The first Anne Arundel officer on the scene just after 3 a.m. thought what was burning was a mannequin. Then two other cops arrived, and the three of them realized that this was no imitation. A human body was in flames.
On the ground, drag marks stretched toward nearby townhouses, where police fanned out to interview neighbors in the morning darkness.
A half-mile away, just after daybreak, a Millersville homeowner stepped outside and noticed a black trash bag at the end of his driveway. It wasn't his. Within minutes, the bag would have been picked up with the trash, but he had seen news reports about a body being found nearby. He decided that police should have a look in the bag.
When they did, they found a coat with a UPS insignia as well as a pay stub, assorted mail and a wallet with credit cards. All bore the name Anthony Fertitta.
The address led detectives to a home in Baltimore Highlands, 12 miles from the burning body. Parked at the curb was a Pontiac Trans Am registered to Fertitta. The house was unoccupied.
Police started working the neighborhood. Two houses away, a young man opened the door.
Yes, he said, he knew Anthony Fertitta. His mother had been dating the man for months.
Her name was Cindy McKay. And, he volunteered, she was no angel.-
That was Feb. 22, 2006. About 2 1/2 years earlier, a Baltimore detective named Richard Gibson had finally tracked Cindy McKay to southeastern Virginia. By then, he had been chasing her for several months and was as familiar as anyone with her criminal record, which included a 20-year string of convictions and incarcerations for thefts and embezzlements, mostly from small businesses where she had worked.
She was captured at a women's shelter in Norfolk and extradited to Maryland to face charges of embezzling more than $200,000 from St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park. In her time on the run, she had assumed an alias and fleeced an elderly woman in Delaware of tens of thousands of dollars.
Convicted of multiple thefts in the St. Mary's case, McKay was sent back to the women's prison in Jessup. Gibson was gratified, though he didn't assume he had heard the last of her.
"I actually said in dialogue with colleagues that if she was able to, God forbid, get out of jail, she's going to hurt somebody else," said Gibson, now a lieutenant.
Joanne Mauck, who ran a prison ministry at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup, was surprised to see McKay again. If there had been one prisoner she believed had truly repented her crimes and longed for a second chance, it had been Cindy McKay.
So when McKay reappeared in the makeshift prison chapel - looking quite chipper to Mauck's eye - Mauck couldn't help herself.
"I am very disappointed in you," she said to McKay.
Mauck never forgot McKay's reply. "Get over it," she snapped.
Perhaps, Mauck thought to herself, she had never really understood McKay at all.