Y. (AP) _ By all accounts, William and Denise Fischer were happy with the young nanny who arrived from Switzerland on Nov. 1 to take care of the couple’s first child, 3-month-old Kristie.

The Fischers told police they’d had no major problems with 20-year-old Olivia Riner. A neighbor in Switzerland said she was friendly and kind. The au pair agency that screened her said she had an impeccable record.

But Riner is accused of killing the baby girl by setting fire to the family’s house in the community of Thornwood, part of Mount Pleasant, pouring a flammable liquid on the infant and leaving her in a locked room.

On Friday, she waived her right to a hearing on whether the case should go to a grand jury. She has been held without bail since Monday.

Riner maintains her innocence. Her attorney, Laura Brevetti, indicated she might seek bail before the case goes to a grand jury.

Police acknowledge that she tried to douse the flames before calling police and the child’s father. But they also say she set three separate fires in three rooms.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Paul Oliva said police had direct evidence linking Riner to the crime and the apparent lack of motive ″made it all the more bizarre.″

The case is a nightmare come true for working parents forced to leave a small child with a caretaker.

″You don’t know who you’re going to get,″ said Angela McSpedon, a neighbor of the Fischers. She cares for a 6-month-old daughter with help from her mother-in-law. ″You don’t really know the people. You know them from references. But you really don’t know their life.″

But Riner has supporters.

″Olivia was one of our best students and had a brilliant final exam,″ Margrit Thoma, the administrator of Juventus-Schulen, the school where Riner studied to be a medical assistant, told the Zurich-based tabloid Blick.

Riner was placed with the Fischers through E.F. Au Pair, an agency affiliated with the E.F. Foundation, a non-profit cultural exchange program based in Cambridge, Mass.

Foundation chairman Louise Jakobsson described Olivia as ″lovely″ and with ″an impeccable record.″

Jakobsson said she understood that the Fischers and Riner had been getting along well and said there was nothing in Riner’s record to indicate any problems.

″She had lovely recommendations from teachers,″ Jakobsson said, pointing out that she had worked in a pediatric unit of a hospital and as a babysitter for a family in Switzerland.

″She did very well in the screening process,″ Jakobsson added, describing a lengthy process of interviews and training sessions.

But Cathy Lynch, a working mother of two young children in Wilton, Conn., said she was very unhappy with the first au pair she hired through E.F. and said the screening was inadequate. She said the young woman was so bad she returned home to The Netherlands within a week.

A second au pair hired through the agency has proven satisfactory.

That au pair, 19-year-old Lena Ivers of Sweden, described a brief interview session of under an hour with only a few questions about herself.

″I know I was very disappointed because I was prepared for a big interview,″ she said.

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