The Female Arsonist

     Arson is mainly a man’s crime, but women have gotten into the act. Men usually use arson to defraud insurance companies while women tend to set fires for pathological reasons.Sadie Renee Johnson     In July 2013, a wi…

     Arson is mainly a man's crime, but women have gotten into the act. Men usually use arson to defraud insurance companies while women tend to set fires for pathological reasons.

Sadie Renee Johnson

     In July 2013, a wildfire broke out on the Warm Springs, Oregon Indian Reservation. Before being brought under control it scorched 51,000 acres and cost the federal government $8 million to extinguish. At least no one was injured.

     Two day after the start of the blaze, 23-year-old Sadie Renee Johnson wrote this on her Facebook page: "Like my fire?"

     Interrogated by detectives, Johnson confessed to intentionally setting the fire by throwing a firecracker from her car into roadside brush. She said she had no idea the fire would spread so fast, burn so much land, and threaten so many people. Asked why she committed arson, Johnson said she thought her firefighter friends were bored and needed work.

     On May 19, 2014, Johnson pleaded guilty to arson in federal court. Pursuant to the plea agreement the judge will sentence her in September to 18 months in prison. Under federal law the maximum penalty for this crime is five years behind bars and three years probation.

     To quote John Wayne, "Life is tough. It's even tougher when you're stupid."

Martha Dreher

     In early August 2014, Adam Williams came home to his empty house in Austin, Texas to find the dwelling filled with smoke. His father, Glenn Williams and Adam's two pre-teen sisters were out of town.

     Fire investigators determined that fires had been set in each of the girls' bedrooms. Due to lack of oxygen and highly combustable fuel, the fires had burned themselves out. Nevertheless, the 90-year-old  historic house, due to smoke damage, had to be gutted. So, who had committed this arson?

     Glenn Williams told detectives that a couple of months ago he had hired 57-year-old Martha Dreher to babysit his daughters. According to him, she had recently complained that the girls treated her with disrespect. As a result, she had threatened to quit.

     In reviewing surveillance camera footage, investigators saw Martha Dreher drive up to the Williams house. Twenty minutes later, when she drove off, flames could be seen in the bedroom windows.

     Based on this circumstantial evidence, a Travis County prosecutor charged Dreher with felony arson. At her arraignment, the suspect pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Amber Bode, in speaking to reporters, said, "The thing that we are going to be pushing for--in addition to lie detection tests and everything else that we can do to prove her innocence--is evidence." (I cannot find a disposition of this case.)

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Earl Albert Moore Tried to Bomb Colorado Mall on Columbine Anniversary

  ​ Breakfast reading from the True Crime Report archives: Just seven days before his attempted attack, he was released from prison in Georgia, where he was serving a bank-robbery jolt. And now he’s the subject of a nationwide manhunt. Westword has the story.

The post Earl Albert Moore Tried to Bomb Colorado Mall on Columbine Anniversary appeared first on True Crime Report.

  ​ Breakfast reading from the True Crime Report archives: Just seven days before his attempted attack, he was released from prison in Georgia, where he was serving a bank-robbery jolt. And now he’s the subject of a nationwide manhunt. Westword has the story.

The post Earl Albert Moore Tried to Bomb Colorado Mall on Columbine Anniversary appeared first on True Crime Report.

from http://www.truecrimereport.com

The Laquanta Chapman Chainsaw Murder Case

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juveni…

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juvenile delinquents. He wore an electronic ankle monitor. Before he reached his parents' house, Turner encountered 28-year-old Laquanta Chapman and two other men. Chapman, who lived across the street from Turner, lured the boy into his house. (It is not clear from the reporting on this case why Chapman did this.)

     Chapman, his friend Michael Purnell, his cousin Bryan Boyd who was visiting from Newark, New Jersey, and Aaron Turner were together in Chapman's basement. Chapman told his 19-year-old cousin to go upstairs and turn the music on as loud as possible. After he did this, Boyd returned to the basement where Chapman and Purnell were screaming at the terrified teen. (Turner either owed Chapman drug money, or had stolen marijuana from him.) The two men pointed handguns at Turner and ordered him to strip off his clothing. Once he was nude, Purnell, then Chapman, shot him. Turner died on the spot.

