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When he went on the lam, his old college teammates passed around a cellphone number and left him encouraging messages. Sometimes the voice mailbox was full, other times it was receiving. The players debated whether the messages were getting to him or it was an FBI trap. Their venerated coach called the number and left a message urging his old quarterback to turn himself in, take his punishment and come out of it a better man. "Sad to say," the coach laments, "I never heard back." ¶ Using a calling card with a blocked international number, the fugitive was in periodic contact with his family, his younger brother in particular. He was careful not to tell them where he was, but, the brother recalls, "he did say that he was in a place where life was slower, there weren't money stresses and he was happier than he had been in a long time."
Then, in the summer of 2006, one of his daughters received a call from a friend. "You're never going to believe this," the friend said. "We were just in Greece, and guess who we saw on a train, dressed in a golf shirt, reading a newspaper? Your dad!"
"You sure it was him?" Christie Komlo asked.
He tried to kill me. Jennifer Winters stood in the driveway at the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac in Chester Springs, Pa., watching the house burn, and the same thought kept rocketing around in her head. He tried to kill me.
It was a warm Saturday evening, June 4, 2005, when Winters pulled up to the sprawling house owned by her boyfriend, former NFL quarterback Jeff Komlo. Their relationship, then in its fifth year, was tempestuous, marked by booze-fueled fights, dramatic breakups and reconciliations, and a flood of calls to the cops. On several occasions Winters had filed domestic battery charges against Komlo only to refuse to cooperate with prosecutors. But despite all the friction between them, she says, Komlo "could be incredibly charming," and no matter how vicious their fights became, she always went back to him.
Just earlier that day, while Winters was visiting her parents in Connecticut, she and Komlo had argued on the phone. But, she recalls, he sweet-talked her into coming home that evening. He bought her a plane ticket from Hartford to Philadelphia and booked her a rental car at the airport. Her flight was delayed, so it was around 7:30 p.m. when she drove past the dogwoods that led to his property. By that time there were black billows of smoke in the sky and fire trucks in the street. "If my flight had gotten in on time," says Winters, "I would have been in the house. I would have been killed."
Fire department investigators don't dispute this. This wasn't your typical house fire, they said, which starts in one room and spreads outward. This was a blast that began in the kitchen, shot upward and almost instantly engulfed the entire structure. Fire marshal Harrison Holt immediately thought that the blaze "wasn't consistent with an accident." When the fire dogs were called in, they sniffed accelerants in four areas.
Winters says that as she stood staring at the inferno, her cellphone chirped. It was Komlo. "I like your outfit," he said.
"Where are you?" she gasped.