WHEATON, Md. -- A woman killed to cover up a check fraud scam may have been burned alive, according to court documents.
Three suspects in the crime -- 37-year-old Jose Alvarado; his wife, 33-year-old Ana Rodas; and his cousin, 32-year-old Ramon Alvarado -- appeared in court Monday.
Lila Meizell, 83, was found dead in her smoke-filled home in the 10500 block of Inwood Avenue by police officers called to make a welfare check Wednesday night. Meizell's boyfriend called police when his phone call to Meizell was cut off.
After calling for help, the officers found Meizell unresponsive on the floor inside the home. They were able to pull her outside, but she could not be resuscitated.
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide due to blunt force trauma, burns and smoke inhalation, police said.
The fire was ruled arson and was set with an ignitable liquid near where Meizell's body was found inside the residence, according to police and fire marshals.
The suspects went to Meizell's home Wednesday night, and after Jose Alvarado got a check for work he'd done, Ramon Alvarado forced his way inside, grabbed Meizell by the throat and slammed her into several pieces of furniture before pouring the gas and setting the fire, according to court documents. When she was pulled from the home, Meizell appeared to have been burned alive, officers said.
Investigators learned that Jose Alvarado had done yard work at Meizell's home and had changed a check from Meizell for $75 to $7,500 and cashed it. The plan to kill Meizell and cover up the slaying with the fire apparently was hatched to cover up the check fraud before Meizell could find out, according to court documents.
Jose Alvarado was charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and first-degree arson. Rodas was charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit arson. Ramon Alvarado was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
The three agreed to split the $7,500 gained in the check fraud, according to court documents, with Ramon Alvarado getting $1,200 and Rodas getting $1,000.
All three were ordered held without bond and will appear in court again later this month.