     When Aaron Turner didn't come home that day, a member of his family called the Coatesville Police Department and reported him missing.

     Five days after the cold-blooded murder, with Aaron Turner still missing, and his decomposing body still lying in Chapman's basement, Chapman decided it was time to dispose of the corpse that was starting to give off a telltale odor. With his cousin's help, Chapman laid Turner's body on a makeshift table. Bryan Boyd and Laquanta Chapman used a pair of chainsaws to cut the body into pieces small enough to fit into trash bags. Chapman, in an effort to destroy DNA evidence left in the chainsaws, used the tools to chop up his pet pit bull. (Chapman, a man with a history of animal abuse, killed his dog for nothing because the ploy didn't work.) Chapman placed several trash bags containing Turner's body parts on the street for refuge pickup.

     More than a year passed, and the police still hadn't recovered Aaron Turner's body. (The teen's dismembered remains had been hauled by trash pickup workers to a local landfill. It was never recovered.) In the meantime, Laquanta Chapman had become a suspect in Turner's disappearance and presumed murder.

     On November 15, 2009,  Coatesville police raided Chapman's house and conducted a search. Officers recovered the two chainsaws which contained DNA evidence that linked Chapman to Turner's murder and dismemberment, and gave the prosecutor circumstantial evidence of Turner's death. (It's hard to believe these killers didn't dispose of the chainsaws.)

     Laquanta Chapman and Bryan Boyd were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. The Chester County prosecutor also charged Chapman with a cruelty to animals offense. Under Pennsylvania law, both defendants had qualified themselves for the death penalty.

     On November 20, 2011, Bryan Boyd, the cousin from Newark, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. While he would avoid the death sentence, Boyd could be sentenced up to 97 years in prison. Boyd, as part of his plea deal, agreed to testify against his older cousin.

     Laquanta Chapman went on trial on October 24, 2012 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. On November 9, following the testimony of his cousin, the jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of first degree-murder. He was also convicted of the lesser offenses. The jurors deliberated less than three hours before delivering their verdict.

     A week after the guilty verdict, the judge, following a sentencing hearing, sentenced Laquanta Chapman to death.
       

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Potato Chips As Arson Tool

Crime laboratories do not always detect accelerants that were used in an incendiary fire. Accelerant-sniffing dogs, whose sniffers are more sensitive than even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment, don’t always, either. If it is believed that an…

Crime laboratories do not always detect accelerants that were used in an incendiary fire. Accelerant-sniffing dogs, whose sniffers are more sensitive than even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment, don't always, either. If it is believed that an accelerant was used in the fire, it might be that the accelerant itself is undetectable. One such accelerant could be a bag of potato chips. It is possible to set a bag of chips on fire and throw it on a couch, creating an accelerant-like effect. The fat in the chips make them extremely volatile when ignited (think of a kitchen grease fire). An accelerant-sniffing dog won't even detect the chips, and the labs won't be testing for them, either. The crime scene investigator should always question finding a couch with too many crumbs in the cushions.

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick Serial Arson Case

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months, volunteer firefighters in the county respo…

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia's Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months, volunteer firefighters in the county responded to 77 intentionally set fires involving abandoned houses, barns, camper trailers, and various out-buildings that included a chicken coop.

     Arson investigators with the Virginia State Police and the Accomack County Sheriff's Office suspected that the serial fire-setter was either a disgruntled firefighter, a teenage boy sexually aroused by flames, or a young man committing arson simply for the thrill and excitement of causing havoc. Given the nature of the places burned, financial gain was not a motive. These were pathologically motivated arsons.

     Since the vast majority of arsonists are men, the fire investigators were not looking for a woman. Female arsonists usually have histories of mental illness, and set fire to their own property. A vast majority of the fires set by women are motivated by the need for sympathy and attention.

