Police believe woman found dead in burning car was homeless

ST. LOUIS - A woman's body was found in a car that caught fire Monday in a north St. Louis neighborhood. Investigators suspect a hot plate might be the reason for the fire.

St. Louis police detectives were called to an alley behind the 5000 block of Enright Avenue at about 8 a.m. The victim, a woman in her 30s, was found dead in the front seat of a white van that sat among several cars on the property of Richard's Auto Shop.

Aaron Roberson, the mechanic who owned the vehicle, said the woman had come by in the past looking for a place to stay since her family's home had been damaged by fire. He said she came by again last night and he asked her to go home, but she refused. Roberson let her stay in the van Sunday evening.

Roberson said he ran an extension cord from the mechanic shop to a hotplate on the floor of the car and turned it on so she could stay warm while she slept.

"She had a towel, a drying towel and … when she was asleep, I guess she must have pushed the towel off onto the hot plate and that's what caused the fire," he said. "I feel bad about it; like, I could have did more."

Roberson said he believes the van filled with smoke and the woman may have suffered smoke inhalation.

Police have not released the cause of death but said there were no signs of trauma and the investigation was still ongoing.