     On April 2, 2013, forty-five minutes after midnight, a Virginia State Trooper near the Eastern Shore community of Melfa, pulled over a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker. (This was probably not the real reason for the stop.) The traffic stop occurred shortly after a nearby abandoned house had been torched. Later that morning, a local prosecutor charged the occupants of the car, 38-year-old Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick, his 40-year-old girlfriend, with setting the Melfa house fire.

     Smith (also known as Charlie Applegate) and Bundick were held without bail at the Accomack County Jail. They were both from Accomac, Virginia. Smith, the owner of a body shop, was once captain of the Tasley Volunteer Fire Company. Smith and Bundick had planned to get married within a month.

     A Virginia State Police spokesperson, at a press conference on April 2, 2013 said, "We are confident that Bundick and Smith are guilty of the majority of fires."According to reports, arson investigators watched Smith set the Melfa house fire. He started the blaze with a towel soaked in gasoline.

     Tonya Bundick resided in a dwelling that sat next door to a shed that had been set on fire in December 2012.

     The authorities did not identify the motive behind the arson spree. Since the couple received no monetary gain from the fires, their motives were probably pathological. Perhaps they were bored, or simply angry at the world.

     In October 2013, Smith pleaded guilty to 67 counts of arson. He faced life in prison, and $5.6 million in fines. As part of the plea deal, Smith agreed to testify against Tonya Bundick.

     Bundick's arson trial got underway in Virginia Beach in January 2014. Smith took the stand against the defendant as the prosecution's star witness. Following his testimony, Bundick entered an Alford plea to one count of arson. (She faced dozens of other arson charges.) By this plea, Bundick did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.

     On September 15, 2014, the judge sentenced Tonya Bundick to ten years in prison. The judge, on April 23, 2015, sentenced Charles Smith III to fifteen years behind bars. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Darrin Campbell Murder-Suicide Case

     In the mid-1980s, Darrin Campbell, a business major at the University of Michigan, met his future wife Kimberly, a student at Central Michigan University. They both worked in Lansing as aides in the Michigan state legislature. She g…

     In the mid-1980s, Darrin Campbell, a business major at the University of Michigan, met his future wife Kimberly, a student at Central Michigan University. They both worked in Lansing as aides in the Michigan state legislature. She graduated from college, and he went on to earn a master's degree in business administration.

     In 2004, the couple and their son Colin and daughter Megan moved from San Antonio, Texas to Tampa, Florida where Darrin had an executive position in finance with a large corporation. In 2012, Darrin and Kimberly sold their house for $750,000. They moved into a $1 million rental mansion owned by a former professional tennis player named James Blake.

     The Blake-owned estate featured a 6,000-square foot, five-bedroom house, a swimming pool and spa, and several tall palm trees. Located in Avila, a gated community known for its resident sports figures and CEO's, the mansion rented for $5,000 a month. At this point in his career, Darrin Campbell worked as a business executive for VASTEC, a Tampa based digital records company.

     Darrin and his family settled into the lavish lifestyle expected of residents of this exclusive community. They drove fancy cars, the children attended an expensive private school, they bought all-year passes to Disney World, and spent a lot of money decorating their home for Christmas.

     While on the surface, the Campbell family represented prosperity and the American dream come true, Darrin had plunged them deep into debt. He owed back taxes on a vacant lot in Odessa, Texas that he had purchased for $294,000 in 2006. The tuition cost of sending Colin and Megan to the Carrollwood Day School amounted to $37,000 a year. Darrin had maximized his credit card limits, and couldn't see a way out of the financial hole. The stress of living a lie had broken him down. His American dream had become a nightmare.

     In July 2013, Darrin purchased a .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun from Shooters World, a gun store and shooting range in Tampa. Less than a year later, on May 4, 2014, he purchased $650 worth of fireworks at a Tampa area Phantom Fireworks outlet. He told the fireworks clerk he was filling out his Fourth of July shopping list. Shortly after picking up the fireworks, Darrin bought several gasoline containers.

     At five-forty-five on the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 2014, a resident of the Avila community called 911 to report a fire and explosion at the Campbell home. The fire and subsequent explosion almost completely demolished the structure. In the course of determining the cause and origin of the blaze, investigators discovered the charred remains of two adults and two children. The bodies were presumed to be Darrin and Kimberly Campbell and their 18-year-old son Colin, and their 15-year-old daughter, Megan.

     The Hillsborough County medical examiner, a few days after the fire, confirmed the identifies of the victims. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, all of the victims had been shot to death.

     On Friday, May 9, 2014, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Colonel Donna Lusczynski held a press conference in which she characterized the four Campbell deaths as a case of murder-suicide. According to officer Lusczynski, Darrin Campbell, after murdering his wife and two children with the Sig Sauer handgun, had placed fireworks around the house, poured gasoline on the bodies, then lit a match. At that point he shot himself to death. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

After 30 Years Declaring Innocence, Chicagoan Set Free

Arthur Brown, convicted of murder in connection with a fatal arson fire in Chicago in 1988, had steadfastly insisted that he was innocent. Nearly 30 years later, prosecutors agreed, saying “there were significant evidentiary issues that raised deep concerns about the fairness of Mr. Brown’s conviction.”

Arthur Brown, 66, was freed from jail Tuesday in Chicago after serving nearly 30 years on a double murder conviction in connection with an arson fire that he had steadfastly insisted he did not set, reports the Chicago Tribune. Brown was ordered released after Cook County prosecutors reversed course, announcing at a morning court hearing that they were dropping charges. According to his lawyer, Brown was 37 and had no criminal history when he was arrested for a fatal fire in 1988 on Chicago’s South Side. He was convicted of murder and arson and sentenced to life in prison. As he emerged from jail, Brown said he wanted to focus on his family and hopes to work helping others. “I missed a lot,” he said.

Last month Judge Joseph Claps tossed out Brown’s conviction and ordered a retrial after concluding that prosecutors at a second trial in 2008 had made multiple false arguments to the jury and that Brown’s lawyer later failed to raise those issues on appeal. Earlier this month, prosecutors had said at a hearing that they would fight the judge’s decision but reversed course after looking into the case. Robert Foley, a senior adviser in the state’s attorney’s office, said in an email that prosecutors “determined there were significant evidentiary issues that raised deep concerns about the fairness of Mr. Brown’s conviction.” Brown maintained his innocence through two trials, multiple appeals and lengthy post-conviction proceedings.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Brian Pattison Guilty in Tattoo Party That Turned Into Murder, Arson

Reading from the Voice Media empire: Tattoo artist Brian Pattison has been found guilty of killing Shane Richardson last year, then starting a fire that closed an iconic bagel shop located in the same structure, for months. Prosecutors say Pattison came to Richardson’s apartment for a “tattoo party” that went terribly wrong. Westword has the story.

The post Brian Pattison Guilty in Tattoo Party That Turned Into Murder, Arson appeared first on True Crime Report.

Reading from the Voice Media empire: Tattoo artist Brian Pattison has been found guilty of killing Shane Richardson last year, then starting a fire that closed an iconic bagel shop located in the same structure, for months. Prosecutors say Pattison came to Richardson’s apartment for a “tattoo party” that went terribly wrong. Westword has the story.

The post Brian Pattison Guilty in Tattoo Party That Turned Into Murder, Arson appeared first on True Crime Report.

from http://www.truecrimereport.com

The Marcel Melanson Arson/Theft Case

     In 1998, 22-year-old Marcel Melanson joined the fire department in Los Angeles County’s Compton, California. While the ambitious and popular firefighter succeeded at his job, he wasn’t good at managing his financial affairs. In 2005…

     In 1998, 22-year-old Marcel Melanson joined the fire department in Los Angeles County's Compton, California. While the ambitious and popular firefighter succeeded at his job, he wasn't good at managing his financial affairs. In 2005, the state of California filed a $29,000 tax lien against him. Two years later, the IRS hit him with a $80,240 tax lien.

     Melanson became a minor celebrity in 2009 as a regular participant in a BET Network reality TV series called "First In." A TV crew followed the fire battalion chief as he led a rescue team that came to the aid of victims of traffic accidents and street crime. About this time, Inked Magazine featured Melanson's elaborate tattoos on his back, arms and neck.

     The crime-ridden city of Compton, like its celebrity firefighter, had run into financial problems. The municipality, due to a revenue shortfall and bloated budgets, had disbanded its police department. In June 2010, members of the Compton City Council, in anticipation of bringing back the police force, authorized the purchase of $1.7 million in communications equipment from the Motorola Corporation. Melanson, an emergency communications expert, sat on a three-person technology committee that oversaw the purchase of this equipment.

     By 2011, the city of Compton was on the verge of insolvency. As a result, the police department was not coming back and the city was stuck with hundreds of radios that cost $2,500 a piece. The city stored the excess communications equipment at the Compton Fire Department.

     In December 2011, a fire broke out and quickly spread at the Compton Fire Department in the area housing the surplus radio equipment. Arson investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set and that Marcel Melanson was the only person in the station at the time of the fire. Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office discovered that prior to the blaze, someone had stolen thousands of dollars worth of the radios. Further investigation revealed that over the past several months the thief had been selling the stolen property, one radio at a time, on Internet sites like eBay. Theft detectives, by 2013, had recovered fifty of the stolen communication units.

     In February 2013, Melanson, the prime suspect in the thefts and the arson, was fired. Deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, at eleven o'clock on the morning of May 15, 2013, arrested the 37-year-old at his home in Torrance, California. Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose charged the former celebrity firefighter with arson, grand theft, and embezzlement. If found guilty as charged, Melanson faced up to ten years in prison. A judge set his bail at $350,000.

     Investigators believed that Melanson set the fire to cover his radio equipment thefts. The suspect's attorney, Robert Rico, publicly insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, a Long Beach Fire Department arson investigator had initially reported that the Compton fire was not arson, then later changed his mind.

     While a firefighter committing arson is not that unusual, firefighters rarely torch a fire station. Due to the celebrity element in this particular case, Melanson's arrest attracted a lot of southern California media attention. People who knew him and worked with the former high-ranking firefighter had a hard time believing he was guilty as charged.

     In April 2014, Melason pleaded no contest to felony arson and embezzlement by a public official. In June, the judge sentenced him to three years and four months in prison and ordered him to pay $517,477 in restitution. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Accused Arsonist’s Lifeline Could Get Him Convicted

The prosecution of Ohio man for arson is believed to be the first case in which heartbeat data from a crime suspect’s pacemaker has been the subject of a search warrant.

Wired examines the arson prosecution of an Ohio man whose key evidence was provided by the suspect’s cardiac pacemaker. Ross Compton, 59, is charged with setting a fire last September at his Middletown, Ohio, home. Judge Charles Pater ruled that data evidence that tracked Compton’s heartbeat could be used against him at the upcoming trial. Compton said he awoke to find his home on fire. He survived, but the blaze caused $400,000 of damage and killed his cat. Before escaping, Compton managed to pack his belongings in multiple bags and grab his computer and medical device charger before fleeing.

Authorities suspected arson because the property smelled of gasoline and the fire originated in multiple locations. Police obtained a search warrant for the data recorded on Compton’s pacemaker, suggesting that it would reveal his heart rate and cardiac rhythms before, during, and after the fire. Medical technicians downloaded the information and law enforcers subpoenaed those records from the hospital. Authorities allege the data showed that Compton was awake when he claimed to be sleeping. Blood samples and medical records have long been used as evidence in criminal cases, but this apparently is the first case in which police obtained a search warrant for a pacemaker.

from https://thecrimereport.org